I sat down with one of our employees today who wanted to talk. He asked to close the doors to our office, which generally means something is going down. His nerves radiated out from the sweat that could not be contained. I raised a metaphorical eyebrow. I got nervous myself because I have no idea what he is going to say, but a little part of me can’t help but get excited from the possibility of a little drama. Or at least the potential for one of those life moments where things suddenly change.

Chris, Luis and I sat down as he informed us that there are two parts to this conversation. Part One: How do we feel about his performance recently?

We went through a rocky patch with Luis for a few months. So I understood why he would want to know our thoughts on his improvement. But I was much more interested in knowing Part Two since clearly there was much more substance to the second installment of this discussion than the first.

“Just get to the second part, Luis,” I insisted without paying much mind to his first question. Let’s cut the bullshit and get to the nitty-gritty because that’s where I’m going to find something interesting out of this confrontation.

His body language became more awkward and he continued to shift around in his seat stuttering out a few things before finally getting to the goods. He was feeling that the time was approaching for him to leave the company. The time had come in his short 7-month stint at helium creative to hang up his mouse and log out of his Mac permanently.

He explained that he felt like he needed to learn more. Find himself. Travel. Explore creatively. Develop his style. Go to New York. He had to do all of these things and he knew that once his current semester ended, he would have to leave.

My initial reaction, quite honestly, was to tell him to get the fuck out. It pissed me off. For reasons that I could certainly not identify at the moment. The only thing I could identify, however, was the quiver of Luis’ lip and fact that he couldn’t look either of us in the eye.

He really was nervous.

As he continued to talk, my momentary rage melted away and was replaced by something else entirely. Sadness. Loss. This kid is somebody who became part of our lives very fast. Who we had ups and downs with, long heart to heart talks, went to Dallas, worked on projects. He is someone I care about who no longer wants to be part of this thing that we are all invested in. Our work is more than a job – it is a culture, a passion. It is something we hate to love and love to hate. It is the thing that unites each of us – keeps us up till wee hours of the morning – stressing while still gleaming with pride. And Luis was ready to sail off on his own. To do whatever he feels he needs to do for himself.

And that kills me.

That’s it. The reason I got so angry and annoyed. His revelation reminds me so much of me. Of my discontent. My need for something more. Always.

To find my purpose.
To gain focus.
To do for myself.
To create something solely of my own.
To find my voice.
To travel the world.
To experience everything and hold on to nothing.

His desire to find himself and grow spiritually, mentally and creatively are directly in line with my own. And I remember that throughout his employment with helium, Luis drove me nuts at times. He got under my skin like no one else. Things he would say, the way he would talk, a not-so-undercover need to fit in, a broken past – he was a direct mirror of the things I don’t like about myself. Or at least the things that I was in denial about.

So here he is. Making a decision to move on and do what I was unable to do at his age. In my head I’m thinking, “Are you crazy?” I’ve been down that road over and over and over long enough to know that the only place to “find myself” is quite literally in “myself”. I’ve got to be good with me, understand me, to really develop any further. Whether it is creatively or spiritually. I have to be of sound mind and of total self–acceptance to be able to attract the experiences, circumstances and lessons in life that will help me to find myself and grow. I can’t go looking in other cities, other states or countries. Sure those experiences are great and you can see so much. But to truly experience everything, you have to experience yourself first.

That is something I have learned over time. From rehab. From going to AA meetings. From talking to my psychologist. From doing whatever I had to do to shed my shit and embrace myself honestly and whole heartedly.

Because that is the ultimate discovery. Discovering yourself.

So I’m sitting there. Looking at Luis. This young, early twenties-something kid who lives with his strict Ecuadorian, Christian parents. Who worked tons of odd jobs to help support his family. Who acts like he’s the shit when really he’s just wrapped in fear. He is a spirit that needs to continue on his journey and learn what he needs to for himself. He’s a lightning bug caught in a mason jar and has to break free.

I get it.

Chris and I told him how we felt. That we would miss him, that he is part of the helium family. That no matter what he had a place here and we appreciated him and his decision to follow his heart. And we do.

But there is still that feeling in me that makes my heart a little harder. I feel it when I breathe. It’s the feeling I get when I am sad. So many of the things I find hard to deal with were wrapped up in that 20 minute conversation. The feeling of loss, of abandonment. Instant change. Life is constantly evolving and you can never hold onto one thing or idea because it all moves on in time. A fear of the unknown. Who will come in now, who will handle his projects? Rejection. All of this emotion hitting me at once and, of course, it wants to initially come out as rage. A natural defense mechanism. Default protection to keep people at bay from seeing all the other stuff swirling inside me, making me not seem in control [because that would be a real disaster].

This whole situation just shows that we are all the same. We all go though the exact same crap, same feelings, emotions, wants and struggles. The circumstances are different – the events are unique to each person. But at the core, the meat of the experience is so similar. It’s how we relate to one another.  How we identify and learn from others. It’s why movies are so amazing and songs can bring us to tears or fill us with joy. When something comes from a place of truth, of genuine honesty and authenticity, it speaks volumes and the world is sure to listen. And understand. Because we’ve all gone through it in one way or another. We’ve all walked a similar path but on our own journey.

My dad uses an expression that I still say from time to time and feel it holds true right now. “We all shit the same.”

Words of wisdom from one of the wisest guys I know.

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