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To find the feel of freedom, dance with discomfort

Hear personal stories and experiences about how finding your “feel” can lead to more freedom and fulfillment

To find the feel of freedom, dance with discomfort

Many of us feel a profound lack of freedom in our lives. This can be especially true for young people, who often feel forced to choose paths that are defined by outside forces and societal expectations.

On this episode, Miami University associate professor of Kinesiology Jay Kimiecik is back, along with college student and Miami senior Alexandra Leurck ‘23, to share some personal stories and experiences about how finding our “feel” can lead to more freedom and fulfillment.

To learn more about finding your feel, listen to part one of this series. Or check out the new book, Exploring the Concept of Feel for Wellbeing and Performance.

Scan the QR code to listen on your phone.

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Read the transcript

James Loy The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University.

This is reframe, the podcast about building a better society by embracing fresh perspectives and new ideas from the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

How you feel is such an important part of life, perhaps even more so than most of us may realize. So we have another episode that's built around this topic, which is actually a direct follow up from our last episode, which was called Feel Lost? How to Find Your Feel for Life. On that episode, which is available now, we took a look at the new book by Miami Associate Professor of Kinesiology, Jay Kimiecik and his coauthor Doug Newburg, which is called Exploring the Concept of Feel for Well-Being and Performance. And we talked about what happens when we prioritize consumerism and conformity over freedom and exploration, when we exploit feelings and emotions to create artificial wants and desires. And we had such a great response to that episode that we wanted to dive even deeper into this topic with a real story around some real personal experiences on how this issue may be affecting us today, and especially young people today. Because today, young people are being pummeled by societal expectations about what it means to be successful, which may or may not align with what they want or what they even like about life. Or they may find themselves feeling trapped inside some grand plan which may not be their own, or they feel utterly disorientated if their plan unexpectedly changes. And according to the American Psychological Association, student mental health is worse now by nearly every metric.

So how might the lack of feel plain to this, and what can we do about it? Well, Dr. Kimiecik is back, along with college student and Miami senior Alexandra Leurch, who is here to talk about how these issues have impacted her own life and have had an impact on her friends and her peers. We'll also talk about how to persevere through the kinds of obstacles that we all often face in life. And we also hope to encourage you to think more deeply about one important question, which is this: If how you feel affects how you perform or your ability to thrive, which most of us would say it does. Well, then what affects how you feel?

Can you both begin by just introducing yourself?

Alexandra Leurck Yeah. So I'm Alexandra Leurck and I am a double major with theater and arts management, arts entrepreneurship with minors in dance and women gender sexuality studies.

Jay Kimiecik I'm Jay Kimiecik and thank you, James.

James Loy Well, thank you both so much for being here. What originally brought us together was inspired by the email that you originally sent, Alexandra, about our first episode. And I know before we kind of detail what that was. Dr. Kimiecik, I know you had some thought about it.

Jay Kimiecik Yeah. The email to me was very profound. It just struck me right in the heart.

James Loy And Alexandra, in it, this email, you detailed some of the self-reflection you've done over the past two years, the changes you've made, the changes in perspective you've experienced, and we'll let you certainly dive into all of that. But first, before we get to that, I want to ask just to kick us off, what resonated with you about the original episode that inspired you to write that email and to contact us?

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, definitely. Well, I really do think it's a very important topic that needs to be addressed by a lot of people, and I looked at the title and immediately resonated with it because of course it's "Feel Lost? How to Find Your Feel for Life." And I am a person that absolutely loves life. I embrace life and all of its vibrancy and energy. But at the same time, there are a lot of times, especially in these past two years of my life, that I have felt lost. And throughout the podcast there is a lot of emphasis on the lack of freedom that young people feel, and a lot of people immediately don't feel free within their life because of a lot of different factors, including mental health and the relationships we have with different people as well as the relationships with ourselves. I personally internalize a lot of things in terms of there are a lot of expectations and points of pressure that I put on myself. But then you have the other side of the situation where these outside forces are either, you know, parents or someone's upbringing that has convinced them that they have to make certain decisions or take certain steps within their life and there's no other option for them, or that they believe there is no other option for them. Or there is the expectations of their school that they go to or the major that they're in or the friends that they're with, or the materialistic and consumer-centered motives people have or desires that they have that may not really be authentic. So I think those are a lot of the aspects that are motivating and driving a lot of these mental health issues. And even my friends like's very sad. But more than half of my friends either identify that they do have like clinical depression or feel depressed or have an anxiety disorder or feel anxious. And another part that you all did address was we all feel lost. And even the people that like practice, mindfulness and love life can still feel lost. And I am that person. Like, again, to reiterate, I love life. I, I do practice mindfulness. There's a lot that I am passionate about, so much that I'm passionate about that I don't even know, like what the next steps I want to take in my life are. And ... yeah. 

Jay Kimiecik When you mentioned expectations and pressure, that to me seems like what we were talking about in the first episode, which is feelings and feel. So what it seems like is happening is that because of the influence or the influx of these outside forces, they seem to tap into more of feelings for young people and undergraduates, specifically, rather than really helping us figure out how do you want to feel with some of your dreams or aspirations? So how do you -- and I know this isn't necessarily about you, Alexandra, per se -- but do you know or have you experienced that feeling, whatever it might be, and has it helped you overcome some of these feelings that young people ... and not just young people ... Lots of people have? 

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, absolutely. And I'll approach this sort of from this two year journey that I've gone through that I've kind of mentioned. So I'll backtrack a bit, going back to like the start of the pandemic and then as well, during my time abroad, I went to Luxembourg in spring of 2021. That time period really was a lot of reflective time for myself, and beforehand I had a lot of like specific aspirations and things that I wanted to do in my life, and I was really, really focused and driven on those specific things. And then, again, when COVID and my time abroad happened, my horizons were expanded. I had different interests and passions really building up within myself. A lot of that changed. And it kind of scared me in a way, because I was so focused and destined on like these certain goals in my life. And I think a lot of people have that, whether they come... It comes from within themselves or from somebody else in their life telling them like, okay, you've prepared so much for this, so you have to stick with this and you have to keep going and moving forward in this direction. And in order to do that, you have to take steps ABCD. The rest of the alphabet. In order to get to that point. But then, you know, things happen in life naturally that change your mind about that. And so that's what happened to me. And again, it scared me because I was so focused on something. And then that all changed. And then I started wondering like, well, I don't know what I want to do with my life anymore. And that kind of took me down a rabbit hole of wondering and questioning and being curious and doubting myself and being confused with what my goals were. And I think a lot of other students can feel that, like if they've had a certain goal for a long time and then that changes. So it's like, what do you do now? I don't know if that fully answers your question ... but ....

Jay Kimiecik Oh, I'm not laughing at you. I'm laughing with you because, I mean, that is what we hear all the time. If you start paying attention, you'll see that everyone has what you just described. You just described how. "Okay. I had kind of certain ideas and goals about where I'm going in my life," and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, what determines that? In my humble experience, for the students that I teach anyway, what determines that is their high school and their parents and their peers. Not necessarily a feeling that they have. It's just like: "this is what we think you should do," and most of us buy into that, right? So we start plodding along. But at some point you feel something, right? It could be something you touch, something you feel, something you like. Now, does that resonate with these goals, or not? So there's a difference between goals. Goals can be based on feelings, which again, if those feelings are like expectations from others and so on and so forth, then, yeah, you know, something is going to hit the fan at some point. Unless that's the want, right? Like that's the want, not the like. So how do you ... or how have you begun to figure out how you kind of had this thing over here, and then you started to feel something different? How have you been grappling or figuring that out? Because if you don't do that, to me, that's where you get anxiety and other things that kind of push against authenticity and self-expression.

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, it took a lot of self-reflection and really dedicating time to myself to really think about what was resonating in the core of my being and in my heart, in my mind. I'll be honest, like I'm a spiritual person. So like, that is very important to me and to understand, like, what resonates with me on an emotional level. And I don't want to sound like a self-help guru. There's too many of those in the world, and they're not always, you know, down to earth and helpful. But it's true. Like, and I think people aren't always able to do that because first of all, a lot the majority of people my age just don't give themselves the time to -- dedicated time -- to think through what excites them, what gives them this feeling of love and enjoyment and, you know, vibrant beauty in their life. And so I had to take that time, and I'm still taking that time because there's still, you know ...

Jay Kimiecik So they don't take the time. Do you think that we or our institutions like education, family, in your conversations with your friends or making observations, do you feel like we are inhibiting that time? Or is it more of the student kind of ignoring that time? You know what I mean?

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, definitely. I think it's a bit of both, but at the same time, I don't think it's anyone's fault because this kind of situation is something that, in a way, has been systemic and traditional for decades and even like hundreds of years. You know? It's a mindset that has been passed down that like, okay, yeah, sure, we want you to enjoy life, but, you know, you have to do all these certain steps in order to be successful. Or you have to do all these certain things to get to a certain role or get to a certain position, and that's not doing a lot for the individual. And so since there are those expectations and those, quote unquote, "necessary steps" people have to take. I think students and people my age dismiss the time they need to give themselves to understand what they feel is best for them.

Jay Kimiecik Yeah. And that makes me sad. I've been around long enough, you know, grew up in the sixties and seventies when I guess I would agree with you that these things have been in place for a long time. And maybe it's just because I'm getting older and more of a curmudgeon, but it just seems like it's gotten worse, which makes it more challenging for young people to figure the feel of the life out.

So what do they do? Do you just say, "Oh, well, I'll find the feel of things later on." But you seem to say I might want to pay attention to how some things are feeling in my life and see where that takes me. Did you actually make any changes? 

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, I mean, definitely I made changes. I, you know, decided to allow myself to keep spreading out into everything that makes me feel truly alive and that I love to do in this life. And so that's what I wanted to feel. That's how I feel. And so the actions I made to keep going with that, basically, was to take a fifth year and to allow myself to have time. I have two majors and two minors, and I added some of those studies because I cared about them and was passionate about them, but not everyone's able to do that. So that's just my personal example. But I think there are other things too, like people have to decide to allow themselves to step into spaces and areas that they genuinely resonate with in order to, you know, enter the next chapter of their life.

I also want to touch on how, you know, you said there are these expectations that you feel from your perspective and your relationship with students as a professor that this has gotten worse. And I think that's where media comes in. Social media comes in, like, especially for people in their twenties or even late teens. We constantly see like everyone has their life figured out on social media and everyone's doing all these crazy, incredible successes and accomplishments and really thriving in their life. And that's where those questions of like, "okay, well, why doesn't my life look like that? Why am I not at that level yet?" And at our stage in life, we want to care. We want to, you know, go after the things we desire and want to work towards and be ambitious in that way. But at the same time, it's like there's no reason for a 21 year old to have everything figured out right now. You know, that's that's not the point. I was listening to a different podcast, and one of the statements they made on that particular episode was: Your twenties are meant for trying 25 different things and failing at 22 of them. And that's what you have to do and that's what you're meant to do. That's what you're allowed to do. So in a sense, it's kind of pointless to expect yourself to have every single thing figured out by now. And I've kind of learned that the hard way, and I think a lot of people struggle with that.

Jay Kimiecik I would say that that would be good for lifelong. I try to do things sometimes that other people are like, eh, no, don't think so. And so what brings you back?

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, I think you have to surrender to the idea and fact that you will fail. Like that's inevitable no matter what you do. I want to personally do like 150 things in my life and be in a bunch of different positions and roles and ideas and projects and whatnot. But I know they're not maybe not all going to work out and they don't have to, but it's letting go of that need for perfection. And that idea that, you know, everything has to work in a linear way, that's just not how life is. It's not linear.

Jay Kimiecik Yeah, because what happens when you avoid failure, you end up not trying.

Alexandra Leurck Hmm.

Jay Kimiecik Stuff that could help you find exactly what you might be looking for.

James Loy So this brings us back to one of our essential questions, as well as to a few others. The first one being, again, if how you feel affects how you perform or to thrive, then what affects how you feel? But Alexandra was inspired to ask even more questions, and they went beyond just her own personal pursuits of self-reflection. They're also the kinds of larger, more rhetorical questions that are perfect for the rest of us to consider, especially if you're also seeking to find more feel in your life or more freedom from the pressures of our modern, high paced, other-driven society. Alexandra Leurck and Jay Kimiecik again.

Alexandra Leurck And I asked myself these questions, and I think a lot of other people can ask themselves as well to think about their life and their identity. But for the first one it was: How can I feel better about genuinely feeling free in my own choices and my personal actions? What are your what are your thoughts on that one?

Jay Kimiecik I don't have a great answer on the "feel better," because when you begin to really feel it, there's going to be a lot of, for lack of a better word, there's going to be a lot of crap that you do have to kind of go through. Because if these outside forces, as we've talked about, are so prevalent and strong, you do have to go against the grain in some way, shape or form. So the feel better is the tricky one.

Alexandra Leurck Yeah. And I think another way to approach this question is also, again, motivating people to give themselves time to be self-reflective and think about what resonates with their core and their passions in life. So I think that's another way to approach it too, in terms of feel better, like what ... What are you doing in your life or what are you not doing in your life or your day to day that electrifies you in a sense?

Jay Kimiecik Okay, that is good. And I'm glad you said that because that electrifying is what will pull you through some of the situations or things that don't necessarily, like jibe with that. 

Alexandra Leurck Exactly.

Jay Kimiecik And so when we did the first podcast, we were talking about "like" and "want," feelings and feel. Right. So a lot of people are going to want you to do things that they like, but there's not going to be a lot of people that help you with what you like and how to stay true to that. So it doesn't end up being a lot of responsibility on on young people, middle age, older adults. And I'm not sure we all know how to figure that out.

Alexandra Leurck It's so true and it brings up fantastic points. And this is not meant to put more pressure on people. Well, I guess it's more positive pressure, but it's like you ... Your life is your one life. And at the end of the day, it really is your responsibility and in your hands. And you can choose to go down that path of want or you can choose to go down the path of like. Or combine them in a way that is beautiful and positive and has potential for so much growth. We have to, in a sense, destroy parts of our life, I guess, that are not fulfilling us and are not allowing us to live our truth and then really putting that positive pressure on ourselves to create a life that is fulfilling and does combine the ones in the likes to, you know, allow for growth.

Jay Kimiecik Do you think in your interactions with younger people that ... Because even when you were talking about it, that's pretty compelling. But also scary.

Alexandra Leurck It definitely is scary. And I'm scared too, because you have to take risks and you have to let go of certain things and you have to step into situations that are going to be uncomfortable, but ... and that is scary. But you have to dance with discomfort in order to get what you like. And again, going back to what electrifies you, you have to step into that.

Jay Kimiecik Okay, I'm going to write that down, dance with discomfort.

Alexandra Leurck I'm a dancer so that ... I liked that.

And people can, you know, listen and be like, okay, that's great. How do I do that? What are the steps? Because a lot of us at this age, especially, think in a linear way and we need steps to make things happen. And so one of my other questions that I did send was: how can I craft a path for myself that is rooted in the present, but also catapults a future for myself that is, again, authentic to who I am at my core?

Jay Kimiecik It's not easy. But I would say the linear process comes from our rational conscious .... and I don't want to get into left brain, right brain, because I think neuroscience has advanced beyond that. But it is kind of like our society and culture emphasizes the left brain of rational thought and linearity. "Feel," it can't be linear. So just as one quick example, this process of how to do this would be more of the circle of living where: what do I like? How do I know it? That really kind of dives into how I want to feel, which then would dive into, well, if I kind of start knowing how I want to feel, what do I need to do to begin to prepare to experience that? Right. And then, of course, in this process, you're going to hit obstacles. The thing that I've noticed out there is that most people start with obstacles. And if you don't have a feel for how you want to live when you hit obstacles, what are you going to do? You're going to give up. You're not going to persevere as you've talked about. So the obstacles, what gets in the way of this feel that I'm having, or what fosters and promotes it, right, as far as preparation? And then when, you know, stuff hits the fan, things go south, whatever. How do I revisit that feel as quickly as possible? And it's just a circular thing. It sounds relatively simple. Of course it's not. It is kind of a hot mess because we're living in a world that doesn't necessarily say, "Oh, yes, this is how everybody should should do this." The market society has co-opted the word feel, and it's all over the place. So it is, to me, it's a circular process. You touch and feel something. You begin to like it. You start to feel certain things, right? You play around. That would be a whole nother discussion of what's playing involve? You play around. You begin to know something. Once you know it, you begin to trust it. You create the life that you like.

Alexandra Leurck Yeah, And this ... the circular process that you are talking about also deeply requires the present moment. My cousin recently told me .... So I was telling him all the things I'm thinking about in the future and it was very overwhelming. And I'm like, This is too much for me. I don't know what to do. And he said, "You need to think where your feet are planted." And I ... a lot of people my age, including myself, we think so far into the future that we're not focused on what we are feeling in the current moment. And so this cycle that you're talking about is very important. But it does ... it requires that that present moment to explore and give the self-reflective time to think about what I'm feeling, how this certain thing or activity or project or person or myself is making me feel, and then taking that next action, that next step.

Jay Kimiecik Yeah, I like that. I would say "feel" where your feet are planted.

Alexandra Leurck And you need both. You need to think and feel in a way, you know, because like if it's, let's say, another person in my generation is thinking about their career. Okay, well, what are you thinking about right now that is going to maybe give you an idea of what that career might be, but then feel. You also ... Need you need both. It's so interesting. You need both to connect and allow, like, allow it to flow to the next chapter.

Jay Kimiecik That reminds me of the elephant metaphor from the book and also from the first podcast in terms of thinking and feeling are really, if you want to look at it in terms of the conscious subconscious and as you say, both need to be -- and we call that "with." When you're "with-ing" something, that's when both of them are are resonating or interacting.

Alexandra Leurck Mm hmm.

Jay Kimiecik So I do have one last question.

Alexandra Leurck Yes, please.

Jay Kimiecik What are you doing, like, when you have your feet planted? 

Alexandra Leurck I am taking it one day at a time, in a sense, because my days are filled with a lot of different projects and involvements and whatnot. So in terms of the feet planted, I am trying to remind myself to approach all of my different involvements and whatnot from a perspective of staying in the present, because I also ... I just have so many different balls in the air that it can be hard for me to focus and center on the one thing that I'm doing, but it deserves that time and attention and dedication, whether that is my current involvements or, you know, actually what I'm feeling right now, and then thinking about what I'm going to feel in my next chapter of life, it requires patience. So with my feet planted. I am trying to remind myself to be patient and focus on the current moment.

Jay Kimiecik Yeah, that's really what it's all about. So I certainly appreciate you taking the time to have a conversation with us, because I personally thought it was very illuminating. Because sometimes some of the things that I do sometimes feel like they're a little esoteric, but it's good to know that there are people who actually felt something when they listened to the podcast. Or they read the book or whatever. And that's really what we're after, is for people to feel something that then that may say, "Oh, wait a second, let's really take a closer look at this. So that we can create something for all of us."

Alexandra Leurck Exactly. And I think one final reminder for those that are listening to this and responding to it is: that everyone in my age range, generation, and even everyone beyond that, we're all actually doing a pretty good job at this life thing. And I think it's just important to remind ourselves not to put too much pressure on us, which can be really difficult. And it may require that reminder every single day, or every hour or whatever that looks like. But it's important to approach the different things you're doing in life with the question of how it makes me feel. Responding to that, giving yourself patience with that and then letting go of the pressures and expectations and allowing yourself to move forward and your authentic truth.

James Loy Thanks again to Alexandra Leurck, a college senior here at Miami University, for appearing on the podcast and for sharing her story and experiences and for inspiring this second episode around the concept of feel. And thanks again to Professor Jay Kimiecik, an associate professor of kinesiology here at Miami University. His new book, along with coauthor Doug Newburg, is called Exploring the Concept of Feel for Well-Being and Performance. And this is the Reframe podcast. Many more episodes are now available wherever podcasts are found.