The title of my TED talk is “I’m fine.”
“All good?” they ask. “I’m fine,” I say.
I’ve happened upon this phrase mid-week at the Student Center furiously typing away at a lab report that is due on Friday, right before I begin my homework that is due in 12 hours, and another that is due in 24. I’ll complete it right after I’ve finished studying for the exam on Thursday - work the problems, see the TA and fill out the crib sheet. A frantic “I’m fine!”
I’ve happened upon this phrase as I stagger down the stairs desperate to catch the Red Bus, sore – so so sore from leg day a week ago. A painful “I’m fine…”
And I’ve happened upon this phrase in my quest for peace in the realm of love. A peppy “I’m fine!”
Today this is what I’d like to focus on.
We ask “All good?” because it’s a common greeting but I ask because I’ve noticed a sense of restlessness - amongst my peers, that is - these brilliant future rocket scientists, or brain surgeons. I’ve noticed that there’s this nagging sensation we have at the end of the day.
On one hand we want to be the best in our fields and on the other - we desperately want to remain in love or be loved. In some capacity I began to encounter the notion that we felt restless in our relationships and out of it.
I thought it was a coincidence at first – a coincidence that I was falling into or overhearing conversations involving the ‘we’re just talking’ phase or the ‘butterflies’ that saying “I love you” brought.
But after a day of:
overhearing tutors with 4.0 GPAs say ‘hey I just found out that she doesn’t like me’
passing by a study group say ‘he’s harder to read than the lab manual’
being greeted with a ‘I just told him I love him’
I realized that I was getting at something.
As the hectic assignments winded down that week, I sent off a note into the void that was Instagram Stories – ‘Ask Away!!” it said – “Writing something new, what would you like to read?”
“Love in college” a response said – there it was again.
I was intrigued – I wanted to know how many others cared about this. Was this worth discussing?
And the responses poured in – “Ohh that’s a good one”, “YaaSS excited to read this”, “interesting”.
It began to dawn on me that within this demographic - we cared- we cared because love is something that we can all relate to – either you are a college student who’s experienced it or wants to experience it or you were a college student who has experienced it.
And perhaps it mattered because the metrics by which we were defining our happiness or the ticks on our checklist went something like this – a job, good grades, fitness, a robust social and extracurricular schedule and a significant other – in no particular order.
When one remains incomplete us high achievers feel unsettled – restless.
And when the question ‘All good?’ arises and provokes the response ‘yeah’, in actuality it might be a glaring - ‘no’. Who wants to highlight the draining but incomplete assignments, mountains of job applications and rejections, taxing social and extracurricular schedules or unrequited feelings? Its much easier to say, “I’m good,” “I’m fine.”
Not because there’s anything wrong but because we’re negating that some combination of what we care about is missing. In doing so, we create a misalignment of our thoughts, words and actions and this creates inner conflict. It makes us restless.
Now I know that my observations come with a caveat – I have never been ‘in love’.
But what I do know is peace.
Peace that stands in opposition to restlessness.
Restlessness that stems from thoughts like:
How do we accept the prospect of being in a relationship and having your partner wake up tomorrow and say “I don’t love you anymore”? Or how do we accept being single?
Achieving this peace has come from not taking it personally.
And not taking it personally has shaped my understanding of love.
I learnt about not taking it personally when I began to cultivate an interest in writing and photography. I was that amateur with the DSLR with a few thoughts to share. Now while I don’t mean to discredit my knack for writing or discerning which photos look good together I did initially pause and take a moment to consider the haters.
We all know what they say about the "haters" - ignore the noise.
But what do we do when we receive backlash from the people that we value, the ones that we care about. People that are close to you whose negative feedback and remarks make you pause.
And then there are others – acquaintances that place labels – she is “a lot”. And they are right!
So how do you not take this personally? Its @ you!
Well for firsts..
1. Know your brand
I don't like putting my head down, I find value in creating and I enjoy being presentable in every sense of the word. This has manifested in curating an image based off of what I’ve been exposed to and what I deem presentable.
Our immediate consciousness is a projection of our thoughts, feelings and actions. When our thoughts, feelings and actions are in harmony, we are at peace.
Matching what I thought looked good from magazines and Instagram, to talking about it and then recreating it stopped me from being restless. It gave me peace.
For every time I was stopped by an acquaintance asking if I was headed to an interview because business casual has practically become my daily uniform I felt content.
2. Own your brand
I have an insane appetite for trends and broadening my exposure. I love a lot of stimuli. I love knowing a lot and doing a lot.
So for every time I was made to feel terrible about ‘being a lot’, I took the criticism and I filtered it.
“Are you going to take another photo for your blog?” “Did you know she blogs?”
These little digs that were made to make me stumble, were exactly all the kinds of things I wanted someone to know about me. It fit my brand. The end result was always being appreciated but the process of taking that image or writing that article was being misunderstood.
I was now able to say that:
“this is my brand”
“these thoughts and actions fit my vision in life and I hear ya, you have a point!”
“I’m going to try to improve myself but this is what I want for me to achieve in the future.”
3. Know your audience
In my pursuit of ‘doin the most’ I wore multiple hats – became multifaceted. But to grow I became cognizant of who the other person is and now pull out the hat that fits the best occasion to be the most presentable. All part of the brand you see. Is low-key a vibe? Put that hat on. Is it high-key now? Oh ok!
What really changed the game was recognizing that someone not understanding why I was doing what I doing had more to do with them than with me.
The funny thing about growth is that when it occurs in one aspect of your life, it's really hard to set barriers and not let it spill to other areas of your life.
Because I became more resilient in filtering out the noise when it came to what I'm passionate about I became better at discerning what could or couldn't hurt me or make me restless when it came to - well love.
College romance for me has been more akin to bottleneck traffic rather than a freeway.
Two years ago a young gentleman said that he had had a wonderful time getting to know me over the course of a semester and couldn’t wait to keep in touch over the summer.
Screw him I thought – “Im fine,” I said.
But I didn’t feel it. I’d taken it personally. I carried it with me. I wasn’t “fine”.
Yesterday another gentleman, even more interesting than the first, shot back a text at me – “Thanks sis” it read with a hand shake emoji.
I know what you are thinking “did you just get sister zoned?”
Yes, yes I did!
Did he just set those kind of boundaries?
Yes he did!
And in my faux pas – I simply grinned. I waited to feel hurt, embarrassed or say ‘screw him’ but I didn’t. Wow, I thought.
I suddenly didn’t take it personally.
It becomes really difficult to be angry or hurt when you realize that it's not about you.
It's about them. It's about timing, for them. It's about where they are in life. It's about what they value at that particular moment. It's about who or what else is taking up their time now. It's not even about you. So to achieve peace in the realm of love and to be able to say "I'm fine” without an inkling of doubt we have to understand that it's not about you. And because it's not about you, you really can't take it personally.
The crux of it isn’t love or whether you’re in it or falling out it. It’s about growth. Achieving peace is focusing on growth. Focusing on matching our thoughts, feelings and actions for the things we care about. We can’t fool ourselves. Love is evidently important. So it's no good saying "I'm just doing me right now" or "I'm going to throw myself into my work". The mind wanders. It picks up on distractions. Today with love. Tomorrow with Netflix. The day after with food. You know all the basic needs. So we mustn't shut ourselves off to it but grow from it. Understand what you are with it and without it.
Understand what makes you happy, what are your dreams, what are your goals, what is your brand - and then not take it personally when your interactions with others don't align. Because everyone is focusing on themselves.
If you were to ask me what I’m most passionate about – I would say productivity, balance and peace – the type of productivity that creates space for balance in your life - for self-care, to concoct new side hustles and to gain momentum in the right direction so that you can be at peace.
It’s what convinces me that I am in fact “fine”.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk!