“Change is the only constant in life.”

I’m a completely different person than I was a year ago.

I guess you could say, I’ve matured. You could say that I grew up. You could say that I’ve entered full-fledged adulthood – whatever that means…

I’ve overcome challenges. I’ve become more introspective. I’ve whatever… this boils down to: I’ve learned an incredible amount!

I’ve always been a “process over product” girl. I thrive off of the opportunity to learn!  I appreciate most the experiences that garner ripples of knowledge, and layers of impact that, in some cases, I’m still realizing the effects. My mental endurance and, exemplified, agility drive me to crave knowledge and information. I want to uncover the “why” and the “reasons”. My refusal to quit and inability to stop fuels me each day! Naturally, to me, the journey toward clarity from chaos is exhilarating. In fact, in hindsight, all the experiences that have been the most influential for me were also the most challenging; those experiences taught an inexplicable amount.

Before I proceed, I’m going to briefly recap this past year both to give context to this piece, and to own it for myself.

I graduated, and left a school where I was thriving. I spent nearly every day for four years feeling on top of the world. It was amazing. I felt unstoppable. I left everything I knew, and everything I loved. I left what felt safe, and supportive, and leapt, basically unwillingly, into something that was incredibly risky, ambiguous, and into something that I wasn’t sure I would be any better for doing.  I left my mentors and friends for a glamorous name, and what I expected would be the next best step for my personal and professional development.

I had such high hopes too! I wrote, “it’s okay to be scared. I hope this fear will actually fuel me to make the most of this opportunity rather than cripple me. And, if my past experiences could inform my next steps, I’d say that based on those outcomes, and how influential they were for me, Brown can have just as big of an impact.”

AND, it had a huge impact. AND, I was miserable. I was absolutely miserable.

After months of struggling silently I found respite, and strength in writing, some amazing friends, and a hefty dose of much needed therapy. I jumped into my own uncharted space. I started to connect with myself, and others in a really vulnerable, and public way. It’s been hugely influential to my personal growth, and exploration. The outcome of this past year far surpassed the simple, although not so simple, accomplishment of getting to May 29, 2016, earning my Master’s degree, and being done with school. I longed for that commencement day; I yearned for this year to be over fast, and for time to travel by at warped speed.

And then it was over. As I anticipated, and wished for, it was as if I was traveling too quickly down a hill in my car, and I pulled up on the emergency brake right before my car flipped. It was just over. The danger was gone, and in front of me possibility glistened. If I could do this, I could do anything. There is no doubt in my mind that this year was one of the most difficult in my life.

This year, I struggled with claiming my sexuality, achieving my professional aspirations, abandoning and admitting to several variations of self-harm, losing friendships, and family feuds – to name a few. I wouldn’t listen to my friends; I lost so many friends. Yet, I had no idea how to even begin to navigate these challenges. It was scary, dark, dangerous, and lonely. I didn’t crave the solution, I craved the end.

It’s only been a short time, and I’m already noticing that I’m in such a different place. Some days, I can’t believe I ever experienced that depression. [Side note: crazed journal entries don’t lie – it happened. It all happened]

At the end of it all, I, now, stand corrected. Leaving UConn was the best thing I could have done! I had to leave to learn how strong and capable I really am!

I’ve regained my feeling of invincibility. I truly feel like there’s nothing I can’t do. I learned that it’s okay to be terrified because we grow most from the experience that evoke vulnerability and uncertainty.

I wrote my graduate school personal statement based on this mantra:

 “Do Three Squishy Things a Day You know you are truly leading when you do at least three things a day that make you uncomfortable” (City Year)

I learned to live up to the words that pierced my mind for so many years, and in so many moments. Those words continue to propel me to serve, lead, and learn each day!

I wrote previously, “there’s something to be learned from every experience… We are truly influenced by everything around us and by all of our experiences.” I grew to strive to live by the principles that ground me and, ultimately, in the face of this cascade of challenges, I learned to thrive own my own.

I learned to love, and use the phrase “what I heard you say is…” I practiced actively and reflectively listening.  I found value in really listening. LIKE really, really listening.

A good friend once told me that, in her opinion, good conversations are what college is about. I realized that I don’t need to be the person occupying the most space in a conversation for it to be a good a conversation. With time, even in this new space, I had several more invigorating, thoughful conversations, and continued to fortify existing relationships. I had to be really intentional about it, but it was worth it!

To that note, I learned that my relationships, and the people that I was afraid to leave would stand by me (most of them anyway…). I discovered that relationships are like the tools in a toolbox. They’re necessary to build us up! I realized a good friendship is rewarding and special – it’s a privilege.

Most importantly, I learned the importance, and value of reciprocity and vulnerability. Like a pendulum swinging, I swiftly wavered between not letting anyone in, to burdening my friends with my suffering yet not knowing how to accept their support. Finally, I resided in the middle both valuing my friends’ contributions and conversation, and being valued for my insight and influence too.

I also discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. I gained emotional intelligence, critical awareness, and intuition. Feeling didn’t have to mean feeling out of control. I found “calm and content”. [Just so you know, it’s WAY different than complacent.]

Before this year, my life was a hectic, hot mess – to be frank.

Imagine the pieces of a package scattered across the floor: the box, the gift wrap, the bow for the top, and the contents – a myriad of shapes and sizes. This year, step-by-step, that package was assembled, wrapped, and tied together with a bow on top! A complete, confident me emerged – looking pretty spiffy, and ready to face my next adventures!

I can’t precisely put my finger on it, but I’m definitely different. And, when I stop to think about my life, I simply feel happy and confident. I also feel proud.

Now, I say things like “there are no counterfactuals in life”, and “relationships are not bound by geography”. I remind people that the biggest regrets stem from the opportunities we didn’t take. I share that the incessant wondering quickly spirals into an interminable game of “what if”. That type of wondering will wear you down to the core of your weaknesses. Some of my weaknesses are vulnerability, change, and ambiguity – I learned this too!

Can you give voice to the areas where your strengths can be capitalized to cultivate your personal growth? Can you recognize how empowering, and exciting that feels to give voice to all the ways you can direct your own positive energy and strength to bolster your  personal journey and self-exploration?


Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 2)

~ Written while sitting in the airport waiting for my plane to D.C. to attend and present my research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting. ~

A few months ago I wrote Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 1). In hindsight, I was right on the money. But, instead of fighting it, I’ve decide to become an expert at “playing the game” (whatever that means). So, I’ve been name dropping and networking everywhere, because that’s what we do. Except now, saying, “I’m a graduate student at Brown University studying urban education policy” doesn’t feel like such an unconquerable tongue twister. Why? Because I realize it’s really not a big deal. Rather than being fixated on the prestige and all that I never thought I could own up to I’ve decide to focus on all I can gain from this program and how much my perspective has been challenged and changed.

Here are some realizations:

Brown students are no different. I used to think, “who are these people, and what am I doing here?” I still think that, but I now realize, at their core, people want to belong and feel purposeful. We crave connections with each other — to something larger than ourselves. We know this. Brown students are no different – they’re just people. We’ve ascribed value to their lives and accolades because of their university affiliation. But really, they’re just people. It only means something if we let it. I built Brown up to seem like something for which I was entirely unfit. I felt motivated to continue the facade and charade of “belonging”. Something changed when I stopped competing and convincing, and instead relentlessly chased after learning. And then, I truly thought “I could be happy here” – there were moments at least. Not all at once but slowly, I gained confidence and stamina.

Here’s why:

I stayed the course – and was rock star! The change happened once I realized I DO belong! As in, I’m smart enough, diligent enough, persistent enough, intellectual enough, eager enough. I am enough. But then, the real work began. Now that I know these things, rather than keeping up the show and attempting to convince others, I have to own it. I know I’m good, and that I do good work. My emotional investments in my work and myself are propelling me up the social and academic ladders. Now it’s personal. It’s beyond simply playing the game. This is my life. And in this life, I’m unapologetically pursuing my dreams of becoming a researcher. That means, I have to show up every day. I have to grasp, and sometimes flail at, every opportunity.

Speaking of opportunities…

I learned my faculty work for me. In the simplest sense, if there were no students attending Brown, the faculty wouldn’t have jobs. My tuition (and hefty endowments/donations – YAY Ivy League!) pays their salaries. So, in a way, I’m their boss, and they work for me. That means I’m entitled to ask them questions and expect them to answer me thoroughly. I’m going to capitalize on the important knowledge and experience they have, and be a captive audience member so that I can grow my own knowledge and skills. They owe me that much. And in return, in my next endeavor, (once someone gives me a job) it’ll reflect well (perhaps even superficially well) on the institution . I’ll (un)willingly perpetuate the cycle of misconception because I am amazing and unstoppable. It’s not because of this university, but in spite of it. That’s how the game it played.

And in playing the game, I discovered that…

If you look beyond the curtain, this university has a lot to offer. At Brown there are spaces where you can be inquisitive and wonder. You can cultivate and engage in great conversations. There are spaces to be fearless in your pursuits, but you have to seek them out. There are so many talks and resources available. But, if you’re going to be exceptional then you have to show up. You have to show up often. Contrary to public perception, going to Brown doesn’t mean that everything will be handed to you on a silver platter. In fact, most of the experience hasn’t be easy at all.  However, if you advocate for yourself, commit to your craft, and focus on your goals you can be impressively successful – and learn a lot too. Real talk – I am learning a lot! But, you also should know, there have been extensive, debilitating road blocks along the way.

Such as this:

Brown is a great place to be a feminist – unless you’re a Jewish and/or queer feminist. The activism on this campus is both a blessing and a curse. Each day I’m excited to see students donning shirts that read “CONSENT” or “This is what a Feminist looks like”. I see stickers hearkening women’s empowerment and I’m often impressed by the conversation and engagement around tough issues. However, behind the curtain there’s some really toxic advocacy too. There’s competition for the “best” activism and spaces that privilege voice over value. These types of actions (here and here for example) make it dangerous to be a Jewish and/or queer feminist or activist on this campus. [note: I am juxtaposing feminist and activist because of how closely related those identities are to me. Someone else may be an activist but share a different set of values related to equality.]

And, while we’re talking about feminism and conversations…

Code switching is real. Sometimes, I feel like there’s a performative element to being a Brown student. If you can set aside Brown’s history of slavery and oppression and instead frolic freely among the waves of liberalism you’ll see what I mean. There’s a lingo and a “type” at Brown. In fact, most students will tell you, as long as your opinions reside with the popular – read majority – stream of thought you’ll get along fine!  If you can talk the talk and look the part you’ll fit right in. But, it’s a hard place to have a loud, and opposing, opinion. And for most of us, the socially acceptable buzzwords like, “conceptualization”, “space”, “colonialism”, “patriarchy”, “subjectivity” (to name a few) aren’t part of our daily vernacular – see what I did there?  The elite speech patterns I’ve acquired  to get along at Brown makes me feel and seem pretentious to everyone else who is important in my life. I have to “turn off” my “Ivy League speech” when I’m in other contexts because I literally can’t stand to listen to myself or because I can perceive how annoying it is to other people. Performing Brown feels necessary to make it here. It also feels really fake, impersonal, and detached. Yet I’ve become so accustomed to this lifestyle and role that sometimes it takes hours for me to snap out of it. I find myself hopelessly stuck in cycles of blaming systematic, institutional oppression and whatnot.

Lamenting aside, the reality is, the name does mean a lot to other people! And, that matters. You know, if we’re playing the game.

Effortlessly Perfect

I think, you become an adult the moment you realize that most of the time NOBODY knows what they’re doing. Practically no one is an expert in anything except for pretending to be an expert at something and making it seem like they’ve got it all together. Keeping up appearances and “faking it” could be a full-time job. I guess there’s a turning point, it’s a paradox really, where once you realize how much you know (about your field, life, “the real world”) you realize how much you actually don’t know. The objective then becomes, “how can I convince as many people as possible I belong here and I’m as knowledgeable as they expect me to be?”

When that objective impedes the functioning of your life and begins to dictate your decisions that’s called Impostor Syndrome. It’s defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence (Caltech Counseling Center, 2015).

Impostor Syndrome is common among, although not exclusive to, academics and high achieving women. It’s been discussed in academic literature since 1978 when Clance and Imes coined the “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women”. They explain that “Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persists in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample object evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief. ” Alrighty, enough literature…

Impostor Syndrome is real and by reducing it to “humility” and ignoring its consequences we’re perpetuating the silence around mental health and the pressure and culture of perfectionism.

For me, Impostor Syndrome started invading my thoughts when I decided to apply to Brown. Then more persistently, when I struggled through my personal statement for my graduate school applications. And, most viciously when I got accepted to Brown and decided to come. In many regards, I’m “over it”. I know, and I’m confident that, I’m “intellectual enough” to be in graduate school but still, sometimes, it creeps up on me unexpectedly.  On a bad day, if I let it win, Impostor Syndrome prescribes me to stay in bed. It convinces me I shouldn’t even try because I’m simply not good enough. In my work Impostor Syndrome sounds like me telling myself “I can’t believe they’re letting/trusting me to do this task” – regardless of the rigor or importance. Then I spend hours scrutinizing over the smallest details to be sure to impress or meet their “delusional” expectations.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Impostor Syndrome as it relates to social media and the necessity to present as perfect and simultaneously have every accomplishment appear effortless. I’m sure many of us can relate to abruptly halting our lived experiences to snap the perfect photo (and another and another) and then later stressing about crafting the pithy caption to capture the moment that was already ruined once we decided to take a photo. Right? The anxiety social media perpetuates in terms of what/how/why we share about our successes and good news (and how we perceive others will respond) makes this compelling to explore.

Why is it that when someone posts about their successes on social media it’s always accompanied by a slight, yet extremely important, attribution to luck or “the amazing opportunity”? Yes, humility is important and often we aren’t doing it all on our own but, can you recall the last time you shared an accomplishment without being concerned someone would think you’re being conceited or think you’re only sharing it to boost your self-esteem and receive their praise? Why should you be nervous to call a friend or post online and share something exciting?

There’s this pervasive notion that you can’t actually be proud of what you’ve done.102615bucks-carl-sketch-master675 You have to be #blessed or #lucky to parade positivity online (listen to #blessed – Stuff Mom Never Told You for more on this – it’s spot on) because calling attention to your successes outright is, apparently, social media taboo. WHY? Why do women feel the need to downplay their success or appear effortlessly perfect?

There’s even an app now that helps women stop saying “just” and “sorry” in emails so they stop “inadvertently discredit[ing] their own opinions”. It’s troubling though because nobody is talking about the societal and institutional parameters that perpetuate these minimizing behaviors and render them acceptable. Why do women feel more comfortable making themselves small? In some ways, I think, it’s an attempt to build themselves up. We’re not talking about the protective features those asides provide to make women feel like it’s okay to share about their exciting news or even simply their opinion. These small, but important, choices we make assure we’re not experienced as “bossy” or “boasting”. We do it even when we know we’re right!

The New York Times, discusses this culture of appearing perfect and saving face well in one of their most popular articles from 2015: Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection. They detail a phenomenon where students talked about how “They could say what they’d accomplished, but they couldn’t necessarily say who they were”. Such mind games! But it’s true and, it’s practically unbelievable that intelligent people can stare at their resumes and acceptance letters to Ivy League institutions (which if you “look beneath the façade of seamless well-adjustment…what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation”) and see right past all the evidence that indicates they are deserving. They can easily convince themselves otherwise and may not even recognize themselves beyond the list of “things they’ve done”. Suddenly, their accomplishments stand in as the default measure that indicates who they are, their worth, and beyond the impressive list they’ve compiled they feel lost and misguided. It happens without consent and it’s positively crippling once it captures your mind.

The NY Times article also explains that “female students felt pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort.” These internal narratives are consistently challenged by loved ones’ encouragements, “you belong with those people”and “you’re meant to do this”. Where the words, “those people” throb like a pounding headache because they feels so separate, so elite, so much more than they could achieve; they  hear “you’re meant to do this” as “you tricked them yet again” rather than the support these phrases are intended to provide. So their foundation must be rebuilt often due to the wrath – expressions of support and encouragement – of what seems like never ending wrecking balls whose only obligation is to create cracks in their concrete with their terms of endearment. They go through the motions working themselves into fits of sleeplessness and mind boggling anxiety trying to prove they can do this – it becomes their sole obligation. At the same time, they’re consumed by maintaining an online presence of apparent effortlessness and success – but not too successful of course.

Don’t be fooled. Underneath the encouragement from friends and family and the pristine social media presence, their mind is unraveling. It tells a story which is comprised of lists of achievementsour-deepest-fear that amount to nothing special – cloaked in phrases like “it’s mediocre” or “just a thing I’ve done” – even when they’re spectacular! The list is glistening with expectations still to be met. We call these unmet items potential and as their list of accomplishments grows longer so too does the list of expectations. Somehow, as they become  more “qualified”, and subsequently feel less qualified, little by little the consideration of the associated hard work they’ve done to reach these numerous accolades dissipates. At some point, perfection becomes a burdensome, heavy expectation that weighs them down and occupies their mind. Soon, the means by with they achieve are less important and to the outside world it looks like they can do it all – and so they do and then some – whatever the cost. The conceptions that they work hard and overcome challenges or adversity are not entertained.  The final product becomes the only objective – nobody is concerned about the process or the progress. It’s a dangerous, slippery slope that ends in fear and pent up, insidious, persistent feelings of inadequacy which are kept separate from the persona they put on each day to face the world. It feels like they must make it seem absolutely effortless because otherwise, they’d have to actually recognize THEMSELVES rather than their resume. They end up feeling defeated simultaneously wondering how they can maintain the facade and how it was created in the first place. They experience all this utter nonsense, instead of owning their successes and being proud. Social media only makes it worse. It’s never ending and mostly they want it to stop – even if just for a moment – so they can gain some perspective.

15 Good Things From 2015

Everyone’s positive energy building up to the New Year is absolutely contagious. I want to join!

Here’s my list of 15 good things from 2015:

*not in chronological order or order of importance*

  1. I was awarded a Chapter Distinguished Service Key (DSK) in Alpha Phi Omega (APO): Upon receiving this fraternity honor I wrote “I feel like this statDSCN4702us should go something like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or “nobody said it was easy…” but actually, in all seriousness, it was truly an honor to be awarded a Chapter DSK today. I am so thankful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had as an active Brother and I cannot wait to continue to serve with APO as alumni!” Just a few weeks later I was offered a position on Region 1 Staff! This fraternity has given me more than I could ever ask for. APO continually shows me the the meaning of brotherhood in ways I can’t explain. I made some of the best friends and learned some of the most important lessons and skills of my life.
  2. I went on Birthright and spent my 23rd birthday in Israel!
  3. I finished my honors thesis: but really 53 pages later! This seemed like an impossible task made manageable only by consuming inappropriate amounts of coffee and working ALL THE TIME. I still don’t know how I did it all. Before this project, conducting my own research seemed like a task that was beyond the scope of what I expected I could accomplish as an undergraduate; my advisors’ commitment to me and my project convinced me otherwise and showed me that I can accomplish more than I expect. Having an advisor who saw enough value in my ideas and capabilities to believe in my project was imperative to the success of this work and was necessary for me to grow both academically and personally. My confidence and pride was ignited because she didn’t tell me no. Rather, she pushed me each day to excel. This project not only taught me the research process but was instrumental in creating a foundation for both my future professional and academic interests. Now, I want to be a researcher! Of course, none of this would have been possible or as fun without my amazing HDFS honors cohort. We were a great bunch and I loved every minute of our learning and lamenting together.11149684_10204024050981885_3863601930795783864_o
  4. I became a runner: I used to have a witty excuse as to why I hated running. I’d say, “it’s physics. It’s just logic. If you start where you end then you’ve displaced nothing. So, why would I run if displacement says at the end I’ll have accomplished nothing?” I clearly didn’t really understand running or physics then. I still don’t understand physics. Now, whether I’m running to escape or running to gear up to something, running is important for me. It gives me time to think. It gives me order, control, discipline, expectations, freedom, and strength. Some days, the best we can do is put one front in front of the other and face the day. That’s what running has taught me. There are no unconquerable obstacles, just different paces with which we overcome them. On June 4th I posted this photo [yes on Facebook] and pulled the caption from the first time I publicly shared this picture during my senior year of high school public speaking class last lecture. I wrote, “In the face of a challenge, face it. You never know what you can do until you try”.Then there were sentiments of continuing to persevere until you 11351330_10204410118993344_5105233088170803531_nreach your goals and never stopping until you achieve what you want. Apparently my 18 year old self was more attuned to grasping at opportunity than I realized and, I may never learn to stop!

    What’s even more important (and timely/relevant) about this picture is this: it’s the first time I ran and triumphed over RSD (circa 2007).  And now, I consistently surprise myself by running farther, faster, and longer than I have in my entire life. Not pain free but, still confident and owning it! In 2015, I tracked 426 miles and ran a 10K (6.2 miles) in 1:04:47.

  5. I was published on The Mighty! You can read my piece: The One Statement I Want to Hear From Loved Ones About My Invisible Illness here. [Side note: I have a forthcoming  piece on Ravishly – I’m really excited!]
  6. I started this blog! When I started this project I said, “I’m starting this project to make space to wonder…I’m also using this blog to find a space to reflect. That’s a word that wasn’t in my vocabulary a year ago but, many great mentors and conversations later, I’m craving that necessary “me space”. However, not even my best mentors or friends would willingly sign on to interact with my every thought, question, challenge, insight, funny link, or freak out moment. So instead, there’s blogging. ” I’ve grown to love exploring and thinking on things. Sharing my work has been exhilarating and making connections through my writing [and my online community] has shown me that even when I’m feeling lonely there’s someone out there who “gets it”. My list of “things to write about” is growing longer and longer each day. These days, you won’t find me without a notebook in hand in case something sparks an idea. It’s been a risk, it’s still a risk but, I’m really loving this project.
  7. I learned about the importance of relationships and gained some amazing friendships: And of course the only appropriate comment here would be from Grey’s, “We’re friends, real friends. And that means, no matter how long it takes, when you finally decide to look back, I’ll still be here.” – Grey’s Anatomy
  8. I practiced saying what I need, asking for help, and being a better communicator: I started with being okay with things not being “okay” or “fine”. I found an outlet through writing and some great, trustworthy friends to express myself more honestly without worrying about being a burden or being a toxic friend.
  9. I graduated from UConn!  It’s true, some of the best learning happens outside the classroom. At UConn I was challenged, pushed, mentored and questioned both inside and outside of class. Rather than feeling inadequate or frustrated I was inspired and thankful for all that I learned and all the ways I grew. At UConn, I truly thrived! I felt supported and confident. I did it all and then some and, I had an amazing network of friends, mentors, advisors, and professors encouraging me along the way. This quote rings true for me and is so applicable right now, “I’ve learned that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”― Cecelia Ahern.  I miss UConn *literally* every day and I am SO proud to be a  Husky!
  10. Logically what comes next, I started at Brown University in the Urba10360465_10204185744024110_6042675827618780031_nn Education Policy Program: While this hasn’t been the BEST thing in 2015, one thing is certain, (in a paradoxical way) I know that if I never came here and if I stayed at UConn I wouldn’t ever know that I truly didn’t like it. I mean, beyond speculation. Also, and I guess obviously, the things I don’t like aren’t the things I was most nervous about so I suppose there’s value in that too. Regardless, I’ve had some amazing opportunities here to continue to grow as a researcher and an academic (whatever that means). I also learned the value of networking and connections beyond the colloquial saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m working hard and making it work day by day.
  11. I fell in love with stories and great conversations: I traded social media connections for authentic, personal connections and I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I’ve been listening a lot and also searching for those stimulating conversations that ignite wonder and create more opportunities to learn. The kind that leave you thinking and questioning long after the formal discourse has ended. I craved thinking critically and conscientiously. I’ve learned that when you’re open to allowing a conversation to change your perspective and you’re a partner in creating the space for meaningful, intentional interactions you’re facilitating change. Hence, this year, I adopted the use of the phrase “thought partner” in every, even sort of, appropriate context.
  12. MUSIC: Just music. But really, from country concerts and Broadway musicals, to the sounds and spirits of Kabbalat Shabbat I was reminded of and gained a new appreciation for the ways in which music connects us and fills a room (or a person) with such unique energy. Music fills the quiet space that so often feel lonely. A quote from one of my favorite movies August Rush seems appropriate here, “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” SO TRUE! And of course, Taylor Swift gave me more reasons to love her. Including most recently, topping DoSomething.org’s Celebs Gone Good list for the fourth year. Gotta love her!
  13. I traveled! In 2015 (and the last days of 2014) I went to the APO National Convention in Chicago, Israel with UConn Hillel, New Orleans with Honors Across State Borders, NYC, the first ever ParentCampUSA at the U.S. Dept. of Education in D.C., and more!
  14. I recognized and reclaimed my body: It’s easy to learn to ignore  your body when you’re living with chronic pain. Too much attention to your pain can be detrimental because then you can get stuck focusing solely on your pain. We’re taught (in the chronic pain world) to find ANY strategy to ignore the pain and distract ourselves. In 2015 I reclaimed my body and grew stronger! I’m more physically fit than I’ve been before. I pursued strength for me – starting with an earnest desire to be able to run a mile. Rather than my pain owning me, I owned my pain and I was in charge of my body.
  15. I accomplished everything I wanted!  2015 was the year of doing too much and not knowing how (or when) to stop. With coffee as my lifeline and internal motivation I didn’t even know I possessed (once described as a glowing purple ball inside my body that was constantly radiating energy, and another time described as “robotic” – as I operate with the same amount of energy an11008595_10204092958784537_8915779519335960414_nd efficiency at all times) I did some amazing things! And, perhaps more importantly, I learned that I am more than the list of accomplishments that fill up my resume or the things I do each day to feel productive or worthy. With the encouragement of some amazing mentors and lots of hours spent thinking (reflecting), I found myself when I intentionally took the time to critically consider my experiences.  I started attributing credit to myself for my accomplishments rather than luck. Told myself “I earned this. I did this. I am good enough” and slowly I started to believe it. Judith Bulter wrote, “life histories are histories of becoming” and that notion has been a driving force compelling me to consider what I’ve experienced and why it’s been influential in my life rather than just considering how it’s going to propel me on toward the next “best” thing. I am done quantifying my success by how others view my accomplishments. This year rather than reaching the top step and turning around to find 15 more steps to climb I’m standing proud on the top, looking down with satisfaction, attributing value to what I’ve accomplished, and just letting it all soak in.

Happy New Year!

Distracted Days

Oh My Gosh! I think too much! Lately, I’ve been getting so lost in my own thoughts I have barely been able to do anything else. I try to read and find myself flipping through the pages arbitrarily highlighting, giving the appearance of reading, but not reading at all. I’m so unfocused. All too often reading becomes “reading” and I find myself hopelessly wrestling with my own thoughts while simultaneously encouraging myself to focus. Always.

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a room and the walls are all my thoughts. If I could find some way out, a way to break down the walls, a way to push past the barriers that are my thoughts, I’d escape into fresh, crisp air. I’d be able to breathe again. Breathing fully, breathing deeply would feel SO good! I miss that.

I’m just thinking too much about everything! I spend too much time reconsidering a conversation with a friend, trying to decide when to send a text so it won’t interrupt people, rereading sent emails for typos and potential misinterpretations that cannot be rectified anyway, worrying that what I submit is barley good enough (that I can only fool people for so long – so therefore rereading and questioning myself until I make myself literally sick), observing and responding to my perceptions of social dynamics, I could go on and on (clearly)! I’m distracted. In one word, #done.

I want to slow down. I want to pull up on the breaks and tell my head “STOP”. I grapple constantly with this paradox, when I’m not working (and I’m doing something for me) my mind is spinning thinking about all the things I need to be doing.  And then I start thinking faster, allocating every minute and attempting to convince myself it will be okay. It feels like a frenzy, like if I don’t harness my thoughts I won’t be able to turn off the anxiety. Conversely, when I start working I can’t even focus on what I’m working on because I’m thinking about a million, minimally important, other things.  So, I think I should flip a switch in my head then maybe my brain will flip-flop.

However, this overthinking isn’t all bad. I’ve realized that I want to “think” for the rest of my life.  I want to be a researcher. I want to explore, question, seek to understand, make mistakes, try again, discover, disprove, and learn every day. That’s what researchers are, they’re professional intellectuals (but we’re not getting caught up in terminology). Researchers think. They wonder. So, it seems only natural, pretty fitting, that I would arrive at this aspiration. So, then, how do I get there?

Making Sense of This – Labels

Recently, I read Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender  (twice – yup that good!) and since then, I’ve had a lot on my mind. Well, admittedly, I always have a  lot on my mind but reading this text came at an aptly appropriate time. I’ve been grappling with words like “labels”, “identity”, “recognition”, “reality”, “acknowledgement” (different from recognition), “ownership”, and “desire” and this text just happened to put all these influential words in conversation with each other. Butler’s words, and subsequent discourses I’ve had about the text, said a lot of what I needed to hear and also hoped to hear. It’s been exhausting and cyclical to contend with and attend to these complicated thoughts. What follows will be my best attempt at making sense of this all. Most likely, I won’t resolve anything in the next ~1200 words and I’ll probably conclude with more questions than answers. But, that’s the beauty of wondering!

One quote in particular from the text has been ringing in my ears: “life histories are histories of becoming and categories can sometimes act to freeze that process of becoming”.  I might not need to say anything else about this quote. I could just leave it to simmer and settle with each person how they feel it best resonates with them. But, let’s think this through. Initially, (I’ll comment on this quickly because I could write forever about this) I understood this quote in relation to meaning and value associated with understanding how where you’ve been and where you’re going align. Basically, realizing for yourself what you’ve accomplished, experienced, and learned is instrumental to understanding who you are and why you’ve become this individual. Our experiences shape our future decisions and those decisions in turn shape us.

Moving on, in my interpretation of this quote, I regarded the word “categories” as synonymous with “labels”.  Writing about National Coming Out Day was my first stab at I grappling with the difficult but also empowering nature of labels.

Here are a few highlights from that post:

“We question “are our identities valid enough to be recognized on this day?” or “have we struggled enough to deserve to participate in National Coming Out Day?” Here’s where it comes back to labels. We decide the meanings we attribute to these words and then we judge. Why should one person who identifies one way fear so violently speaking their label? Owning their identity?”

“Our labels are both constricting and empowering when we first speak our truths. However, once society gets a hold of them, we’re leaving our words to be interpreted differently with each repetition of who we are.”

As I was reading Butler’s text, I was really caught up in this idea that all too often, our labels aren’t for us. Rather, they’re for others to make sense of or, frankly, cope with something that they perceive is different from the norm.  Lately, I’ve been feeling like labels and categories act to regulate the unfamiliarity that is associated with identifying as anything that is perceived as “other”  since we cannot locate other identities in the confining, typically binary, categories we are accustomed to. This is particularly interesting to me since many of my intersecting identities are both invisible and categorized as minority identities. [side note: I want to be careful here about how I represent and use intersectionality. I just want to note that the word “intersectionality” is often tied up in white feminism. Not a bad thing. I just want to consider and attend to thoughts about who is included and what assumptions accompany the use of that word.] In so many ways the responsibilities and opportunities available to us are aligned with society’s expectations for us based on our identities. This can have so many unintended and detrimental consequences.

And now, the question must be asked. To what extent do we really define our identities for ourselves?

Simply (although it’s not simple) all we really want is to be recognized for who we are. We have a desire to be acknowledged for who we are. Even the possibility of being seen for who we really are (maybe “becoming”) is desirable. What’s hard to grapple with is that for some people whose identities “violate” the norm their desire, and their wants and needs, are effectively put on trial. This trial, of sorts, serves to both normalize what is seemingly not normal and to assist or compel those individuals to ascribe to societal norms that most closely match their identity so they can gain access to services. I’m thinking here about transgender individuals who must submit to a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID). It’s really a way that others deal with what is unfamiliar to them.

Mental health is great example of this. Often when people seek out services for mental health they report feeling relived even if initially the task of seeking support felt insurmountable. I think this relief comes from knowing that what they’re not alone. The possibility of fitting in even through the act of feeling or being ostracized is comforting. The existence of a community is enticing and soothing. Even just the fact that someone “gets it” or “believes them” can be relieving. The anxieties they anticipated feeling often diminish with the presentation of a diagnosis or the potential for better days (maybe this is a different type of validation?). But, at the same time, I can’t help but think about how accepting, announcing, or even seeking out, labels and consenting to this type of “normalization” (as in, it’s okay to struggle with mental health as long as we can call it something) and this categorization is one way an individual’s desire (also feelings/experiences) are simultaneously tested and validated. It is ironic to me (but really I want to use the word infuriating) that the “reward” or “accomplishment” for successfully proving the reality of your experience by subjecting yourself to someone else’s conclusion that your desire, or even prior to that your struggle, is authentic and persistent enough, is to be granted a diagnosis that qualifies them as disordered.  In a way, and sort of on the other hand, this diagnosis makes the person “intelligible” and grants them access to services and allows them to function in society. Their life is now understood in society’s terms and that makes their life “okay”.  This text exemplified for me how exclusionary practices, ie. a diagnosis (I ALSO MEAN HERE LABELS AND CATEGORIES) can be masked as inclusive and even medically necessary. I am troubled.

And to my point about who defines our identities, all too often it feels like autonomy is taken away from an individual and a person’s life is qualified and determined for them by restrictive practices that are contingent on an individual’s desire being qualified by someone else! Like, we have to convince people in power that certain aspects of our life are REAL. Because, if they aren’t real then how can we “find” ourselves in this world?

Another question I have then is, what about those whose struggle isn’t as easily visible? By this I mean, what about the minority identities we haven’t even TRIED to ignore (or oppress) and “normalize” yet because we haven’t even recognized them (think like hierarchies of minority identities here)? So, for those individuals, the possibility of being recognized at all is the more pressing issue at hand. That’s a different struggle.  If those people can’t see themselves in our world (ie. media, books, music, etc.) and find their community and if their struggle has yet to be recognized how might this persistent inferiority and feeling of being “unreal” or unrecognized make their oppression, their struggle, their voice that much harder to see and hear? And finally (for now) how does our own self-recognition factor into all of this? If we cannot “find” ourselves in the categories currently assembled and a remaking of the categories doesn’t seem possible then our quest for existence, figuratively, must lay dormant until others determine our eligibility for recognition. If others, society, won’t recognize us then how much more impossible might it seem for us to recognize ourselves and feel confident (rather than shameful) about our identities and who we are?

So, back to that quote… if “categories freeze that process of becoming” how can we overcome this debilitating desire (I would even argue necessity) in our lives to realize our true selves and recognize and respect each person for who they completely are?

So many thoughts! So many questions! I’ll keep thinking about it…

Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 1)

Some notes that I think should precede this post:

  1. I have been trying to write this for a while but I can’t seem to “finish” the post. It’s making me anxious to keep editing and rewriting so there will likely be a part 2 (at least). This is a starting point. We all have to start somewhere.
  2. I never thought I’d amount to anything better than state school (whatever that means). I feel like I was always “expected” to go to a public university. That being said, I LOVED UConn. My entire undergraduate experience was truly incredible and unexpectedly unbelievable. I learned SO MUCH! I grew so much. I’m incredibly proud to be a UConn alum and wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience.
  3. A part of me feels like there’s a lot of expectation for me to succeed here and not only represent myself well but also represent UConn well. It feels like any performance that is less than exceptional is unacceptable. I carry this burden (partially unwillingly) but also proudly. A part of me wants to prove I can do this. But it’s also a lot to deal with, especially when things aren’t going nearly as well as expected.
  4. Brown University isn’t a bad school. This writing is reflective of my experiences here NOT the institution itself.

When I was first deciding to come here, I had to confront a lot of my own insecurities and worries. I had to convince myself that my experiences and my aspirations aligned with the program I was accepted into. Essentially, I had to convince myself I was good enough, smart enough, intellectual enough to be here. Impostor Syndrome is real ( I didn’t know that then). Impostor Syndrome makes you work harder at everything you do while simultaneously forcing you to undermine and question your accomplishments by comparing yourself to your own perceptions of who and what is worthy of an “Ivy League Education”.  Basically , it makes you feel like all your accomplishments are a consequence of luck or circumstance. Basically, it makes you feel like YOU didn’t earn or deserve your opportunities or recognition. It makes it easy to prefer to be acknowledged as “mediocre” because then you don’t have to confront the disconnect between how you view yourself and how others perceive you to be. The best example of this I can recall, from my experience, is when an outstanding TA once said to me, “It started from my confused reaction to seeing such amazing things in you and also seeing that you didn’t see those things. I wondered to myself how things might change for you if you could see yourself the way I saw you.”  These words were super powerful for me!

Surprisingly, everything that challenged me about coming to this school (with regard to my own intellect, ability, and how “deserving” I was of this opportunity) became mostly obsolete (I realize that’s an oxymoron) once I got here. Admittedly, now (hindsight is 20/20), I NEVER could have predicted the real disappointments and challenges I’d face at this “elite” institution. That’s super frustrating! An advisor once told me that in life there are no counterfactuals (YAY economics!). He was super correct. Even when we think we’ve played out every alternative and every “what if” the truth is, we can never anticipate what we might experience and that reality coupled with the daunting feeling that once we choose we can never look back makes these decisions even harder.

In my opinion, Brown University oversells the name and undersells the quality. It’s one of those things you’d never know or think of until you’re here. No wonder I didn’t consider this! That’s the beauty of the signaling power of Ivy League universities. We find ourselves in these privileged spaces that are conceptualized as incredible and exceptional. [side note: taking a second to acknowledge there is privilege here regardless of how it’s created and maintained] This privilege is reinforced by how others think about and imagine “Brown University”. The thing is, I feel like this is a front. Because, the education I’m receiving doesn’t much different (certainly not better) that what I received at UConn. In fact, I recently found out that the professor I was so exited to do research with is collaborating with some of my professors at UConn on a few projects! So, in the world of academia everything is relatively interconnected. The name holds power and is desirable to employers BUT that’s probably and mostly because they don’t know any better.

I have yet to experience conscious conversations across or between difference. The kind of conversations where we separate the message from the messenger and critically consume what people are saying with the intention of crafting a collective learning space. I have no problem being challenged or having my perspective better (or differently) informed by additional viewpoints, opinions, experiences, or questions. I’m pretty sure that exchange is called learning. What I do have a problem with is feeling small. I have a problem feeling like I am constantly being judged, like my worth is decided before I speak based on anything I’ve said before, based on how others have interpreted my contributions, or what my peers believe to be my experience, intentionality, or privilege.

I absolutely realize the policy world is messy and challenging! I get that. What I didn’t expect was to confront this environment in the classroom. I expected to be exposed to a constructive, collaborative, communal, safe, eclectic learning space. Instead, what I walked into (and keep coming back to) was a condescending, unilateral, opinionated, inflexible, tense environment that is dominated by a select few voices that we’ve collectively put on a pedestal and allowed to be privileged in our space.

I’m tired of talking myself out of participating or preemptively convincing myself that my contributions are worthless (so others don’t do it for me). I know that I’m smart enough and intellectual enough. Those concerns may once have been my foci but that’s not the problem here anymore. Now I’m more preoccupied the toxic space we’ve created where I feel small and insignificant. It’s a space where I feel like my opinions don’t matter and my contributions are only considered to the extent that they can be criticized. The thing is, nobody is asking me my opinions – hence this blog! I realized recently, if I didn’t put myself out there, I’d never be heard because I’d never be invited to speak. Why is that? What does this say about our class dynamic? What does this dynamic indicate about whose voices and who, specifically, is respected, privileged, heard, or acknowledged?

I feel like I left what I knew and where I felt entirely comfortable. When I left, I jumped, deep, into something that was built up to be so amazing and stimulating. That basically left me with farther to fall. And I went because they pushed me! [side note: I’m really trying not to be mad about how forced this all felt] I left something so great for what I presumed (and certainly others presumed) was better.  I guess you can’t know or truly appreciate what you have til it’s gone.

Overwhelmingly, Brown University hasn’t met my expectations.