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Thoughts downloaded from Nick Jensen's brain.

Maybe it’s okay

Maybe it’s okay to try and avoid the negative aspects of life.

Maybe it is okay to try to avoid the negative things in life... like ingratitude, disconnection, the more painful parts of the human experience. Maybe it’s okay to not put yourself in the atmosphere of it, to not imbue your heart in it, soak your soul in it. Maybe it’s okay to seek for more ease, more beauty, more awe, more being held, more soft breezes and kisses, more effervescence, more feeling the wind on your back. Maybe it’s okay because we’re trying  to open our hearts up more, that we catch glimpses of a self that can be so alive and so present and so radiant that we have to take a shot at that.

 

And that as we are opening our hearts, it is hard to keep stretching when we surround ourselves willingly or intentionally with that which causes us pain. So maybe it is okay if we don’t seek it out, to try and avoid it as much as possible.


That is not to say we can avoid all pain, all negative emotions - they seem to be an essential part of this human experience. They help guide the way, they help get your attention, your presence, to raise your awareness of an important moment or lesson in your life. Which is beautiful because it means life has a purpose, an intention, a perspective pointing toward living, continuing, moving, flowing. We evolved to seek comfort, to be efficient, and to avoid pain, and feel good. We have bodies with senses to take in the splendor of Earth, and nerve endings that can take in the ecstasy of a kiss and the agony of a cut. So pain is necessary, and important, and we can welcome it when it is in our life - since it is going to be there anyway - yet not go out and find it. We are naturally inclined to not try and break our bodies, our toes, our teeth - why would it be different for our emotional lives?


Demonizing pain creates suffering. It catalyzes shame and fear, which causes us to want to hold on to it, hide it from view, keep it safe from the outside world. Sitting in the pain, getting to know it, learn its purpose, tend to it, and let it flow like a light breeze, fulfilling what it is meant to do without trying to hold onto it or keep it still. Wind was not meant to be still. It’s characterized by its very un-stillness.


The pain can flow and run its course, leaving behind a clearer marker to avoid - as much as you can - a similar path. And if we are really present during the lesson, if we learned all that we could from it, and we no longer need the catalyst, maybe the paths that once seemed painful will not look the same.


Yet, if we aren’t present, and we distract ourselves, the pain will have more to teach us. It wants to not be there, its purpose is to impart lessons, not to cause suffering. Pain was not meant to be held onto. And so if there is more to learn from a particular pain, it will come back again and again until you allow the fulfillment of its teaching. Pain is an experience to sit with, to endure, when it comes into our lives - and not to seek out. If our pain helped us open our eyes a little wider - not to close them and avoid the experience - then we don’t need to learn that again.


As children, we may burn ourselves on a stove. It is a lesson in the protection of our bodies, our skin, our nerve endings, our feeling enablers. It may lead to some shame because there is an idea that we should know better - that we asked for or caused the pain, that it is somehow justified because of our choices, our lifestyle, our being. But we don’t come with a user manual, we don’t have prior knowledge, all of the software installed. EXCEPT the instinct to not dwell in pain. So the only way to not dwell in pain is to move through it, explore it, find the wisdom it needs you to see. You didn’t know hot causes pain, you may have not have even known what the word “hot” meant, it may be embarrassing if those around you already learned that lesson, yet they learned that lesson one way or another. They went from not knowing to knowing at some point, just as you did. The particular journey to get there need not be compared and judged, because maybe we learn the lessons in different ways. This is how we learn to speak - word by word.


The pain of burning ourselves on the stove may lead to some fear because it was unknown why that thing was “hot” and “hot” can cause pain - but not all “hot.” Only until we spend more time exploring earth and coming to understand and distinguish the things in life. Stoves are meant to be hot. That’s their purpose. We need not avoid stoves, we can use them for particular reasons. We don’t keep stoves to remind us that hot can cause pain. We were present for that lesson. Pain demands to be felt. It doesn’t demand to be relived. We can learn how to use the lessons pain gave us.


The shame and fear that can build up on top of pain has to be worked through - it has to be faced to get through it. To let it go and keep moving - not to cradle it and keep it safe from view.


That’s not to say we shouldn’t soothe our pain - it feels good to feel good for a reason. So the absence of pain is something to seek out, yet not something to be vilified when it arrives. Relief, healing, and growth all involve a releasing - a flowing. As we practice facing our pain, learning from it, we get better at it - like anything else. We become more efficient in learn from and releasing our pain. We become resilient to the shame and fear that can accompany it.


Resilient comes from the Latin resilire and resile, to “leap back” or “to recoil” — the bouncing back when we realize we may do something again that causes pain. To pull back from lessons already learned, avoid reliving the pain, and spend our energy and our time on other feelings, other pains, other joys. The better we get at it, the more resilient we become, the more time we can be in not-pain, and even be in joy.


So maybe it’s okay to want to feel good things with the time we have our bodies, and to follow our lessons that help us open our hearts and work through other pains. Maybe not intentionally putting yourself in situations where you need to use energy and working through pains you already felt and learned from, not exposing ourselves to pain every day, is okay - so you have more time to spend in the lighter side of human experience.


So if I recognize a song that induces feelings of ingratitude, maybe it’s okay to avoid it since I’ve already learned from ingratitude.


Maybe it’s okay to not like scary movies, so you avoid them - and not because you can’t handle the fear or don’t value fear and honor it as an essential emotion in the human experience. But because you likely have fear elsewhere asking to be felt and released.


These emotions can be entertaining, no doubt, and I’m not intending to be prescriptive - perhaps manufacturing fear in a movie experience can help get in the feeling-space to feel through other fears. I love roller coasters for the feeling of not being “in control” - or perhaps the illusion of control - a similar feeling to releasing shame. Once you are on a roller coaster, you’re on it - so you might as well be as much on it as you can muster, feeling whatever its meant to have you experience, choosing to lean into the moment and feel fear if it comes, to feel thrilled, to feel the exquisiteness of the movement. There is no “should” there.


So maybe it’s okay to avoid the stimuli that don’t conspire to avoid pain and feel good - to be resilient - *because* we go through it, we explore and sit with it when it comes - and instead we seek out the emotions that lift us. The ones that not only are not pain and fear and shame, they help give us what we need to explore pain and fear and shame. They give us the effervescence to float while we are going through the goop - to keep our heads up, to keep our hearts open. Maybe it’s okay to seek happiness - to surround yourself with many good things, like gratitude, connection, beautiful music, delicious food, relaxing environments - to imbue your heart in joy, soak your soul in love.

 

 

I want to talk about fear.

I’ve learned recently my (our) tendency to really hold things in is both exhausting and can cause me to spiral. So instead of holding everything in today, I’m going to let go of it. I can’t imagine that it’s just me, so I’m going to call on my courage to speak it aloud.  

Notice that I’m not saying “I am afraid” — I am not fear. Seth Godin tells us: 

We say, "I am afraid," as if the fear is us, forever. We don't say, "I am a fever" or "I am a sore foot." No, in those cases, we acknowledge that it's a temporary condition, something we have, at least for now, but won't have forever.

I have fear that I’m screwing up my friendships. That I’m not reaching out enough, or attentive enough, and especially that I don’t go along with how they want me to be. I have fear that maybe it’s okay to let those relationships go and I have fear about how that will hurt or damage them (and me). 

I have fear that I care too much about things. That because of my high standards and dissatisfaction with how things are, that I’m insufferable. I have fear that people will abandon me because of this.

I have fear that everyone thinks I’m too much. That I ask too many questions when ordering food. That I think and analyze too much. That I am too indecisive and take too long to make a decision. I have fear that I don’t know another way to be. 

I have fear that I am lost, that I won’t figure it out. 

I have fear that I won’t be seen or recognized for who I really am versus what others hope I am or want me to be. 

I have fear that I won’t be able to choose myself. That I am too reliant on others to help make me whole. That I’ll never find “the one” and that “the one” doesn’t exist. 

The point of me adding oxygen to these fears in the moment is that I don’t want to hold them anymore. I want to let them go. We learn fears, at least in part, to keep us safe. For whatever safety they may have once provided, I am grateful. 

I want love to flow through me, so let me not keep this fear blocked up inside. We all have a fear that we won’t be loved. But we *are* love. We just have all these blockages and walls that disrupt it’s flow. Let’s work on breaking those down, choose to love ourselves and let love in. That’s what I’m going to do today. Join me. 

P.S. This is not the first time I've written about this, and likely won't be the last. For more see "It's okay."

Hashtag Twenty Eight

Three weeks ago, on June 26, enveloped in love and celebration, I turned 28. And since that time, I have tried to just be in the world, you know? 

And what I've experienced so far is gratitude so profound. 

I'm grateful for everything. All of it. I'm grateful that I could NOT but I AM.

Like, we could not exist. But we do. We could be particles in the universe or whatever. But we are human. We have souls. We have consciousness. 

What a gift! 

To feel
To think
To be
To LOVE
To TOUCH
To LAUGH
To experience AWE
To fuck, to cry, to feel anything at all
It's all such a gift

We could be bacterium. But we have souls and get all this.

We get to kiss
We get to listen
We get to feel the wind on our face
To eat avocado
To watch the moon rise and look like a slice of an orange
To miss each other
Even. EVEN
To feel self conscious
To be mad at each other
To feel less than
To feel hurt

WE GET TO FEEL THAT
THAT IS OURS
IN OUR MASSIVE UNIVERSE

We get to feel stupid pain
We get to feel slighted
And we get to feel joy
And love
And sex
We get to use our bodies
To hug
To sleep
To smell

I'm here for it.
Thank you you beautiful humans for flying through space with me another year. I love you.

"It's okay."

The experiences of the last 12 hours are extraordinarily rare. And it's not important if it is. It's okay if I'm wrong. It could just be my ego trying to make me feel unique and special. And that's okay, that's what egos do. 

Words are inadequate. And maybe thoughts are our greatest gifts. Perhaps they are our greatest burdens. Perhaps they are just things and don't need to be labeled. All of those options are okay.

I went to this amazing space — House of Yes — with a couple of friends. There were a few sex-positive events (and that phrase may make you feel some kind of way, and that's ok) going on and in order to join my friends at the later event, I had to buy a ticket to the earlier event and decided I would be brave and go alone. I thought it would be good for me to go to something alone — and it's okay that I made that judgment. 

I loved the show and was impressed by the performers. The real magic came when my friends arrived — and as we danced and met new people and were present in the energy of the space — I had a transcendent connection. It's okay if we don't have a common understanding of the word "transcendent." My stories tend to be long and winding — which is okay even though I often feel wounded when I don't feel heard — and I often empty myself in detail and not sure why. It's okay that this hasn't been figured out.

Long story, short. I was given a gift that I had been whispering to the universe for so many years — an experience / an energy / a deep connection that helped me go spiritually where I couldn't go myself. It's okay if you feel some kind of way about any of those words I use. It's unimportant for you to completely understand, I just feel moved to express, and both that feeling and my disregard for your feelings on those words are both okay. They are just words. 

For so many years I've thought and I've felt and I've struggled with how we relate to each other and the expectations we have and the pain that we feel. I always viewed societal expectations about relationships — the expectations on whether one person can fulfill everything another person naturally feels: emotional connection, sexual connection, companionship, spiritual connection with skepticism. All the heavy "shoulds" and all the heavy shame that comes from not performing in every area that we are told to fulfill, from now to eternity being the ideal. One person. One lifetime. One "love". How do you find that person? It's okay that I don't know the answer and it's okay if I think others get lucky. 

What I valued — what I still value and think is good — is deepening connection. Lately, I somehow gained and perhaps cultivated a talent for connecting with people with relative ease in every way — something I acknowledge required deep self work on early life struggles having friends moving away. I'm not unique — many of us have abandonment issues and fear that we are not worth sticking around for. And it's okay.

It's so unimportant to figure out why or how this all happened — even though my usual nature would be to try and document how this happened so it could be replicated by others for their own journeys — it's okay that I keep some things sacred in myself. The outcome was that I took a step with another human that brought me to places I could not go by myself. Together, we tapped into some deep cosmic energy — ineffable in its effects that I'm still reeling from (which is okay that I don't totally understand it) that tapped into some level of truth. It was as if everything that I intellectually understood about the world, all my readings, all my studies on sociology and society, all the perspectives of religions and practices, all the lent experiences from friends and mentors — all of it converged in recesses in my mind, heart, and even soul. 

I felt affirmed in my belief that we are here to show up for other people. That's all there is. And I felt awakened that I also can show up for myself — and that could lead to connecting better with other humans. I often feel that I take care of other people — whether they ask me to or not — and don't know how to let others really show up and take care of me. You may think this is a "humble brag" of some sort of selflessness or somehow I'm martyring myself. It's okay if you think that — your thoughts are your business — my expression is mine and I realized that I censor myself often because I obsess over how others might interpret what I say. It's okay that I have had this habit and it's okay that I choose to acknowledge and override it now.

My friends and I danced and discussed and connected for nearly 12 hours. I believe connections that last that long — the breathless, have to express, need to say things of the nature of life — are good. They can leave us feeling confused, frustrated, inarticulate, stupid, depressed, and utterly alone. And that's okay. Those are things humans experience.

When I got home — like a lightning bolt to my soul — I felt the urge to dance and felt another deep connection with myself. Like I was able to really let myself in. Here's what it looked like:

I smelled. That's okay — that's what bodies do. It's a feature. 

I was sad. It was okay — Khalil Gibran told me that "When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

I asked for help. It was about make up removal. It's okay, I'm not an expert at all things. 

I felt afraid — that is, I felt all manners of it that lead to the big one, the one we struggle with our whole lives — shame. Shame is the fear that we are unworthy of love. We learned that somewhere here. My thoughts blended with the likes of Brene Brown and Marianne Williamson and Don Miguel Ruiz. And I said, maybe once every ten seconds, "It's okay." The cavalry had come — not to defeat and punish fear — but to acknowledge and feel it. Instead of driving down habit trails of my usual distractions (food, television, phone), I just felt it. And said "it's okay." 

I'm afraid I'm not a good dancer. It's okay. 

I'm afraid I am not wise. It's okay.

I'm afraid I can not let myself be loved. It's okay.

I'm afraid I can't finish what I start. It's okay.

I'm afraid I let everyone down in my life. It's okay.

I'm afraid people think I'm too effeminate and I'm afraid what that says about me. I'm afraid my gay friends will reject me. It's okay.

I'm afraid I can't focus. It's okay.

I'm afraid that I don't show up for my friends of color and women enough — or at all — because of how they might react. I'm afraid I let them down, don't do enough, and that I'm part of the problem. I'm afraid they will label this as white fragility. I'm afraid I don't know to be stronger for them and for myself. It's okay.

I'm afraid I might never know peace of the unknown. It's okay. 

I'm afraid that I understand too many things intellectually that I don't apply emotionally — especially when I provide coaching or suggestions to my friends and don't apply it myself. I'm afraid I'm an imposter. It's okay.

I'm afraid that people who read this will think it's a waste of time. I'm afraid they'll think it's very self-indulgent. It's okay. They can think that. That's none of my business.

I'm afraid that people think I'm a bad person because I have strong views on how things should be and can't let well enough alone — I'm afraid that I think I'm a bad person. I'm afraid that projects, institutions, and associations would be better without me. I'm afraid I'm barking up the wrong tree, wasting my energy, and am foolish in fighting a fight no one cares or agrees with me on. It's okay.

I'm afraid I'm too eager. I'm afraid I hurt people when I can't be what they want me to be. I'm afraid that people would be better off never having met me. It's okay.

I'm afraid that I can't endure. I'm afraid I'm not resilient. I'm afraid I'll break. It's okay.

I'm afraid that I'm too attached to outcomes. I'm afraid I'm too controlling. I'm afraid that these are nuanced barriers that I put up myself. It's okay.

I'm afraid I won't ever have the same transcendent experience as I had today. I'm afraid all of this is temporary. I'm afraid I can't stay in the present moment. I'm afraid happiness will be elusive. It's okay.

I'm afraid that I'm lost. I'm afraid that I'm too deep in my own struggles to find a way out. I'm afraid that that's all life will be. I'm afraid I will never know the answer. It's okay. I believe that's part of the journey.

Years ago — when I was more deeply connected with myself — I did a deep dive and explored what it would be like to suspend judgment. I believe that judgment is not a bad thing and it is both natural, okay, and unavoidable to have judgments. I would feel a judgment come on and I'd be able to hold it in my mind exploring how it came to be — where did I learn to put distance between myself and another person based on, well, anything? I changed my habit of hearing something I had learned was "good" or "bad" and think "it is what it is". I am often able to listen and be a confidant with my friends and decide not to judge them and not be complicit with their judgments of themselves. I somehow have not been able to apply that to myself for some time. 

It's okay that I'm trite sometimes. It's okay that I'm overweight. It's okay that I'm a mess. It's okay that I'm vain. It's okay if I'm late. It's okay if this seems like I'm making excuses for myself.

It's okay that I have sex with men. It's okay that I don't know why I find high cheek bones attractive. It's okay that I take pride in effort, and also indulge in things I made no effort in — like my eye color. It's okay that I don't have all the answers or that I haven't overcome the dominant way society wants me to be. It's okay that I still care about what people think. It's okay that I will struggle with that forever. 

We are social animals. I believe our purpose in life it to connect. I have lots of evidence to support this. It's okay that I don't share it — it's okay I have beliefs that you don't understand. Society is a tool that helps us organize our lives — defining what's acceptable, what's desirable, what to be repulsed by, and who to jeer and shun. It is deeply flawed. And I'm not sure if it can be fixed or if we can start over. It's okay.

Society has agreed for most of human history that homosexuality is wrong. In thought and acts. I could try to change my sexuality, which seemed both impossible and undesirable, or I could change the judgment I took on voluntarily from society — the conditioning and programming that said I was unworthy of love because I have a body with sensations and nerve endings and attractions beyond my control. I changed the judgment to "I don't care what society thought of my homosexuality or how I needed to perform as gay or as a man. I can't control it and I can't control other people. I'll control my attitude instead." I still struggle with this and likely always will, yet I deeply learned the following:

There is no wrong decision in life. There is no right way to live. Their are perspectives and relative moralities. And we can choose to change habits or change thoughts. Or live beating ourselves up. It's our choice. 

I'm posting this as a gift. For you, dear humans, to cause your brains to churn and react. It's okay whatever comes up for you. I recognize I am not an island. I am not unique in having emotions and struggling. We all struggle with individual journeys that we must face on some level alone. And in that — we are together.

And for me. My act of expressing my human vulnerability and resilience. Every thought I have is okay. Today, I think I'm beautiful. Tomorrow, I may not think I'm beautiful. That's okay.

Farewell, Dear Luggage

Often when I'm preparing to leave a place, a melancholic mood moves in like a fog. I never leave a place fully explored and perhaps my perennial sense of FOMO hits a little harder than usual.

A couple of weeks ago, as I drove to the airport in Orlando, the familiar feeling crept up the same way it usually does as I reflected on the fun experiences I had and the things I learned attending the conference for which I came to town.

 Florida sunset  

Florida sunset  

Something that made that day particularly deeper emotionally was that as I was riding the escalator at the airport, my bag slipped and fell down the escalator. Thankfully, no one was behind me and no one was injured, but the handle of my bag was pretty mangled.

I feel silly to say that this hit me hard. It's possible that there were deeper, unprocessed things dwelling beneath the surface or that I hadn't gotten enough sleep the preceding days, but the idea of not having my bag accompany me on more adventures was deeply saddening to me in that moment.

I don't believe in coincidences — I think the universe is constantly conspiring to take us where we need to go and push us along in our journey. Hours before arriving at the airport, I was listening to the closing keynote speaker talk about brand attachment. He explained that when we are young, we usually feel attached to objects — a favorite blanket or stuffed animal — and as we get older, we tend to attach to ideals, campaigns, and yes, brands.

We humans — the social animals we are — form attachments with people and things. We of course have more feedback with living things that help us form stronger bonds, but as children we anthropomorphize our teddy bear or imagine companions before we may do so fully with other people. We imbue objects with emotional weight and when they are gone, it can be disorienting.

 My reliable suitcase

My reliable suitcase

And while it may sound like a capitalist's wet dream that I have an emotional attachment to a product, it makes total sense. I've had this bag for almost five years! It has been by my side for tens of thousands of miles and has dutifully enabled my exploration of new horizons. Of course I have an emotional attachment to it! Every time I take it out of my closet, I'm preparing to travel; I see it and am conditioned to be excited. From the shores of Abu Dhabi and San Diego, to temples in Thailand and clubs in São Paulo & Rio, to the plains of Nebraska and our fourth floor walk up in Park Slope — this bag was my constant companion.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I'm so grateful for the life I am fortunate to live and the things that I have — as mundane and trivial as the things we have in life are, I'm grateful for those which help us live deeply.

Profiting From An Education

While filing my taxes, I was astonished that in 2015 I paid $18,769.58 in student loan payments, and $8,628.07 of that was just in interest. That's 45.9% of what I paid! 

I would never change my choice to come to NYU — it remains the best decision and thing that has happened to me. It was transformative, it was broadening, and it taught me how to be an empathetic human who can fully connect and embrace other humans. And if that's what it cost for a young gay boy in Nebraska to change his life and marvel in awe of how beautiful the world is, so be it.

That said, in all the discussion of college affordability, I wish we could have more of a focus on who is profiting from the student lending industry. Let's not just look at how to reduce cost of admission. Let's also look at how we make financing more available for more people in ways that aren't focused on profiting off of students in such a grandiose way. I would understand the high interest rates and high profit margins if lenders were assuming a lot of risk. But unlike credit card debt, student loan debt can't be discharged and private lenders often require a cosigner to guarantee the debt will be paid. For the most part, student loan debt is unforgivable. 

I have much more to say on these issues — and I undoubtedly will post again on them in the future — but for now, Happy Tax Day! 

"Community & Experience Strategist"

When I graduated from college, I had not secured a job. It was scary and at times frustrating, but I didn't allow fear to deter me. With every interview, every promising phone call or email, and every near-miss, I intentionally felt the disappointment for a few minutes and then decided, "That would have been fun, and now I'm one step closer to finding something that will be even better — something that will defy my imagination of what's possible." And it happened. 

Four and half years ago, I started working full time for a brand and institution that feels so much like home to me and is so much a part of me, it flows through my veins. Four and half years ago, my bosses took a chance on a 22 year old and hired me to help out a little with communications and think about how social media might play a role. In earnest I launched into research and theorizing on how universities should connect to their communities. After producing a 30-some page report, cleverly titled "Social Media @ NYU", I asked if we could hire an intern the following academic year. I've been very lucky that I work in a supportive environment and that my boss responded with "Why just one intern? And why not next semester?" One month later, the NYU Office of Interactive Media was born, with two full-time employees and seven interns.

Over the years we added two other brilliant full-timers and our internship — one semester — had ballooned to 18 interns. We launched a brand — HashtagNYU — to share the NYU story in a way that students could relate to and to put our theories into practice and more fully explain how to reach a student audience (especially at NYU). HashtagNYU is by students, for students and is a digital cheerleader for the University — allowing the Nick Jensens of the world to enthusiastically "fan girl" about NYU. Through HashtagNYU, we are a creative agency and create compelling campaigns to University challenges and foster pride and excitement about our home. We also want others to be better at social media, too, so we act as an inside consulting firm — helping out wherever we can across the University.

So, what's life at NYU really like? With every student comes a different story. Introducing "Real Talk" - a new series of seven incredibly honest and exciting stories told by current NYU students from all walks of life.

From the very beginning, I've been lucky to co-create my job — to figure out just what it is I do day-to-day. A good portion of what I do has changed every six months or so, yet there's always been a thread of building community and improving the student experience. So after being the Manager of Marketing, Communications, & Web-based Technologies for four and a half years, I'm updating my title to more directly focus on what I do: Community & Experience Strategist. It's not that I don't do marketing, communications, or tech anymore — it's that I want to put community and experience at the forefront of my — and others' — minds.

I want to continue improving the student (and alumni) experience at NYU. Universities and colleges are the ultimate example of an experience economy. While a concert may last a few hours and a vacation may last a few weeks (or so I dream about), the transformative experience of college is four years or more, typically, and is an affiliation that stays with us for life. While our brand choices for technology or airlines or coffee may change, we never un-graduate from our alma mater. I will focus even more on what we intend our students experience while they are at NYU, what happens when something goes wrong, and how we can make the best, most seamless experience during their time here and beyond.