I have been planning to write a book for several years now. My former students and attendees at the motivational talks that I used to give had asked me to write a book on multiple occasions. But it never really felt like the right time. There was always something more important that I thought I had to do.
I discovered, these last few months, that it is finally time to write my books. My stories mean more to me now. Before, yes, I rose to “success” despite various “struggles” along the way, and I preached “believing in yourself” and the “power of positivity” and all that. I was so arrogant in thinking that I truly had life all figured out, and I just needed to share the secrets with everyone, and then they could be happy, too, just like me. Ha.
I see now that I wasn’t actually happy, though I sure did a fantastic job of convincing myself and most everyone else that I was. But there was a deep hole inside of me (that is inside most of us, at times), of unworthiness, a lack of self-love, a lack of self-acceptance, that I constantly sought to fill with external validation and approval from others. At all times, I needed others to tell me how amazing I was in order to feel whole, to feel complete. Without others constantly telling me that I was loved, I would feel that I was unlovable and broken. And given that I was a successful professor with a focus on actively mentoring the hundreds of students that entered my life, every day I had plenty of external validation that would temporarily fill that hole.
But I wasn’t conscious of this. I had no idea that this is what actually drove me to achieve. I didn’t get it. It took betrayal and trauma and pain for me to finally look inward. And then, in early 2020, I was finally able to actually see the hole inside me, the hole that was there all along. And I stared deep into the hole and I thought, “Holy shit – what the hell is that?! I didn’t even realize that was there! I better get to work trying to fix it! What do I need to do?”
Despite uncountable sessions with psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, rabbis, friends, family, self-help books, audio tapes, meditations, yoga, walks in nature, I could not for the life of me figure out how to fill that hole. I thought that it was up to me to do it. And I kept failing. So then it took me another year to finally internalize that the only way that I can be healthy and whole is by loving myself and accepting myself as I am, and that it is not about “doing” anything to fill the hole, it is simply about “being” me and accepting that. It’s only when I embrace the hole as part of me, and not try to “fix it,” that I can actually become whole.
And so writing these books, sharing my stories, is part of accepting who I am. It’s going to take some time, to actually finish both books. But I will be sharing some of the stories from the books here in this blog, as I process how to tell the stories.
One of the two books that I have begun writing is about how family trauma, multi-generational family trauma, can shape one’s identity.
In tomorrow’s blog post, I will share a story that I first shared aloud at a Moth Story Slam event, in October 2017. The Moth is a fantastic open-mic storytelling experience in which storytellers are invited up on stage to share a true personal story on a given theme. But first, a preamble to explain what led me to the Moth. A former student of mine had invited me to attend the Moth GrandSLAM in Boston in September 2017, in which he was performing. I so clearly recall sitting in that large theater, one of many hundreds of people in the audience, listening to these amazing storytellers on the stage share personal (and often dark and twisty) stories about themselves. Now, at that point in my career, I had plenty of experience speaking in front of hundreds of people, but my talks were always either biology research talks for scientists or motivational talks for college students. The idea of standing up in front of hundreds of strangers and sharing intimate personal details related to a difficult transformative experience in my life…that seemed very scary to me.
And so, of course, my natural reaction at the time was to lean into that idea. That was what I had been embracing in my life, at the end of my 30’s. I had achieved all of my “life goals” – I had a successful research and teaching career, a husband, two children, my dream home. I had made it. And so, at that point, I decided that I had to keep striving for something more. After all, I could never allow myself to plateau. (Oh, the horror!) And so I began looking for the experiences that scared me, that I thought that I could never do before, in order to challenge myself and continue to grow as a human being.
So, I sat there in the audience, impressed by the storytellers, reflecting upon how scary it might be to be one of them. And I observed that the best stories were definitely the ones that were “dark and twisty,” the ones about addiction, traumas, struggles, death. And then I realized, hey…I have some dark and twisty stories too…maybe I can tell one of mine. So I went online the next day and found a Moth event the next month that had a theme that I could work with. The theme that night was “creepy.” I carefully prepared and practiced my story. And then I showed up at the theater in Harvard Square that night, all by myself, hoping that I would be chosen. I put my name in the hat. And lo and behold, my name was the first one called! It was a very different experience than I was used to, standing up on that stage in the darkened theater. I couldn’t see the audience, only the bright spotlight on me, surrounded by darkness. I was used to giving talks where I could see people, where I could look into their eyes and gauge their reactions, connect with them individually and as a whole. So I felt strangely alone up there on stage, as if I was talking to no one but myself, even when the audience laughed and gasped at the right spots in my story.
My Moth story is about my father. I’ve come to realize that so much of who we are, how we interact with the world, even as adults, has to do with how we were raised, what experiences shaped us during our early formative years. Unsurprisingly, both my parents have played incredibly instrumental roles in the person I have become, in ways that I am still in the process of discovering today. But the first story that I will share is one that I learned about my father’s life, that was revealed to me in my 20’s.
I’ll tell you the story in tomorrow’s post.