The Lessons I Learned: A Graduation Post

This weekend is my graduation weekend. As I look back over the last several years in grad school, I can’t help but be amazed at how much this experience has transformed me. As I celebrate how far I’ve come, I have been thinking about some of the lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Excellence is not about perfection; rather, it is about wholeheartedness, open-mindedness, creativity, and passion. I couldn’t hold onto my perfectionism and survive the demanding pace of graduate school, but I could throw myself exuberantly into everything I did and work passionately on it while I had the time, letting go when it was “done enough.” The last three years taught me how to dive in deep without drowning in the details, how to create quality work by accepting my own limitations.
  2. Self-care is vital. It’s the fuel to the flame of life, and I have a responsibility to honor my own needs, physically and emotionally. But it’s not a solo effort. It’s a collective one. I need to surround myself with people who also value and honor my wellness and the things required for me to maintain it. A focus on radical self-care is not something I can afford to lose, nor is it something I can carry out on my own.
  3. Success is just as scary, if not more so, than failure sometimes. It take courage to step boldly into possibility, and when I don’t fall flat on my face right off the bat, it takes even more courage to keep stepping into possibility. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself over how scared I can be, but what I fail to realize in those moments is that I keep moving forward despite my fear. I’m learning to respect the courage I find to pursue my dreams.
  4. I am more capable than I think I am. It’s so easy for me to doubt my own abilities—to listen to the doubt of others as well as my own insecurities. I have had to learn how to respect my own limitations, as I mentioned above, but I have also had to learn that I have more to offer than I have previously learned to think I do.
  5. Lastly, grad school has been transformative in helping me learn what it feels like to be part of a healthy organization. All of the skills and knowledge I gained pale in comparison to the experience of building stable attachments with mentors, teachers, and peers within an institution that values autonomy, critical thinking, individuality, and wellness.
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Quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol

Springing into the Future

I can feel the stirrings of spring. There’s that certain smell of the earth re-awakening, the energy of plants getting ready to burst forth into growth and bloom, even the mud seems to hold the promise of transitions.

I wonder if the earth feels as apprehensive and excited as I do on the cusp of my own transition of graduation.

In my last tarot reading, “The World” came up as my card moving into the future, and it feels so fitting—the end of a journey, the beginning of another, the promise of the fulfillment of having everything as it should be.

There are days when I can feel the promise of new things to come, and it fills me with joy. I want to jump into the unknown and discover what’s on the other side, certain that there is something wonderful to discover on this crazy-assed path I’ve chosen.

I wish I could just hang on to the good feelings: the hope, anticipation, joy, and confidence.

But with “The World” there also comes the fear of becoming the fool once again. I have completed a phase of my journey, and with that end comes a new beginning where I am no longer the “seasoned” student but the new professional.

I have to balance the doubt that is in that. With hope comes the possibility of failure, and I can’t entirely say I know what I’m doing. Can anyone starting on a new phase of life?

I have to balance the fear because I can’t get rid of it…but also because I shouldn’t. Those fears want to protect me. They’re meant to help me.

Yes, sometimes they also try to hold me back, convince me I’m not good enough to be a professional, I’m not experienced enough to graduate, and I’m a damn fool for thinking I can make it on my own.

I try to see the good even in those messages.

As I watch the seasons war it out, with winter dumping snow in defiance of spring, I realize I must allow the hope and fear to war within me. I must be willing to embrace each as they present, trusting that the fears are not working against the hope so much as against careless naiveté. I can trust my path even while questioning my steps.

The spring always wins in the end, and that is where its strength lies. No matter how many times a warmer week is followed by a weekend of whiteout snow and ice, the trees, the grass, the flowers—they know they will succeed.

Just as I know that somehow I will find my way to where I need to be.

 

 

The Art of Intentional Imperfection

As I’ve been getting acquainted with my creativity again, I’ve been thinking about my own perfectionism. Somewhere along the way, I picked up this silly little idea that creativity is about making art…and art needs to be perfect.

Perhaps it’s related to my own personality.

Perhaps it’s related to something in society that conveys the idea that only good art is worth our attention.

Perhaps it’s related to something I learned from my brother or parents about how to get affirmation and praise.

Perhaps it’s related to the cult, where I was taught that anything less than perfection is a sin.

Where it comes from matters less than how it’s affected my life. For almost a decade, I refused to sing in public, even for things like celebrating a birthday. I’ve shied away from playing my violin if others are around to hear, especially if I am trying to learn a new song. I’ve avoided trying out new hobbies that I am interested in for fear that I’ll be unable to do them well enough to warrant the time, money, and effort put in.

And I’ve come to this realization—perfection is the death of creativity.

An artist friend of mine once told me that if I’m freezing up in front of a canvas, I should intentionally make a mark on the canvas because it will free me from the pressure of making my painting perfect. I don’t know if that is a universal idea that beginning artists learn or if that was her version of overcoming the “blank page” syndrome, but it works!

There’s something about setting out to intentionally be imperfect that holds a special (magical) power.

When I approach music, writing, painting—basically anything that requires a modicum of creativity—with the intention to “create art,” I find myself blinded by the pressure to make good art.

Not just good art—great art! Gallery-worthy, publishing-worthy, concert-worthy art.

And it’s downright debilitating because I usually can’t hope to be that good, especially not the first time I attempt something.

However, when I set out to be intentionally imperfect, something frees up in me. Suddenly the music or writing or whatnot becomes an avenue of play…and that’s really what creativity is about.

Creativity came effortlessly to me (and most others) as a child because I had permission to have fun, make mistakes, and explore without needing to have a finished project that measured up to some standard.

My first poem consisted of rhyming nonsense words that I put together because I liked the sound and rhythm even though it didn’t “make sense.” I was thrilled with that poem even though when I showed it to others they didn’t understand.

There is a small-scale effort to glorify imperfection. The whole “it’s the flaws that make it beautiful, special, etc. etc.”

And sometimes that is very true. I have stumbled upon some happy accidents by making what seemed to be a mistake into something that added character and uniqueness to what I was creating.

But trying to rewrite imperfection as a quirky form of perfection misses the point, I think.

When I’ve been playing with my watercolors lately, there have certainly been times when I was thrilled with what came out of an unplanned action…but there have also been times when I groaned, crumpled up my painting, and started over.

And that was okay!

Because the magic of intentional imperfection is that even if it turns out to be “trash,” that’s not failure. If I’m having fun, learning more about the medium of creativity I’m using, and allowing myself to play—I’m getting exactly the “product” I need.

The Melancholy Post

I’m not sure where to begin today. I feel the urge to write, my creativity sparking in a way that it hasn’t in a while…but about what?

I have undoubtedly been dry this semester. I couldn’t even bother figuring out how long my break from writing needed to be or what a feasible schedule for posting might look like since weekly seemed so out of reach.

I’ve been struggling with how orphaned I feel lately. I knew that cutting off my parents would come with its own version of existential abandonment, but the way that is expressing itself hasn’t been in the way I expected.

I realize I long for a place to put roots down—a place to belong. I don’t want my family back, but I want to be part of something that I can truly invest in.

Graduate school has been that for me for three years. I’ve felt accepted and valued by the faculty and students. I’ve found in them an organization that truly feels like a healthy system and people who have my back.

But I’m getting ready to graduate, and I am taken aback by how painful that thought is.

I want to graduate. I want to get my degree and start my career.

But I don’t want to lose what I found there. I’ve had a glimpse of being part of something where my autonomy is respected, my mind stimulated, my safety maintained, and my whole self truly loved. To have that and then lose access to it, in some ways, is more painful than letting go of a biological family where I didn’t have that.

My school has come to feel like my family, but I know I can’t belong there forever.

I’m afraid that I won’t find it again.

There’s a wounded part of me that feels like I will always be “moving on” and never quite settling down, that I’ll always be a temporary fit but never able to quite stay where I want to and unwilling to stay in other places.

I know there are other ways of looking at my life’s trajectory, but currently the one I am feeling strongest is the series of “walking away.”

It makes me wonder if there’s ever a sense of family that can come for us “emotional orphans.” If we don’t find it with the people who raised us…can we ever really find it? Or do we just go through life feeling a perpetual outsider?

I’m beginning to crawl my way out of this dark hole. Give me a few weeks, and I’ll probably feel differently. Nevertheless, I’m coming to realize that perhaps the sense of displacement never fully goes away.

Incidentally, this song from Evita perfectly captures my current mood.

 

Reluctant Villain: A Poem

I’m not sure I’m ready to be back blogging, but I decided to share a poem I wrote recently. When the people writing the story get to cast themselves as the hero, standing with my principles doesn’t always allow me to be labeled “one of the good guys.”

Reluctant Villain

It’s not a role I relish.
All I want is to be well-liked
By everyone.
I never intend to hurt
Or offend.
But, you see,
I’m out to infect the world—
With respect
With love
With peace
With human rights for all…
And if the hero of your story
Doesn’t stand for those values,
I’m prepared to be your villain.
Somebody has to.

The Hermit

hermit-rider-waite

The Hermit from Rider Waite Tarot. Public Domain.

My card for this month is The Hermit, a card that indicates a time of withdrawing from society, self-exploration, emotional healing and self-care. It’s actually dreadfully appropriate to what I feel I need right now as I grapple with the death of my grandmother.

I kept up with my blog during my grief following August 2015, but I honestly have no desire to do that again so soon. I’m weary and angry and feeling extremely complicated emotions. I’m generally also pretty burnt out and fed up with social justice concerns, as I wrote about in my last post.

Therefore, I’ve decided that the best thing I can do this month is follow the leading of my tarot card. I will be taking a break from blogging for the time being. I hope when I return that I will be brimming with things I want to talk about.

Right now, I need to turn inward.

It’s Not About the Narcissism

It’s become somewhat fashionable to rag on people about their social media use. If you take a selfie, “vague-book” about your bad day, or were unfortunate enough to be born a millennial, then someone somewhere is diagnosing you with narcissism.

But is our “attention-grabbing” on social media really about that?

Or is there something more primal at play?

When I was in the height of my grief, I probably posted about it on Facebook every day or two. I would write messages to the person I was missing, knowing that she wouldn’t be able to see and respond but others would.

There was something about the sad emoticons and encouragements from friends that made the pain feel just a little bit more endurable because it wasn’t borne alone.

There was something raw about the desperation to be seen in my pain.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from grad school…and in being a human myself…it’s that we all need to be seen.

Yes, I said need.

“Hear me.”

“See me.”

There’s something in the soul that cries out for that even more than it desires relief from pain.

Half the time at my internship, when I am with a client, I’m not actively doing anything other than listening. For that space of time, that person has my undivided attention…

…but more than my attention.

They have my promise that I will actively try to witness their pain and feel with them.

Because ultimately, attention isn’t the thing people crave.

Have you ever had attention without empathy? Perhaps when you felt the disdain of someone looking down on you or their self-righteousness contempt? It feels pretty shitty.

In fact, when I encounter someone’s judgment, self-righteousness, annoyance, or disdain, I actively avoid their attention. I’ll stop telling them about certain things or stop connecting with them at all.

I don’t want them to see me.

But being seen, truly seen, requires empathy and compassion—two things for which the world is starving.

Yes, people’s use of social media can be over-the-top, manipulative, and annoying. But “attention-grabbing” posts aren’t the problem; they’re the symptom. A symptom of a world in which empathy is scarce.

Society would sooner accuse celebrities of using their trauma as a “publicity stunt” than empathize with the pain they have gone through, and it isn’t much better for those who aren’t celebrities.

But since we created the atmosphere around social media, we also have the power to change it.

What if, instead of seeing narcissism everywhere we look, we saw people who simply need to be seen in their pain and in their joy?

What if, instead of rolling our eyes over the number of selfies someone takes, we compliment them on something we admire about them (not necessarily a physical attribute)?

What if, instead of groaning at the vague-book post, we chose to comment, “Sorry you’re having a tough day. I’m here if you need to talk.”

That doesn’t mean that we have to enslave ourselves to every ploy. There may be times when someone is genuinely toxic or consistently manipulative, and boundaries might be healthier. There may be times when the empathy pool is dry.

But we can change the tone of social media. We are creatures of conditioning after all, so positive reinforcement works. I suspect we’d see a more genuine side of everyone if our modus operandi was empathy rather than disdain—if we saw people rather than merely tossing out crumbs of attention.

Perhaps, we could actually make social media about the thing it was originally supposed to be about–connection.