The Scamp and the Art of Being Yourself

Or….why I want to learn to be perception free.

Today is the 16th of August. If you looked out my window as I am doing now though, you would think it was late October. It is raining….again. This summer has been awful in terms of weather. I miss the sunshine. I miss warm weather. I miss the tan that I got in Croatia.

The one good thing about this weather is that I have been able to get a lot of work done on my thesis. While I am not quite at the word count I would like to be at, I am making good, steady progress and that is making me feel a bit less stressed. I had a productive meeting with my supervisors yesterday, and while I should feel really good about it, the only thing that I can focus on is that one of my supervisors said that I was behind the curve. I wish I could focus on the help they gave me with my lit review/theory chapter, and focus on the fact that they told me the interviews that I conducted with staff have provided me with some really great insight.

Sometimes I just like being a grump.

The writing challenge for this week (it’s week 33…seriously though….week 33 already?) doesn’t have a theme, but this week I had a conversation class with one of my English students and I showed him a TedTalk that has really stuck with me.

First. Caroline McHugh is a badass Scotswoman, and the living embodiment of everything she believes in. She is the founder and CEO of IDology, and has her bio page states:

Speaker, teacher, coach and author of Never Not a Lovely Moon, Caroline delivers keynotes and masterclasses at dozens of Fortune 500 companies, on Leadership, Reputation Management and Women at Work. Experience has only redoubled her long obedience in the same direction – that people who are afraid to be themselves will work for people who aren’t. In a world that’s ever more competitive and precarious, her message has brought a whole new meaning to ROI – a Return on Individuality.

Second, she believes that the best thing a person can be in life is themselves. Her company, and it seems her mission in life is to help people figure out how to be the best version of themselves. Her TedTalk is called ‘The Art of Being Yourself’

It is worth the watch. Not only are her words important, but the persona that she has created for herself speaks to her individuality. Her shaved head, her Glasgow accent, and her impeccable fashion sense, and her honest, engaged presence immediately made me sit up and listen to what she had to say. I’ll admit that I selected this particular talk because McHugh is Scottish and my student needs to practice listening to accents, but now that I’ve heard it, I want everyone I know to hear it.

Her message is simple: “Your only job while you’re here, on this planet is to be good at being you as they (your role models and whoever you look up to) are good at being them.”

While that may seem simple and easy, let me tell you, that is a hard thing to do. We as a society are bombarded with ads telling us what we should wear to look good, or what we should do to be successful. Most of us seem to have an almost obsessive need to be accepted in the eyes of those around us. We chase Facebook likes, Instagram hearts, followers and friend requests. We edit and filter photos until we are almost unrecognizable, and we let the words and thoughts of others influence everything from how we dress to what we eat….and even how we feel about ourselves.

According to McHugh,  when you’re young you’re great at being yourself; when you’re old you’re great at being yourself; but the bit in the middle is sometimes the most problematic. That’s the bit where you have to socialise; you have to accommodate; you have to adapt. So I’ve developed the “I complex,” and the “I complex” is a model to help you figure out which “I” you mean when you say “I.”

There are 4 different types of “I”

  1. This is the most visible “You”. This is the you that you represent to the outside world. This is what everyone thinks of you, or how they perceive you. It is impossible to be perception-less in the world, but one of the key elements to becoming the best you possible is to become perception free. By letting the view of others affect the way you view yourself, you can never be completely you.

For the sake of this post, I asked my friends and family on Facebook to share their impression of me. Much the way my research is going for my thesis, my response rate was not quite what I hoped, but it did give me some interesting insight to the way people view me.

Here is what was said

Uni pal who has known me more than 10 years: “I love tattoos and boys are stupid”

ExBoyfriend: You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and it is not just your looks, but the fact that you are so driven (okay, this one emotionally abused me for the year we were dating, but I think he was honest when he said that to me before he broke up with me)

Partner is Snark and mother to my Meow: “Oh, when she’s angry, she is keen and shrewd! She was a vixen when she went to school. And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

 Partner in Snark and one of the strongest people I know: The word that pops into my head when I think of you is ‘journey’. I know that might seem strange…but I think I associate that word with you because of your love of travel and because you, of all my friends, seem to be on a journey discovering and creating your self.
One of my best friends in the entire world besides the wombmate (also known as my mother): wish I could be just a little less dramatic like a, Kennedy when Camelot went down in flames Leave it to me to be holdin’ the matches When the fire trucks show up and there’s nobody else to blame (thanks mom….I am not that great at hiding my crazy am I?)
One of my mother’s best friends: Brave, awesome, fearless, intelligent, funny.
People from the CSUF programme: Racist. Cheater. Liar. Brash. Someone who will never be a good educator because she refuses to apologise for her position of privilege and make her classes easier for her students of colour
My students: Hard. Really helpful. Super cool. She will help you as much as she can.
An incredible soul I met at Napier: Kim: Lovely, kind, inclusive, giving, family orientated, edgy, rocky, cool, sweet xxx
My cousin, another one of the strongest people I know: You are a bright light to those around you. You shine through real life and you are incredibly interesting and mysterious:)
My Supervisor: Emotional, reluctant, stubborn
The lawyer I loved in my mid 20s: Comes on strong. Not a typical good Jewish girl.
My manpanion: Stubborn. Sexy. Tiny but mighty. frustrating. Very American.
These are the things that people see when they look at me. Some bad. Some good, all very different.  Some even different from the way I view myself.
2. Persona. The “You” that you think you are presenting to the world. As McHugh states:
 This is what you would like everybody else to think of you, and it’s not about being fake, or fad, or pretending. It’s about moving; it’s about possibility; it’s about potential; it’s about supposition. So, whilst there’s a part of you that’s like your backbone, this part of you is like your wishbone. This one is your adaptive personality, your construct self, and even that’s unique because nobody in the world has had the same experiences or influences that you have. But this is the you that keeps moving, that keeps changing all the time.
I want people to see me as a badass gypsy soul, someone who would rather collect life experiences than things. A Scottish woman trapped in an American body. A person wh wants to make higher education a better place, who wants to really have learned from past mistakes, and does her best not to repeat them. I want to be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons. Flamingos are derpy and weird, but they certainly are not boring.
3. Ego. For this McHugh presents two extremes:
The thing that might stop you being the woman of your dreams is the next circle, and that’s what you think of you. So now you’ve got what others think of you, what you would like others to think of you, and this is what you think of you. And you have good days and bad days, right? There’s days where you wake up and you think you’re the bee’s knees. And other days you wake up and you can’t even say your name. Even your cellphone feels too heavy. On the days when you wake up and you feel like the bee’s knees, it’s not even like you’ve got a reason. It’s like free-floating joy in your body just looking for a target, and you know how it feels on those days because (sizzling sound). You just think, “Somebody give me an audience; I’m on fire! Quick, point me somewhere!” And your hair’s fabulous, and everything just works, everything works on those days. But the other days nothing works. Your legs don’t work, your mouth doesn’t work. The word thief comes and steals your entire vocabulary.
I’d say my ego, more often then not, lays with the second one. I’m really good at self doubt, really good at noticing my flaws and caring way too much what people think of me. I spend a lot of time wanting more people to read my words, more time to prove to others that I’m smart and capable, and I really wish that I could get past the fact that I am willing to do more for people sometimes then they are for me. I have not yet gotten to the perception-free part of my life, and that may in fact be one of the very things that keeps me from being able to finish my thesis with confidence. Now, depression also plays a small role in my ego, but I believe if I stick with therapy, and continue to work on myself, that I can make that a little less of a barrier between me and being myself.
The way to get to the last “You” is to keep the ego in check. The best way to do that is through humility.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking about yourself less.”
4. Self. This is the most important one. This is the “You” that has always been there. This is the perfect version of you that you need to let the world see. This is what is going to allow you to be the best version of you, which is possibly the whole reason for living. McHugh’s most powerful takeaway, at least for me is this:
your life has to be your message. Otherwise, why are you here? It’s not like you’ve got a spare. So when you think about your identity, when you think about what it means to be alive, when you think about why you deserve to exist, you’re not your thoughts, because you think them. And you can’t be your feelings, because otherwise, who’s the you that feels them? You’re not what you have; you’re not what you do; you’re not even who you love, or who loves you. There has to be something underneath all that.
She ends her talk with this: So if you can do this, not only will the speed of your life get quicker, not only will the substance of your life get richer, but you will never feel superfluous again.
So while I work on trying to be the best me I can, and possibly make my little corner of the world a better place, and you might have felt TL;DR, I will leave you with the words of my favourite author, who I believe would have really loved the message of Caroline McHugh.
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A Scamp Learns the Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

That’s what I took away from my class yesterday (thanks Tim). The philosophy class of my nightmares spent a lot of time yesterday talking about the difference between knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. There were some in the class that looked at it like a linear progression, first you gain knowledge, and from that knowledge comes wisdom, and from that wisdom comes understanding. A lot of them mentioned that the people they consider wise are the ones that are older, the ones that have lived and have a lot of experience under their belt. I’m trying not to be the devil’s advocate, but I think that age does not necessarily determine wisdom.

Today is the first day of the Jewish New Year. This day also marks the one year anniversary of the day I left for Scotland. I was excited, nervous, and completely looking forward to my adventure. The start of the Jewish new year is about reflecting and atoning. While there is no way I could possibly begin to reflect on the entire year of adventures (or misdeeds for that matter), I can say that I am a much wiser person.

Last year at this time my post about the new year was filled with worry that I was not a good enough Jew to be with David. I was worried about fitting in with his family, and being able to become the type of Jewish wife that he wanted. At the time I was worried that I was never going to be good enough, and that I was going to be spending the 70 years catching up to where I should have been. Last year I was missing home, missing David, and missing the connection to other Jewish people.

This year I am missing Scotland. In that moment last year I thought I had my life all planned out. I was going to marry my Jewish lawyer and raise good Jewish babies in San Diego. I thought that was what I wanted. I thought that was part of being an adult, settling down and having your life figured out. In this moment now, I have no idea what I am going to do tomorrow, much less the next 70 years. I have the deep understanding though that I would not have been happy in that life. I’m currently mostly single, in a doctoral program, and have no real job to speak of. The only thing I know for sure is that I no longer have a plan…..and that scares me. I’m not an adult yet (and really have no idea how to be one), I don’t know if I want to be an adult (because who wants to worry about paying bills), and I worry that being an adult means the end of my wanderlusting ways. Adults don’t pick up and move to other countries on a whim. Adults don’t nap in the afternoon sun on a Wednesday to clear their heads, and adults don’t rush home from class to go to comedy clubs with their best friend.

The thing is, I have the wisdom and understanding to know that I do not have to grow up right this second.  Today I was reading a blog (you can find it here: http://theduckandtheowl.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/doors-transitions-graphics/) and a picture on the blog really stuck out to me.

lost

 

Sarah, the author of the post is going through something very similar (and has written it out much more eloquently than I have) and this picture really reminded me that it is okay that I am a little lost right now. It is okay that my plans now are different than my plans a year ago. If I was still on that life path, I would not be at Fullerton pursuing my doctoral degree, and right at this moment I would be sitting in temple feeling awkward and out of place. I may be lost and worried about the future right now, but like my grandma always said, take care of today and worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

I know in the end all the dots will connect and everything will work out, but in the meantime I am just going to put one foot in front of the other and see where that takes me.

I wish all of my friends, Jewish and otherwise, a happy and healthy new year full of adventures, laughs, and lots of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

Happy 29th of Elul, 5773