The Power in Remaining Uncomfortable

I took a Graduate level class my Junior year of University titled Queer Theory. There were only 3 of us Undergrads that got invited to the class as a part of the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies Bachelor program along with 7 Grad students. This is what my degree is in and before I moved overseas and became a scuba instructor 8 years ago, I was a campus activist and non-profit worker in the University of Minnesota halls. I worked for Planned Parenthood and a non-profit called WATCH where I sat in on rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence court cases to document the court process and record whether or not I felt the victims were revictimized during the trial, whether it be by questions such as, “what were you wearing the night it happened?” Or “How many drinks did you have?” As if those questions have any bearing over the actual rape itself… and in my free time I volunteered for NARAL MN, Democracy Now, the Women’s Student Activist Collective and Women’s Pro Choice Collective… let’s just say I was involved, on fire, and I thought I could change the world.

Now that the scene is set a little and you understand what my life looked like before I started traveling and teaching diving, let me go back to my Queer Theory class. I remember being incredibly excited and honored to be a part of the class and when I showed up the first day and walked in, all 10 desks were sat in a circle. We all took our seats and introduced each other while we waited for our Professor to show up. Her name was Naomi and this class was famous in our department. I will never forget when she came walking through the door holding a stack of syllabi- she had short, funky grey hair and cat eye glasses and wore linen pants with a kimono draped over her shoulders and was about 70 years old. On top of being a stunning woman, she was wearing shoes that more closely resembled boats than shoes. On the bottom they were rounded like rockers and made it incredibly difficult for her to balance and walk normally. No one said anything but we all exchanged looks as she greeted us with an intense gaze, passing out the syllabi in a circle, while trying to balance on these ridiculous shoes. Finally, an Uppergrad said, “Naomi, I have to ask… what’s up with the shoes?” And here begins, one of the most memorable moments of my life…

“The shoes”, she began, “are a reminder that we must never get too comfortable.” She went on to explain that the problem with society is that we’re incredibly comfortable with the way things are, that we don’t often question the status quo or our role in it, and because we rarely question things it has left us in a position of being unable to adapt to change- when change is in fact, the only constant in our lives. This mentality makes us resistant to growth and creates an environment of intolerance. Quite often we can spend our entire life running the same program we have always been fed. She said, “the key to life is to always remain uncomfortable”. And I will never forget watching her teeter in circles as she explained how the uncomfortable is often our biggest teacher, and how the work we will do to dismantle and understand systems of oppression will be incredibly uncomfortable and that’s where we must sit to understand- we must sit in the uncomfortable, we must ask the questions, and we must learn to listen and learn when faced with the ways in which we might accidentally and unintentionally perpetuate these systems of oppression.

“Being uncomfortable” has become a lifelong quest for me because of Naomi. That class changed my life and those words have always stuck with me. What a powerful statement watching a woman that age, walk around on those shoes, and talk to us about the power in remaining always a “little bit uncomfortable” to continue to grow. This sparked my continuous interest about the world and the things that make me uncomfortable, that challenge me, that scare me. I have built my life around doing these things because of this woman and I have found myself in a constant state of re-assessment of myself, my actions, my privilege, and the messages I’ve gotten from society about what “success” and “equality” look like.

When I think about life changing moments, this is one of the most powerful stories that has helped shape me. The memory is still so vivid and I decided to share that story now because I feel as though I have come full circle in the last decade- from the halls of the University of Minnesota, to overseas for 8 years, and back in MN while I watch the world’s biggest civil rights movement unfold, originating in my home state. It has re-sparked the conversations I’ve had and the things I learned from studying systems of oppression, feminism, racism, and sociology. It has got me reading again and listening again and learning again about all of the things that used to light me up- human rights. I remember explaining to my parents once I changed my major from Marine Biology to Women’s Studies that I want to be a dive instructor but not a biologist and Women’s Studies will always be something I’m passionate about. Equal rights will always be something I’m passionate about. That won’t change. Now I’m back and I’m finding myself coming full circle, asking… “Where can I grow? How can I help? Where is my lens limited due to my life experience? How can we do better?” And I realize that we should never stop asking ourselves these questions. We should never stop striving to be uncomfortable and to ask ourselves what makes us so uncomfortable- where does it come from? Racism isn’t comfortable, homophobia isn’t comfortable, sexism isn’t comfortable. If you want to learn about these experiences you have to be willing to get uncomfortable and I don’t see enough people willing to do that.

Sometimes we float, sometimes we sink.

I spent the last 4 months learning to let go. And by let go I mean let someone else in. That, to me, was letting go because I’m not the best at letting people in, at least not for very long, and definitely not commitment wise. But when you care about someone enough even the possibility of pain seems worth it, although getting myself to that place wasn’t easy. It took me 5 years to put the heartbreaks of my past into exactly that– my past. It took 5 years of being single to feel as if I was ready to be vulnerable again.

It took exactly 5 days to crush all of those things. 

Now, don’t get me wrong here- I’m not chasing the scattered pieces of my heart in the wind… but I am trying to pick up a very sad heart and a slightly bruised ego. I am trying to take the higher ground. I am trying to understand the reasons with an open heart and mind. I already got angry, then 2 days later I got really really reallllyyyyyy sad. Then by day 5, I didn’t have any feelings. I felt numb.

I appreciate when people have enough self awareness to point out their short comings. Awareness is always the first step, and the biggest! But actions speak louder than words, and at this point I’m waiting for the latter.

I’ve learned in the last 4 months that it was okay to leap. It was okay to let him in, and that it’s okay now to be hurt about the way the relationship exploded with possibility only to crumble into uncertainty over night. ALL of this is okay. I’ve learned that I’m okay, that I always have been and always will be. But mostly I’ve learned that hearts aren’t fragile, they’re actually quite resilient. And so am I.

I am still me, I am still enough. And I’m not angry, because I know from experience that you cannot love someone else until you love yourself first. I already spent the last 5 years dating myself and learning who I am. Just because I’m past that doesn’t mean others are. And timing sometimes sucks. But I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that maturity is, “beginning to accept your defeats with your head up and and your eyes ahead with the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child”.

We are all okay, and we are all so much more than enough. Don’t forget that. This is the first time I’ve stumbled and only allowed myself to fall half-apart. A good cry never hurt anyone. In the end though, we lace our shoes back up and we start running. Running in the direction that makes us happy and fulfilled. That’s my self love. 

holding hearts is for adults.

It’s a lot of responsibility, holding a heart. It’s not something you play around with, and i know that now. I know what it feels like to hold the broken pieces in your hands and wonder what your next move is. I know how much it hurts to walk around, barely able to pick the pieces up, trying to figure out how to act calm and collected while silently plotting a pity revenge of some kind. In a small way, we feel that revenge is our right don’t we? That royal infraction on our heart deserves a kind of decree in the end. But when you’re standing there, broken, it’s hard to pull yourself out of that moment. It’s hard to see the end game amongst so many feelings. The anger makes us freeze in limbo for a few days, or months, or years, until we wake up one day and realize we’re past it all.

I’ve been on both sides of this heartbreak. I guess it kinda comes with the territory. At the age of 27, my life isn’t exactly conducive to relationships at this point. I’m kinda like the show Lost when it comes to those things… on the island, off the island, wait now we’re in the future? For real though, this is real people shit! I’ve spent essentially my entire life convinced that I don’t need a relationship. Even after I made a plan for Thailand, everyone I dated in the 2 years leading up to the big move began with a conversation that said, “I hope you realize I’m moving and this can’t be more than a casual thing”. I became too good at “casual things”, too good at saying goodbye, and I’ve always been an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kinda gal anyways…

Flash forward a few years, or 7… and I can’t say I’ve gotten out of that place exactly. I haven’t allowed myself a relationship, and I most definitely haven’t learned how to make myself vulnerable to anything or anyone besides my career and travels. It scares me shitless to be completely honest… I guess I’ve became so good at being alone and learning to rely on myself that it’s hard for me to give someone my heart and say, “hey, play nicely please”. Because love isn’t like that, it isn’t wrapped flawlessly in a box with a pretty bow and a users manual. It’s messy! It’s one person looking at another and trying to recognize them in a way that’s genuinely who they are. It’s me trying to break down a person to their core and still love every flaw and every part of them. It’s exhausting is what it is. And we’re never ready for that kind of responsibility. We’re never ready to hold someone’s heart, we’re not the best at it. But we leap all the time, straight into nothing because we’re human and we WANT to feel something. Anything. Especially love. We know what it’s like to love, sure… but to be IN love? Nah, that’s rare. I’m struggling right now trying to find my vulnerable self. I can’t remember what it looks like or feels like to be in love, but that part of me is becoming awake for the first time in so long. I’m trying to be honest with myself and with another about the state of my heart. I’m trying to fall in love at some point, I’m trying to let that feeling in.

At the end of the day I do want the happy ending. Unfortunately for me, I find it really hard to open up to anything unless I know it’s not permanent. If it has an end game, and I can say, “well hey, I leave in a few months anyways” it’s easy to me. But that’s not the point of relationships. You start relationships because you’re saying to that person that you want to see what can happen with them, not that you’re giving it a test period of a few months and then jetting across the country or world, never to be seen again. That’s not how this works. I know that now.

I know all of this now. But mostly I know that I want all of those things despite my vulnerability and the possible pain. I want to take that risk on someone even if it means that I could end up stumbling around trying to pick up the pieces of my scattered heart. I feel sorry for the great guys in the past that genuinely tried to give me their heart when I didn’t play nicely with it. We owe more than that to eachother… I owe more than that. I want to open myself up to all of the messiness of love. I want to leap without an end-game and without expectations. I, more than anything, owe that to myself.