Tag Archives: Reflection

A Little Shy

I recently told a friend, in the context of a wider conversation, that on a scale of “none” to “I’m the most awesome person ever”, my self-esteem is probably around a 6. I don’t know if that’s actually true. I don’t know what a self-esteem of 6 means. I teach DP Psychology and Theory of Knowledge and I can tell you all about the many problems with rating scales. Hopefully, so can my students.

The point I was trying to make is that self-confidence is not my strong suit. I am, as I have written before, shy. It takes effort to introduce myself to new people and I am so nervous before doing it. More than once, when unsure of whether or not I should say hello to someone I vaguely know, I have intentionally walked more slowly than normal when getting off the bus behind them. True story.

That I am shy sometimes surprises people. Get me in a space where I’m comfortable and you’d never know. I hardly know because that’s when I stop being shy. Meet me in a time or place where I know one other person in a huge room and I’m no longer shy, even if that one other person is nowhere to be seen.

At a PD course on social-emotional learning a number of years ago, I realized that I am best described as an extroverted introvert. I like time alone. I like the quiet. I am content out in the world by myself. When anxious, scared, upset, or stressed, I find equanimity when I have the space to pull myself together without anyone else interfering. But I also love people. I love my friends and my family. I love parties and groups and conversations. My happiest memories, with very few exceptions, are with others. But sometimes, others are a bit too much and then I need a break to reset. An extroverted introvert.

Sometimes I play a game that I call, “If I were Mary”. Mary is a real person, the second friend I made in high school, and a friend to this day. The most outgoing person I know. She always has a million people to see, things to do, places to go, and an astonishing ability to say “yes” to everything. Just the thought of being Mary makes me want to curl up into a hole and wait until it’s over, but sometimes she inspires a game. “If I were Mary” I’d say hello to this person. “If I were Mary” I’d go to this party. “If I were Mary” I would have stopped thinking about it and done it already.

I’m not Mary, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend and do the things I think Mary would do. (Obviously I have grossly oversimplified this very real, complex person for the sake of example. Just go with it.) I think this is something I first practiced doing theatre in high school. It is not me, it is the character. How would the character respond, reply, react? I have embodied characters for the stage and played them in the real world. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend.

The times when I worry are the times when I realize I am spending too much time alone, whether out in the world or not. Too much time with just what is going on in my head – my own thoughts, my own ideas, my own musings. There’s a reason I seek out people who I can talk with.

This is why I think I often do better with a buddy, a partner, a person. I haven’t yet sat with my neighbours outside in the courtyard. I haven’t yet gone to the weekly meet-up at the climbing gym. I haven’t yet ridden my bike to the next town (though in fairness, I only got it two days ago). I am braver when I am pulled outside of my own head, and then I can be comfortably left to my own devices.

And yet, this is true to what I know of the experience of adjustment. This is not new. What is new is the place, which means a new adjustment. A new adventure. It is this adventure to be embraced, not an adventure that only exists in my mind. It is this adventure that I will come to know, and this story that I will be able to tell.

All of this is part of the story.

Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk. – Antonio Machado

Weimar, Germany – July 2021

Night Thoughts by Day

I think that to write is to come to an understanding.

I think that, I think that.

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must express.

Does a feeling need a name to be known?


Sleeping has been a challenge for a while now, but last night’s experience was particularly interesting. I was part of a conversation that included two people who I know, only one of whom was making any sense. I remained alert for quite some time after awakening and mulled over what had been said, but it trickled away from me as fast as I recognized the nonsense that was happening. And then I remained alert thinking about the strangeness of these people having a conversation, and I noticed a feeling of something lost.


I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand others.

I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand themselves.

Can we understand others without understanding the self?

And can we understand the self separately from understanding others?


I am far calmer lying awake at 3am than 11pm.

At 11pm, my eyes are active. It takes effort to put the book down, effort that my occasionally rational brain insists upon because it’s late. It’s 11pm, after all, and I haven’t been sleeping.

At 3am, my eyes are tired. My brain spins but my eyes are tired and at least I’ve slept until then, which is comforting. I need to stop the thoughts from dancing but at least my eyes are closed and that feels good.


At 3am, I go back to:

How am I feeling about the move?

Aside from feeling defeated by the question, I’m terrified.

I was a different person the last time I moved, and that was in a different lifetime.

How am I supposed to be feeling?

At 11pm, I am alert enough to avoid the subject.


During a very dark period of my life, I used to record my thoughts in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I used to turn on the songs that made me cry and play them over and over. I’d mouth the words until they became part of me and then I’d cry and be able to rest.

This is not that time.

But I am aware of how the patterns of behaviour that I developed out of necessity at that time have imprinted themselves on how I cope with challenges.

Adaptation is critical to human survival, and I wonder if I have become habituated to the sort of aimlessness I am experiencing now. This is not the right word, and far from an accurate characterization of my time and even my personal reflections of my time, but it is an accurate word to describe this feeling. It is a strange world when the reality and the feeling do not match.

Something is different this time, this move, this change. I cannot blame the pandemic, for blame is cause-effect, right-wrong, black-white. And the world is shades upon shades of gray and purple and green and blue and and and.

But I can acknowledge that coping throughout the pandemic has necessitated adaptation.


I wonder about our claims to significance.

Do we know at the time that a thought, a conversation, a shared glance, an observation will become signficant?

Or is significance developed through, over, across time? And then, is it the act or event itself or our memory and interpretation of it that becomes significant?

And does it matter?


I remember what it means to be excited and intellectually, I am. But my body does not have those feelings. The first inkling I had of what my body had lost was the moment when a friend reminded me, “This is an adventure.” As I write the word, I cannot keep from smiling.

Adventure.

My body knows what it is to have an adventure.

My mind knows what it is to live an adventure.


Does a feeling need a name to be known?

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must not be afraid of looking.

Commencement: A Beginning

This year, I had the greatest honour I have ever had.

Our class of 2021 voted for me as their graduation speaker which, as one of my colleagues put it, is about as good as it gets for a teacher. Students were on campus for graduation and families attended from home via livestream.

These were my words to our students, and to students everywhere:

It is a true honour to speak to you today, and I thank you from all of my heart. The best way to describe my feelings upon hearing about this is the Yiddish word verklempt, which roughly means full of emotion and speechless. I felt this way because I was deeply touched and I had no idea what to say. Just because I think a lot of things doesn’t mean I know a lot things. But I have lived a lot and this has led me to some understandings. In the next few minutes, I will do my best to share them with you.

Over the past two years, I have watched this class grow in many ways, the most significant of which, the one that I think best defines this class, is how you have grown in your resilience. To be resilient means to bounce back, to respond to adversity, to rise up stronger and wiser than you were before. You did this, and continue to do this, in rather complicated circumstances while managing your studies, maintaining hobbies and activities, and making plans for the future. You rose to this challenge. And now, you are here. This is resilience.

The ability to be resilient, to see challenges as opportunities to grow, is something to carry with you always, regardless of what happens next week, next month, or five years from now. And as we all continue to learn, we cannot rely on well-laid plans, but plans are required if we hope to move forward. Resilience is the story of the class of 2021; what will be the story of your individual life?

A few years ago I discovered rock climbing, and it has become a significant part of my world. My favourite of the climbing gym’s motivational posters says: Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. Only you have the power to live your life. All actions have consequences, and your decisions will set you on different roads that allow for different possibilities. I have learned that these decisions affirm who we are, and also lay the foundation for who we will become. And even though you might wish otherwise, you will never know where the other road might have taken you, and you will never know who you might have been had you taken it.

So this is a critical question: What kind of person do you want to be as you begin your next chapter? Educator John Holt wrote, “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” Your character guides how you respond to your environment and those around you, and it is your character that exemplifies the values that are central to how you understand yourself and others. When we are confident and comfortable, surrounded by family and friends, we know who we are. Here, at Southeast Asian International School*, you know who you are. You know who is there for you, what is expected of you, and how to behave.

But things are about to change. Graduation marks the end of this chapter and the beginning of a new journey. You will have beautiful, remarkable, memorable moments. But there will also be times when you stumble. When you fail. When you are caught unawares, uncertain, or having made a terrible mistake. But you have proven yourself to be resilient, and this means that you will stand up and you will begin again. And if you are courageous enough, you will find yourself with choices.

Ask yourself if what you are doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. Sometimes, the way forward is obvious and you clearly know what is the right thing to do. But sometimes, actually doing the right thing is very hard. This is when you need to ask yourself about the person you are becoming and what matters to you. You can decide how to act, who to be around, and how to build the community you want to live in. And you can change your mind when the road you are on is not right.

To send you on your journey, I would like to offer my deepest hope for you: That you find a path with a heart. This idea comes from The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, which is somewhere between anthropology and memoir. Don Juan explains that a path with a heart can go anywhere or nowhere – how it goes is what matters. As I understand it, when a path has a heart, it is right. It is the deep conviction that we experience without the need for words. This is the path that gives us joy, strength, and a sense of peace.

And finding this path takes work, perhaps trying multiple paths before reaching the right one. You will know that you are on your path when it speaks to who you are, how you understand the world and your place in it. Sometimes, you can keep going with what you have already begun. But sometimes, the scariest and most important thing to do is stop and start again. The choices that we make, and the character that reflects our values and guides our behaviour, allow us to walk a path with a heart. Doing this takes resilience, it takes courage, and it can take us to places we’ve never dared to imagine.

As poet Mary Ann Evans, better known by the pen name George Eliot, wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

Travel the path with a heart. The path is a journey. The journey is life.

Congratulations, Class of 2021. I can’t wait to see who you become.

The road to Devín Castle – Bratislava, Slovakia – January 2019

*Name changed to protect the innocent, as a friend and former colleague would say