Identity Formation

You can be whoever you want to be. Sound too good to be true? It isn’t.

First accept the basics, the things you can’t change – find your baseline. What are you working with? What do you like to do, what are you interested in? Get your bearings with yourself. Maybe you have no idea – so start trying things. What are you curious about? What are you drawn to? How do you want people to see you, how do you want to see yourself?

Want to be funny? Watch a bunch of funny movies, hang out with funny people, notice what makes people laugh, what makes you laugh. Want to be well-traveled? Find a way to go on a trip. Make a list of places you want to go, experiences you want to have. Seek them out. Want to be healthy? Start working out – try running, try yoga, try boxing. Go for a hike. Eat a salad, a handful of nuts. Practice. Want to write? Get a notebook and a pen, open a word document – start typing and find out what you have to say. Want to be a history buff? Go to school. Read a book – the library has a wealth of free options, anything you want to learn, you can learn.

The key is to see the possibilities – don’t limit yourself, don’t put yourself in a box. You have a mind, a body – you can build yourself, you can choose. All it takes is a little observation, a little practice, and – primarily – a belief that you can.

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I recently watched the Coen brothers’ movie A Serious Man. The main character is shoved around by his life, his wife, his job – by circumstances. He envies his wife’s lover – a man people called “serious.” And he tries to be a serious man. But he doesn’t seem to get it, doesn’t quite believe he could be serious, doesn’t really know where to begin. He confesses to a Rabbi – “I’ve tried to be a serious man.” But was he? Did he own that identity? I’m not sure he made it in the movie, but all it would have taken was confidence.

I always loved the movie Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale, Jr, masterfully played by Leonardo DiCaprio, molds himself into a thousand men, plays a different part for every phase of his life. He acts as a pilot, assembling a crowd of flight attendants to breeze through the airport, works as a teacher, a doctor, a playboy. He was a conman. A confidence man. A man with enough confidence to believe that he was a doctor when he put on that white coat, and everybody else believed it, too. But if he hadn’t believed it, no one else would have.

I went to school for creative writing – had workshops with other students, swapping stories and offering critiques – writing. Ask most of them if they were writers, and they’d tell you they were trying to be. They wondered how to continue writing after graduation, how to make sure they kept at it. But it’s deceptively easy. All they had to do was write. Write a single sentence, and you’re a writer. All you have to do is believe it.

I also spent some time in business school, and a popular maxim there is – “Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want.” If you want a certain role, start by looking the part. Then act the part. Believe that you are capable of playing the part, and before long – you’ll get the part. Because other people notice confidence – they respect it, appreciate it, admire it, and generally, reward it.

Maybe this sounds deluded, silly, impossible. But you have more power than you think you do. You can always grow, teach yourself lessons about things you want to know, practice self-improvement until you love every bit of yourself. Begin by accepting where you’re at, and the possibilities are endless. You can build yourself into whoever you want to be – the only person in your way is you. The truth is, you’re limitless.

Love, calm, & care –

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Life Style

How do you see life? As a ride to be enjoyed? A game to be played and potentially beaten? A series of unfortunate events, or challenges to be hacked?

Going back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, survival is the threshold – once basic, physical needs are covered, our minds and selves are freed up for higher pursuits. But are we born into certain levels? Is his hierarchy a kind of psychological caste system?

it's just a game abstract pen and ink drawing

I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and in one chapter he argues, through a character named Prince Andrew, that Russian serfs are meant to work hard, to have their days filled with demanding physical labor and that, if a landowner wanted to give them more freedom, he would be doing them more harm than good. A serf is a type of person that needs this labor to survive.  Without it, he’d be lost – feeling useless and not knowing how to fill his time productively. In the same breath, the prince posits that just as he would suffer in the serf’s life of manual labor, a serf would have no idea how to manage his time in the prince’s life of leisure. So each is born into a level, and that’s that – it’s for the best. The rare ones who transcend levels are meant to do so, but they are mere exceptions.

This might seem cruel and unequal and classist – but does it matter? Are the concerns of one class really so different from another? I love the show Sex and the City, and I’m currently watching Girls. The former chronicles the lives of four women living in New York – they have well-paying jobs, are in their thirties, and the show explores their relationships, the ups and downs of their personal, everyday lives. Girls follows four twenty-something girls, also living in New York – they run in circles of entitled young people, all being supported by their parents, not really having a clue about how to handle life, and struggling just to pay rent. But the show explores the same themes as Sex and the City – relationships, everyday life – their humanity. So does it matter how much money they’re making? Maybe Carrie is worried about spending too much on shoes while Hannah can barely make rent, but won’t the same types of problems always exist? Won’t the real issue, the one we remember, not be our financial stability or the weird job we worked, but the relationship with the guy who wouldn’t commit, or the ex-boyfriend who’s now gay, or the moments of warm friendship in the midst of all this? Does class even matter?

Now I know that, in this comparison, I’ve looked at two sets of white women from middle class families. I know, it’s a biased perspective. But I think it could apply to more circles than you’d expect, and I think that what ultimately makes the difference is not the class you are in, but the way you approach life. If Carrie Bradshaw suddenly decided to dedicate her life to philanthropy and making the world a better place, I think she could find a way to do it just as well as Hannah Horvath could. Sure, they have different connections and talents, but that’s the point – they’re different people. The differences they could make in the world are equally valid.

If you’re born into the ghetto, raised in a gang, always looking over your shoulder, selling drugs just to survive – you could find ways to enjoy this. You could coast through it, accepting it as your lot in life, hardly thinking about moving up or down in the world, just letting yourself live the life you were born into, having relationships and making deals and simply living. Or, if you see life as challenges to be surmounted, maybe you’re driven to do well in school, to get a scholarship to college, to rise out of the class you were born into. You’re an exception.

But that’s on an individual basis. They don’t teach life strategy in school. I never took a class on figuring out your passion or your purpose in this world. So maybe you’re compelled, internally, to figure this out for yourself, or maybe you’re not. And, more than whatever situation you’re born into, I think this is what decides your fate. You can practice, you can study, you can move yourself up in the world – but it’s entirely your prerogative to do so.

What do you think – am I being unfair? How do you approach life?

Love, calm, & care –

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Losing Steam

We celebrate the new year fresh, bold, with bright eyes and dewy faces. And we wake up hungover.

It feels easy to lose momentum before you even catch it – letting the crusty eyes overtake your vision, lying in bed and eating pizza instead of doing that workout you swore you’d do so you can lose those ten pounds of yourself that you hate.

It can get depressing. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves this time of year. Pressure to become our best self, to make sweeping changes to our lifestyles, to improve in all the ways we didn’t know we needed to. If you don’t achieve every single one of your goals within a week, the idea of continuing for a year may feel daunting, to say the least.

abstract pen and ink girl falling of cliff

So do something ballsy – accept that this is overwhelming. It’s hard to hear about your coworkers’ diets and your neighbor’s workout plan, the whole time wishing you hadn’t had those pancakes for breakfast or wondering if you should have spent 20 more minutes on the elliptical, but it doesn’t have to be like that.

Change doesn’t happen in a day. Your clothes, your mind, sure, but not true, lasting change. You can decide to make a change, but even then – what’s driving you? You need a foundation, strong reasons for doing something, a profound sense that this is what’s right. Whims won’t stick.

Change takes careful study – honest assessment of the ground situation, visions and goals for the future, and a plan for how to get from point A to point B, along with a commitment to enjoy each and every step of it.

You won’t wake up with the “perfect beach body,” whatever the hell that is, but you can wake up and decide to accept what your body looks like today. To accept your housing, your career, your relationships, your self as they are. And then show up.

On January 1st or September 23rd or any other arbitrary date, the best thing you can do is show up for yourself. It’s not a piece of cake from there, but if you’re present, it does get easier. With practice.

handwritten journal entry encouragement

I wrote this in my journal today, and I think it’s universally applicable –

…You are capable of continuing, of carrying on in this way. Even when you fall – which you will – trust yourself to fall gracefully. To pick yourself back up with kindness. Don’t be afraid of letting people see that – there is strength in your vulnerability, and a wealth to be learned from the falling and the getting back up. It’s okay to be crazy. It’s okay for people to look up to you. Keep going, and you won’t disappoint anyone. It’s only when you stay down that you truly fail.

I believe in you.

You are capable.

Let’s be present this year. Every day of it. Let’s show up for ourselves, and see where it takes us.

Love, calm, & care –

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Self-talk

I remember people joking about messages in Lizzie McGuire and other Disney shows – “Believe in yourself.” It sounded so cheesy, so silly – foolish, even. But actually, it isn’t. It’s some wisdom that Disney was tryna drop on us, and we threw it on the ground. Maybe some people absorbed it, but, growing up in Christianity, I was taught to believe in God – not myself. Only myself through God. Which never fully made sense to me. And, while I’ve received a lot of encouragement from the people in my life, I’ve heard many people I loved talk to themselves negatively – criticizing body parts or actions, beating themselves up. This broke my heart. I saw that these people didn’t deserve that. But everyone has to find it for themself.

Example 1: Your bills were due yesterday. You forgot to pay them. In the moment you remember, what do you say to yourself?

  1. “Oh shit, you idiot, how could fuck this up?!”
  2. “Okay. Fuck. It’ll be okay. Just pay it now. You can’t change it.”
  3. “Fuck the bank, they don’t deserve your money.”

Hopefully we can all agree that, while many of use might feel c, b is the healthiest option.

But so many people choose a. Too many. If you call yourself an idiot, sooner or later you’re going to believe it. In the same way, if you consistently call yourself a genius, you might become a megalomaniac. Of course a balance is key in this, but a healthy, positive self-image is an integral piece to achieving any type of happiness or success.

Example 2: You wake up with a massive pimple on your forehead. Looking in the mirror, you tell yourself –

  1. “You’re a hideous monster. No one will ever love you.”
  2. “This will pass. You are more than your face. I love you. You’re worthwhile, regardless of your blemishes.”
  3. “You already have the face of a goddess, so this is hardly an issue. You are the best looking human on this planet.”

I think we can once again agree that, while c is a fun option, b is the healthiest.

An angsty high school mirror photo - a time when I only said negative things to myself.

An angsty high school mirror photo – a time when I only said negative things to myself and overtweezed my eyebrows.

And once again, it kills me every time I hear people say things like option a to their reflection. While it may seem ridiculous to tell yourself, “I love you,” it makes such a difference. And, once you begin, sooner or later you’ll start to – if you don’t already.

Some days are hard. People can suck and make you feel like shit, and your mind can do this to you as well. Sometimes I feel like I just don’t want to. Really anything. I just don’t. But then I catch it, I stop my freefall, and I look in the mirror and I say, “I love you. You are worthwhile, intelligent, strong, brave, beautiful, etc. You can.” And, even if I don’t believe it in my head, seeing myself say those words to myself actually does something in my brain. And I feel a lot better. I believe myself. And then I believe in myself. And that’s not cheesy at all – that’s necessary for me to function as a healthy human being.

Now I play dress up and spray fake perfume on myself, brimming with joy when I look in the mirror.

Now I play dress up and spray fake perfume on myself. It’s better for everyone this way.

Society seems to place more value on what other people think of us than on what we think of ourselves. While the opinions of others can hold some weight, what actually allows for a healthy mental and emotional state is a positive self-image. It’s a beautiful thing, the self-image, something that can be curated carefully and cultivated into exactly what you wish it to be. Developing this actively is a lifelong pursuit, and it doesn’t stop once you make your self-talk positive. Having it allows for comfort in your own skin, realistic ideas of who you are and what you can accomplish, and the ability to love others well.

See, to love others as you love yourself, you’ve gotta love yourself. And it all starts with what you say to the person in the mirror. You can.042615_0013_HeartlessCh1.jpg