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Day 84

I don’t know why I often fantasize about becoming a YouTube star when I workout, but it definitely makes it more fun. I’ve been watching a lot of videos on how to be more confident and charismatic lately, and it’s really inspiring me to put myself out there more.

***

Hoo boy, my allergies are destroying me today. I don’t know what to write. I just want to watch stupid videos on YouTube. It seems like the more I commit to writing, the more I question whether it’s really something I care that much about. It almost always feels like a chore, aside from those rare moments when I’m feeling inspired. Still, I think it’s a good habit, and I want to continue it at least until I leave for Vietnam.

Speaking of, it’s still difficult to imagine I’m going to be going alone to a foreign country on the opposite side of the world. I don’t think the reality of it will fully hit me until the day before I leave. For now, I’m excited. No matter what happens, it will be a powerful, transformative experience that I’ll never forget. I’m already touched by the bittersweet moment I shared with my mom when she cried and told me she was proud of me. And, I think I’m already feeling pretty proud of myself. Proud that I’d actually commit to doing something so terrifying (even to someone who isn’t naturally anxious) without any external motive. I’ve been so passive throughout most of my life. Usually, the only times I’d take action were situations where I had to, just to avoid negative consequences. I’m amazed by how much I’ve grown and by the fact that I’m just getting started. It really sheds light on just how limitless human potential can be when we get out of our own way.

I could never fully imagine what I’m capable of. It’s easy to fantasize about some other me in the future, living a life my current self wishes she had. But to realize, to truly believe that with some effort I could become the person I’ve only dreamed of becoming, even surpass her, that’s a game-changer. The reality of human potential surpasses the limitations of my imagination and makes me a grateful participant in life. I can’t wait to reach the point where my confidence and self-love are so strong that I can effortlessly share it with others. One of my dreams is to be a person who lifts people out of the pitfalls of their minds and reveals to them the strength and beauty they’ve been hiding from themselves. Because, these things lie in everyone, and it’s tragic to have them hidden away. We tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, putting but a fraction of our true selves out into the world to avoid the spotlight. Then, over time, we come to believe that that fraction is really all there is. We lose ourselves in an inferior facade, forgetting all the beauty we locked away. The moment we dig up the pieces of ourselves we kept hidden, repairing our self image — the moment we truly know, or rather remember ourselves, that’s when we stop doubting and start living.

***

You know, I guess I do like to write, once I get over that initial hump of writer’s block, distractions, and laziness.

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Day 83

If you couldn’t already tell, I’m obsessed with self improvement. I’m always questioning what parts of me are fixed and what parts are malleable. Right now, I’d like to work on being more considerate and charismatic. These are definitely things that I struggle with, probably because I spent most of my life isolating myself. For the bulk of my life, I’ve justified these weak aspects of myself, believing that my social awkwardness and tendency to be self-absorbed were just endearing quirks that made me who I am. I clung to my idiosyncrasies for fear of losing myself in pursuit of an ideal that I felt didn’t represent me. Perhaps it’s true, perhaps there are certain traits that I’ll never have a natural competence for; perhaps I should just accept my strengths and weaknesses as they are. But then, how would I know what I’m capable of unless I challenged this old conception of myself? There may be particular skills that come easier to people with temperaments that coincide with them; i.e. it’s probably much easier and more natural for an extroverted individual to be charismatic, but that doesn’t leave me incapable of developing the same skill.

I think, too, that at some point in my life I confused loving myself with embracing my flaws or even celebrating them, rationalizing them to be intrinsic parts of who I was and would always be. And, I do think it’s important not to let flaws affect self worth and to not dwell on them. But, to love yourself means to love who you are regardless of how you are; it doesn’t necessarily mean embracing flaws that could be improved upon. In that way, I should love myself regardless of what imperfect state I’m in, but not use that to justify denying opportunities for self growth, to be happy, but not content — Just as I may love others for who they are, but still encourage them to better themselves.

It goes back to the concept that the self is not necessarily a fixed set of characteristics, that it instead constantly evolves along with the evolving world around us, when given the opportunity and tools to do so. To cling to my flaws under the pretense that they’re an intrinsic part of me is not an act of self love at all. I can only truly shed light on the boundaries and limitations of my self by challenging them. In the end, I may discover a self more true, more radiant and vivacious than the one I held tightly to for ages. Maybe my truest self is a seed waiting to be planted and watered, kept hidden by my insecurities. Whatever the case, I always find it empowering to be forward-thinking and goal-oriented. I’m excited to see how far I can push myself, just how much I can grow. I’m still in the process of unearthing my deepest passions– passions that I think were faded and made invisible by my self-limiting concept of self, a self with just a small set of strengths and an immutable set of weaknesses. The less things I tell myself I can’t do, the more things I’ll discover I can.

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Day 82

I always get so inspired when I hear intelligent, respectful people having a conversation. It makes my hunger for knowledge even more intense, and it makes me glad to be a human.

Revisiting Tribalism and Identity Politics (I could seriously rant about this forever, but I probably shouldn’t)

So, when I think about tribalism, I can’t help but think about how it relates to the concept of self. My concept of self isn’t firmly rooted in anything other than my own set of experiences. That is, I see myself as a person shaped by my responses to the world around me, internal processes, decisions, a self that’s constantly changing and evolving, fluid, but made whole by selective commitments. My sense of self is found in my autonomy, where I can decide each day the type of person I wish to be. I find tribalism to be self-limiting and damaging, creating a fixed and fragile sense of self that’s contingent on factors imposed by external circumstances. For example, if I held tightly to my identity as a black person, my sense of self would be quite fragile in the face of people whose concept of a black person excludes me. Being told that my skin is too light, or that I don’t “act black” would be damaging to my sense of self. But, by viewing myself as an individual first and foremost and a black person second, it’s easy for me to maintain a healthy sense of self across all populations and rungs of society.

That’s part of what I find strange about identity politics. Proponents seem to be upset by the believe that our identities are thrust upon us by society, creating inequality and injustice, and instead of challenging this and proposing an alternative, posit that we fight fire with fire, embracing our externally assigned identities as a means of gaining leverage. I.e. by identifying as a black woman, I should have access to certain privileges granted to my demographic as a way of balancing the power in society, which is unevenly distributed towards wealthy, white men. But, what if we challenged the concept of externally assigned identities to begin with? If we viewed ourselves primarily as humans with a unique set of experiences under our belt, would that not in turn help others to view us the same way? And if we succeeded in altering society’s perspective of us, would that not naturally lesson inequality and injustice?

Again, I agree with the intent behind identity politics, but I can’t help but feel that it’s a band aid to complex issues that ultimately start with the individual. Of course, I’m incredibly biased, viewing things primarily from a highly individualistic and psychological perspective. Still, I’m having trouble seeing the effectiveness of, and logic behind, favoring groups over individuals in the hopes of attaining equality. In my mind, equality starts with examining what we have in common, our humanity, not what makes us different. Inequalities that arise between demographics, to me, are a result of the inequalities that arise when we fail to see each other as individuals. Of course, I could be wrong, but it’s interesting to think about. (I wonder if any of that made sense…)

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Day 81

There’s a particular phrase that immediately makes me uncomfortable, and it goes a little something like this:

“As a [demographic], I think I can speak for [demographic] when I say…”

I’ll admit that I’m not well versed in politics or sociology, and so my opinions may be a little shortsighted and/or uninformed. But, I’m really not a fan of tribalism. I’m not sure what caused my natural aversion to labels and groups in general, especially considering tribalism is a very natural phenomenon, but I’m thankful for it. Because, in my experience so far, I haven’t seen a lot good come from this type of thinking. Tribalism stems from the most basic and ancient parts of the mind, which in itself doesn’t make it bad, but it does interfere with critical thinking, which can lead to bad things. That part of the mind, the part responsible for intuition and heuristics, has its purpose. It’s part of what allowed us to survive as a species, with its quick and effective responses to our environment. But, it often fails at responding accurately to complex problems, and most people know at this point that the knee-jerk response to complexities often isn’t the best response, as in the case with biases.

Anyway, my problem with tribalism and identity politics is how limiting and distracting they are. They tell you to focus on specific groups of people with specific needs, but I find that strange because no one fits perfectly into a category; everyone’s individual needs are slightly different from someone else’s. What if you have a need that’s not covered by the group you’ve been assigned to? Or, what if you don’t suffer from the challenges typically assigned to your group? Really, I think it’s better to focus on tackling specific problems from multiple angles, rather than attempting to tackle the collective concerns of groups that aren’t all-inclusive under the assumption that those concerns belong only to them. This type of thinking also primes people to make assumptions. When one starts viewing people in terms of labels rather than individual characteristics, it’s easy to come to readily available, often wrong, conclusions about people.

Whenever I think about this, I’m reminded of how I grew up. In kindergarten, they taught us to be kind and respectful to everyone; it was very simple and very effective. It never even occurred to me to assign labels to people; people were just people. I have a great deal of trouble seeing why we can’t apply this same principle in adulthood. Consider these incomplete statements, for example:

1. _____ should feel comfortable openly expressing their emotions.

2. _____ should feel safe reporting sexual harassment.

3. _____ shouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin.

 

It’s so tempting to fill in the blanks with specific groups of people. You might think the “answer” to number one is, “men,” number two is, “women,” and number three is “black people” or “people of color.” But, wouldn’t it be just as meaningful, if not more so, to fill in those blanks with, “people”?

People should feel comfortable openly expressing their emotions.

People should feel safe reporting sexual harassment.

People shouldn’t be judged by the color of their skin.

In this way, you don’t unintentionally exclude outliers in the process of supporting more visible demographics. After all, there are plenty of women (including myself) who don’t feel comfortable openly expressing their emotions, men who don’t feel safe or comfortable reporting sexual harassment, white people who are teased for and ashamed of their pale skin, or even light-skinned black people being shunned by other black people. Just because they don’t fit neatly into a specific group, their concerns could easily be overlooked. It’s a bit ironic as well, considering the aim of identity politics is often to provide more visibility to minorities, but by assigning people to groups, one inadvertently ends up creating more invisible minorities.

I do understand, however, the good intent behind identity politics, and how conveniently it brings attention to specific concerns in society, like gender norms and discrimination. I realize, too, that we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) completely eliminate this tribalism mentality that’s so ingrained in us. But, I still feel it’s an oversimplified and faulty approach to complex, multifaceted issues. Consider too, that steering away from tribalism eliminates the potential for the dreaded, “us against them” or common enemy mentality to arise, a mentality that, while very appealing on an instinctive level, leads to many of the social divides we see today.

Ultimately, we need to remind ourselves that we’re all people, with the same basic needs, and we’re all in this thing called life together. None of us fit neatly into a category, and we can only accurately speak for ourselves (though, even that’s debatable, but that’s a different story…) And, it’s by speaking for ourselves that we can better understand each other and work together for the betterment of humanity as a whole.

As a person, I think I can speak for myself when I say, I have my own thoughts and experiences to share. Won’t you share yours with me?

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Day 80

Breaking through Self Doubt

Watching some videos on ESL teaching techniques and seeing what it’s like in a typical classroom, I felt myself overwhelmed with feelings of self doubt. I told myself, I don’t want to do this. It doesn’t suit me. I’m not assertive enough to manage a classroom. I’m too shy to stand up in front of a white board and give a lesson. But, then I realized it was just fear that was making me think this way. I imagined what it would be like if fear weren’t part of the equation, and my thoughts suddenly changed. I thought, Oh, I could totally do this! I want to do this. How nice to be able to have such a wonderful impact on children’s lives! I realized that, once I shifted my focus away from my own insecurities and towards the meaningful aspects of teaching, it suddenly became appealing to me. It reminded me that it’s all about perspective, and of how tragic it would be if I let a faulty perspective colored by fear and low confidence deter me from exploring an amazing opportunity. I’ll never know whether I enjoy and/or excel at teaching unless I try. And, really, there’s no harm in trying. At the very least, I’ll walk away having learned something about myself.

I constantly need to remind myself as well that there was a time when my confidence was so low, I couldn’t see myself capable of any profession. I’d feel unworthy of getting paid, thinking that my job performance would be so awful compared to “normal,” “capable” people. I was petrified to make a mistake, and I still struggle with this. I’m just now learning to accept the importance of making mistakes, to not let them shatter my self confidence and instead embrace them as learning opportunities. And, I’m learning to be less self-conscious, to focus on other people’s needs instead of my own internal dialogue. It’s tough, because I naturally tend to spend too much time in my head, but I’m grateful for the ability to recognize the challenges I face and the ways to overcome them.

My goals:

Don’t let my mind become lazy. The moment I let my mind default to it’s natural, lazy state, is the moment old demons find their way to the surface. I believe this is what being present is all about, acknowledging thoughts that creep in without giving them power. I have to focus on what’s most important in each moment if I don’t want to be weighed down and distracted by useless, harmful scripts. If I want to continue to grow, I can’t let the past cloud my vision.

Shift my attention to others. This was something I became fairly good at when I was a cashier. At first, once the hype of landing a job wore off, cashiering felt like a worthless profession. I would often get really depressed during long shifts as I thought about how monotonous and insignificant the job was, how awkward I felt behind the register, how much of my life I was wasting in a dead-end job. But, there were times when I had nice conversations with customers, when I really engaged with them, and I realized that when I focused my attention on them instead of on my thoughts and feelings, the job suddenly felt meaningful. I actually really ended up enjoying cashiering eventually, making a point to try to find things to compliment customers on, brightening their day, and in turn, mine as well. That’s when it really became clear to me how silly it is to be selfish, as anytime my focus shifted away from serving others and towards my own baggage, the day became much more difficult and less enjoyable for everyone.

In conclusion, there’s just no sense in reviving old, dead issues, recycling damaging perspectives, and nurturing a zombie brain. Take a deep breath, and realize you don’t have to let your past taint the present moment. You’re free to be your best self, and to give the best of yourself to others.

 

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Day 79

So I just read a news article about a man who was killed by a cassowary… then, I spent at least fifteen minutes googling pictures of cassowaries. They’re very striking birds! Anyway…

***

DreamCatcher (continued)

“So,” Ian began as our laughter subsided, “how are you feeling?”

This was one of my least favorite questions. I could never respond with what I was actually feeling; where would I even begin? I’m petrified of ordinary things. Speaking makes me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I constantly recede into the mental prison I’ve created for myself just to escape the threat of reality. Even now, all I can think about is escaping. I can only seem to take comfort in silence, and silence is so excruciatingly rare.

“Fine.” I mumbled.

Ian could tell that I was lying, but decided not to push the issue.

“It’s strange isn’t it,” he went on, “meeting in person like this?” He stroked his beard. “It’s like starting all over again in the same place.”

I smiled warmly, comforted by the fact that he was able to voice my thoughts so easily.

“How… how did you… become so confident?” I asked suddenly, blushing a bit.

“Hm? What do you mean?” He responded.

“You used to be like me, anxious and-and-well… not confident.”

“Huh? So you think that I’m confident now?” he questioned.

“Well, you definitely seem more confident than me.”

There was no way he could be experiencing the same inner turmoil I was and appear normal, I reasoned.

He shrugged. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not so confident–just fake it till I make it. I’m flattered that you think I’m pulling it off, though.” He grinned cockily. “Seriously though, I have to force myself to put myself out there and leave my comfort zone. It’s painful every time, but each time I notice I’m just a little bit better than I used to be. Little by little, I start to worry less and less — less about what others may think of me, less about what I think of myself — life’s just a game; the trick is to just keep running in the right direction.”

“That… makes a lot of sense.”

I had always found myself running in the wrong direction, chased by fear, scampering in the dark. Run towards the fear, I told myself, no more fleeing. I suddenly felt inspired. I wanted to do all the things I was too afraid to do. I wanted to destroy the fear that landed me in the hospital, the fear that stole my voice.

“Can I kiss you?” I asked, abruptly.

Ian coughed, choking on his coffee a bit.

“Uh, s-sorry! You ok?” I asked, apologetically.

“Hack-y-yeah–” He held his right hand to his chest and gave the thumbs up sign with his left.

“That was sudden, I know. And… weird. I just, you know, I’ve never kissed anyone before, and I feel safe with you, and-and we get along, and–”

“Hey, I would LOVE to be your first kiss, really! It would be an honor. You just, caught me off guard there.” He chuckled nervously.

To be continued…

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Day 78

Travelling is so expensive! Just when I think I’m done buying things for my trip, I realize there’s something else I need. Oh well. I think I’m doing a pretty good job budgeting… at least I hope so.

Oh boy, I’m feeling unfocused again. Must… write… something…

 

***

By some great miracle, Adam managed make it through the forest without having a panic attack, but he was soon to face that which frightened even the greatest of warriors. He stood frozen in front of the castle. It towered over him like some treacherous mountain, and yet, something about it looked rather sad. The stone walls were worn, stained, and crumbling, and there was some unnatural attempt made to hide itself among hundreds of climbing, yellow roses as if trying to mask a deformity under layers of makeup. Adam walked towards the grand, double doors, mustering every ounce of courage he hadn’t even known existed. But, before he could open them, a woman appeared by his side.

“You’ve come!” the woman exclaimed.

Adam jumped at the sound of her voice and turned around to face her.

“Oh, I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to startle you!” the woman smiled.

The woman was stunning, with sparkling, green eyes that could enchant the most solemn philosopher. Even one as stolid as a stone would be rendered helpless in her gaze. Her delicate waves of blonde hair rested perfectly on her exposed shoulders, the rest of her adorned in a flowy, emerald gown. It was just as the legend said, Adam observed, she did smell of freshly bloomed roses.

“I’ve been waiting for so long for someone to set me free.” The woman continued. “I’ve been so lonely.”

Adam was confused. “But, you don’t appear to be bound or imprisoned…” He noted.

“Yes, I am not bound by chains or bars.” the woman frowned, “I’m bound by fear.” Her eyes became misty. “The beast…” she whispered, “it bounds me with threats. I’ve seen it destroy so many men, how easily it could destroy me!”

The woman began to cry, but Adam was too fixated on her words to comfort her. Just how many men has it killed? Adam thought, anxiously.

“I… I’m so sorry to ask this of you…” the woman whimpered, “but please, destroy the beast once and for all. Set me, and the spirits of the men who have come before you free!”

Adam was not convinced that this was a good idea. He knew nothing about this woman, and wasn’t quite swayed enough by her charms to honor her request.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m no warrior.” Adam replied.

The woman recoiled at his refusal. “But… your sword–”

“Never seen battle.” he responded, “I’m only here to find my brother. Have you seen him? He’s a young boy with curly, brown hair, brown eyes–”

The woman turned around, dejected. She sighed, “He’s being held prisoner in the castle. I was sure the beast would have killed him. Perhaps it’s using him as bait to lure in a more formidable prey…” She thought aloud.

To be continued…