Reflecting on What’s Unsettled, Uncomfortable, Unfocused, and Uncertain – Thoughts for the Jewish New Year

During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!

This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.

Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.

And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.

And so,  I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.


Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?

A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this).  Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.

  1. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?

I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.

  1. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!

  1. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]

  1. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?

Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.

  1. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.

  1. How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?

I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve 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. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.

  1. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?

Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!

  1. What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?

I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”,  do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.

  1. When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?

I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.

Those are my answers! What are yours?


גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.

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.

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!

Today I Could Breathe!

I  feel like most of what I write is critical or negative. I want to take space to acknowledge the positive when I can. That’s important. That’s probably called, or may resemble something like, balance.

So, today was a good day!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about “owning this” and talked, generally, about how I’ve been experiencing some tough stuff and what that feels like. Those challenges are still incredibly real. They’re pervasive and unbelievably difficult. They’re even a bit dangerous in the ways they present themselves. [It’s a huge accomplishment for me to recognize and state this – just saying] Since then though, I’ve had some amazing conversations with friends and mentors.  I realized the utility of a support system in a different and more meaningful way than I have in the past. I appreciated my friends who created a space where I could articulate how truly miserable, scared, and uncertain I’ve been feeling. I privileged honesty and speaking my struggle in spaces where I felt safe.

I really hit a low point (I’m sill very much there) where I felt out of control. It’s like you know rationally that the behaviors you’re exhibiting aren’t healthy but you can justify them, contort them, and separate them from “you” right up until the moment when you can’t anymore and then the reality, gravity, and urgency of the situation feels so heavy, so crushing, it’s unbearable to attend to or face. I didn’t have the words to argue when my friends suggested I needed some support. It also wasn’t a time that I was asking for support. [you know you have amazing friends when you don’t need to ask] I’m pretty sure that when you get to such a defeated place, the arguments against seeking some help don’t hold water anyway. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to face it. I felt like if I did nothing in response to their concern that it wouldn’t be real. If I could keep avoiding it then, maybe,”I” wouldn’t need help. Turns out, the effort I spent avoiding all of this was, perhaps, more cumbersome than facing these struggles head first and bringing them into the light.

This past week, I heard a lot of things I really didn’t want to hear but I also realized the importance of both seeking out and receiving support. Throughout all these conversations two statements have been super influential for me: “I believe/hear you.” [validation] and “What do you need [from me]?” [support]. However, aside from just hearing these words, what’s been essential has been how I’ve responded to these statements. I accepted my friends’ feedback, their care, their warmth, attention, love, and guidance. Previously I didn’t want to respond to their outreach. I didn’t want to acknowledge their concern. What was different this time was that I shared my space, made myself vulnerable, and felt the true reciprocal nature of friendship. Specifically, I learned how necessary it is to allow or welcome [I tried “let” but it seemed too tied up in oppressive language, like laying down and “taking” their help] others’ supports. You don’t have to face this all alone. Asking for help or accepting it represents a different type of strength. It more closely resembles self-awareness and demonstrates that you know how to harness and leverage your resources in a way that lets you present your best self each day.

So, this week I did some evaluating and made some important, necessary decisions  (with the help of some amazing friends and a little motivator called accountabili-buddies [in other words, my friends getting on my case – because they care]). The interesting thing is, when the clouds parted and the sun shined through [that’s my interpretation of  how it feels the moment you experience relief – when you realize everything is not hopeless and things will in fact be okay, with some work and a whole lot of “next steps”] I acknowledged how seriously deep and detrimental this struggle has been.

Acknowledging and naming this, owning this, has been one of the most difficult and also inspiring and empowering things I’ve done in a long time. So, today was a good day. Today I did something so incredibly scary but also so necessary. I did something specifically for me. And many of the anxieties I had were lifted when I realized it was okay to not be “okay” and that for even an hour I didn’t need to spend all my energies on keeping up appearances. I could be genuine and admit my personal truths. Recognizing myself in this moment [even when this version of “me” feels so unrecognizable] had a positive impact I wasn’t prepared for. Embracing support didn’t feel as scary or weak as I expected it to feel. Rather, it felt reassuring. I felt like I could finally breathe today, like I could focus today. Today I felt worthy and (recently) uncharacteristically energized.  I felt light and most importantly I felt safe.

Two Words: Personality and Authenticity

There are two words that I can’t quite wrap my head around recently: “personality” and “authenticity”. When I googled these words, I got the following definitions:

Personality: individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving

Authenticity: the quality of being authentic. So then authentic means, genuine or real.

So now let’s think this through. Individually first and then together. Warning: what follows is the epitome of overthinking. This is about to get messy and incoherent really fast. Be prepared!

The reason I’ve been thinking so much about personality is because I’ve been hearing two phrases over and over recently: “that wouldn’t work for me” and “you do you”. This has been important to me because both responses seem really dismissive and minimizing to the other person. Personality is tough to navigate and it’s always changing. People judge our personality the minute they meet us. (More about this when authenticity is brought into the conversation.) And then, when we think about the definition and consider our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving it’s hard to delineate which informs which. In an intense moment we might respond impulsively and then be reminded later (by ourselves or someone else) to “think before we act”.  Sometimes we’ll blame this kind of behavior on temperament. Conversely, we may think (possibly too much) about a choice before we behave but no matter how much consideration and attention we give to a decision we may not feel confident or like we made the “right” choice. And all these things (yes, feelings too) create our personality. We likely all can recall a time where we felt like our actions were in conflict with our values or what we thought was correct. It’s like your insides, your personality, are splitting and that’s partly because we all have a conscience and rational thinking. So then, how does consciousness or morality or even mindfulness play into the equation?

ENOUGH! When I googled “personality” I got 305,000,000 responses in under a minute. I also realize people write entire books, courses, etc. on this and I could reasonably go on and on confusing myself in my own negotiations and wonderings forever if I wanted to (it happens ALL the time!). Moving on…

Now for authenticity. Being genuine. If you were to look up genuine, you would find words like “real” or “honest”. The first things this makes me think of (aside from the retail industry) is Brene Brown. However, that’s not what we’re directly talking about today. Authenticity is doing what’s best for YOU and recognizing how you feel, what you’re thinking, and what you need. It’s also about acting authentically. Do you know anyone who you feel like is always acting “so fake”? And you can tell can’t you? Sometimes I do that too. When people first meet me, I’m enthusiastic to a nearly off-putting degree.  It’s a front. Because, when people get to know me they realize I’m actually less dynamic than that most of the time. A more accurate depiction of me would be complacency. For example, I am known to say “that sucks” and “that’s great” with the same inflection. When people get to know me they also get to know about my experience, aspirations, morals, and obviously my thoughts (including what’s important to me). At this point (if they REALLY know me) they can begin make associations between me and my actions. It’s also when they can better understand my intentionality and (hopefully) correctly judge my behaviors. In fact, even if they don’t know the “real” me, they’ll be conjuring up their opinions of me. Authenticity is really hard. It’s especially difficult in new environments where social anxiety is typically at the forefront and when good first impressions feel imperative.

So how do these come together? You have to know yourself to act authentically. That’s first. The sassy comment “you don’t even know me” that we’ve all heard could perhaps be turned inward and be point a self-criticism or reflection too.

Before we get too deep, a side note: in the act of attesting that we feel people don’t know us or drawing attention (subtly or not) to our differences (we are all different, as we know), we’re also not inviting people to engage with us. Rather than taking the opportunity to create conversation and bolster relationships we’re too often deepening the crevices between ourselves in the vein of “personality”.

This is also interesting because our personalities are always changing and being challenged every day. Lately I’ve been feeling like I don’t even know myself anymore. I’ve quite literally lost sight of who I am in this program. Graduate school challenges you and makes you super vulnerable. So what complicates this is that while we attest that others don’t know us, we also likely don’t know ourselves as well as we think. Or in some regards, at all. You have to be honest with yourself and that’s part of knowing yourself. So recognizing there’s work to be done is a huge first step. I am also temped at this point to question myself and exclaim “you just said we’re always changing so how could we know ourselves?!?” But I think instead I’ll just say, personality is super complicated. At a simplistic level, our experiences inform our values and actions which shape our thinking, feeling, and behaving ie. our personality.

So it’s a bit cyclical (isn’t everything?). And that’s why I can’t wrap my head around it all. It’s like what comes first, authenticity or personality? Is the act of being authentic how you represent your true personality? Does being attuned to your personality allow you to be authentic and act authentically? Anyway, I don’t have all the answers but I know these words are important in nearly every interaction and every sphere of our lives. In an effort to attend to more self exploration and self learning I’m going to be paying close attention to these words. If I’m quick to reply with “oh, that wouldn’t work for me” I’m going to try to ask myself why.

Likewise, I am practicing owning my experiences, thoughts, values, feelings, etc. Being authentic means answering even the hard questions or problematizing (my favorite not-word word) your inclinations and behaviors. It could also mean just attending to your tough thoughts. Then, acting in a way that is authentic and aligns with your personality rather than the role it seems like you’re expected to play out in daily life.

To conclude: You’re better than conformity. If you’re lost, be lost until you find out who or what is authentically YOU. And do the work to figure it out! Then act accordingly. Don’t settle for the prescribed trajectory people have carved out for your life. Challenge assumptions (yours and others). Be okay with not knowing.

Explore. Live. Find you. Be you.