So this semester has been a lot crazier than I initially anticipated. February all but disappeared leaving me wondering why more didn't get done. I found myself in a tailspin almost overnight and after so many months of smooth sailing, it caught me a little off guard. Whenever I feel disappointed in myself, however, I try to learn what I can and do my best not to fuck up again in the future.
One of the lessons we teach in my mentorship program is all about maintaining a growth mindset. A growth mindset is the idea that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Trite, I know, but I've been slowly realizing that it is more than that. Having a growth mindset is about being honest with yourself. It is about first analyzing your flaws and weaknesses, accepting them, and then realizing that in order to reach your full potential, you must plan a path forward.
"Forwards ever, backwards never"- Stephanie Bernritter.
Mrs. B, whose quote I will always cherish, was my high school creative writing teacher. She was highly uncouth, probably smoked pot with the students, and once read us a poem from her personal journal about masturbating. She was also talented and insightful and she was one of few educators in my life who truly saw me. She really called me out. I wasn't always so engaged in high school. I was more than content to fly under the radar wanting to be noticed but too uncomfortable in the spotlight. I spent most of my school day daydreaming my way through classes doing my own thing. But she really needled me into a state of presence. She believed in me. She encouraged me once to recite a poem I had written on stage at an arts assembly. I can hardly remember the event because it was so terrifying, but I recall that I managed to get the words out and that afterwards there was applause and a few distant shouts of my childhood nickname. It was very unlike me, but I could not say no to her. Mrs. B wasn't long for this earth- she died of leukemia not long after I graduated, but she really made an impression on me. She was very real and honest. She wanted to connect and unlike many of us, she wasn't afraid to expose herself, and even more impressively, she dared to look inside others.
I bring up Mrs. B because I needed her help back then. I didn't realize it, but she was insightful enough to reach out and to push me forward.
Recently, I went to the high school to help my mentee and her friends with their math homework. The other girls were overly excited to have me there and begged me to walk them through concepts they were struggling with. My mentee, who was carefully matched to me by the program coordinator, turned her back to me, working diligently on her own, obviously uncomfortable with accepting my help. I couldn't help but laugh because I realized she was just like me!! I always felt the need to be as tough as possible. I never wanted to ask for help.
These days, I'm an adult and I have to believe in myself. There are a few Mrs. Bs out there, but often times it's up to me to push forward. But I still can't do it alone. I still need help but it's up to me to ask for it.
This past month I was struggling in a way I haven't really experienced before. Though I can be a procrastinator, I rarely miss deadlines or blow off class. Even at MIT I managed to pass all of my classes and complete my research projects under an extreme amount of stress and pressure. I won't dwell on the details of my recent crisis, but it's left me in a distracted fog like I'm moving in slow motion and thinking in slow motion. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate making excuses. I'd rather own up to the truth than get a free pass with a lie. I know when I'm not doing my best work and I like to hold myself accountable. Though this makes for one of my greatest strengths, unfortunately it also means that I often do not know when to ease up on myself. One of my greatest weaknesses is my inability to ask for help. But having a growth mindset means that I can work on this and so that has been my adventure for this month.
I fell behind in my research ethics homework because the ethical issues we were discussing tested the dressings of too recently closed wounds. Usually I would take the hit and whatever grade my subpar performance earned me. This time, though, I reached out to my TA and explained my situation and so he allowed me to turn in the assignments. For some reason this tiny act was more difficult than solving any rate equation or synthesizing any complex target. I haven't really been producing in lab lately and so instead of cowering and hiding from my boss, I explained my situation to him and asked him for his help. I asked for his support and I received it. I explained to my mentee recently that asking for help does not make you weak, in fact, it makes you stronger.
Having a growth mindset means planning ahead. You have to anticipate the trials and show up prepared. Knowing how to navigate a mental emotional crisis is a good skill- one that is rarely formally discussed or practiced in our society. Part of my recent crisis is related to a string of student suicides at MIT, one of them a student in my own department. I think it's perfectly natural to feel so alone and hopeless at times, but it's important to have a plan so that when you find yourself suddenly lost (it happens so quickly) you'll have to tools to make it back home. The most important part of that plan for me is to ask for the help that I need to get me through.
Another integral part of my plan is to take time for myself to connect with nature. Nothing is more grounding than a good hike. When my mind is a mess I like to give my body a task it can accomplish. I set it to walking and breathing and climbing. Soon, the scenery and the fresh air cause my mind to pause and reset. I needed it this past month more than ever. The moon was so bright and full that Zhesen and I decided we should night hike up to lake blanche. It was very dark when we set out but soon the moon was rising over the mountain and wow! Suddenly it wasn't night anymore. It was a special moment and it helped get me back on track.
Look! You can see me trying to fit in down there.
On a lighter note, for valentines this year, I decided to love myself and in leu of chocolates, I allowed myself to spend a long weekend with Zhesen in Escalante canyon country. I'm literally counting the minutes until I can go back to the escavolcano pictured below to get a nighttime shot. In the meantime enjoy a few shots from the trip.