Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: A Greyscale Interpretation

 

Something I’m realizing more and more is the power of mindset.

As someone who’s struggled with specifically mental ailments, I’ve come to realize that changing the way our brain operates and performs is just as important- if not more important- than exercising and increasing our physical capabilities. I’ve come a long way physically from my weakest: through yoga and other exercise I’m now able to do things I was simply incapable of just four years ago. I can run, jump, and truly experience my body now. But my mindset is something that I’m still striving to improve.

The day before classes began, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Flora Lu, the Provost for Colleges Nine and Ten, as well as being an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences division. Her talk was an introduction to the theme of my college- Social Justice & Community- as well as a speech meant to inspire the freshman class as we enter our first year of higher education.

The beginning of her talk delved into the aspects of social justice that we’ll be addressing as the year goes on, including topics of race, disability, and environmental equality. As the talk progressed, however, she presented the idea that our mindset has an immense power over our success in college and beyond.

“I want you to imagine, hypothetically,” she said, “That you’re receiving the results of your midterm in class. You studied really hard for this test, you really prepared, and you got a C-.”

My heart immediately dropped at even the hypothetical suggestion of not doing well on an exam I’ve given my all. As a recovering perfectionist and forever Type-A personality, the idea of failure even in the presence of my best efforts is the very definition of devastation, and yet, she went on to make the situation worse.

“And you look over at your friend next to you,” She continued, “And they got an A.”

She paused and let the situation soak in. Then she asked us, just for a moment, to imagine how we would feel to be in that situation. How would we react? How would we internalize the idea of imperfection? How would we perceive our friend who had, objectively, superseded us?

Immediately, I felt jealously. True, tangible jealousy, and, perhaps more than that, embarrassment. Someone had done what I couldn’t, someone had proven their abilities were greater than mine. I knew that, were this situation to come into reality, I wouldn’t handle it well. I would internalize my shame, creating a toxic inner dialogue and filling my head with self-limiting beliefs.

“You’re not good enough.” I could practically hear the malicious voice that lingers in the back of my mind, usually dormant, reviving in the wake of the situation.

Dr. Lu flipped to the next slide in her presentation. On it was a diagram, displaying two sketched brains. One was labeled “GROWTH MINDSET,” the other was labeled “FIXED MINDSET.” From both brains extended a line towards the center, which merged and stretched down the length of the image. Along the now singular line were bubbles each containing a word or phrase: Challenges, Obstacles, Effort, Criticism, and Success of Others. On either side of the bubble hung a small description, labeled under the concept of a growth mindset or  a fixed mindset.

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Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D, graphic by Nigel Holmes

The work on the graphic, by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D, presented the idea that success is expanded by a growth mindset, whereas it can be stalled or stunted by a fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset versus those with a fixed mindset react to various aspects of life very differently, and in turn their actions are extremely different with extremely different results.

Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges as ways to expand their knowledge and abilities, whereas those with a fixed mindset tend to avoid them, often for fear of failing or being inadequately prepared for the task. Similarly, those with a growth mindset persist in the face of obstacles where those with a fixed mindset tend to give up very easily. This could be very likely a direct relation to the fact that those who are growth-oriented see effort as a path to achieving the things that they want, and those with a fixed mindset see it as fruitless or unnecessarily difficult.

The way the two mindsets interact with the world and people around them is just as interesting and just as divisive. When one is in a growth mindset, they are willing to learn and expand from criticism they are given. When one is in a fixed mindset, they tend to ignore criticism that comes against them, and often disregard feedback they disagree with or take as an insult to their abilities. The success of others is another way to understand the differences between the two mindsets: in a growth mindset you view the success of others as an inspiration, and in a fixed mindset, you view the success of others as a threat to your own.

Unsurprisingly, those with a fixed mindset tend to reach a plateau and never reach their greatest potential. Those with a growth mindset tend to achieve higher levels of achievement, and even have what Dweck describes as “a greater sense of free will.”

I immediately began to try and categorize myself between the two definitions, and as I did so, found that I- like probably most people- don’t fit perfectly in either one of the categories. Like most other facets of life, I wasn’t either black or white, I was a shade of grey somewhere in between.

In fact, I came to the conclusion that I have a growth mindset with some important caveats.

While I have definitely achieved many things in my life thanks to embracing challenges and even seeking them out, I oftentimes find myself shirking away from those that I don’t feel “worthy” of. As a Junior in high school, it took months of persistence from my teacher to enroll in AP Calculus, a class I immediately rejected as outside my abilities because I don’t consider myself a “math person.” I was fixed in the belief that because I don’t have inherent mathematical abilities or gifts, I wouldn’t be successful in the class, even though a year later it was proven that through hard work and effort, I could get an A in the class. It was a challenge I definitely didn’t embrace until others pushed me into it, at which point I was forced to enter a growth mindset if I wanted to see positive results.

Perhaps the only categories I found myself squarely on the “growth” side of were persistence and effort. My entire life, I’ve been unrelenting in my dedication to work ethic and personal responsibility (largely fueled by desperate perfectionism in the larger portion of my life, but still tireless effort nonetheless). You might label it as simple stubbornness, but I simply don’t give up when I truly want something. I just find a way to make it work, and that, more often than not, requires extra effort that I have no qualms about putting in. At 16, I dedicated myself to a 200 yoga teacher training program, while still maintaining my grades and commitments in school and otherwise, because I wanted it. It didn’t matter to me that it was hard, it mattered to me that I achieved the things that I wanted.

But the category of criticism was tricky for me. I often times take criticism very personally and struggle to apply it. If I’ve poured my heart and soul into a project, class, or article and someone criticizes it, I see it as a criticism of my personal worth, not just of what could be improved in the project at hand. As such, I have one of two reactions: I either shut down and make excuses for why their feedback is invalid in an act of self-defense, or I internalize it as a point of shame and allow it to feed a negative inner dialogue.

Beyond realizing that I exist in the grey area of the two mindsets, which I can only assume isn’t uncommon at all, I discovered that my mindset shifts based on the circumstances around me.

If I’m in an environment where I already feel capable and smart, I’m far more likely to be in a growth mindset. If I’m in a yoga class or workshop, where I already have a fairly large understanding and knowledge of what’s being presented, I feel ready to expand upon what I already know and am doing. Because my personal integrity and self worth isn’t being challenged, tackling challenges and obstacles doesn’t feel like it will result in a degradation of how I perceive myself.

In contrast, if I’m in an environment where I feel inexperienced, inadequate, or not naturally gifted, I’m much more likely to be in a fixed mindset. Because I’m not “naturally good” at something, I’m fearful that I’ll come across as incapable or unworthy even if I put in the work. I see challenges and obstacles not as a path to expansion, but as a way to reveal my insecurities and lack of abilities. I project the idea that my worth and ability is being challenged on those around me, and see their criticisms and help as hurtful or direct attacks on me as a person.

Knowing this, I feel empowered stepping into my first year of college.

I know that I’m leaving a space where I felt capable-high school- and entering a space where I feel uncertain, fearful, and worried that I won’t be “enough.” That I won’t be smart enough, good enough, dedicated enough. I’m entering a space where my instinctual reaction will be to enter a fixed mindset as a way to protect myself from feeling this inadequacy.

But in being aware of this, I now have the power to flip that mindset on its head.

My eyes have been opened to the ways I close down in times of fear, and now that I’ve identified these ways, I can consciously choose to change them. I can choose to enter a growth mindset, I can choose to learn from my mistakes or perceived failures. I can choose to make this a time of expansion and growth instead of allowing myself to be held back by my own perceptions of the world.

Our minds are powerful, more powerful than we’re consciously aware of on a day-to-day basis. If we choose to address and harness this power, we can change our lives.

And I’m ready to change.

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Sources:

Dr. Flora Lu

Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D

 

 

 

Missteps in the Right Direction

I’ve finally made it to Santa Cruz.

On Saturday, I drove down with my family bright and early, got all my things unloaded and unpacked, and started to settle into my new home. Everything was going far smoother than I expected: my room felt homey and personal already, filled with pictures and objects that are filled with meaning and importance to me. There were no arguments and hardly any frustrated snips as we buzzed around, trying to get everything squared and away before family was supposed to leave at 3:30.

This is great.” I thought to myself, “I’ve totally got this college thing down.”

After we said our goodbyes, my family left for the Bay, leaving me in awe of the whole ordeal. I wouldn’t be driving back home, I wouldn’t be sleeping in my own bed that night, I was going to stay here…live here. It felt completely surreal, and yet, not as intimidating or dreadful as I thought it was going to be.

A friend who I’d met at orientation in the summer invited me to get coffee, and I was grateful for the distraction. I didn’t want to sit alone in my dorm, letting the newness get to me. As we walked through downtown, drinking our Verve and pointing out cool murals or interesting artwork on the street, I couldn’t help but smile. I could see myself living here, and more than that, I could see myself living here. All was well.

That is, until I got back to my dorm and went to unlock the door.

I dug through the plastic case on the end of my new UCSC lanyard. My ID was there, my laundry card was there, my emergency contact list was there…no key. I instantly started to panic. Where could it be? Did I leave it somewhere? Did it fall out? Did I throw it away with the trash we’d taken out? Did my parents accidentally pocket it?

I wandered out into the quad and found a student wearing a shirt that designated him as a COLLEGE GUIDE.

“Hey…I’m going to be that obnoxious freshman that locked themselves out the first day.” I said, an embarrassed smile on my face that would hopefully convey my embarrassment and humility about the situation.

“No worries, happens all the time during the first week. I’ll walk you to the Housing Office.” he said. There, I was given a temporary key (which was placed on a lanyard for me, as though to say “please don’t lose this one“), which I was to return as soon as I found the other one. As soon as I got back to my dorm, I tore the room apart searching for it. I unmade my bed, laid on my belly on the floor and peered under the furniture, tore through the recycling.

Nothing.

By this time it was nearing 6 o’clock, when I was supposed to meet my floor residents out in the quad for ice breakers and a community dinner. I found what I thought was my floor, and I spent the entire evening getting to know “my floor mates.” I started to learn some names, and felt a little bit better about the franticness of the evening so far. During the community dinner I looked around and thought, “Hey, these people seem pretty nice. I could get used to this.”

When we all filed back to the dorms, however, I realized my mistake. I thought I had joined the right group, but it was actually the reverse of my floor. For the sake of simplicity, if I’m in Building A on floor B, then I went to Building B floor A. During our floor meeting with our RA I looked around at the sea of strangers I’d accidentally avoided the entire evening. I wondered if they thought I was weirdly antisocial, or that I’d been hiding in my dorm all day, or if I didn’t want to be their friends.

I had accidentally ostracized myself.

That night I locked myself in my room and cried. It felt like I’d messed up a million different ways in just the first night alone. I’d lost my key, failed to properly bond, gotten turned around about 500 times and taken the Magellan route around the school all day, and, for some reason, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was that I’d used the all-forbidden push pins to decorate my walls because someone at orientation told me it was okay.

It wasn’t.

So I did what any college freshman does on their first day when everything goes wrong: I called my mom.

And mostly I just cried, and told her how everything was falling apart and how it must be a bad omen of some sort. She reassured me that everything would be okay and my mistakes were no big deal. Eventually I called Ryan, who reminded me that “college is hilariously bad” and you just have to laugh everything off if you want to have a good time. I hardly listened, but eventually I was so exhausted by the day I had to go to bed and hope that the next day would be a fresh start.

At first it was. I woke up to birds singing and silvery morning light filling my room and a beautiful view of redwoods through my window. I grabbed my mat and headed outside, careful to bring my key, and practiced on a deck outside the Namaste Lounge. I wanted the sun get higher and higher until it shot through the branches of the trees all around me. The weather was perfect- cool but not cold, warm but not hot, with a gentle breeze that seemed to carry the ocean all the way into the forest. I walked back to my room with a skip in my step. Everything seemed to be turning out okay.

Back at the dorms, I headed to the showers. They were cleaner and nicer than I’d expected them to be. I dried off, walked down the hall in my flip flops, and went to unlock my door…only to be reminded with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that my key was lying on the desk inside.

Fuck.

Wrapped in my towel, I scurried back to the bathrooms and threw on the clothes I’d thankfully brought with me. I wandered down into the quad, where I ran into a kid with no shoes.

“Hey, how you doing?” He asked.

“Good…ish. I locked myself out.” I said.

“Me too. I just called the RA on duty, she’s gonna let me in. I’m going to meet her in the Housing Office.”

Thank goodness. I followed him to the HO, a location I was sadly already familiar with. The RA handed him his temporary key, and then turned to me. “Room number?”

I gave it to her, then warned, “I actually locked the temporary key in there. I don’t know where my other key went. I can’t find it.”

“No worries,” she said with a poor freshman smile, “I’ll get you the backup.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. There was a backup! I’d get into my room, have time to get breakfast, wouldn’t even be late for my mandatory assembly. I may have messed up, but at least there was an easy solution.

That is, until the RA realized the backup was missing.

“I’ve never had this happen before,” she said, a little bit of panic in her voice, “Let me call my supervisor.”

She pulled out her phone, and I listened to one end of the conversation.

“Hi! Oh..sorry to wake you up…yeah…I have a  student here, their backup key is missing and they locked the temporary in their room….yeah…I’m sorry…okay…see you soon.”

I cringed. I was that person who’d woken up the supervisor.

“She’s coming with the master. She’ll walk you back and let you in.”The RA said, still smiling even though I was being a hassle. I apologized profusely, telling her I was so embarrassed and I was sorry to cause so much trouble the first morning. She reassured me that it was okay, mistakes happen, there are lots of lockouts the first few weeks…but I still felt horrible.

As I walked back to my dorm, I berated myself in my head. I should have been more careful, shouldn’t be so forgetful, should be more mindful. Suddenly, I was reminded of something a teacher had once told me:

“Should” is one of the most toxic words in our language. 

The second we begin to think that we “should” be one way, or “shouldn’t” be another way, we negate our feelings, emotions, and circumstances of the present moment. In allowing ourselves to create this dialogue in our head, we invite in self-doubt and self-deprecation that only serves to make the situation worse. I tried to zoom out, to see these events from a wider lens. I had just moved out of my house for the very first time, I was living “alone” for the very first time, hell, I was using a key to lock my door for the first time. First times are filled with mistakes, with learning opportunities.

When I first began practicing yoga, I can guarantee you I made a million mistakes. My updogs were undoubtedly putting unnecessary strain on my back, I couldn’t keep the warriors straight, and my chaturangas were a hot mess. When I first started Olympic lifting (and even today, as a person relatively new to the practice), I new nothing and made endless mistakes in regards to form and terminology as I got acclimated.

In those environments, I was able to move past my mistakes and see them as a means to improvement, why couldn’t I do that here?

IMG_6123-1.PNGThis summer I dedicated myself to being a student. To stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying something new that would, hopefully, better me as both an athlete and a person. Now I’m realizing the greater reason behind it: it was to prepare me for this, for college. I’m still learning, still learning the terminology and keys to success just like I did in yoga and lifting. The greatest thing I learned from those endeavors was graceful humility, and now it’s time to apply it.

All these little mistakes, all these little missteps, they are just movements in the right direction that are a little uncomfortable. It’s like moving uphill- at first it feels uncomfortable and maybe even painful, but eventually you reach the peak and can coast the rest of the way, only running into a few bumps here and there. I’m putting in the ugly, uncomfortable work now so that I can find my routine and my ease later. And while I might be embarrassed by these mishaps and mistakes today, they will certainly become a laughable memory somewhere down the line.

So while I may not have it all figured out, and I may be tripping my way uphill at the moment, I’m working my way to the top. I’m seeking my peak.

I’m finding my way.

 

The Last Class

I taught my last class at Just Be on Sunday.

It’s something that seemed really far off and distant right up until the morning it happened. Months and months ago, before I even graduated from high school, I sat down in a meeting where they asked me, “When will you be teaching your last class?”

Until that moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me that I’d be really leaving Just Be. Sure, I’d gone through the whole process of picking a school, committing, making housing arrangements…but it all felt so disconnected from the life I was currently living. It felt like planning a fake life, a separate life, a life that was more akin to a vision board than an outline for the next few years of my existence. Suddenly, I was being forced to commit to an end.

“Uhm, I move in to school on the 17th,” I said, scrolling through my phone to find a date I hadn’t even considered looking up yet, it felt so far away, “So I guess…the 11th? Of September?”

And so it was marked on the calendar: “Maris’s Last Class.” The class where I’d quiet down my teaching schedule, shift my focus from being a teacher to being a student, begin my sabbatical from a passion I’d just begun to live. But at the time, it was just that: a date on a calendar. It loomed somewhere in the distance the entire summer, an inevitable end that loomed in the back of my mind incessantly but quietly. Every time it would bubble to the surface I would shove it back into a corner to be dealt with later, “when the time came.”

And then Sunday, I was forced to realize that the time had come.

I’d put together a playlist- just like every other week– thrown together a flow in my head-just like every other week- and had a rough idea of what my theming and message would be, but knew it would inevitably change in the moment when something more relevant and raw came up- just like every other week. And yet this felt different. I felt somewhat somber as I walked into the studio, threw on some music, and started running around handing out blocks and playing mat tetris to fit everyone in. Class was packed: so many people had made an effort to come take my class one last time, a gift I didn’t take for granted for a single second.

When it was time to start class, I opened with the same line I use every time: “Has anyone never taken my class before?” Just to get a gauge of how familiar the class would be with my cuing and my personal interpretation of Vinyasa. One woman raised her hand.

“Hi!” I said, instinctively, “This is my last class!”

The room laughed, because it was funny, the idea of them accidentally wandering into a class that felt like a final goodbye to the rest of us. I laughed, too, but it still made me sad for a moment. It all suddenly felt real, the idea of moving. The idea of leaving. The idea of not teaching. I could see the pages on the calendar being torn off in my mind’s eye, the sudden jump in time from that meeting months ago to this now very real date in the future.

That class was special to me. It felt distinctly me- the music, the postures, the flowing. There were twists and tricky balances and room to play with inversions and arm balances. The energy of the class was more than I could have ever asked for, with everyone being willing, open, and energetic. At the apex of the class, where everyone dropped from a crazy final flow of traditional half moon and revolved half moon into a shaking final high plank, I threw my hands in the air and yelled out over the music, “Whatever it is that you want, call it in now!”

With a collective sigh as the music faded, the class collapsed down onto their mats, covered in sweat, their eyes closed and their bodies tired. I padded around the room, reveling in the stillness that had been born from the heat and movement and noise just moments before. This was always my favorite part of class- the part where I watched the bodies recover from their hard work, and slip into quiet bliss. It’s at this point, where the body has been exhausted, that the mind opens.

It’s here that I speak.

“Life can get really difficult.” I said, my voice piercing the silence in the room, “It can get twisted and off-kilter and thrown upside down.”

I was crouched down low now, my palms on the floor and my eyes scanning across the sea of mats. I felt simultaneously very tiny and very large.

“And when it does, it’s really easy to ask why it’s happening to us. Why things have to be so hard, why they have to be so twisted and challenging.” I paused, then continued, “But in reality, these things aren’t happening to us, they’re happening for us.”

“Life is remarkably similar to a yoga class. We push through the hard times and the challenging times for this moment, right here, this bliss where all is still and the mind is open.” I stood up, stepping my way over the bodies and mats and quietly finding my way to a pole in the middle of the room that I held onto as I spoke, “We create and release tension- both in our muscles and in our lives. We let go of anxieties and fears and traumas and doubts that get in the way of our growth, of our expansion.”

“Yoga is the practice of creating new space. Of letting go of what we no longer need so that we can fill ourselves up with all it is that we want. It’s here, at the end of the effort, that we can call in what it is that we want. That we can fill in all the space we created with what it is that will truly serve us. That we can be in a space of creation.”

“Whatever it is that you want,” I said, slowing turning in a semi-circle as I scanned the room, “Call it in now.”

All was still. I lingered in the silence, hoping that everything I was pouring out was soaking in. It was a message, straight from my heart and out of my lips and onto their mats, that was something I needed to hear just as much as I felt they did. It felt like an open letter to the world, myself included. A letter that I needed to receive just six days before I picked up my life and moved to Santa Cruz.

Because I’ve been feeling twisted up and off-balance and upside down recently. I’ve felt like my entire life is uncertain and unscripted and unnecessarily difficult. I’ve felt like things are happening to me instead of for me. I’ve felt like I can’t be in a space of creation because my life is being thrown into a whirlpool of the unknown, like my life and current passions are being put on hold for the time being while I become uprooted from all that I love.

But as I watched this final class evolve, I was reminded that our practices are mirrors to our lives in the truest sense. When I’m struggling in a chair pose that feels endless and unnecessarily difficult, I know it’s for the bliss that comes after: the sense of accomplishment at the end, the final drop into savasana when it’s all worth it. Life isn’t so different from the shapes and postures that have, ultimately, changed my life over the past few years. In fact, it’s the most similar replica I could ever find, just on such a small scale that the lessons become clearer far faster than they do in our lives off of the mat. Instead of looking back years later and observing the lesson, we can see it the moment we exit a pose. It’s how growth and evolution is worked right into the practice so beautifully and effortlessly.

This move, this change in routine and loss of my current one, is simply an asana. It’s a way to get purposely thrown off-balance and tossed upside down in order to become stronger, to get all twisted up in order to create more space, to challenge myself in new ways in order to enter into a space of creation.

The time has come to put in the work. To push myself to find a new edge so that I can expand and become more: more confident, more empowered, more understanding, more me.

And soon, the time will come for me to call in whatever it is that I need.

I Have a Mission

So here’s the thing: a documentary is being made about me.

You know, the whole being-followed-around-by-cameras thing.

A woman I really respect and admire approached me with the idea for the film about a year ago, and it just felt right to me. The emphasis wasn’t on illness, wasn’t on lingering in the pain of my disorder, but in exploring my journey into lightness and recovery in a way that would, hopefully, inspire others along their own path. The movie doesn’t idolize me or make me out to be an all-knowing guru, it authentically represents both the dark and light parts of me in a way that I feel good about sharing with the world.

I’ve only recently started talking about it, for a few reasons. For one, at first it just didn’t feel real. There was a lot of time where the project was put on hold, stalled, or pushed off simply due to time and (no-) budget reasons. And once filming did start, I was pretty certain that everyone would quickly realize I’m not all that interesting and would abandon the idea altogether. And even once that fear wore off, I still didn’t talk about it unless it was necessary because I didn’t want to come across as self-centered or narcissistic.

It started to come up more when a woman with a camera was mysteriously behind me at important life events. When I presented my senior project, I checked in the documentarian, Laura Van Zee Taylor, at the office as a “guest” to film my presentation for vague and noncommittal reasons. At graduation I wore a mic under my gown and had a camera underneath the stage as I spoke and didn’t mention it to anyone. At Just Be Yoga’s anniversary party, Laura was there, filming the class and silently capturing one of my last chances to teach at my beloved studio before leaving for school.

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As Laura began interviewing important people in my life for the film, I started getting questions.

“What is this about?”

“A documentary? Like a movie?”

“What’s it like being followed around by a camera?”

I always kind of blushed and shrugged away the attention. It’s not that I’m embarrassed by the project- I’m constantly humbled and honored to be a part of it- but I just didn’t want to come across as, well, self-indulgent. And to be honest, at first it was kind of weird to have a camera there, following me around and capturing my life. Laura was there as I got ready for graduation, and my visiting family members seemed kind of put-off by her presence. My peers seemed confused by her when she came to visit my school. I worried that I was appearing inauthentic or distracting from the important milestones of my life by doing something that is often warned against: living with an audience.

But I’ve come to realize that I’m passionate about sharing my story, and this is a powerful way to do it. I love to write, and this blog will always be an important project and tool for me, but if I can spread my message through another, attention-grabbing and beautiful medium, why would I turn down this opportunity?

If I have a purpose in life, it is to speak my truth, be honest about my struggles, and share the lessons I’ve learned along my journey so that I can be of service to others. 

There is something about breaking down walls and sharing your life with no filter that makes you real and tangible to people in a way that makes inspiration effective. You can read a million success stories, see a million before-and-after photos, but if no one ever sits down and tells youlook, these are the ugly parts, the things I’ve struggled and still struggle with, the parts that won’t make the highlight reel,” you’re never going to feel empowered to change your life.

Almost exactly a year ago, a CNN article was published sharing my story with anorexia and yoga to teaching the practice and sharing my truth through writing. Before that publication, I was fairly quiet about my past and what I’d been through. I didn’t keep it a secret, but I didn’t go out of my way to discuss it, either. There was shame, embarrassment, and guilt around struggling with mental health while coming from a household with married parents who had stable jobs and good grades and a seemingly perfect life. Who was I to say I had been through hard times? Who was I to say I had overcome?

And beyond that, I worried that I wasn’t an “after” yet. I worried that I wasn’t “better enough” to deserve to share my story. I worried that I was still “the anorexic girl”, not the person you should be looking to for hope as you struggled with your own personal battle. I worried that I wasn’t perfect, because some days I still woke up feeling like shit about my appearance or my self-worth or my life’s direction. I wasn’t always filled with glowing positivity and perfect body image and never stressed about food or exercise or health. I was still learning, still growing, even years into what I would consider an active recovery.

So to “come out” about my story on a worldwide news site was kinda a big deal to me.

The response was overwhelmingly positive. But more than people applauded me for my recovery, they applauded me for talking about it.

Because there are so many people on this planet who felt and feel just like I did- like they don’t deserve to talk about their illnesses or struggles because their life is “so good.” Or because they don’t have it “bad enough.” Or because they will be judged for not “having it all figured out.” Or because they still aren’t recovered, healed, or in a healthy space mentally/physically. And when you’re forced to keep these burdens inside, with no one to help you carry them, life gets very draining very fast.

I share my story because I want to remove the stigma of talking about mental illness.

This is my mission in life: to be fearlessly authentic about where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m headed. To prove that you can struggle with mental health without allowing it to define you. To help others learn the lessons I’ve had to learn and continue to learn as life goes on. I never want anyone to feel the way I used to- to feel like the path to healing is one you must walk alone.

This movie is a part of my mission. Writing is a medium I’ve chosen, and filmmaking is a medium that has come to me to help me along the way. If one person can watch this film and feel inspired to be open, inspired to recover, inspired to begin pursuing their own mission, then it is worth it. So beyond worth it.

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I’m so honored to have this opportunity to share my story in a way I couldn’t do alone. Filmmaking is an art I simply don’t have experience or talent in, and it is a beautiful art form that engages the senses in a compelling and engaging way that, I believe, will breathe life into my message in a way my words can’t do alone sometimes. My writings and my practice and important moments in my life that aren’t always captured in my teachings or in my blog are going to be combined in a project that I will be proud to share with the world some day.

And so while the lights and the cameras and the recording studio may not seem “yogic” or like I’m “living in the present moment,” I believe in my heart that this is a way to share with people in this world a message that may not have reached them otherwise. I believe that this was meant to be a part of my path, a part of my mission. I believe that it will help me make a difference in this world.

I’m filled with gratitude for this opportunity, and for all the people who are pouring  their heart and soul into making this a reality. This film is being made with no budget, and is only coming to life thanks to the belief others have in the power of this mission and the difference it can make in this world. Talented, talented creators are donating their creative abilities to help bring the writings of my blog into a new form. I see this film as my blog and my writing coming to life- and this process takes my breath away as it begins to shift into reality.

I have a mission. This is part of it.

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Living Life with an Audience

In the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a really talented photographer a handful of times. All those fun pictures floating around of me doing yoga in pink yoga pants on the streets of San Francisco, or standing on top of  a mountain, or practicing in my beloved Just Be studio were done by Eric, and his work blows me away every time. His eye for creative lighting, angling, and juxtaposition between the subject and the setting is unparalleled, but outside of his technical work, Eric is an incredibly insightful and interesting human being.

A few days ago we were bouncing around ideas for a new shoot, and we got to talking about popular Instagram photography accounts. He made the point that some accounts, while being technically sound in terms of lighting and landscapes, kind of feel like a “cool kids club,” and I had to agree. Some pages appear to be just seas of flawless women peering coyly at a camera, almost challenging the viewer to question their beauty. At some point, all the photos and various photographers start to blur together, all producing similar content that exudes a vibe of privilege, adventure, and luxury.

And yet, there’s still an attraction to it. It’s beautiful, whether or not it represents a lifestyle or message that can be upheld in our modern world. Just like I don’t spend every day wandering around San Francisco in a sports bra doing the splits on the concrete, these women can’t spend their entire lives looking pretty in a field of grass. Is it this exact whimsy that draws us in? And where is the line drawn in the sand for authentically expressing our lives and passions in a creative and artistic way while also not carefully manufacturing a life we can “sell” to an audience?

“I’ve caught myself trying to play their game,” Eric said, “Which isn’t why I do this, but social media is a hell of a drug.”

When he said that, I knew exactly what he meant. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, something that I’ve written about and struggled with time and time again as I share my life and messages through the social outlets that get demonized day in and day out, while being simultaneously used to admonish it. But what it brought me to most immediately was a stand-up comedy show I’d watched with my boyfriend and his roommates this past weekend.

In Bo Burnham’s most recent stand-up special, Make Happy, is what he calls “a show about performing.” As someone who grew up as a performer and surrounded by performers, Burnham originally feared that making a show and writing material about performing wouldn’t be relatable to those outside of the arts and theater realm, but he quickly realized that everyone is a performer. In his show, he calls the Millennial Generation “a cult of self-expression,” an entire generation raised to believe they need to be fantastically unique in order to gain an audience that would justify their life and life’s decisions.

“Social media…it’s just the market’s answer to a generation that demanded to perform.” Burnham said, crouched low on the stage he had illuminated with harsh lighting in an attempt to remove the theatrical facade of intense, colorful spotlights and fog machines, “So the market said, ‘Here, perform everything to each other, all the time, for no reason.’ It’s prison.”

“I know very little about anything, but what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.” 

As Burnham delivered this bit, a far cry away from the parodied songs and crude jokes he’d been telling for the past hour, I was completely enthralled. It was a message I’d always felt somewhat subconsciously as my peers and I grew up becoming more and more involved with social media and it’s art of performance, but had never been able to quite articulate. And yet, as the young comedian desperately delivered his message through the TV screen, I felt like the only captive audience he had. I scanned the dimly lit room, where college-aged boys lounged around on couches and chairs leaned back against the dented walls,  and saw a sea of illuminated faces bent over their phones, scrolling through what I could only assume was some outlet of the exact social media Burnham was talking about.

When Burnham was no longer performing in a way that specially catered to his audience, he lost it.

And I realized that this is a sick irony I deal with every day. 

I consider my life’s work to be spreading and sharing the lessons I’ve learned throughout my life in the most accessible and authentic way I can. I believe in speaking your truth, helping other’s achieve their greatest and best, and, perhaps most importantly, leading by example. By writing about accepting my flaws, sharing pictures of me doing the things that make me the most happy, and becoming a teacher of the practice that has healed and empowered me, I’m hoping to inspire others to do the same. And while I choose to utilize social media and the internet to accomplish this, it feeds- directly or indirectly- into the phenomenon Eric and Burnham speak about.

Because I do certain things that cater to an audience. I share high-quality images. My blog looks pretty. I compile a newsletter weekly to share with what can only be described as an audience. It’s what Eric and marketing experts call “social proof”- it’s the bestseller list, the restaurant with the long line out front, the yoga studio with the prettiest decor and biggest community. It’s the things that send a message to the world that says, “I’m worthy of your respect and attention. Come listen to what I have to say.”

And when you’re someone who is dedicated to being authentic and being transparent, it begins a delicate game of finding the sweet spot between gaining public respect and not diluting your message with bells and whistles. 

Because, just like Eric, I’ve found myself on the slippery slope of gaining attention, even if it’s not directly related to your ultimate message. I’ve received countless messages and emails asking me to represent this brand, promote this product, or collaborate with this company. More often than not, these are people and products I’ve never used or would use, but with these offers comes the allure of potentially more attention, a greater audience, and part of you wonders, “Isn’t this what I want? More people to see me, to see the work that I do?”

And to a certain extent, I can believe this is true. The more people who get drawn in by a pretty picture of me doing yoga, the more people who might stick around to hear the things I have to say, the important things that come straight from my heart and hopefully help people embrace who they are and the mistakes that they’ve made in the same way I’m dedicated to doing now. That’s why work with people like Eric- to have these photos that physically embody the happiness and joy I feel at this time in my life, that will hopefully show others that living an empowered life is achievable, even if it doesn’t look like perfection.

Because I have never, and never will, try to embody perfection. I’ve never starved myself before a photoshoot, or manipulated my water or sodium intake, or gone or taken diuretics to “dry me out” so that I’ll look good from one specific angle while I’m flexing and posing and squeezing to all hell. I’ve always shown up exactly as I would show up to any day of practice, with the exception of maybe some mascara or my hair not in it’s usual messy bun. I’ve tried very, very hard to share myself at all stages of my continuing journey out of anorexia- something that takes years and ebbs and flows in weight and appearance even after what feels like a lifetime of recovery.

My photos that accompany my blog, social media outlets, or newsletters are all of a body that really and truly exists. Of a body that exercises to feel good instead of looking a certain way. Of a body that eats good food until I’m full, not until I think I’ve met an arbitrary number of macronutrients. Of a body that sometimes doesn’t get enough sleep, misses a workout, or eats something that isn’t the “best” choice.

This is the only reason I feel comfortable sharing them.

So will there be some people who don’t see this part of my message? Will there be people who clump me in with the literally thousands of other people who share pretty pictures of them in yoga pants doing handstand on Instagram, many of whom have no true message or intention other than gaining the audience Burnham warns against? Will there be people who never read a single thing I write, hear a single thing I say, and only send me a sketchy message calling me pretty and asking if I want to “hang out” sometime?

Of course.

But if even one person who clicks on a picture of me because they think it looks interesting  goes on to read something I’ve written, or comes to my class and hears me speak, or uses the online classes I put out for no money or any reason other than wanting to share the practice that I so love in a way that makes it accessible for everyone, and changes a tiny aspect of the way that they think or live: it’s worth it to me.

Someone recently, in what I can only assume was a tongue-in-cheek way, offered me a writing gig “if I’m not too busy being a celebrity.”

But I want to make something clear: I’m not trying to be “a celebrity”. I think the concept of being a celebrity or being famous is inherently flawed and toxic to the self-worth of people everywhere. It’s based on the idea that “normal” people are inherently less than, based on the premise that you are born “nobody” and have to become “somebody.”

I, just like everyone else on the planet, am just a normal human being making mistakes and learning how to grow from them. I have just chosen to be vocal and public about it in the hopes that it encourages others to see the normalcy, and even beauty, in being human. 

So I will always be playing this game of balance- playing by the rules sometimes so that I can capture people’s attention long enough to share what is important to me. Using hashtags that are objectively silly and obtuse in order to maybe reach one more person who needs to hear the things I have to say. Taking pictures some may see as gratuitous or feeding a culture of self-absorption so that I may show that self-love and self-confidence are traits that everyone is worthy of. Using social media that can be used as either a way to feed your empowerment or feed your dependence depending on how you look at it.

Just like everything in life, it requires awareness and intention. As long as my intent is pure and my motive is always to be of service to others, things will work out in the end.

Christine Caine says, “If the light that is on you is brighter than the light that is in you, the light that is on you will destroy you.”

I’ve taken that to heart.

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75 Minute Vinyasa Flow Podcast: Practice with me from your home!

 

I’m happy to share with you a free, online 75 minute podcast where I guide you through an all-levels Vinyasa Flow class. I have a few 30-minute quick yoga videos on my YouTube channel, but I wanted to offer something more to my friends who live far away or just can’t make it to my class regularly. I also like the idea of a podcast over a video because it authentically represents what I present in my classes: I limit my demoing and try to use my voice as much as possible in order to get students feeling in their body and not focusing on what it might look like in someone else’s.

One of my good friends actually requested a full hour-long class a few months ago, but I never got around to it. Hopefully the extra 15 minutes makes up for the delay, Moya!

This class is Vinyasa Flow, so expect a rigorous, dynamic practice to connect you with your breath and get energy moving in your body. There may even be an arm balance or two thrown in there just for fun.

As I get ready to move to Santa Cruz in a few weeks, I hope my Just Be friends can use this while I’m away, while you’re off own your own travels, or whenever you can’t make it to the studio and need to squeeze a home practice in.

If you enjoy the class, subscribe to my SoundCloud page, where I’ll be uploading more classes over time!

 

xoxo

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Yogi Recipes: Italian Turkey Spaghetti Squash Boats

This summer, I’ve spent a lot of time cooking fast, easy meals. Teaching, traveling, and exploring the Bay Area has meant a lot of days getting home late and scrambling to throw something together. This recipe was born out of a need for a fast, hearty meal that would clean out the fridge and satisfy two very hungry yogis. It definitely fit the bill, and I’m happy to share it with you today!
This meal pleases just about anyone who loves the familiar, comforting taste of spaghetti (which is everyone, right?). Bonus: there is something incredibly satisfying about scraping the sides of an odd, yellow squash and magically ending up with spaghetti noodles.
Ingredients: 
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 liberal handful of baby spinach
  • 1 large spaghetti squash, halved
  • 1 tsp dried fennel
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
  • 1 pound ground turkey thigh
  • 1 and 1/2 cups peeled, cooked tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
Here’s what you’ll do:
  1. Halve the spaghetti squash, remove the seeds, and place each half face-down in an inch of water in a high-brimmed tray. Place in the oven at 400 to cook while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. In a large pan, sauté the diced onion in the olive oil on medium heat until clear.
  3. Add the turkey and season with the spices and garlic.
  4. Once the turkey is nearly done, add the tomatoes.
  5. Reduce the heat to low-medium, add the spinach and cover the pan until wilted.
  6. Once the spaghetti squash is fork-tender, remove from the oven. Use a fork to scrape the sides until the “spaghetti” appears.
  7. Pour half of the turkey mixture into each half of the squash. Serve straight from the boat!

 

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And I Still Haven’t Forgiven Myself

This past week, on a whim, I threw on Trevor Hall’s album “KALA” as I drove home from teaching.

I have a lot of beautiful, nostalgic associations with Trevor’s music. I first heard his song “The Mountain” the first time I practiced at Just Be, and it brings me back to that first space of playfulness and joy of discovering my love of yoga. In fact, his song “The Lime Tree” was played at the end of most of my very first yoga classes, and every time I hear it I’m taken back to those blistery December nights, laying on my mat in the dark, looking up at the faint Christmas lights twinkling on the ceiling.

But I never really went out of my way to listen to his music on my own until the other day. I had played “The Lime Tree” in my Yin class purely for the nostalgia, and decided to put on his most recent album for my drive home just for kicks. The album shuffled through a few songs, and I enjoyed all of them, but about partway through my drive the song “Forgive” came on.

If you’ve never heard Trevor’s music, it’s simultaneously ethereal and earthy, mixing the sounds of reggae, rock, and Sanskrit chanting in a way that could easily be cheesy, but is somehow effortlessly beautiful. Although I’m, admittedly, a listener of some music that has less-than-positive lyrics (I’m a shameless and unlikely rap and hip hop fan), Trevor’s music always carries an uplifting message. His music speaks of love, compassion, acceptance, and living life to the fullest.

This song, however, had a message that hit me in an unexpected way.

Towards the end, slam poet and “conscious hip hop artist” Luka Lesson recites this poem:

 

“Forgive everything that has ever happened, life is everything we can imagine laid out in patterns of pain and passion, you cannot control it, so keep your compassion. There are no accidents, there are no factions, there is no ‘us and them’, nothing to borrow or lend, no enemy of friend. And only forgiveness can make that happen. Forgiveness is giving, so give yourself this gift from time to time, and from all of your mistakes come all of your greatest gifts in disguise.”

As soon as the last line was finished, something I’ve been namelessly carrying in my heart for years became identifiable. In a sudden moment of clarity, I recognized the source of a lot of pain I’ve quietly kept to myself since I was 13 years old. I suddenly understood nights alone, wondering why I was sad when everything seemed so happy. I suddenly understood hundreds of unfinished poems in documents long archived. I suddenly understood the twinges of guilt, floodgates barely restrained, over every action, every interaction, for the past four years of my life.

I still haven’t forgiven myself for having an eating disorder.

And I know this is ridiculous because every day I preach that mental illness isn’t something we can control, it’s only something we live through. Every day I strive to prove to the world that the things we’re handed only serve to make us more compassionate, more understanding, more relatable. Every day I try to be gentle with myself and move in a direction of lightness. And yet, this guilt has hung onto my fibers in a way I just can’t shake.

I suddenly came to realize that I’ve been writing a confession in my head every day from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.

I’m sorry that I didn’t take care of myself, and I that I didn’t eat the food that people are desperate for across the world every day. I’m sorry that I isolated myself from friends and experiences that could have changed my life for years. I’m sorry that I spent endless amounts of my parents’ money trying to get out of the grip of a disease that was born from my own mind. I’m sorry that I was hospitalized the weekend of Mother’s Day, the weekend we were supposed to go to a baseball game together and stay in a nice hotel be a happy family for once. I’m sorry that my mother was sleeping on a hospital bed next to me for days without a shower or a warm meal. I’m sorry that my brother’s birthday was ruined because I was hooked up to an EKG two hours away from home and my mother couldn’t be there to celebrate with him. I’m sorry I hurt the body and spirit that I now so fiercely protect.

I’m sorry for it all, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.

The other day before class a woman told me that she reads my blog, and it’s helped her work through her teenage daughter’s recent struggles with anxiety. She told me that my authenticity about my struggles helps keep her grounded in reality, and keeps her from comparing where I am today, years into my journey, from where her daughter is at the beginning of her own. She told me I don’t know how my words are helping others.

But while she- and seemingly the whole world- has forgiven me for my past, I still haven’t.

Because when everyone around me is telling me that they think I’m a good role model, or that they appreciate me sharing my story, or even that they look up to me, I still feel guilty about it’s roots. I still think back to the days that I lied through my teeth and hid good food and swore up and down that everything was okay when it truly wasn’t. I still think back to the days that I yelled and howled at the parents who were only trying to keep me alive when I didn’t want to be.  I still think back to the beginning of teacher training, when I was still so encapsulated by my own self-prescribed routines and obsessions that I couldn’t be present to the priceless gift that had been handed to me.

And to be fucking honest, I think to the days of not-so-distant past when I’m not being a good role model. I think to the days of last week, or last month, or even yesterday when I saw a picture of myself and criticized the tiny imperfections I could see, or when I felt a familiar stress over not knowing what was in the food I had eaten, or when I stared at myself in a  dressing room and cursed the fact that some clothes don’t “look right” on me.

I feel guilty because although everything I teach and everything I write comes straight from the heart, it doesn’t mean I live it all of the time, and sometimes I worry that people think I do.

I’ve never been able to see this guilt until recently, but it’s been bubbling up to the surface more boldly as the clock ticks closer and closer towards my move next month. It’s been forewarned to me since beginning treatment for my disorder four years ago that the transition from high school to college is a common time for relapse. The combination of stress, loss of routine, and adjustment to life away from home is enough to distress anyone, but particularly those with a history of disordered eating, depression, or anxiety. I have suffered from all of these things.

I’ve tried to keep this knowledge on my sleeve and in the back of my mind as time goes on, to keep myself from getting too cocky about my place in remission and to remind myself that recovery is always an active choice, but I’m coming to realize that it’s causing me pain.

I’m tired of assuming that things will be hard. I’m tired of “hoping for the best but expecting the worst.” I’m tired of identifying first and foremost as and anorexic and secondarily as a human.

I broke down to a friend the other day, crying into the handle of their car door in the driveway of their grandmother’s house, about how sick of being sick I was. It’s just recently that I’ve been able to recognize this, to recognize that I’ve been carrying honest-to-god shame about where I’ve come from. Not shame in the sense that I don’t want to talk to people about it (this blog was sprung from the fact that I talk about the shit I don’t want to talk about), but shame in the sense that it hurts the way I’m able to view, forgive, and accept myself.

I’ve come a long way in accepting my flaws. I no longer define myself by my appearance, by my academic performance, or by my comparative success to other people. I no longer beat myself up over flaws or imperfections. I feel confident in my skin and in my voice, and yet I can’t fucking let go of the fact that I did bad things.

I still feel like an imposter sometimes, because of the things I’ve lied about, because of the time I’ve stolen, because of the resources I’ve dwindled. And it’s because of this that I was almost too afraid to go to college- I just assumed that being someone who comes from seeds of pain and sickness I would fail, or at least desperately struggle in a way I simply didn’t want to do anymore. I had come such a long way in my happiness and my rootedness that willingly throwing myself into a whirlpool of disorder (figuratively and literally) didn’t make any sense at all in my head.

But that single line in that single verse of that single song suddenly made me realize that I need to forgive to move forward.

 “Forgiveness is giving, so give yourself this gift from time to time, and from all of your mistakes come all of your greatest gifts in disguise.”

Forgiveness is a gift, it’s not something that comes to us naturally, it’s something we must grace upon ourselves should we want to continue to grow. Forgiveness is a gift that I’ve withheld from myself for so long because I felt like I had committed sins I could never repent, and while I’ve come a hell of a long way, I can only come so far without its aid.

My therapist once asked me if I thought my blog had a theme. I thought for a moment, and then said, “Acceptance.”

“That’s exactly the word I had in mind.” She said, “Acceptance.”

I have accepted who I am. I have accepted where I’ve come from. Now it is time to forgive.

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Everyday Goddesses: Carolyn Wheeler

There are few people who are more fun to be around than Carolyn.

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Photo credit: Jenny Hirsohn

I met Carolyn after she did the Just Be Yoga teacher training this past year, and was immediately in love with her spunky personality, unparalleled sense of humor, and ability to find lightness in any situation. A self-described “east coast/ west coast transplant/bounce around-er,” Carolyn is originally from Georgia, but a California girl at heart. Her wanderlust is close to her heart, and has become a large part of who she is. Carolyn current lives in West Oakland, and works as a yoga teacher and as a patient care coordinator at a doctor’s office.

Sometimes I’m in awe at how I spend my days- I’m always exploring the city, going to San Francisco, taking a day trip to a beach or a lake, going camping, hiking, surfing, doing yoga, or just gardening in my garden.” says Carolyn.

Carolyn is most definitely an Everyday Goddess, and I’m excited to be able to share her story here today (as Carolyn says, “I have a lot of story.”). Without further ado, here is Carolyn in her own words.

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Tell Me I’m Not the Best

When I was in third grade, I got in trouble for talking in class.

We were still at that point in school where our behavior was tracked with colored cards: “green” was a good day, “blue” was a pretty good day with some slip-ups, and “red” was parent-teacher-conference-level bad. From my first day of kindergarten, I prided myself in never going a day without a green card. The very idea of getting in trouble made my skin crawl, and so much as a gentle reprimand made my eyes fill with tears and my cheeks flush with embarrassment. I was the epitome of a goodie-two-shoes, and teachers always gushed to my parents about how well-behaved I was in the classroom.

On this day, however, the unthinkable happened. No matter how many times I was told to be quiet and stop chatting with my neighbor, I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Eventually, my card that had never been touched was flipped to blue, and my world was flipped upside down with it. After school, I ran out to the benches where my mother was waiting for me, and immediately broke down in tears.

I got a blue card.” I choked out between sobs, as though I was confessing to murder instead of being a chatty nine-year-old.

My mother, seeing how distraught I was, decided to go visit my teacher in the classroom. I trailed behind her, crying dramatically in my purple jelly shoes and lopsided pigtails. When we got there, the teacher seemed worried that I was so upset, and sat us down to talk.

“It was unusual.” My teacher said, “She’s usually so well-behaved, but today she just kept talking. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I had to flip her card to teach her a lesson.”

“Right,” My mother said, “She has to learn to listen to her teacher.”

“Well, I think she already knew that,” My teacher continued, “What I really wanted to teach her was that it’s okay to not be perfect all the time.”

This was the first time I’d ever heard this idea. Although my parents never pressured me to be perfect, I had always had a compulsively type-A personality. The idea of not being perfect, and more than that, being okay with not being perfect was incomprehensible. I was the top reader in my grade, the kid who stayed in at lunch to file papers for the teacher, the kid who offered to help adults mediated fights on the playground. I had made a full-time career out of perfectionism before even hitting middle school, and the idea of being okay with imperfection had never even crossed my mind.

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