What Is Your Identity?

This week has been extremely heavy on the question of Identity. From the programs I participate in, to the meetings I had with people, the same question continued to pop up:

What is Your Identity?

For me, that is such a difficult question to answer, because there is no one answer. There are so many different pieces to who I am and so many different things I am at different times that I found myself seriously struggling to come up with coherent thoughts. And then throwing into the mix the craziness of the summer where everything got turned upside down, and now I really don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like part of university is about discovering who you are as a person, but they just don’t tell you how difficult it is, even to have a simple conversation with seemingly innocuous queries. The main issue is that I know some things about myself that will never change- of that I am certain. But then there are other parts of me that I’m just absolutely baffled by. Things I’ve been tamping down for years are at the forefront and making me deal with them now, rather than shoving it all away where I can ignore and pretend to be the same as everyone else. And there’s that level of fear and uncertainty about what will happen if I confront it, if I tell people, if I ask for help. So basically, it’s been a really long and stressful week with very little sleep, which is causing me to face everything and hope that it doesn’t blow up in my face.

Hope everyone is having a better weekend than I’m having!


Does Hephaestus Laugh?

She tied her boat off and started to climb the cliffs. She knew no one survived what lay beyond the clouds, but still she climbed. Step after step, pulling and pushing her way through boulder fields and open rock faces. And she thought of Olympus, and the gods, and wondered if they missed their lofty hearth. She wondered if Hephaestus and Hades could hear her traipsing over their heads, and if they laughed or shook their head at her advancement. Did they fear the wrath of the king, or were they simply content to while away the nights and days watching the world above move on without them? And did the queen ever fear a dethroning, or was she content to sit at the foot of the throne? She clambered through the air, thick with moisture and wintry particles. She could feel her temperature falling despite the exertions, her breath coming out in harsh pants. Was Zeus watching and waiting for an opportune moment, filling the world with heavy air? Did he and Poseidon work together to conquer the planet? Did they fall together or fall apart? She reached the summit and looked around. Without warning, the clouds were swept away to reveal the whole of the earth, from one edge to the other, and she knew why no one returned. Was this how Atlas felt, was this the view he had from the stars?

That Secret You Keep

A racing heart

and these cold hands.

A thinly veiled look of fright

and the occasional stutter.

Long nights of pacing

back and forth

and even longer days

of failed distractions.

These are the symptoms

of that secret

you daren’t liberate.

And when they ask you questions

you know the truth is sitting there

yet still you reach for the convienient lie

and revert to your oft repeated reply.

Better days ahead you hope

and pray you can keep it up.

Just Wait (?)

When we were in primary school and struggled to make it through those low-level books or pages upon pages of unvarying multiplication tables, they told us, “Just wait. Junior high school will be harder.” At that age, deciding who to sit with at lunch hour was the drama of the day. We moved onto junior high, with more advanced sciences and fascinating history classes. Imagination running wild with the possibilities of the future, and digging into beginner autopsies and centuries old texts. When we floundered in understanding the dynamics of our changing friendships, they told us, “Just wait. High school will be harder.” Four years can change a lot of things about a person. Economics, literature, physics, arts and calculus. Four years of classes day in and day out, homework and classwork and busy work. Not only that, many had jobs, sports, volunteer hours, music lessons. And then came the applications for university. Hours of research on top of everything else. Pages of questions to determine where we were headed. What do you do in your spare time? What are your strengths? Weaknesses? Arts? Sports? Work experience? And when we would collapse into tears in the early hours of the morning, they told us, “Just wait. University will be harder.” (Today’s high school students display higher levels of anxiety and more nervous breakdowns than psych ward inhabitants 50 years ago.) Now we’re in university. Papers, clubs, work, studies, research, labs, meetings, interviews… They still tell us, “Just wait. Real life will be harder.” When can we stop “just waiting”? Isn’t life more than getting a degree we may not like to get a job we may not enjoy to buy things we may not need to have a life that could be so, so much more magnificent? “Just wait” is a dreadful way to survive. Do more. Be more. Just live.

What My IAT Scores Taught Me

As humans, we often operate under what Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, calls ‘snap judgements’. When we first meet someone, a whole range of biases run through our mind in the blink of an eye – taking into account race, gender, height, weight, and many other factors. Whether we like it or not, these unconscious or ‘implicit associations’ between our inward convictions and outward actions play a huge role in how we interact with our world.

In his book (Blink), Malcolm Gladwell describes the work of Anthony G Greenwald, Mahzarin Banaji, and Brian Nosek. These three developed the Implicit Association Test, or IAT, based on the connections humans make between categories and ideas. The exam has been computerized which has allowed researchers to discover differences down to the millisecond. The scores range from ‘Little or No Automatic Association’ to ‘Strong Automatic Association’. The exams themselves cover many different areas of life, like the snap judgements listed above. (If you’re interested, visit implicit.harvard.edu to try out the IAT)

While at university, I have been going through a leadership development program that really places an emphasis on understanding your own style and overcoming blind spots in order to be a better leader. Blind spots are most often our biases and privileges. So the development program works to eliminate bias so that our leadership is unimpaired by nonsensical opinions. When I read about the IAT, I immediately went online because I was so intrigued by the idea of understanding my own subconscious assessment of the world.

What I discovered in my scores startled me.

I won’t share all of the scores, as they are a little bit personal, but I will say that they prove the development program is working. For example, this is the distribution of scores for the Gender-Career test:

IAT-1 copyThis goes to show the strength of this society’s association between Male and Career versus Female and Family. However, I landed in the 0.3% group at the bottom. I have no idea why, but there you go. This was along the same lines for most of the other IATs I took; I usually ended up in the group with the lower percentages.

There really isn’t a good way to extrapolate the data, but it’s fascinating to see how I react to the big ticket ideas such as race, gender, sexuality, careers, and age. It makes me question the influence of the media in my life, and how my family and education changes my perception. The results also make me wary, as I don’t want to fall too far to one side and judge people poorly for being on the other.

On the other hand, these tests have allowed me to better understand my own internal principles and answer, at least partially, some personal questions that I have been grappling with over the past few weeks. Some of the results went against everything I’d been taught my entire life, which is now making me step back and re-evaluate my stance on some issues.

If you’ve taken these tests, what are your thoughts? Did you agree or disagree with your results? Did they surprise you? I’d love to hear in the comments!


I am Growing, but not yet Grown

How do we know we are growing up? I know I’m growing because I know that no one knows for certain, no one feels as though they are truly grown up. There is no threshold to cross, no clear-cut boundary that says ‘You have arrived’. It is the daily recognition that I will always carry some part of who I was as a child with me, but it will never again be the only speaker inside my head. I have picked up pieces and I have hurled others along the way to create myself anew. I do not wish to be the person I was 5 years ago. I am remaking myself every single day. That is how I know I am growing, but I will never be grown. I have so many voices and names and people rattling around inside my head: which will I choose to listen to today?


The Horocrux of Travel

The clouds were lit from below tonight on our descent into Boston, giving the world an eerie feel. Glowing faintly between the shadowy masses were the lights of the city. Raindrops were illuminated for a millisecond below disappearing back into invisibility, their sparkle matching the dancing trails of stars in the heavens. It was the trail that led me back to here, out of a life of dreams and into reality. 

Travel is fascinating in the way that it splits my heart into smaller and smaller pieces. “The Horocrux of Travel”? It seems to me that every place I visit and fall in love with chips away another bit of my soul, until I’m left wondering to whom it belongs the most. Is it the country where I was born? The nation I grew to love after years of study? The little town that stokes the passion for a life more simple? Or is it yet to be?

That is the great question. 

It is the reason I travel. It is the reason it is impossible to stop now. What if there is someplace that still yearns for a piece of my heart? Can I be complete without seeing the corners of the earth?

What do you think?