Life Lesson # 11 The Things We Believe What if we stopped believing what the world has to say about us? What if we stopped believing in the names people use to label us – black, white, yellow, light-skinned? I … Continue reading
“Who We Are”
Countless times I have sat at my desk in the design studio and thought to myself, “What am I doing?”
Usually, I mean this question literally, as on some occasions in studio when the delirium has hit me like a ton of bricks and the model I am working on begins to resemble Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917. Today, I am thinking of this question more figuratively.
So far, the toughest years of my life have been the ones I’ve spent in architecture school. The long hours, the sleepless nights, the brutal critiques… Oddly, the number of times I have thought about quitting architecture school has only been more than a few: once during the spring of my freshman year with the worst professor I had ever had, second, my sophomore year when I had been working on a final project in Design Studio III, and now, my junior year, finishing my first semester of graduate school (as I am in an accelerated masters program).
It’s funny, all design students share a common “secret:” if you haven’t thought about quitting architecture at least more than once, you’re insane. We all (design students) walk around with the weight of our schoolwork on our backs – some of us literally carrying our plexi glass and matte board! At the end of the day, I think all design students want to be architects; whether or not we get there is the insurmountable foe that we dream does not exist.
As architecture students, I think we all carry the concern that, even though we will have worked our chops off in school, we are somehow pitifully destined to become “CAD monkeys.” Twenty-somethings that sit behind a desk all day at a computer, drafting floor-plans for a firm, using one of the most basic design softwares called Auto CAD, working from 9am to 5pm. On the flip-side, we also worry that we will become highly successful, depressed architects that have no time for their families or friends, and are instead consumed by the mundane repitition of clients, deadlines, and projects.
Pretty depressing stuff, right? Well, recently, I have thought of quitting. In my head, I constantly calculate my future, weighing pros and cons that really only seem like cons: I either become a “CAD monkey” or a really successful, yet pitifully bitter architect. I think the only thing that has kept me going is one simple concept:
WHO. WE. ARE.
Those three words make up the ending of a sentence told to me when I was literally at my whit’s end. Only a few weeks ago, during the crunch-time of my first final in my graduate design studio, I had a real melt-down. Sitting on the bed in my brother’s apartment during Thanksgiving break, the night before my flight back to Miami, I thought to myself,
“I cannot do this. I cannot continue to work this hard, be this exhausted, be this drained. I can’t do this anymore.”
That’s when I reached for the phone.
“Renzo, I am so sick of all the work we have to do. Please tell me not to give up,” was the text that I sent. A classmate of mine, taking the same studio that I was, I reached out to Renzo because he was a friend. While waiting for him to respond, I texted Jasmin, another close friend of mine telling her, “I don’t want to wake up tomorrow.” The last person I texted that night was a very close friend of mine named Franchesca, asking her to pray for me.
While waiting for Renzo’s response, I remember feeling hopeless, scared that I would not be able to complete all of my work for the upcoming deadline, and entirely spent. His response to me was, “Danyealah, you cannot quit. That is not who we are.” I remember looking at my phone and feeling baffled. “How could he possibly know who I am? A quitter? Was that even what I had meant?” Then, with hot tears rolling down my face, a light-bulb went off in my head.
That is not who I am.
The next thing I said to myself was: “Who am I?”
Befuddled with a myriad of thoughts, I was unable to answer this question at the time. Now that the semester has ended and winter-break has begun, I have had a some time to give this question some true thought. So far, I have started by reflecting on the parts of myself that I know: I am a dancer. I am a singer. I am a caring friend. I am a poet. I am a Christian. Fair enough! Now, for the soul-searching… I have decided I am not a quitter. It is not who I am. I determine the person I am willing to be, and at this point in my life, I am most certainly not a quitter. What I am is a survivor. I would be lying through my teeth if I were to tell you that graduate school is cake – it’s not. Architecture school, in general, is just one of those things I have to push through in order to get to the position I desire. That position is definitely not behind a desk in the back of someone’s office, punching in codes from 9am-5pm. The position I desire to be in, is a position from which I can help other people. After all, that is my understanding of what architects do – we help people. We provide the opportunity for an enhanced quality of life through the means of design. That is who I am – a person willing to go through the fire, to come out with a degree that allows me to pursue a passion of helping other people.
All in all, it is the simple things in life that sometimes pave the way for a much broader understanding of who we are. In my case, it took my friend Renzo simply telling me that I was not a quitter, to nudge me toward a more hopeful frame of mind. Indeed, I have learned to persevere. What I offer to you, my reader, is to never give up. As my grandmother would say, “Keep on keepin’ on.” And as my friend Renzo would say,
“Never give up. That is not who we are.”
Life-Lesson #9 Everybody Has a Story A tinge of self-hatred arises when I think about the color of my skin. When I was younger, I was made fun of because of the darkness of my skin-complexion. I remember being nine, … Continue reading
I have always thought of “transparency” as a really wonderful thing – being so genuine that you always give other people the “real you.” There are no walls to hide behind, no pressure to embody something or someone – all you are is you.
I’ve found that people long for transparency – in their lives, in personal relationships, and even in the working environment. Transparency can be defined as ultimate honesty. We often live our lives invisibly. We move through the world without people ever really seeing us. We control how much of ourselves we want others to see and often “ration out” parts of ourselves, never truly giving people the “whole” us or the real us.
To be “visible” to another person is to allow that person to see you for who you are – every color, every shade, and every detail that makes you you. Often times, we wear masks, put up facades, and even take on completely false identities in an attempt to either find who we are, or hide who we really are on the inside. Rather than hiding who we are, we should seek ultimate honesty. Albeit, it is extremely difficult to be brutally honest with yourself and with another person. In fact, being brutally honest in any area of your life requires much vulnerability. We run from genuine communication with other people because of our own shame and fear – we do not want to be truly known for who we are because we don’t even like who we are – sometimes. On the one hand, we might understand that ultimate honesty with ourselves and others is important, but I relate our understanding of this notion to one understanding the importance of literacy, but never picking up a book to read. We might know that confronting our real selves can be beneficial, but we often never do it. It seems much easier to hide behind the walls and partitions we set up in our lives.
We often think:
“I cannot open up to another person – he or she will hurt me.”
“If he or she gets to know me, this person might reject me because he or she will not like me for who I am.”
“I do not want another person to know who I am because I am not worth knowing.”
All of these thoughts only add up to one conclusion: we like to disguise our pain. We feign strength by acting arrogantly, we exude confidence to mask our insecurities, we crave attention from others to assuage our issues with self-worth. My point is simply this, if we could learn to peel back the layers of hurt, shame, guilt, anger, resentment, fear, and bitterness, by fully accepting the notion of ultimate honesty, our lives could be richer, fuller, and more meaningful.
Nowadays, we live as if the truth does not exist. The truth is that we are so blind to the reality of our human condition – that we are broken and are in need of love. As a result, we find ourselves hungry for a truth and an honesty that we forget exists. This is where transparency comes in. We long for honesty – it is an elixir with a horrid taste, a vaccine with a brutal delivery. In other words, honesty, transparency, and truthfulness are most often the things we dread, but are ironically the things we need. Being transparent helps us navigate the world with a sense of hope. There is hope in being honest with yourself – being honest with yourself leads to self-acceptance and even healing of the inner-self. Further, being your most honest, most true, most genuine self with another person gives that person the capacity to do the same. In living out the idea of “transparency” you help others move toward being more transparent. Essentially, it becomes safe to be yourself (whether you are weird as all get-out, as off-kilter as Jackson Pollock, or as wonderfully strange as Edgar Allen Poe), when other people are being themselves also. With as many people as there are in the world, it is a guarantee that there is always someone stranger than you are, quirkier than you can be, and in the same respect, it is guaranteed that someone will be just as weird as you.
In essence, a transparent lifestyle is multifaceted. Transparent people come to grips with their emotional wounds, are vulnerable enough to seek help in mending those wounds, and live out the idea that other people are just as wounded, and just as broken, and just as in need of honest, truthful communication. I encourage you to be one of those people. Be a person that is willing to share your scars, your insecurities and your regrets – those are the qualities that remind us of our humanity. Being transparent and accepting the truth about who you are allows you to hope, moves you to love, and guides you to change.
Move from fake to authentic,
from hurt to healed,
from ashamed to a c c e p t e d.
My hands are folded –
Crying familiar tears,
Suppressing old thoughts,
Watching myself throw in the towel
All of my regrets look like you:
My eyes are closed –
Searching for relief among the wreckage,
Giving way to muffled sighs,
Writing the same sad plot over and over
Life Lesson # 7
What is your purpose in the world?
a force for change?
I have often wondered how my existence on earth will change the world. Today, I want you to go there with me. Yes, go to that place that you try to deny exists. That place where you question your purpose, and why you are really even alive here in our world. Before you go to that place with me, I’d first encourage you to breath. Take a breathe, a deep one, and let your mind wander with me.
The first thing you should know is that you were born with a purpose. Your life has meaning and you were born to give something wonderful and unique to the world. What is this amazing gift that springs out of you? It is your existence here in the world, with me, your mother, your friends, your co-workers, and even your pet. Your gift to the world is you – you as your most self-aware, loving, honest and giving self. If you are not self-aware, loving (to yourself and others) honest with yourself about your own issues, and are not a giving person, then I am here to tell you that you are only giving half of yourself to the world – and a “half” that the world may not enjoy. I will be honest with you:
Our world is jacked UP.
And our world deserves people who are willing to love, outside of themselves, who are willing to care for others, and people who are willing to promote the most beautiful kind of change: healing of the inner-self. We all have the ability to be who we were born to be.
“Your wisest, strongest self is waiting for you with arms wide open.”
Imagine that. God’s greatest gift to his creation is our potential to be great. That statement couldn’t be more true if it tried. We get in the way of our own healing. We are stubborn, unreliable, fickle people who can be so hard-headed when it comes to facing our own brokenness. A large part of accepting your purpose in the world is accepting the fact that you are indeed as imperfect as you believe you are. The great thing about understanding this truth is that it allows you to live out your purpose in the world through a humble and graceful outlook. Believing that the person sitting next to you, or a person you pass in the hallway, or the ex-girlfriend you had that was psycho, is just as broken and imperfect as you are allows you to love better. When you love better, you heal better and you are a more useful force for change in the world.
You were born to be great. I mean, think about it. Our existence functions around the idea of interconnected, yet purposeful coincidences. For example, when I pass by a homeless person on the street, acknowledge him/her, tell him/her “Hello, have a wonderful day,” I have impacted that person’s life by simply opening my mouth, lending an ounce of kindness, and acknowledging his/her existence. Thus, in communicating with a homeless person on the street, a seemingly random, coincidental event, I’ve completed one of my many purposes here on earth: to brighten up, what could have been another dreary, hopeless, extremely depressing day, for a person who is down and out. No event is random.
I’m sure that we have all had those days, when something that someone said to you, or something that you heard driving home on the radio, or a phrase you saw on a billboard, or a hug that was given to you by a person who had no idea you even needed one, really impacted your life in an amazingly positive way. We never really know the impact we have on people. There have been times in my life where a simple hello, or a genuine, “Danyealah, how are you feeling today?” has opened up a wealth of healing and life-change for me. The moments when we extend ourselves to people out of kindness, the moments when we say hello to a homeless person on the street (who just happened to be “randomly” placed on the corner that you would walk past, on a certain appointed day in your life), and the times when we are being our most honest selves with ourselves and others, are the moments that we were born for. Your life is purposeful, friend. And, you were born to change the world. I know, it sounds so ridiculously cliche, but you have got to believe me on this one. Our lives are woven together, interconnected, and purposeful. Do you think that it is by mistake that you are reading this post right now? Not a chance.
So, I encourage you to do some soul-searching. What is your purpose here on our wonderfully jacked up earth? Whatever you find out, just remember that you were born purposefully to make a difference in this place we call our home.
Life Lesson # 6
In all my years of living, the best gift anyone has ever given me has been their friendship. My luck with friends has been spotty. If I listed all of the ways that I have been wronged by the “friends” that I have had, it would be pointless. I’d spiral into a frenzy of anger and unforgiveness; I’d be a wreck. The people in my life who have been real friends to me, the genuine, loving, listening friends have indeed made all of the trashy ones worth the pain. In all honesty, it is hard for me to talk about relationships. I spend a lot of my time giving my time to other people – people that I care about. I have had to negotiate the benefits of silence during times when all I could think of were hurtful, poisonous words to describe the way I felt after a broken friendship. There have been times in my life when I literally could’ve spit venom into someone’s face after enduring the hurtful remarks, the selfish attitudes, and the envy spewed at me from a person who I identified as a “friend.” As I reflect on all of my past relationships, I cannot help but think to myself, that graceful restraint has been a downfall. What really, do you say to a person who you consider a friend, when they begin to belittle you, admit that they are jealous of you, and fueled by their own insecurities, mock you?
What do you do?
As far as I know, there seem to be few remedies for emotional scars from broken relationships that actually heal those scars. In fact, there are so few remedies that I have determined there is only one elixir for the emotional turmoil that breeds from brokenness…
Yes, I will sit here, type this long, drawn-out post, and tell you that the only way I have healed from the wounds other people have caused, and wounds that I have allowed them to cause, is by taking a heavy dosage of love. I practically bathe in it – and saying that is an understatement. I mean, I really could just sit and around and spit fire all day about how I feel people have wronged me – I could claim my victimhood like a virulent infection and say, “Hey! Look at me. I am a broken mess because I have been mistreated by a number of awful friends.” As ugly as that sounds, many people live their lives with the armor of victimhood wrapped tightly around their hearts and minds. I tell you today, that even though I have been wronged,
And neither are you. It might sound a little harsh, but understand, harsh intentions are completely absent from this post. Because of my life experience, I can openly say that I do not wear the mask of victimhood. Although I have scars, and some deep wounds, I am more than a conqueror because of love. Yes! The “L” word that we often misconstrue, jumble up, and even believe does not exist. Love exists, friends. And it is powerful. Essentially, I am a testament to this: the good friends that I have had, the real friends, have loved me back to emotional health. The real friends that I have had have wiped my tears and listened to me drone through my most painful stories about low self-esteem. My real friends have loved me. Though far and few between, my real friends have loved me out of the bitterness, out of the unforgiveness, and out of the sarcasm I projected. Friendship has been the best gift given to me; it’s value is immeasurable, precious.
I would be remiss if I did not give all credit to the best friend that I have ever had. His name is J.C. and he’s such a nice guy. His dad sent him to me from a very far place. You see, his father saw the best in me. He literally loved me so much that he sent J.C. straight to the doorstep of my heart. When I first met J.C. I was wretched! I was so surprised at how much he cared for me, even when I abused his love. I cursed his name many times, told him him that I would not be able to trust him, and even turned my back on him time after time. But, in those moments he held me with such gentle tenderness that my heart had no choice but to melt in admiration for him. He has known me for all the years that I have been alive – our talks at night and our sweet conversations in the morning revive me. He has not only loved me back to life, and out of all of the sick mess that I’ve endured, he is love itself. Clothed in grace and rich in selflessness, Jesus Christ has been the best gift of love and friendship that I have ever received.
Life Lesson # 5
There are many ways to describe the human reaction to pain that involves the shedding of tears. As people, we all have our own ways of dealing with our tears. Some cry alone, with other people, with close friends, with loved-ones. As for me, I cry alone. I weep alone. The thought of someone else being around to witness is usually the thing that makes me cringe the most. Ironically, someone being around to care for me when I am weeping is usually what I need the most. Sobbing alone is like watching an incredibly painful film without anyone around you to offer you popcorn, to squeeze your hand during intense scenes, or exchange looks when the actors have done something really outrageous.
Crying alone for me feels like death.
I feel the tears, hot and salty. I feel my body tremble slightly as my shoulders curl in. I hear myself breathing, heavily and slowly. Perhaps the worst part of all, is that when I am really upset about some event, or situation in my life, I usually let out a sardonic chuckle just before the tears. I can honestly admit that it takes more guts for me to cry in somebody’s arms than it does to cry at all. When another person is there to witness my emotional outlet it solidifies the pain – the pain I feel is real because another person is sharing in my human experience. To feel another person ailing can be agonizing. You are there with them as they nakedly reveal the evidence that they’ve been hurt. But, for the sake of remaining sane, it is almost always necessary to have someone you care about, whether it is a friend, a dog or a relative, around to console you when you shed your tears. This is a truth that I learned my sophomore year of college, during my second year of architecture school.
First and foremost, architecture school is hard. You can ask anyone who knows anything about design school and they will tell you that it is brutal, the workload can be ruthless, and that the stress is ongoing. Breakdowns for architecture students are usually always around the corner. Our breakdowns seem to lurk around after two or three days without sleep, and tend to creep up on us in the twilight hours of the morning. One of my most memorable meltdowns occurred at around seven in the morning.
It was the day of my final critique for an abstract, semester-long, landscape architecture project. I had not slept in two days. My steady resolve and gentle momentum to continue working on my final model for the review, had dwindled down to pure exhaustion. The only thoughts that wrestled in my mind were, “I haven’t slept in two days, and I have how many more drawings to do?!” And, “Shit, is my project even any good?” I was in perfect condition for a mental disaster. Imagine: back completely hunched over my drafting table, eyes entirely red and baggy, and my outfit the same as the one I was wearing the day before. Adding the final touches to my model, I was gluing 1/32″ linear elements (long, extremely thin, basswood sticks) onto an angular piece of plexiglass. I might have been less frustrated mentally if my hands had not been shaking, if the crazy glue had dried as quickly as stated on the bottle, if the skin around my finger-tips wasn’t peeling due to inadequate scraping off of glue, and if my patience had not been worn completely thin. All I needed was for the sticks to actually stick.
Before I knew it, the tears came. Soft and slow, I felt them on my face, one after the other, unable to rationalize in my mind if I would actually be able to complete my project by 2pm. All I could think about were my grades, the drawings that I had left to complete, how the cheap microns I was using were drying out, the time I’d spent laboring over the concept for the project, and my inability to get the 1/32″ linear elements to actually stay put. To make matters worse, some of the people I knew who were working around me stopped what they were doing and stared at me.
“Oh my God… is she crying?”
“Woah, she’s actually crying.”
Although I had heard what they were saying, I really couldn’t stop myself from sobbing. Then, as if God had heard the faint prayer in my heart, one of my friends, Jorge Rodriguez, who was working close by, looked at me, got up from his seat, walked over to my drafting area, and embraced me. He wiped the tears from my face with his hand, and with every weary ounce of frustration I possessed, I told him, “Jorge, I don’t think I can do this.” He just looked at me as if I’d said something absurd and said,
“Dany, you can do this. I know that you can.”
He hugged me again, asked me if I was going to be alright, and returned to his seat.
In that moment, Jorge was just the friend I needed. The push I needed, the encouragement I needed, the love I needed, the it-is-okay I needed – his kindness was what I needed to move on. He was right, though. I could do it. Later on that day, I gave my final presentation. It was eloquent, polished, clear, and the short, button-down, black dress and fish-net tights I was wearing looked damn good. Not only did I receive an “A” as the final grade for that presentation, my entire studio voted my project as overall extremely well-done, and my professor instructed myself and two other students to hang our work in the student gallery.
To this day, I don’t think Jorge knows just how pivotal that moment was when he held me. I can honestly say that the quality of my tears in the midst of my breakdown was priceless. Having a hand to comfort me and share in that emotional experience with me, was even more valuable than I can relay. I learned that sometimes crying alone is the exact opposite of what we need. We need the human hand, the exchange of looks, the embrace, the pat on the back, the kind words.
Those are the things that measure the quality of our tears.
Life Lesson # 4
Today’s post is all about the beauty and quiet strength that comes from listening to another person with your heart.
I want you to think about the number of conversations you had with another person today – five, 22, or maybe even 50, depending on what you do for a living. Now, think about the number of conversations that you overheard – you know, when you became bored at work and simply found your thoughts trailing into the conversation of your co-worker who was on the phone, or the two people sitting across from you on the bus, or at the park.
Think. Remember. Contemplate.
Of those personal interactions that you either engaged in or overheard, or the ones in which you were being nosy (giving ear, where your ears weren’t invited), how much of the conversations can you say you actually remember? Was it the way the person was standing that peaked your interest, or was it the one button undone on your co-workers shirt that grabbed your attention more than the topic of conversation itself? My point is this: we never really listen to people – at all. But, we are excellent at pretending we hear and appreciate every, single word slipping out of a person’s mouth. We nod our heads every few seconds to show the other person we are politely interested in what he/she might be saying. Some of us even focus on looking another person directly in the eyes – or right between the eyes – so that they are as fooled as we are, and believe we that are focused and engaged. Oh, and let us not get too serious, because when we are getting “down to business” with another person, we furrow our brows as if to signify,
“Yes, what you have to say is completely interesting to me, and I could not be more intrigued at every word you’re saying if I tried.”
When I myself, want an individual to believe I am hanging on each syllable and every breath transpired, I lean inward (invading only a small fraction of their personal space) curl my hand to my chin, furrow my brows, and then BAM – there I am, looking entirely engaged, seeming as if I am participating wholly in the conversation. What I know is that this is a big, fat, bold-faced lie… At least sometimes.
On some occasions, I think we actually do hear people. We hear the agony in their voice when they are stressed, we hear the tense curtness in their voice when they’ve been overworked, and often we hear the illicit sadness in their voice when people are depressed. Our ability to hone in and really listen during the moments when people need to be heard the most, is an incredible gift that we possess as human beings. The truth is, we need to be heard and we need people to listen with their hearts. Yes, that pumping, vibrant, beating thing in your chest that has grown cold due to years of hurt, or, imagine this: years of not being heard. I invite you today to listen to at least one person, with your soul invested in what he/she is saying. Instead of doing what we normally do, listen with half our ears and our hearts still parked perfectly in our chests, I challenge you to do just the opposite. Most of the time, we do not even realize that we aren’t listening to people. What we are actually doing is thinking of our next response to what the person has said 30 seconds ago, with our minds typing up our next interruption. I guarantee that you will be amazed at the numerous benefits that come when you listen to someone.
Imagine the stories, ideas, creative knowledge, recipes, good ole’ days stories, your-mom-used-to-do-this tales, and when-I-was-your-age anecdotes that blossom from the beautiful exchange two people can have when they are both listening. On the flip-side, imagine what it feels like to actually be heard. Imagine how much more rejuvenated you’ll feel knowing that you’ve taken part in sharing words with another human being (perhaps someone you really care about) and that those words have been received and digested by the both of you. Oh, the beauty of simply lending more than an “ear.”
Oh, the beauty of actually being heard.
Life Lesson # 3
Ah, the “v” word. That wretched word that no one likes to talk about, write about, sing about, or mention at family dinners. Whichever word you are thinking of
scratch it. The word I am writing about today is vulnerability. Yikes!
Miriam Webster describes being vulnerable as:
1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon: a vulnerable part of the body.
Many people, when they think of a person they would describe as vulnerable, often define them as being weak, incapable of possessing an ounce of strength, and hurt. I myself have even labeled someone this way: a weak, blubbering mess, lacking potential. I’d even be willing to admit that I have sat across from someone, who at the time was bawling her eyes out, and thought to myself,
“What the hell is wrong with her? Can’t she get a grip on her feelings?”
That mode of thinking is one of the primary reasons we can’t even manage to let the word “vulnerable” slide off of our tongues without it leaving a horrid taste in our mouths. It turns out that being vulnerable with ourselves, our spouses, our kids, and our significant others is a key ingredient in becoming strong, self-confident people. Being vulnerable is hard – I know that full well. But, it has been my experience that it is more taxing to wear the mask of our pain, flaunting it as a hard, protective shell around our hearts.
My point is that vulnerability is simply strength disguised as weakness. It is a breakthrough disguised as a breakdown. It is our ability to confront ourselves disguised as our inability to accept who we are. It takes strength to be vulnerable, because in letting our walls of protection down, and releasing our hearts from callousness, we feel naked, susceptible to danger, and afraid.
The human response to pain is to close up, shut down, and shut out. We cut off the people who hurt us (something in which I have loads of experience), and we close up our hearts in hopes that we will never get hurt again. Unfortunately, our natural response as humans is not the answer. I want to challenge you to something profound:
keeping your heart open and remaining vulnerable when you are experiencing your most stifling pain.
Although this might sound moronic, behaving this way actually produces a wealth of healing. When we close up, we eliminate our ability to feel, to love, to hope, and even to dream. I challenge you, my reader, to be strong enough to remain open-hearted. In doing so, we can forgive, we can breath, and we can relieve ourselves of carrying all of the pain that other people have caused us.
I challenge you to be free.