Say Chees(y)

So. I bought a camera and then accidentally wrote what I’m calling a poem. Deal with it:

What if I could sell you a camera with a multi-perspective viewfinder. What if I could Instagram your thoughts through intersectional filters of race, gender, sexuality, experience. What if each snapshot countered a snap judgement.

Would you become a photographer.

Would you keep the shutter open and let the light in. Would you change your lens to capture the details. Would you develop each opinion with the delicate patience and thoughtful attention of a darkroom.

Would you hold onto the negatives and let them create space.

Waking up 15

She goes to bed 32 years old. A single mother who runs her own business. She wakes up 15 years old. Terrified. Sound like the premise for a cheesy airport novel? (or suspiciously similar to the movie, 13 going on 30). Well it is. It’s also Naomi Jocobs’ true story of losing 17 years of memory overnight due to Transient Global Amnesia.

I don’t know all the factors that can lead to something that sounds made-up, but the story did make me think… how would I feel if I woke up in my current life as my 15 year old self? Would I be happy? proud? disappointed? panicked?

At 15, I knew a few things. I knew I wanted to do something significant. I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. I knew Mr Darcy was close to perfect. I knew I wasn’t athletic. And I knew I’d have to get over my shyness.

Twelve years later, I know less. But I’m arguably more athletic and definitely less shy. I don’t know what “something significant” could possibly entail and I’m suspicious of anything that pretends to fall into the category. I still wonder if I should’ve been a doctor after all to provide some level of “essential,” if not “significant,” service. And I sympathize with Mr Darcy’s pride. Or is it his prejudice…

My 15 year old self would be surprised more than anything else to wake up to who I am today. Your teenage years are supposed to be for change and development of a purposeful identity. I was relatively consistent across these transition years and instead moved the flux up to my twenties where I sometimes get the sense that I’m waking up to a different human being on an almost daily basis. I’m at once in love with the world and disgusted by it. I’m motivated by some drive that believes in an inherent good and yet paralyzed by a perceived impossibility to actually nudge anything in the “right” direction. I’m a lot more negative than my 15 year old self would suspect. More reckless too. Definitely more interesting.

The negativity would probably bother 15 year old me. I keep trying to course-correct it, grasp at glimpses of the bright and shiny. But they flit away as quickly as they come. The internet tells me to write three new sources of gratitude daily, meditate, drink water, exercise, do an act of kindness – these are supposed to shift my mentality. Apparently I’m just twenty one days of positivity habits away from bright and shiny. And I try. But maybe I like wallowing in the negative. Maybe it’s safer. Maybe it absolves me from doing anything productive because well, what’s the point anyway.

I don’t know. All I know is, 15 year old me would be confused by all the angst.

Rollercoasters & Democracy

Everyone sucks and nothing is worth doing. This is my brain’s message to me at this very moment. It’s as if my shoulder angel is French and has gone on its third strike this month leaving shoulder devil to do all the heavy lifting of messing with my psyche.

The sun is shining brilliantly, the crisp smell of autumn hangs in the air, I have a coffee in hand, work is fine, social calendar is healthy, and yet this is me:

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I’m begrudgingly stomping my way around the aisles of my to-do list like a child who didn’t get his favourite candy at the store, threatening a tempestuous tantrum to virtually anyone in my path. Even from the confines of my desk, every time an email comes in…

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At this rate, I could really give Donald Trump a “temperament” worth talking about.

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The ridiculousness of that debate makes me panic-giggle too President Clinton.

Remember when people called communism a failed experiment? Is it democracy’s turn to explode magnificently into a plume of private emails and non-ironic trucker hats, leaving behind a deluge of Bern victims?

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Sexist, racist, would-be dictators aside… I shouldn’t be grumpy. And yet here I am, with ice daggers for eyes, waiting for my next victim (which as a rule, is usually myself). I’ve occupied this space before. Generally, I mask it under a perfume of forced smiles and small talk, but now I’m wondering… is there value in stewing in fleeting emotions? Like a bruise or a headache, aren’t emotional shifts also indicators that your body or your mind need a little extra attention? Perhaps you’re dealing with an event, a person, a situation that goes against the grain of your value system. Isn’t it better to listen to the angry indication that something isn’t quite right and identify the rotting source before it uproots everything else? Maybe, just maybe, if all of us were a little more inclined to productively listen to our anger or frustration, we could have a more engaged populace that demands to be heard and contributes to building more equitable systems rather than trudging about miserably complaining. As is, the anger festers and suddenly Britain and the EU go through a nasty divorce, America’s toxic racist mold poisons an already-divided nation, and choker necklaces make a comeback.

Even as I write this, I’ve taken some time to identify where my irritation lies, and I can feel the dark cloud lift. I now know which arrow to pull from my quiver and where to aim in order to realign my reality and expectations. Shoulder angel has come back from the picket lines, satisfied that I’ve done my best to make her job easier. Until next time…

Who wants cake?

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Let me take a selfie

Values, contoured by the brush strokes of experience,
Strengths, highlighted by the shimmer of performance,

Weaknesses, covered up by the foundation of knowledge,
Power, accented by a strobing heartbeat,

Hopes, wax and wane, shaping future paths,
Fears, threaded throughout, always eye-opening,

Spirit, in shades, both matte and glossy,
Idiosyncrasies, in curls, stubborn, wild, unruly,

Memories, filtered to enhance history, adding mystery,
Capacity to love, double tapped into existence by family,

Smile, 27 nuances of happy, sad, and in-between,
Click. This is me. #selfie.

 

 

Success: A good memory is unpardonable (Pt 3)

The point of my mountain getaway was to figure out some next steps. The thing about next steps is that they often lead to a backward glance. The thing about a backward glance… it’s not very reliable. But it can be constructive, regardless of accuracy.

We know that memory is unreliable and malleable. We also know that it plays a large role in building self-identity. So it stands to reason that we could theoretically shape our selves into what we wish for the future, by slightly mis-shaping the past. This could go horribly wrong. Or it could embody the very core of “fake it till you make it.”

But wouldn’t your personality eventually take over? Aren’t there traits that will always dominate and veer you back to the original, supposedly “less desired” path? You will always be too shy to speak up during that meeting, leaving you overshadowed. Or you will always be too friendly to be taken seriously.

Some psychologists disagree. They assert that it’s not so much the consistency in personality that predicts behaviour, rather the “power of the situation:” the roles we’re put in and the nature of the relationships in which we engage.

The glance over my shoulder this weekend was an exercise in both memory shaping and re-situation.

This week marks one year since I moved. One year of being generally frustrated with most aspects of my environment and personality.

At least, that’s what I thought.

At some point I had painted a narrative that my reality was not meeting expectations and so I had “failed” at being “happy.” After that framing, everything conveniently fit the narrative. I continued to collect supporting evidence for my “everything sucks and no one understands” soliloquy.

And then it happened.

Somewhere in between all the fun I was accidentally having, the love I was inadvertently feeling, and the learning I was happening into – somewhere in there, my sob story fell apart. So much so that as I sat watching the sun rise over the range of tectonic accidents, I couldn’t even remember why I had spent the better part of the year so upset. My re-telling of the story was much more made-for-TV-holiday-special, much less Kafka. I had essentially placed an Instagram filter on my memory and hashtagged it #iwokeuplikethis.

And you know what? It worked. By tweaking the brightness settings of my memory, I also changed the position from which new memories are being formed. It’s as if by cleaning up the pieces that were bothering me, I learned how to leverage them to inform a better, calmer, more thankful version of myself.

It may have be an uphill battle for most of the year, but looking back, most of what I see, is simply remarkable. I’d call that a Success.

 

Writer’s note: Thanks for joining me on my little 3 part introspective journey into the world of “Success.” I hope it was at least mildly entertaining. Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Success: Are you unremarkable? (Pt 1)

“Excuse moi mesdames. Je vous pose une question: c’est quoi la réussite?”

It was 1:30am. We were in a post-Biryani state, having served as taste testers for a spontaneous feast. Sash and I looked at each other, then back at the man, shaking our heads in unison.

Nope.

Having the conversation on “What is Success?” with a stranger, at 1:30am, on deserted streets wasn’t really in our plans.

But dear stranger, to make it up to you, I’ll attempt to entertain your question over my next few posts.

This conversation comes up often. At various points in our lives, we all ask ourselves…

What am I doing? What’s it contributing to? Am I supposed to be contributing to something?

How can I be successful in a mash-up of 7 billion people with dreams and struggles of their own?

How do I stand out? Where is my uniqueness?

In my pre-Biryani state that same day, one of my dearest friends was having a similar moment to the stranger on the street. She texted,

I don’t wish for an unremarkable life.

Not exactly your average Wednesday text. But hey, not exactly an average friendship.

Below is what followed:

mermaidAfter this, we obviously spent some time reassuring each other that we were indeed remarkable.

And then I got more curious. Where does this need come from? I have it too. Most of us do. I’ve spent most of the summer trying to understand my own interpretations of success and the paths I want to take to get there.

Some days, success means “remarkable.” Some days, it means “awake and outside the house.” Other days, it’s a flattering email. And on really good days, it’s just knowing you were a part of something useful. And that’s enough. We would all benefit from learning early on that the latter is a goal worth aspiring to.

Millennials are often accused of being the “participation trophy” generation.  In principle, why is it so horrible that participation is celebrated? The real problem arises when you’re not simultaneously taught to think about what participation really means. The participation trophy is a missed opportunity in understanding that nothing happens unless a collective either decides or is convinced that it should, and then engages with the process and the outcome. Even if that’s just a local race. Instead, we’re given mixed messages. We’re supposed to be unique individuals (this is obviously culture-dependent), special snowflakes with startups and billion dollar ideas. And we compete. A lot. For jobs. For graduate posts because there are no jobs. For life partners who have jobs. And thanks to technology, the pool of competitors is bottomless.

This need to be remarkable is therefore cultivated. And it’s distracting. But it’s not new. Nor is it necessarily just a narcissistic pursuit of recognition. Rather, it’s a compulsion to share pieces of yourself, almost as an affirmation of existing. To contribute, but to contribute in a way that is uniquely yours. To sign your art, whatever that art may be and to be remembered, revered, replicated. It’s become a biosocial instinct. Similar needs continue to convince our species to keep reproducing.

So in an effort to understand what it is that we all want to share so badly, I asked my friend…

What part of you do you want to share most?  The most widely that is.

 

Stay tuned for her answer in Part 2.

Writer’s note: I’m hiding in the mountains for a long weekend. Two parts hiking, one part grappling with how the way I choose to define “Success” will affect the decisions I make in the upcoming year. This is therefore the first in a set of 2-3 mountain posts. If posts appear nonsensical, blame it on the altitude.

Three o’clock walls: a take-down

It happens every day. Sometime halfway between picking at the salad bar and fleeing the premises. Three pm. I have a not-quite-midlife crisis. Everything I’d ever hoped to accomplish comes flooding through my senses, reminding me that I desperately want to be anywhere else.

Some days, anywhere else is a cafe, sipping a flat white and bringing antagonistic protagonists to life with perfectly manicured nails and an effortless casual chic. Other days, anywhere else is a hut in Mwanza interviewing a little old lady about her health-seeking behavior. On Tuesdays, anywhere else is generally bed. Wednesdays, a gym… with a trainer. Thursdays, a concert hall… and not in the audience, but front and centre.

I know I’m not alone in feeling stuck at a 9–5, but that doesn’t stop the daily restlessness from invading my veins, screaming at me to stand up and walk away from my less-than-ergonomic prison. Sometimes I listen. I grab a coffee. I convince myself that bean water is the answer. At the coffee machine, I have robotic conversation in interchangeable languages with equal banality.

“How are things?”

“Busy. Thank god for coffee.”

“It’s almost Friday.”

“Yea, I can’t wait.”

The math is all wrong. We do realize that Monday through Friday are 3 whole days more than Saturday and Sunday right? Monkey barring from weekend to weekend is clearly detrimental to quality of life.

I don’t have a job I hate. I just hate the number of hours I have to spend doing it when I’m not being effective. Honestly, my efficiency would be higher if the monotony of a work day could be broken up with feeding other facets of my personality. Give me flex time. Make skill development in an area other than my primary area of work mandatory. Offer design courses (it would have the added benefit of making our products less esoteric and more usable by the world). Subsidize gym sessions (it’ll lower your eventual health insurance payments). Understand “Innovation” rather than just paste it into mission statements. Be Google. Or better.

The 9–5 is on its way out. We all know this. The rate of change of businesses is indicative of it. Disruptive technologies are winning the economic battle. Businesses are offering shorter work weeks. Complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking are projected to rank as top 3 on the list of skills workers need at the cusp of the “fourth industrial revolution.” * (Revolution counting guide below because when did we get to 4??). These are generally skills that are stifled by the restrictions of the traditional 9–5. Employers need to create better enabling environments for fostering the very skills that are going to eventually determine their survival, relevance and success.

But I’m in the social sector. And the shift just isn’t happening fast enough. I feel like all the multiple dimensions I spent my childhood building are being stripped away as I slip into adulthood survival mode, sponsored by the subterfuge of a Merlot lullaby. Complex problem solving, creativity and critical thinking? They’re gasping for air in the foamy playground of my burnt cappuccino.

Final note: It’s currently 3:15pm. Let me out of this concrete box. I promise you it would save my brain, and in turn, benefit the organization.

*Guide to the industrial revolutions: 1) water & steam power, 2) electric power/mass production, 3) information technology & automation, and 4) rather undefined fusion of technology, biology and everything in between.