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Sharing Your Creativity

Have you ever been in a group setting, maybe at school, work, church or an open mic night  where you were invited to share something you created? Maybe someone suggested you start a blog (are those still a thing?, YouTube/ TikTok channel or a podcast. Maybe you want to but can’t bear to take that step. I get it, being creative is one thing. Being creative in front of people is something else entirely. It can be very intimidating, “Turns the legs to jelly”, as Thanos would say.

“I love creating, it’s the sharing that frightens me”

While I have rarely felt afraid to try something new, the act of sharing my creations with others is terrifying. For example, it took me over a year to start this blog and podcast, and it took several months before I dared to share it with people, and even then it has only been a very small group of people who were invited to listen/ read at first. Whatever my creative obsession is at the moment, be it custom sneakers, building furniture, writing stories, songs or poems or making digital content I’m super excited until the time comes to put my work out there for the world to see. I love creating, it’s the sharing that frightens me.

Here’s why: When you share what you create you are sharing a part of you. Your heart, emotions your very soul laid bare for others to see. There can be nothing more frightening than that. If they reject your creation, it can feel like they are rejecting a part of you.  If they criticize, it is as if they are looking deep into your soul and declaring you unworthy of love and understanding. While we may not verbalize it this way, it is as if we know that once people reject what we create, we will end up alone and unloved, jobless, penniless, living under a bridge with a homeless guy named Gill who shares is daily catch of rats with you so you have something to eat while muttering about being an undiscovered artist. Maybe that’s just me.

I think I drove that point into and under the ground.

But (of course there is a but).

When we share what we create, we bring light into the world. When we share our creative work we are sharing our hearts, our souls with those around us. That’s what is awesome about creativity. We get to play with that divine spark that resides in all of us, we get to tap into the same energy that brought our world into being. We bring light into the dark wasteland inhabited by those “cold and timid souls who know neither victory not defeat” #maninthearena. We position ourselves to inspire, lift up, challenge and encourage those who encounter our work. Our bared souls demand a response!

(getting a bit melodramatic but you get my point)

The world needs you. The world needs your creativity. Be it in business, painting, comedy, sculpture, dance, music, poetry, macaroni art, video, t-shirts, stickers, unicorn hats, stories, house building, or being a paintball trampoline basketball player (It’s not what it sounds like, it’s  basketball, but you have paintball guns and the court is a giant trampoline).

I am aware that I left something very important out. I left out the part where I teach you how to conquer your fear of sharing your creativity. There is a reason for that.

I didn’t tell you how to get over the fear because I don’t know how. I have not conquered my fear. I am afraid right now as I write this, the anticipation of sharing this with you (whoever you are) is scary. But here I am, doing it anyway. I don’t know if the fear will ever go away, but so long as it’s not crippling fear I will keep going. You should to.

Alright friends it’s time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Demand Avoidance/ Letting People Down

”I hate my brain”, “I hate the way I am”, “I’m stupid”, “I’m a failure”.

I have heard these statements from my neurodivergent students from time to time, and today was a day when I said it about myself.

Today is ”vulnerability: let’s get real“ day.

I let someone down.

Where to start.

I had an opportunity presented to me with a very short time to accept or reject, but saying yes to that opportunity would cause me to let a client, who was also family, down. Not only that but the opportunity created a disruption in my life at a time when everything was out of sync in every area of my life and I was in constant anxiety. Paralyzed by the situation, I knew I should talk with them but I didn’t know what to say. I lingered in paralysis while the situation unfolded around me. I had meltdowns and suffered an autoimmune flare all because I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Then the decision was made and I had to face them. Naturally they were upset, not only were they my clients and my family but I consider them to be friends. Needless to say there was a loss of trust in my abilities as a professional, and it had a negative impact on our relationship. I wanted to tell them about what was going on in my head, what was going on in my life and how being autistic makes it vary hard for me to deal with situations like this well but I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Because in moments like this I have learned the hard way that no one cares.

Even if people know I am autistic, as an adult no one wants to hear about my autism when I am I mess up because it just sounds like an excuse. When people are upset with me, they don’t care about my issues, they expect me to function like a neurotypical where they are involved. So when I talked with them, I couldn’t even tell them what was really going on with me. It was like when I was a child in trouble with my parents all over again. So I just went with the script of shame, I didn’t defend myself or advocate for myself I just let them be mad at me and tell me how awful I am. I didn’t waste time trying to explain what was going on in my head or why I struggle with these kind of situations. I just agreed that I was wrong while in my head berating myself for being a terrible unprofessional person who shouldn’t be in business for himself. Because I am, right.

Well not exactly.

What I experienced is called Demand Avoidance, and it is something that neurodivergent people struggle with all the time. 

According to authors Koegel, Singh and Koegel in their 2010 research paper ”Frustration and Task Avoidance in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder”, they discuss how it is common for autistic students to shut down when presented with stressful and difficult tasks. While this article was written about autistic children and task avoidance, the reality is that autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. I am not citing this as an excuse, but it is a reminder that I am not alone when it comes to this type of situation.

Autistic people may avoid demands or situations that trigger anxiety or sensory overload, disrupt routines, involve transitioning from one activity to another, and activities/events that they don’t see the point of or have any interest in.

They may refuse, withdraw, ‘shutdown’ or escape in order to avoid these things.

For those who work with or help autistic children and adults, helpful approaches include addressing sensory issues, helping them adjust to new situations (for instance by using visuals or social stories), keeping to a predictable routine as much as possible, and giving them plenty of notice about any changes and help them know that sometimes, avoiding the task or situation might be the right thing to do.

This was not an easy thing to walk through, and honestly, maybe I should not be in business for myself if things like this can happen. That or I need someone to be in business with me who understands my autism and can come alongside me in those moments and help me through it. I have that at work, people who are safe that I can go to when I need support.

As hard as this is right now, I know that everything is going to be okay. Everything in me is telling me that I need to give up any dreams of starting a business or working for myself in the future. But I won’t. I know that I got in my own way today, and I will get in my own way again. But I can’t give up. This is not the death of my vision, but it is a very painful lesson. I can do this I just can’t do this alone. I don’t know how, but I need to find people I can be myself around, people who can partner with me and dream with me. People who will make space for the best and worst of who I am. I have begun to find those people, I just need to invite them to play a larger role in my life if they want to.

My dreams are still possible, this is not the end. Even though it feels like it today.

So this was a bit real, possibly too real but I know I am not alone in this. If you have ever gone through a similar situation I would love to hear from you. You can find me on instagram @mrmaxwellteaches, or @samumaxwell.

Alright friends it’s time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Resilience

Hi friends, today was are talking about resilience. This story involves a 7th grade class that I taught years ago.

Near the end of the school year I gave my seventh grade class the task of writing, directing and putting on a play about some of the historic figures that they had been learning about in history. I made sure to plan ahead and scheduled time in the school’s multipurpose room so they would have a place to practice and perform in.

Unfortunately, there were other events that take place every year at the school that everyone knew about but me because I was new to the school. As a result I had to give up my time slots. This happened two weeks before the end of the school year. Without a space to practice, the project was falling apart. The class had already written their scripts and made revisions, they were really excited about the project and I dreaded the idea of telling them that we lost our rehearsal and performance space. In the midst of my frustration, I realized that I was being given an opportunity. This could be a chance for me to teach my class about resilience, how to overcome obstacles and succeed in spite of opposition. Still feeling frustrated, I went to my seventh grade students and I told them what was going on. 

We discussed the difficulties and I told them that this is going to be an opportunity for them to test their ability to adapt, to be flexible, to meet their goals in spite of adverse circumstances. The class brainstormed ideas, discussed solution and let me tell you, they did not disappoint. We found outdoor spaces to rehearse. We created an outdoor theater behind the school for them to perform their plays. They did a wonderful job not only for me but for the second grade class that came to watch them perform. I was so proud of them! I hope that from this experience, my students learned that they can conquer whatever lies between themselves and their goals.

In life there are moments when we want to do something, but circumstances keep us from doing so. Days when the obstacles that lie between us and our dreams seem insurmountable. In those moments we have a choice. We can quit, give up and walk away from our goals and dreams, or we can face what’s in front of us to the best fo our ability. Life is hard (Philosophy #1), sometimes things do not work out the way we want them to. But I truly believe that all of us are capable of much more than we realize. The trick is to stop focusing on what we can’t do, and instead focus on what we can do. Discover and build upon your strengths in stead of fixating on your weaknesses. In time you will find that you truly are powerful beyond measure. 

Alright friends, it’s time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Unmasking

I recently watched the movie Luca, a movie about identity and how we often hide that identity from the world. Warning there are spoilers in this post so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it and then come back. I’m not going to get into the details of the story but basically the story is about a young sea monster named Luca who lives in the ocean near a town in Italy. He befriends another sea monster named Alberto, and discovers that on land they can transform to look like normal humans. They have adventures in a town that hates and fears sea monsters which forces them to constantly being on guard against someone discovering what they truly are.

At the climax of the story, Luca reveals his true self to the townspeople. In that scene, two old women reveal they are also sea monsters to the town as well. What struck me about this moment was that throughout the movie, we see these two old ladies walking around town living their lives. No one in town knew the truth about their identity. I realized that they had lived their entire lives in hiding, never letting anyone know who they were. A crucial part of their identity was hidden from the world, which caused them to live in isolation while being surrounded by people. They looked human, but they were not. To reveal who they truly were would most likely have resulted in death. They spent their entire lives in fear and hiding.

I was diagnosed autistic last year, along with Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. While undiagnosed I also have ADHD. After a lifetime of feeling like I didn’t belong to the world I lived in I finally understand why. It was like Loki discovering that he was actually a frost giant or if I had been raised human only to discover that I was actually a sea monster or from another planet. I say this because when I learned that I was autistic so many things about myself made sense, I realized that the labels I lived under were wrong. I was able to make adjustments to how I lived my life and work with who I am instead of wasting time trying to appear and be “normal”.

Now that I have discovered the truth about myself, I have a choice. I can leave my fidgets, headphones and sensory friendly clothes at home and walk out the door pretending to be just another healthy neurotypical. I can avoid posting things on social media about autism, Lupus or ADHD.  Or I can be honest about who and I am and live my life. Openly. Honestly. Authentically.

I don’t want to be like those old ladies, I don’t want to live in hiding.

So I posted my diagnoses on my profile pages, I began to share my story both in my personal life and my professional life. I am a teacher and every time I see a student’s head lift a little higher when they see me being openly autistic, openly ADHD, openly living with an autoimmune disease it gives me the courage to try and share a little bit more. Every time I see a parent realize that their child will be okay after meeting me and hearing my story I am convinced that the more I share, the more people I can bring hope to. Because my life is not only about me (philosophy #4).

Whatever you are going though, there are probably at least three other people dealing with the same thing. When you are open about who you are and what your struggles are you give others courage to do the same. You put yourself in a position to spread hope to a world in desperate search of it.

Alright friends it’s time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Moving

I haven’t written in a while because we moved. More accurately, I have not been writing in a while because of the disruption to my routines and the sense of displacement caused stress. Honestly I am not a fan of moving, especially when it is against your will like this move was.

That being said situations like this are good for me. They remind me that I am not always in control (philosophy #4). It is an opportunity for me to practice what I tell my students, that we cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control our response to it. We can learn to create beauty out of the chaos, create with the broken pieces of our well-ordered life.

During the finding a new home and moving process, I was able to see God’s provision in our lives, and was overwhelmed by the love and support that our friends gave us. I was inspired to create portable furniture out of storage chests. We were forced to go through our things and donate or throw out things we no longer needed, and were able to bless others in the process.

Change is not always fun, but I think that if we embrace the adventure in front of us, all sorts of things are possible.

Time to go unpack some more boxes, and time for your next adventure, I’ll miss you.

Identity

Manager, supervisor, trainer, teacher. These titles and more have given me a sense of purpose, of identity. They help me know who I am. My titles give me a reason to get up in the morning, they show me what I need to do with my life. But what happens when you take them away?

I end up lost.

I don’t know who I am without my work. I don’t know what to do with myself without my mission, my purpose, my telos. I remember my first year teaching, I lost my mind during winter break. Two weeks without my job and I did not know what to do with myself. I drove myself and my family crazy. I rarely take a vacation, mainly because I don’t know what to do with a vacation. If I don’t have my work, then I have to come up with another objective to achieve, another project to work on. Anything to distract me from the reality that I have no idea who I am.

The reality is that who we are is so much more than what we do.

Who am I? What am I? There are so many days when I wonder if I am even human. In so many ways I am left of normal. I am a minority in so many ways that I feel utterly alone. Who can I talk to about my problems? Who is in my tribe that I can relate to? Where is my tribe, where are my people? How would I even recognize them since I don’t even know who I am?

These thoughts bring another question to mind. Do I need to know who I am? Is it necessary for me to understand myself to live a good life? For example, I know that I am a child of God. I know this like I know the sky is blue. Does anything else matter beyond this? Maybe that should be enough. Maybe I will never find my tribe, maybe I don’t have one. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to have a tribe, it could be enough for me to be a unicorn in a world of horses.

In every relationship, if you want to get to know the person better you need to spend time with them. I don’t spend enough time with myself. Maybe you can relate. We use work, entertainment, social media, movies, creative projects, video games and books to keep ourselves occupied. Maybe if we stopped moving, allowed our bodies and minds to be still, breathe and just be with our hearts and our minds for a moment we could get to know ourselves  better.

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment .”

-Eckhart Tolle

Assuming the Worst

I once had a friend ask me, “Why do people automatically assume the worst in certain situations? For example, one time I saw an ambulance go into a friend’s neighborhood and i immediately assumed my friend was in trouble. Sometimes when I ask my friends how they are doing and they say, ‘I’m fine.’ I assume they are lying and something in wrong.”

I think that this is a defense mechanism. Historically, humans have had to protect themselves from all kinds of threats. It didn’t take much to kill you back before modern medicine. A poison plant that would cause an ER visit today would often mean death. Losing your leg often meant losing your life, or at least your social standing which depending on the culture was often the same thing. We feared anyone who was not part of our tribe because strangers often carried diseases we were not immune to, or were part of another tribe competing for the same scarce resources.

It’s like the stories the dad in the that movie the Croods would tell. Every mishap, every illness, every problem ended in death.

Fast forward to today. While many of the things that threatened our lives are no longer an issue, we often hold onto the same caution. In our desire to be ready for anything, we often focus on being ready for every negative thing, rather than being ready for good things. For example, we don’t leave our doors unlocked in case a stranger wants to bring us a present in the middle of the night. We lock our doors in case a stranger wants to take our things. We memorize that we dial 911 if we or a loved one are in danger, we don’t have a special phone number to call in case something awesome happens to us. At school we practice what to do in case of a fire, active shooter, choking incident or student injury. We don’t practice how to throw a party at a moments notice to celebrate life.

Our modern positivity culture has also played a part in this. Depending on who you follow on social media, it can look like everyone has their lives together. So many people post pictures/ images about the highlights of their lives and not the daily struggle. For some of us, we begin to think that people will only like us if we look successful and happy. That no one wants to hear about our problems. So when people ask about how we are doing, we lie. If we lie about how we are doing, we might begin to suspect that other people are doing so as well.

Another factor could be celebrity suicides/ overdoses. People who seem to have it all, sometimes turn out to have been miserable and depressed. These stories can create concern that some of the people in our lives are also hiding struggles that they do not share with the world. So when your friends says they are “fine”, the part of you that cares about them worries that this might not be true. It could also be that you are able to tell when they patterns of behavior are off, indicating that they are not fine, only to have them tell that they are.

When life is only about survival, it is hard to fixate on anything other than what might be a threat to that survival. But if you find a reason for living beyond survival, I believe that you will begin to see more of the good things that exist around you.

I know this was a bit of a ramble, not even sure if I answered their question but I hope that there was something of value in it. As always feel free to send me more questions.

Time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Changing Oneself

I had a student ask me one time; Should you change yourself to match others because you are considered weird?

This one was an easy answer for me. No. You were made who you are the way you are for a reason. I have lived my entire life being considered weird by what felt like everyone around me, and for a little while I tried to be “normal”. It was a disaster. I didn’t make more friends, and the people I did manage to gather around me were not real friends at all. I couldn’t blame them, I was being fake so I deserved to gain fake friends. That’s the biggest problem with changing who you are. You end up with a life that drains you of life, because all of your energy is used up trying to be what others want you to be and trying to then maintain that lie. Not worth it.

If there were ever moments when I was great at what I did as a teacher, it was because of who I am, not who I pretend to be.

Your greatest accomplishments, your best friendships will only come from your authentic self. Man, I sound like a self-help book, and not the good kind. But seriously, your “weirdness” is what makes you great. The world needs you, exactly the way you are. Well, maybe you have room for improvement, we all do. But improving yourself and changing yourself are two different things. For example what the smartphone is, a handheld multi-functional piece of technology has not changed. What has changed is what it can do and how well it can do it. It has improved, but has not changed from its primary function and purpose. I know this is an oversimplification, but bear with me. My point is that you should look to improve yourself, not try to change who you are (unless you are a cannibal in which case I would encourage you to change one thing about yourself).

Will you be everyone’s cup of tea? Of course not. But even if only %1 of the world’s population accepted you, that is still well over a million people. Steve Jobs was weird, George Washington was weird, Aristotle was weird, Hirohito Araki is weird. But what they created, what they did impacted thousands if not millions of lives.

Don’t waste your time blending in, you’re not an ice cube.

I hope this was useful, feel free to send me any other random questions that pop into your brain.

Time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Weird

Should you change yourself to match (be more like) others because you are considered weird?

No.

You were made who you are the way you are for a reason. I have lived my entire life being considered weird by what felt like everyone around me, and for a little while I tried to be “normal”. It was a disaster. I didn’t make more friends, and the people I did manage to gather around me were not real friends at all. I couldn’t blame them, I was being fake so I deserved to gain fake friends. That’s the biggest problem with changing who you are. You end up with a life that drains you of life, because all of your energy is used up trying to be what others want you to be and trying to then maintain the lie. Not worth it.

If there ever moments when I was great at what I did as a teacher, it was because of who I am not who i pretend to be.

Your greatest accomplishments, your best friendships will only come from your authentic self. Man, I sound like a self-help book. But seriously, your “weirdness” is what makes you great. The world needs you, exactly the way you are. Will you be everyone’s cup of tea? Of course not. But even if only %1 of the world’s population accepted you, that is still well over a million people. Steve Jobs was weird, George Washington was weird, Aristotle was weird, Hirohito Araki is weird. But what they created, what they did impacted thousands if not millions of lives.

Don’t waste your time blending in, you’re not an ice cube.

I hope this was useful, feel free to send me any other random questions that pop into your brain.

Time for your next adventure,

I’ll miss you

Human Relationships

I recently had a friend ask me if they should stay with (or around) people who say they care about them, but don’t show it.

This is a tricky one. Humans and human relations are complicated, at least for me. So as with most of my answers, it depends. For example, I have friends who say they care about me but often don’t show it. I would say that I am still friends with them, but I don’t break my back trying to connect with them. If I don’t see them for months, that’s okay. I just don’t cling to the idea of us being close friends. You can have a friendly connection with someone without them being your best friend. In reality, we have various levels of relationships in our lives and we need them all.

You should have close friends, friends and colleagues in your life. You will often have more colleagues or acquaintances than friends, and more friends than close friends.

We have some people in our lives who are close friends, like the one you call when something awesome or awful happens or for no reason at all. They are the ones who hold you when you cry, make you feel safe/ free to be who you are and will get in your way if they truly feel that you are doing something that might hurt yourself. Never let those people go, they are the ones who would walk through fire for you. These are the friendships that have no (or nearly no) boundaries.

Next we have the friends we see on a regular basis at social events, work or school. They are the friends who are fun to be around, you love them and they love you but are not the ones you rely on for the serious things in life. You might not be able to tell them everything, and that’s okay. They are still your friends, there are just some boundaries to the friendship. You never know, when a true crisis hits some of them might turn out to be more on your side than you realize.

Then we have people we see at events, work or school who we are cool with, but we’re not gonna try and hang out with them outside of where we normally see them. These people are more colleagues or acquaintances then friends. Again, nothing wrong with that. Those people make our obligations (work, school) and community more enjoyable. Again, there may be times when they surprise you. I have had people in my life that I thought were just acquaintances who stepped up and cared for me when no one else was able to.

The person you choose to date or spend the rest of your life with is in an entirely different category. If I was dating someone, and they did not show that they cared about me, I would break off the relationship, suggest that what we have is more of a friend thing. Who you date and ultimately marry is one of the most important relationships you will ever have. I have been married for 15 years, and my wife and I have been together for 18 years, known each other for 20 years. Think about that. 20 years of my life has had Mrs. Maxwell in it. Our marriage is one of the most important parts of my life. So if I felt that she was starting to not care for me, I would try and talk with her about it, I would also examine myself to see if there is something that I have done to damage the relationship. It is always easier to look at what the other person is doing wrong in a relationship than to see where have gone off track. Sometimes it isn’t you, but in most cases you need to at least pause to see if there is anything you need to work on. I know that I left a lot out here, maybe down the road we can have a better conversation about dating and marriage.

Now with family, like parents and siblings, there really is only so much you can do. You can choose to cut them out of your life, but this is a very serious step and I would recommend that you have very good reasons for doing so. Sometimes it is the only course, but never one to take rashly. Frankly, once you are out living your own life you will only see your family as often as you want.

While all of these relationships matter, I would argue that the most important one is with yourself. Take the time to know who your are, love and accept who you are while challenging yourself to grow. Be honest about who and where you are in life. If you are comfortable with yourself, then how will you know what part of you to defend? If you don’t care for yourself, why bother getting upset when other people don’t treat you well? Know who you are, know your worth. Everything starts with you.

Let me know if this was helpful if you have any other questions I might try and tackle for you.

It’s time for your next adventure, I’ll talk to you soon.

-Sam