An Essay (Backstory-I have been dying my beard different colors this school year; and this is written from the perspective of a letter to my students.)
Michael “Mr. SY” Sisemore 12-20-2017
Some of you may have noticed that I have taken to changing the color of my stylish facial coiffure. Quite a number of folk have expressed an interest in my motivations, and intentions, to engage in such a non-traditional expression for someone of a particularly seasoned antiquity. Trust in the process. There is indeed a reason and purpose for such a bold and audacious action. A little back story, last year I experienced a profound moment of unpleasantness and disappointment due to the actions of another adult. This interaction forced me to question my commitment to, and my capacity as a colleague, professional, educator, and role model. After a great deal of reflection, I decided to do something uncharacteristic to my typical modus operandi. Do something that would make myself very visible to others. I am most comfortable in the background, in the periphery guiding, and molding things to my liking. Kind of like an intellectual Ninja.
For those who think they know me; I am actually rather shy and reserved in most social and professional settings. It is outside my comfort zones to draw a lot of attention to myself, especially in larger groups. I have always struggled with anxiety and am self conscious about people looking at me. True story. By making the decision to purposely draw attention to myself, as dying my beard crazy, outlandish colors would do, I would not be able to remain in the shadows. I would have to accept the reactions of others as they came. Those reaction did indeed come. From everywhere.
Random strangers come up to me and start conversations, or simply to comment. The looks that I get are the most interesting. They range from genuine interest, curiosity, amusement, bewilderment, to disapproving glances from certain stereotypical demographics. There are also the loud yells across parking lots of “I love your beard!” I have determined the more obnoxious the colors, the more attention I get. Sometimes I forget that I have a colored beard, and am taken by surprise when someone comments. It is a gentle reminder that others are always seeing us as we appear to them, not necessarily as we appear to ourselves. We are a collection of labels applied both by ourselves and by others. We can only fully control one of those applicators. Others will see us as they wish to see us, and that impression is only going to be altered through a personal interaction. Which brings me back to why I am doing this.
It would be simple to look back at my tenure here at LHS, and write it off as Mr SY being Mr SY. But that would be simple and unsophisticated. I am a complicated amalgam of contradictions and provocations. There is always purpose in my actions, although I choose to rarely reveal them publicly. I think this lends a certain mystique and charm to my persona. As adults we should have developed the skills and coping mechanisms to confront adversity, and controversy. These skills are typically gained through the experience of surviving all the unpleasant things that have happened to us. Adolescents do not often have these skills; and are typically unprepared, or ill equipped to adequately respond to adversarial and emotional challenges. When they are feeling marginalized, or isolated because they are seen as different, it can be a catastrophic blow to their emotional and essential selves. Being different can be a challenge for most of us. Regardless of age, there will always be disagreeable people entering and leaving our lives. This does not end as we become adults. We have such an intense desire to fit in, to be a part of, a member of, something larger than ourselves, that many are willing to sacrifice their “self” to the group. The loss of individual identity for the sake of “fitting in” is dangerous and unhealthy in my opinion. A person should feel comfortable about who and what they are first, and as a member of society later. A social group is much stronger, and more representative if all the individuals have a powerful sense of self-worth and personal identity. We can only be one person well. That person is yourself.
Life is about actions and transformation; it is about challenge and resilience; it is about adventure and discovery. Attempting to be someone else, whom you are not-nor will ever be, is a path to unhappiness and misery. Living up to the ideals of others, the expectations of others is futile. We must be capable and willing to blend the ideals of society with our own hopes and desires to create an existence that brings us joy and fulfillment. If we are living our true life, those that are needed in our lives will find us. They will encourage and inspire us, they will challenge us to be an even greater version of ourselves, not to change who we are, to satisfy their own comfort. It is essential that we discover and represent our true selves. To do anything else will only increase our struggles in an already complicated world.
The changing color of my beard was a subtle gesture to everyone who has ever felt that they were different from everyone else. It is a gesture for anyone who has felt marginalized, ostracized, or simply felt misunderstood. My message to you is that it is okay to be different. In fact, I am telling you to celebrate your differences. Imagine how mundane life would be in a world of sameness. The horror! You can be many things in life; why be boring. Being just like everyone else it just that, boring.
My background is very different from every other adult at our school; and that is okay. My philosophy on education is very different from many other educators; and that is okay. My personal beliefs are very different from most other adults in this building; and that is okay. My values and professional goals are different from many adults here; and that is okay. Take whatever you feel makes you different, and use it as a tool to elevate yourself from the pack. Standing out and getting noticed can be a scary proposition. Sometimes you have to take a stand and represent. If you feel like a misfit, a dork, geek, nerd, outcast, loner…it’s okay. Everyone feels like that at one time or another. I’m a dork. I accepted that long ago. I also have a smokin hot accomplice in life and the best family I could ever have dreamed up. The journey was often difficult and painful at times. However, I made dorkness a part of my irresistible charm, dangled it out there like a spinnerbait and caught myself a keeper!
The greatest tragedy, an irrecoverable tragedy, is not living the life meant for each of us. Time cannot be unwound, once past it is a lost opportunity. To live our true life, we have to be invested and committed to it. We have to be present and engaged in that life. We have to….be. So do that, be who and what you are meant to be.