In her famous Ted Talk on being wrong Kathryn Schulz used the metaphor of the roadrunner who, chased by the coyote, runs off a cliff and keeps on running on air until the moment he realizes he is not on solid ground. Of course at this point he finds himself too far gone, too far from the edge to turn around and has no other choice but to fall. It’s when he realized he is wrong, despite being convinced he was right. Only then does the roadrunner fall.
For months now, I have deconstructed and analyzed my pursuing a PhD with the intention of working in academia; how is it going, how is it not going, the various contradictory feelings and thoughts swirling in my head, all fueled by one single question “Was I wrong?”
The story of the roadrunner has profound meaning, not only for our individual lives but also for the current political state we find ourselves in. As I think about it, I have one nagging thought: How will anyone ever grant a PhD to someone who has to google “how to spell kayotee?!” I am referring to myself. The obsessive self-referring, self-concern, self-promotion, self-protection that we all have, day and night, even in our sleep, never ceases to the detriment of our own happiness and the future of the entire human race.
That’s not an exaggeration.
I entered a PhD program in Counseling 3 years ago with the intention to teach at a university level. At the time, I stopped writing on this blog, stopped running, stopped eating well, sleeping and basically stopped having a semi-normal human existence. Out of frustration and exhaustion, Homeless Jesus was born. I was craving meaning and purpose so much I wanted to be a homeless vegan, visit Canada, grow my own food, go on a climate march (although that came later), the list is long. I actually did some of these things. I have proof.
Except for the homeless part. I now have not one, but two peaceful, beautiful, and blessed homes and I have a feeling I will never be homeless, lonely or hungry ever again.
Was I wrong? To change my life completely in pursuit of a degree in academia? Three years later, looking forward to one more year before graduation, I have come to a conclusion.
I was painfully, utterly, and irrevocably wrong. For the past three years of my life I stubbornly denied this truth but the truth has a way of always shining through.
I viciously bullied the truth about how much I failed but at least now I can humbly accept the truth and honor it by sharing it.
Yes. I just created a paragraph that contains only one sentence. I hope that doesn’t bother you.
I was wrong to think I am a good teacher and people would respect me or get something from my teachings. I am apparently not good enough. Being likable helps. NOT being a pompous a** is essential.
I was wrong. I’m not that good of a writer. I believe there is an expiry date on blaming your poor writing on English as a Second Language. Research is harder than I thought, especially if you want to get published. Scientific rigor is no joke. You can’t take your information from any Joe Schmo on some blog on the internet!
I was wrong. I underestimated the timeline, the fierceness of competition, the jealousy, the inequality, the meaningless, petty drama, even. I have yet to process all of that but I am more interested in learning something wise from it. Like, patience is a virtue, our success depends upon the success of others, rejoicing in other’s good qualities makes our mind peaceful whereas comparison is the killer of joy, the law of karma says no action is wasted, we experience results similar to the cause, and so on. Wisdom is far more valuable than education.
I was wrong about the physical, emotional, financial and relational effects such an endeavor would have on a single woman in her 30’s with no outside support and no family to turn to on days when all she wanted to do was hide under mom’s dirty laundry (it smells extra mommy-ish in there). Not to mention, there is never enough coffee. *On a side note, I found a Greek cafe in walking distance from my house that makes excellent Turkish coffee. Of course, they call it Greek coffee and I have to remember to order it that way, but let’s face it. It is definitely Turkish, through and through.
It is difficult to look at all the things I have been wrong about and not conclude that I have failed. Jay Shetty once said “failure is just a sign that we need to widen our scope.” As luck would have it, I happen to be a great teacher in some other circles. And I enjoy it more.
Maybe the goal should be revised. Maybe there is no goal, only experiences that prepare us for our ultimate life purpose. I am sometimes arrogant enough to think that I choose my purpose. I believe we all have choice but we don’t always have an accurate view of reality or of ourselves therefore our choices are ignorant and blind.
So why get so attached to our own choice, view, personality, talents, identities, opinions, goals, dreams, plans and those of others? We could be very wrong. We do not need to grasp at any man-made reality because we can rest assured we are not capable of seeing all the intricacies of luck, chance, intention, causes, conditions, consequences, opportunity, timing, and so on.
I know I’m right about this. Fantastically right.
The key to our happiness and the happiness of others is letting go and opening ourselves up to whatever comes next, embracing everything fully, no matter what.
Everything that appears, positive or negative, can be an opportunity to become a better person. Maybe becoming the best you can be is a good enough goal. Maybe better than good enough; the ultimate goal.
From coca leaves to coffee beans, people use plants to produce many of the most popular drugs in the world. But whether it’s your $5 morning latté or a line of coke, you might be surprised to learn why plants bother to build the molecules behind that buzz in the first place. Strangely enough, many plant-based drugs—such as caffeine, cocaine, nicotine and morphine—are all made for the exact same reason: to fight off insects. Why exactly do humans love ingesting insect repellent so much?
CAFFEINE, COCAINE, NICOTINE AND MORPHINE: PLEASURABLE PESTICIDES
According to Dr. David Kennedy, who studies plants and the human brain at Northumbria University, to understand what it is about nature’s pesticides that gets us so enjoyably high, it first helps to look at the world from a plant’s perspective. “Unlike animals, plants are rooted in where they live, and can’t really get away from any threats they might…
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A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I decided we were going to climb Mt. Mitchell. It sounded like a great idea but we both had no clue what we were about to get ourselves into. We started at the Black Mountain campground, about an hour outside of Asheville. It took us 30 minutes to find the trail head as the campground was closed and all the signs covered (do NOT do this off season). We started out in great spirits, high energy, prepared and ready to tackle 5.7 miles up 3600 feet elevation climb to the summit and back.
We started out strong, fast, excited. We stopped to take pictures. We greeted a group of hikers. The sun was shining. What a beautiful day for a hike!
An hour into it I started to wonder who’s idea this was. Oh wait, it was mine.
The second hour, I started pondering on why someone would want to do this. I mean, I’m active, I run, I hike, I’m in good health. Why not? But really, this was HARD. By the third hour of unrelenting uphill climb through the ever changing vegetation and climate, in the middle of thick, lonely, never ending woods, up there in the “no going back” land, on a hike that gave the word “commitment” a whole new meaning, up there I had my answer.
I was doing it to challenge myself. To see what I could do. To show myself what I was made of. So next time I had doubts about accomplishing anything I could say to myself “Dude, you did Mt. Mitchell!” It’s funny, the life lessons you learn on a hike like that.
I came out inspired and I finally have a moment to share my inspiration with you. Here’s what I learned:
1. Commitment is everything – Once you fully commit to doing something, your EGO will not let you quit. Hey, the EGO is good for something! Also, announcing your intentions and plans to the world and significant others will help you not give up. Everything you want to accomplish is like climbing a mountain – you have to commit to it.
2. Be prepared – Physically, mentally, emotionally. I don’t think I would have made it 6 hours and 9 minutes, 11.4 miles up and down a mountain if I didn’t have the following: an awesome companion, love for nature, information about the trail, hiking pole for support, layers of warm, breathable, non-cotton clothing, humor, a spirit of adventure, a hat, gloves, hiking socks, water, snacks…Details matter. Don’t underestimate preparation, it can make the difference between succeeding and failing.
3. No giving up – Tell yourself there is no going back. Someone once said that it is right after the moment you want to give up that the miracle happens. Remind yourself why you set your goal, what is your motivation, what drives you. Inspire yourself every moment of the journey and don’t let negativity creep in. On the trail, I was hot, I was freezing, I was sweaty, tired, irritated with slippery leaves, wobbly rocks and pesky roots, scared by sudden snow falling and loud wind blowing. I didn’t let that get me down. I kept on going.
4. Visualize – Imagine what it will be like when you reach your goal. When you get to the summit (so to speak). What will it feel like? My experience was somewhere between wanting to throw up and crying. But I also felt exhilarated, accomplished, proud, humbled, changed. Visualize what it will look like once you achieve your goal, how it will change you and what it will mean for future endeavors.
5. Work hard – Accomplishing anything is hard work. Prepare yourself for it. Be patient. Know that hard work will pay off in the end. It will be unpleasant and uncomfortable at times. You can do it though. You are ready. You are committed. You can do the work. Stop with the laziness, excuses, procrastination. Just do it. Sacrifice short-term pleasures for long-term achievements.
You are ready.
“So you go to therapy too huh?”
“Used to. I don’t now, just waiting for my friend.”
“I see. Why did you stop going?”
“I know what my problem is.”
“I like change too much.” (pauses) “And I’m too hard on myself.”
“Ah, learned that from the best didn’t you? Who was it, your mom? My dad loved to point out all my mistakes, I could never do anything right, I could never be good enough, no matter how much I tried. He would come to my baseball games and shout from the sidelines what he thought to be encouragement but I was mortified and embarrassed.”
“Ha. I can’t complain about my parents really. They would tell me all the time how proud they were of me and brag to all the family and friends about my accomplishments…I don’t think of those times though when I think back. I think of how one B in 4 years of straight As forever defined me as ALMOST perfect.”
“I wish I was good with change. I’m a creature of habit. I eat the same breakfast everyday, eat lunch and dinner at the same time everyday and I always have a salad with my meals. And a glass of milk before bed. I always wake up at the same time every morning, I like to watch traffic and weather. Be prepared, you know…My mother had Bipolar. She would do crazy things like wake us kids up at the crack of dawn, pack us up in her Impala like sardines and take a road trip to Atlantic City for no reason at all. Or I would come home and she’d be painting my room a bright turquoise. They fought a lot, my parents. You never knew what you were walking into.”
“When I was about 15 my parents were both abroad and my grandmother and brother were in charge. It was summer. I did not leave my house for a month and a half, didn’t talk much to anyone most days. I read a lot. And listened to music. A lot. I ate, slept, sat, stared out the window, you know the normal teenage stuff. For a month and a half in the summer I did not leave the house. And now, the house eats at me. I don’t like to be home. I hate routines too. And silence. I particularly hate silence.”
“That doesn’t really explain why you like change though.”
“Maybe I don’t really like change. Maybe I dislike sitting still.”
“I started drinking heavily after my wife left me. And it dawned on me, it was probably because the house was too quiet. But you see, me drinking wasn’t the problem. My drink was my companion. I could always rely on it. Problem was, I didn’t want to face things changing around me, didn’t want to adapt to losing my job after 15 years, admit to failing my marriage or watch my parents get old and sick. Drinking was the only steady thing. The only thing I could control. Even when everything was falling apart I could drink to perfection. How about that?”
“I hate feeling powerless. It makes me driven to change. Change gives me a goal, something to look forward to. But sometimes it messes with things that aren’t broken, ya know? I have a dilemma as a matter of fact. A puzzle. A problem without a solution. And I have absolutely no idea what to do about it. I mean, I can make the change. That’s easy, I know how to do that. Yet I’m paralyzed. What if this one doesn’t need fixing? What if this a puzzle that will reveal itself slowly, on it’s own time? Will my immobility cost me dearly?”
“There’s gotta be something in between, right? Change when you have to, sit the rest of it out. But then how do you know you’re just being lazy, coming up with excuses?”
“It’s knowing how to tell the difference that is particularly challenging.”
“So what will you do?”
(after a long pause) “I think I’ll sit this one out.”
…to be continued
No one teaches you about these skills when you are young. You are just supposed to meet someone, like them, be attracted to them, even fall in love with them. The rest is supposed to work itself out. Until it doesn’t. Often you don’t learn about these skills until it’s too late. But once you learn how important they are, you just want to share.
1. Empathy. Empathy means you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what it must feel like to be there. Especially when you disagree or when you can’t relate to them. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Familiarize yourself with their world. Ask questions, be curious, leave your judgement and Ego aside and embark on a journey even knowing sometimes that what you might find is painful or unpleasant. Empathy is essential to creating a safe relationship. It may not be a happy one but you can’t get to happy without going through safety first. Empathy is definitely a skill you and your partner can learn. You don’t have to date a therapist to get empathy from your partner, but it helps if he/she is not self-involved, egocentric, incapable or unwilling to extend themselves in a compassionate, attentive way.
2. Listen. Develop listening skills. Don’t interrupt. Be patient. Listening means shutting up. Let your partner talk without feeling pressured or ignored. Be involved. Listening is active not passive. It involves paying attention, remembering, organizing thoughts and being open-minded all at the same time.
3. Be positive. It’s a harsh world out there. We get criticism from our bosses, parents, co-workers and even friends. Most importantly we get criticism from ourselves. We don’t need to bring more criticism home. We can choose to focus on what’s working, on what our partner is good at, what they can do well, what they excel in. We can choose to point out their best attributes, their wisdom, their strength, their greatness, their awesomeness. It’s there if you choose to focus on it and make it known to them and the world. Make it known you are proud to be on his/her side, thank them for existing, for being them and for all the little acts of kindness towards you and others. Praise them for their successes and turn their failures in a positive opportunity for learning and growth. Be their cheerleader. Lift them up. Be grateful for them.
4. Don’t take it personally. When he chooses to watch the game with his buddies instead of hanging out with you, when she says she’s too tired to have sex, when he is too distracted or stressed by work, when he forgets about something you planned or when she doesn’t like to hold your hand in public. Even when your partner cheats on you, it’s not personal. Shit happens. We are only human, we make mistakes. It’s not a reflection on you. It may not be about you at all. Our partners are individual human beings with an independent will and identity and they make mistakes. Learn to hold on to yourself and be unruffled in your self-confidence and trust of yourself and others. This can be a difficult concept to grasp or practice but not impossible.
5. Turn toward. When your partner shares something that is important to them, pay attention. Turn toward them physically, mentally, emotionally. Pay. Attention. This doesn’t mean you agree with them or even understand why it is important. Still, you turn toward them. If you don’t, if you turn away from what’s important to them, the opportunity may never present itself again. Next time they think about sharing with you, they will remember what it felt like to be ignored or shunned or criticized or even mocked for it and they will shut down and shut you out. When you realize you have turned away unintentionally, correct as soon as possible. Apologize and then turn toward them. Pay attention to what’s important to your partner even if you consider it to be minor, irrelevant, stupid, non-nonsensical. Know that when your partner bids for your attention (as Gottman puts it), they are looking for validation, approval, acceptance, love.
6. Team work. When your partner bitches about his/her boss, co-worker, friends, parents, the whole world, be prepared to take their side. Show them you are on their team. Show them you are loyal to them and stand by them even if you disagree with their actions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Be on their side because if they are in the wrong, deep down they know it. They don’t need you to point it out. Even if they don’t know they are wrong they will only get to that realization if they know you support them. There is nothing worse than feeling alone in a relationship. We want to be with a significant other because we don’t want to face the world alone. Don’t turn against him/her. Your partner does not need a mother or a father. He/she already has one in their own head. And that’s more than enough. Take his/her side and treat them with respect, dignity, trust and confidence that they can handle their shit.
7. Radical Acceptance. As much as it may feel that way sometimes, your partner is not an extension of you. Let go of your need to control. Letting go is a very important skill for peace, sanity and joy. What is needed is called radical acceptance: fully accepting the things you can’t control. Get honest with yourself about who your partner is and be prepared to fully accept them for who they are. They may learn new skills and even change significantly because you came into their life. But some things will never change. Accept it.
8. Ask for what you need/want. Don’t assume your partner knows what you want or need. They can’t read you mind. Learn to figure out what it is exactly you need or want and be able to articulate that assertively. Don’t expect them to know and then get pissed when they don’t give you what you expect. Take responsibility for your avoidance and lack of communication.
9. Diversify. This will sound weird but your partner is not enough. You can not meet all your needs through one relationship. You can not put all the weight of your happiness on one relationship and then expect not to be frustrated or disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should have affairs. But lets be honest, most emotional affairs start because someone is unhappy and someone needs a friend. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well I say it takes a village to maintain a happy relationship. You need friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, community, meaningful and fulfilling work, hobbies, etc etc.
10. Patience. At one point or another you’re going to get frustrated with your significant other. It will feel like they are moving waaaayyyy slower than you would want them to and you don’t understand why they can’t do what you need them to do. You are going to wonder if they really care about you and even question whether you should continue to be in this relationship. What you need is patience and lots of it. Everyone goes through their own process of change and growing up. You can’t rush things. And you can’t place a timeline on someone’s growth.