Sunday, May 19, 2013

Felicidades (My Graduation Speech)

I gave this speech at my graduation.  Just try to picture it with a lot of nervous jitters.

When I told my family I was coming to Mexico the reactions were a little varied. No one said "congratulations"...exactly.  My brother said, "You're braver than I am," my father said, "mmmmmmm," and my mother said, "why do you do this to me?" 
 But here we are.  Survived, every one of us, didn't we?
If we were to meet again in 10 years and reminisce about the Alliant days in Mexico, I wonder what we would remember? Would we talk about the classes we took? (If you were in my psychopharmacology class the answer is, of course, "Yes.")   Or would we talk more about the education we didn't know we were going to get?  With informal classes in: 1) Mexico City Survival: Where we were instructed how to avoid being kidnapped by a taxi, pick-pocketed, or frottered in the metro. 2) Drama: There was so much drama you would think we were all minoring in theater. 3) Spanish Class; 4) Aculturation: I never quite got the kiss-greet down.  Every time I see someone it's like a mini awkward first date.
I believe the MOST applicable skills we gained here are how to take care of ourselves in an environment where you either sink or swim. So, Felicidades are in order!  Congratulations ARE in order, but felicidades are what are needed. I'd like to talk a little about felicidad. As a psychology major I am not sure if it's expected that I'll talk about psychology, or if it's dreaded. Whatever it is, it will not be collaborative.
I'm guessing that every one of us made the decision to go to college because we believed, or at least hoped, that it would lead to some form of greater happiness. Who is happy today? *cheers* But now, a warning. We learned from the documentary, "happy" that people tend to think that big achievements like this will keep us flying high for a long time, but very soon reality will set in and all the dopamine flying around our brain now will be long gone, and we'll be left with a congratulations hangover rather than the level of happiness we hope to hold on to.
Coming up we have things like job hunting, interviewing, rejection, disappointment, not to mention student loans that will begin to come due.  And even if we are working there will still be commuting, bad bosses, bad partners, bad food, bad sex, and a never ending procession of cooking, cleaning, and anything else that makes up the tedious in life.   So what do we do when even something big like this won't sustain our happiness?
      Positive psychology suggests focusing on intrinsic motivators rather than extrinsic ones. An extrinsic motivator is something like money, image, or status. Basically all the reasons I am in school. The problem with extrinsic motivators is that they are like a cup that can never be filled. Someone will always have more money, or have a better image or higher status than you, and so meeting extrinsic goals may give us temporary fulfillment, but by design, cannot bring lasting satisfaction. Intrinsic motivators are things like personal growth, spending quality time with friends and family, and helping others.  As I'm sure you would guess, those who are motivated by intrinsic goals report less depression, less anxiety, and greater overall satisfaction than those who are motivated by extrinsic goals.  
Carl Jung quote: “I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life. They seek position, marriage, reputation, outward success of money, and remain unhappy and neurotic even when they have attained what they were seeking. Such people are usually confined within too narrow a spiritual horizon. Their life has not sufficient content, sufficient meaning. If they are enabled to develop into more spacious personalities, the neurosis generally disappears.” 
So my advice to us... (Carl Jung also said, “Good advice is often a doubtful remedy, but generally not dangerous because it has so little effect......”)  So my non-dangerous parting advice to us is threefold: 1) Personal growth: Let us improve ourselves. Learn more than we know now, and do more than we thought we could; trust ourselves, & strive to be our best. Nurture that little voice we have that tells us we have something unique to offer. And for heaven's sake, see a therapist; 2) Prioritize our important relationships. Stay close to those friends and family who love us and encourage us.  Reach out to them with love and encouragement; and lastly 3) Identify ways in which we can serve others, and then make that part of our lifestyle. Be diligent in this. If we can do these 3 things, studies suggest that we will be happier and more fulfilled people whilst dealing with the tedium of life.
In closing I would like to recognize that when we've finished here, it is unlikely that many of us will meet again. If that is to be, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you, especially my classmates, for being a part of my Alliant days in Mexico.  Felicidades.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


with wanderlust I set out
fulfilling the prophecy of my departure
leaving home, finding home
a past could be erased

I grew without growing
knew without knowing
history is ever changing
the future's set in stone

destiny beckoned
I offered but my tongue
then veiled my blush behind Irish luck
and feigned yet indecision

Agony! to want not to want
then magic and war and children
taught nothing, but bore me on
and named me destroyer

again I fled, effacing the past
running here, then there
plunging into darkness
where finally I found light

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Internet and Education

I think education is going to have to change. Classrooms are no longer the primary source for knowledge; information on anything is literally at our fingertips. Whether or not this is a good thing I will leave for you to decide, but one thing is for sure: gaining knowledge is no longer going to require a classroom.

Teachers should transition from givers-of-knowledge to teachers of what-to-do-with-knowledge. How do we deal with contradictory accounts of the same events? How do we look critically at what we see and read online or anywhere else? How do I know how much I am influenced in my opinions by those around me?

We still need traditional teachers, obviously.  For math.  Just kidding.  We need teachers to teach how to learn, rather than what to learn: how to come to a conclusion after weighing information from multiples sources; how to process the surfeit of information that is pouring into us every day; how to find meaning in madness.

One of the reasons I love studying psychology is because everything I learn attempts to be as objective as possible and most of my teachers are very forthcoming about her or his own biases.  They will often present a theory then include what its critics say about it, leaving us to decide with whom we agree, or if we agree with either of them.

I doubt very much that we as humans can shed all biases and I think we're always going to be influenced by our social environment, but if we can learn discernment to any degree we will be better off, and with so many competing narratives, this is the direction the classroom should go.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Search for Authenticity

I've started reading a new book about how to write called, "If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit" by Brenda Ueland.  I've read books on publishing, but for some reason I never thought I needed a book on how to write. As I get older (and humbler) I recognize how much room I have to improve.  Instead of a technical writing manual with rules about how to write compelling story lines, it promotes (as of the first 3 chapters) self-expression and an authentic voice as the key to good writing.

Just a few days ago I was asking myself what my voice as a writer should be. Hopefully this book will help to clarify that for me. More importantly I was reminded of the very first paper I wrote in my first college writing class; the thesis was that as an author I couldn't hide myself from a reader and so may as well embrace vulnerability and reveal myself through my writing. Funny how I had forgotten that.

A few years ago a really talented voice teacher (currently playing Marius with the touring company of Les Miserables), referred the book, "Freeing the Natural Voice"by Kristin Linklater, as a the text on which he based his singing technique. That technique improved my singing, my acting, and even the way I speak normally.

Psychologically, I think living authentically is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.  It makes sense to me that the best writing, and the best singing come from a natural and authentic emphasis as well.

So... in search of my authentic voice, and motivated by the inspiring writings of the late Ms. Ueland, I am going to write more, more often, and more conspicuously.  To hell with my obsession with perfection that normally dissuades me from writing. I expect that readers will forgive what they dislike in exchange for an authentic look into a writer's soul.