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.
Often times people will come to therapy knowing exactly what the issues are but not really wanting to talk about them. They will hint at those issues, tip toe around them to see if it’s even safe to bring those things up. If the therapist gets the hint and probes deeper, the person may shut down, back away, deny and often get frustrated with the therapist. If the therapist doesn’t get the hint, the person may shut down, back away, deny (in silence) and get angry and frustrated with the therapist.
So, why would then someone come to therapy in the first place?
Because therapists ARE supposed to hear what’s not being said, unfold the story that’s not being told.
Here are some of the “don’t want to talk about it” issues people are secretly dying to talk about:
1. Addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, overspending, sex)
2. Social anxiety & Introversion
3. Unrecognized grief (you don’t get a sympathy card for this one)
4. Money problems
5. Sexual problems
7. Depression (mostly in men)
8. Love (or lack there of)
If you can relate to any of this, you probably have learned that talking about these issues is not safe. Safety is one of the most important basic needs we have as humans. And I’m not just talking about physical safety. We need emotional safety to thrive. Many people in our lives are unsafe for us, often this includes loved ones, parents, partners, etc. This makes it hard to go to them for help when you really need it. Safety is established when you know you will be loved and accepted even after you disclose intimate things about yourself. Safety means you will not be rejected, shunned, criticized and punished for who you are. The need for safety is a powerful driving force. So pay attention to it. Get better at identifying unsafe people or unsafe topics to discuss with particular people.
Because the only thing worse than not talking about it, is talking about it with an unsafe person.
OK, but even if I find a safe person to talk to about my issues, does that mean I will feel better?
Good question. I believe that real change and transformation often can not even be conceived without the talking part. This is particularly true for addictions especially in the early stages of change which are characterized by ambivalence (conflict between the desire to continue behavior/drug and necessity/desire to stop). Talking is also very beneficial for processing certain emotions such as sadness and can significantly alleviate depression and feelings of loneliness. Talking can greatly help in the cases of trauma or childhood wounding. On the other hand, I think some things you just have to do and not talk too much about. Talking sometimes can be a form of rumination which is a symptom of depression and anxiety. I like to call that unproductive talking. Talking is not particularly helpful for emotions like anger, anxiety or fears. People who worry love to talk about what worries them. That does not mean they feel better afterwards. In fact, they may even feel worse. In these cases therapy needs to be more contained, oriented and structured. Also, in these cases the real “therapy” happens between sessions so homework is essential.
It’s always rewarding to see that my clients are making progress and feeling better. It’s wonderful to hear praise from them, to know that the work we’re doing has had a significant, long-lasting impact on their lives. I always joke around and say “I’m THAT good.” The truth is, I can’t possibly take all the credit. They are getting better because they are TALKING about something they did not want to talk about. They are getting better because they are DOING their homework.
I read a wonderfully honest and touching blog today titled “The disease called “Perfection”” by Single Dad Laughing which surprisingly is not about being a perfectionist. I’s about being fake, dishonest, disconnected with yourself, pretending everything is fine when it’s not. I have talked about authenticity here before. And the topic haunts me. There is something beautifully disarming about one’s ability to admit they are falling apart, they need help, they are human, they are imperfect.
Maybe I’m just over-analyzing.
Maybe I expect too much of myself and others.
Regardless, I think a lot of people fake life. And they fake it well.
I grew up in a culture that puts other people’s opinion first, above everything else. When something went wrong we would ask “What will people say?” What a shame! How will we deal with the shame? How will we possibly face the gossip? When I was 10, my best friend told me in passing that my parents were divorced. I lived with both of them, everything was FINE. You can imagine my shock. My friend had to be crazy! I confronted my mother who had no choice but to admit to me that it was true. My parents divorced when I was 2 and got back together a year later. I never knew. Most likely, I would have never found out. I never got the real reason for their divorce either. Not until a LOT later. My parents lived together all my life but they were legally divorced. We rarely talked about it. Everything was fine. We were NOT, under any circumstances, to disclose the hardship our family went through to the world. We WERE to PRETEND that everything was fine.
Everything is fine. Until it’s not.
My parents thought I was fine when I was falling apart inside. I learned very early on that putting on a happy face for the world was crucial to survival. That and lying. I never asked for help. I was fiercely independent yet painfully lonely. Underneath the school smarts, the apparent popularity, the sarcasm, the tough, quiet exterior, the relentless smartass attitude, there was a scared, perpetually depressed, lonely, tormented little girl. But we don’t talk about that in my family. Everything is fine. It just HAS to be. So I don’t say what I want to say. And I don’t mean what I say.
“You can’t handle the truth.” is one of my favorite movie quotes. Ever.
Is the truth overrated? I don’t believe so. Also, truth is subjective to one’s perception. So let’s not get caught up in it. But there is something to be said about the power of one’s ability and freedom to truly, fully, courageously, shamelessly be their true self and be accepted and loved for it, unconditionally. I wrote a paper on unconditional love in college and used my own upbringing as an example. My professor was visibly uncomfortable with my over sharing. I’m sure some of my classmates were as well. I learned it was best to NEVER, ever do that again.
If unconditional love were the norm, we would have very little mental illness. I believe that if love were the norm we would have very little judgment and shaming. And I would probably go out of business. Love is a powerful force. The selfless one is very hard to find. I was blessed AND cursed with the ability to love unconditionally people who have ended up hurting me. People, whom by other people’s standards, are unworthy of love or MY love specifically. But I would not have it any other way. And I love them all. Still. Always.
The truth is, I’m not perfect.
Even when everything is OK, I still have that stubborn, subtle, cellular level memory of things going terribly wrong. Of me being completely turned inside out.
I know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed.
I know what it feels like to be so scared you can hardly breathe.
I know what loss feels like.
I know what it’s like to start over. From nothing.
I know what it’s like to miss someone terribly, endlessly, hopelessly.
I know loneliness.
I know what it’s like to be painfully shy. Or lost.
I know how much courage it takes to ask for help.
I know what it’s like to feel homeless.
I know regret. And irreversible damage.
I know what addiction does to families.
I know death. And trauma.
I know failure. Very well.
The truth is, we all do. On some level. Whether we like to admit it or not. Talk about it or keep quiet.
The truth is, I also know incredible love, joy, happiness, enlightenment, success, human kindness, friendship, authenticity, true connection, inspiration, spirituality, generosity, health, wealth, privilege, luck, gratitude.
It’s part of being alive.
The truth is, we connect via our humanity. So let your true self shine. Be real. Be honest. At least with yourself. It’s OK. Don’t live your life for other people. Ultimately we are alone in our pain and joy equally. No matter the faking. All we can do is try and let people in and share our humanity with them.
I was watching Extreme Weight Loss and Chris Powell said something a lot of my clients have heard me say one time or another “You have to run towards your fear not away from it.” Yes, it sounds cliche but I fully believe it. In fact, I have lived most of my life applying this principal on a regular basis. Amazingly, hearing this tonight helped me resolve a recent dilemma I have been struggling with and I think it can help you make important change in your life too.
Your worst enemy is fear.
Fear will keep you stuck because it creates avoidance so you never get a chance to prove yourself wrong. I have always been afraid of snakes so I avoided them which wasn’t hard to do. But now that I’m hiking more I see them on the trail all the time and I think they are afraid of me too. Avoidance is very hard to change because it’s comfortable. That’s why most people don’t change unless they are somewhat forced to.
Unless you learn to befriend your fear.
You can befriend your fear by talking about it. Visualizing it. Giving it a face or an image. But ultimately, the only thing that will help is stopping your avoidance. And that requires doing something new or eliminating an existing behavior. Behavior being the key word. And this happens outside of therapy, in the “real” world, where you may find you are on your own. By avoiding your fear and never trying something new you don’t learn that you can actually do it. This is very important. It is crucial in developing a sense of confidence, esteem and self-efficacy. Which leads me to my next point.
You can do it. You just don’t know it yet.
Most likely, you have very little prior evidence to support this. You also may mistakenly interpret avoidance as lack of ability. You can’t accurately judge whether you are capable of change if you haven’t tried. Numerous times. It’s possible that you will fail. It’s also almost certain that you will make mistakes. But I bet you haven’t considered the possibility that it may be easier than you think and that you might just succeed. Change is hard. But not impossible. Don’t give up.
You need the right tools.
Think of this as developing your own change tool box/kit. The first item in that kit should be information. You can’t change blind. You have to be able to see where you are going. Learn about yourself as much as you possibly can. You will need honesty and courage for this. And leave your Ego out. You won’t need it. Learn about what your challenge really is but also learn about your strengths and skills, successes you’ve had in the past, no matter how small. They have made you who you are. Learn about what scares you. When it faces you, don’t look away. You might find it’s not that scary after all. Ask for help. Seek out support from people who have gone through what you are going through. Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Celebrate accomplishing every single step by setting goals and rewards. Be patient. Practice frustration tolerance. Tell yourself you are OK. Tell yourself you can do it.
Remember to breathe.