Who You Are, Not What You’ve Done

change, self-reflection

Truth Byte #65

“You are more important than your accomplishments.”

I grew up in an immigrant household where only one parent went to university, and that parent was only around until fifth grade. My under-educated, single-parent, working-class mom knew that the best way to secure our future was to push us to do well in school.

So I did.

I did really well.

Ph.D. well.

And because of that, so much of my early sense of worthiness came from my academic success. Preparing that neatly written report or getting the 100% (plus bonus marks!!) on the math test or knowing the teachers adored me was what gave me a sense of identity, a feeling of value. Read More

Re-Writing My Story

Truth Byte #61

“Change your story, change your life.”


I finally got it. The phrase that captures what I am trying to do here in my little corner of cyber-space. I, Dr. Saira, have one message that has finally become clear to me:


change your story, change your life.


Over a year ago, my husband and I sat down for a serious conversation about what kind of future I saw for myself in my career. After a long, intense conversation (including a white-board-mind-map!), I could actually picture myself at my professional peak point. I saw myself teaching, counselling, and storytelling. I saw myself on a stage making the audience laugh while crying, and at the same time, I saw myself in a private, quiet room with one other person, helping them to get to the other side of their pain.  I saw a balanced life where I could make my own hours, where my paid work felt interesting and engaging, and yet did not intrude on my number one priority: the people I love.
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Taking Off the Mask…again.

Truth Byte #60

“Being real will get you there.”


I have tried on a lot of flavours in my life. After my early years as teacher’s pet and uber-nerd, I moved to my teens where I tried hard to make hip-hop culture fit me, and then into my early twenties, when I joined the pseudo-spirituality of the New Agers.


It is finally now, in my later thirties, that I am settling in to a hybrid version of all these other identities. I have come to peace with loving books more than people and the urgent-yet-glazed feeling I get when I am wrist-deep in a new novel. I have internalized the struggles of the marginalized, joining marches and protests when there is a social issue I just can’t keep quiet about. And I Feng Shui my house, and teach my kids how to stop their bodies from bruising through simple energy healing techniques.
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Five Ways to Stay Stuck

Truth Byte #57

 “Change and growth are different things.”


The one constant in life is change. Kids grow taller, wear and tear impacts our highways, and our bodies age.  Change happens with the passage of time. It’s just Nature’s law.  However, change does not necessarily predict growth, especially when it comes to people.

Let me tell you a little story.  I know someone who tries new things all the time.  She moves from this project to that project and has a lot of fun doing it.  Downside: she is still telling me the same stories about how “life is so hard” that she was telling me fifteen years ago.

Lots of changes, little growth.

Here’s another one. I had a client who had seen over five therapists in the last ten years.  Before he met me, he had tried whatever they taught him, attempting to implement all the homework and self-reflection he could.  Every month he was reading a new book about personal development. Downside: he was still stuck in the same cycle of one failed relationship after another. Lots of change, not much growth.
Why does this happen?
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The End of an Era

Truth Byte #55


“Everyone changes, even you.”


For a long time, I used to wonder whether people could change.  I would have late-night debates with my friends from university about whether lasting change is possible, or if people just put on a show to win whatever life goal they are grasping for without ever really changing the fundamental fabric of who they are.


What I learned last weekend is that everyone changes, even me.


And I learned this lesson in the most unexpected place: on the ski hill.


But wait a second, let me back up a few years.


When I was in fifth grade, my eldest cousin took me and a gaggle of other little cousins up to a ski hill.  For an immigrant child, skiing was about the most “Canadian” we could get (besides drinking beer and eating back bacon, neither of which were culturally sanctioned for me as a nine-year old Muslim girl), and maybe playing hockey, a sport that was way to expensive for a “working-three-jobs-each-to-make- ends-meet” parental budget.
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Finding Fun in Food and Paint

Truth Byte #54


 “It was always supposed to be fun.”


When I was a kid, everything was so much fun.  Whether it was playing in the forest behind my house, late-night-hide-and-seek with the neighbourhood kids, or Disney movie marathons, my life was so full and rich and fun.  Even the summer I spent with a cast on my leg was fun as people wrote messages of hope in their first grade printing and my little brother devised secret contraptions to help me deal with the itchiness.


Being a kid was fun, and yet I couldn’t wait to grow up.


I see this pattern repeating with my own kids.  They love to measure themselves against my abdomen to see how much they have grown, and whenever someone compliments them on getting taller, they beam from the inside.  They can’t wait to be older.


But why?


From where I am sitting, older is often the opposite of fun.  Older means more responsibility, unavoidable obligations, and being bored or stressed a lot of the time.


Why would anyone want that?


My guess is most of us don’t.  When we were teenagers, we had big ideas about what it would mean to be a grown-up. We imagined adult-ing to be a lot like childhood, except with less people bossing us around, setting curfews, and telling us what to do.  We imagined we would be doing whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, and thoroughly enjoying it.  We imagined we would be loved, and respected, and valued, and that our voice and perspective would really matter.
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Want to keep crawling?

Truth Byte #44

 “Evolving means un-learning.”


I have been watching my kids, and how quickly they learn.  One of the critical skills they also need for success is to be able to un-learn.


Let me give you an example.


When my fist little guy started crawling, it was bells and whistles all around.  We were so excited and encouraging of him, and finally he could get around on his own, kind of.  A few months later, he was mastering a new skill: walking.  As expected, we celebrated with whoops and hollers when he mastered the wobbly dance of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other.
And for most parents, that would be that.


But since I am obsessed with the human potential for growth and change, I couldn’t leave it at that.  I was really interested to see how he would make this transition.  After all, he had spent months getting his muscles and mind to work just so to be able to crawl, and now he had to forget all that (or maybe build on it?) and move to a completely different skill.  Sometimes he would opt to crawl instead of step-step-fall, especially at the beginning.  But as time passed, he chose the “easy way” less and less, until the point that he could say to me “Mama, crawling is for babies”.


My daughter, on the other hand, had a different learn-unlearn trajectory.  She learned to sit up, then scooch forward on her bum, and one day she just stood up and walked.  Once she started walking, she never went back to scooching.


She is better at un-learning things.


And I see this in other aspects of their personalities.  When he makes up his mind about someone, he interacts that way with them for ever and ever.  So if he likes you at first, he likes you forever.  And if he doesn’t really like you, too bad. But with her, she gives you a fresh chance every time you meet her.  She will adore you one day, and then be distant the next.  She has un-learned who you are and what you mean to her as soon as you are out of the room (though, like most kids even she has one or two favourites).


And while her life seems more tumultuous (she is three after all!), she is also living in the moment a lot more, rather than being informed by the past.


I have seen how as my children develop through their natural developmental stages, they become less adaptable, less able to unlearn.  It’s almost like Nature is saying, “You tried that before, don’t make that mistake again, if you want to stay alive!”  And they haven’t even hit double digits yet!


And so fast forward to you and me and the adults all around us.  Many of us have spent decades learning, and not too much time un-learning.  Even when what we had initially learned has become maladaptive, we continue acting that old, safe way.  We continue to crawl, even though we suspect walking would get us there faster.


The first requirement if you really want to grow is to be willing to un-learn.


Which means you have to be willing to say, “Maybe I have been wrong about this or that.”


And for some reason, for certain people, admitting they are wrong is worse than ‘being a baby’.  It’s just plain out of the question.  They continue to trudge along in their usual, unhappy, unfulfilling way of doing things, judging the people around them as ‘uniformed’ or ‘living in the clouds’ or ‘clueless’ or ‘lucky’, while day after day, they insist that their way is the only way and the rest of us should stop running forward into this great glorious life and crawl instead.


On our hands and knees.


Feeling bad about everything and doubtful about ever reaching any of our big dreams.


You may have people like this in your life.  I sure do.


When I run in to them (which happens more and more infrequently, I must say), I remember my infant son.  Maybe one day they will decide to take the first few difficult steps, and I will happily be there for them as they master the new skill.  But I can’t keep pretending they are so accomplished when all I see is crawling and complaining, year after year.


I can no longer play along with that lie. 


I have also learned, through painful mistakes, not to call them ‘babies’, and feel somehow better or ‘more advanced’ than them.  This is a really slippery slope in the field of personal development.  We hear phrases like, “Oh, she’s just not there yet” to help explain the closed hearts and minds around us.  Here’s what I have discovered: some people genuinely do not want to be there.  They are happy where they are, and don’t want to be told that there is a way out of their drama.


It’s not fair for those of us who can run to taunt the crawlers. 


All we can do is keep running, keep laughing, keep playing, and trust that if they are meant to stand on their own two feet in this lifetime, they will.  And if they don’t, it’s not our personal failure.  It’s simply the unfolding of their journey.


Human consciousness is evolving.  And for those of us at the leading edge of those changes, we will have to un-learn, and un-learn fast.


My challenge to you this week is this: think of something you believe, from the bottom of your heart, to be true, that is making you miserable (for example, germs are everywhere, or life is short, or success takes hard work, or there will always be poverty). I would challenge you, just for a week, to see if you could unlearn that fact.  Pretend, just for a week, that something else could be true instead.  See if you can challenge yourself to un-learn the “truths” have you have been entrenched in for years.  Self-reflection, followed by conscious evolution is the way out of personal chaos, so today, “I’m starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.” How about you?

From Baseball to the White House

Truth Byte #42

“You have been sleeping, and it’s time to wake up.”


Have you had the sense lately that you have been sleepwalking through a pretty pleasant dream, and you have woken up to find the world is not quite how you left it?


I sure feel that way right now.


Two historic things happened for my American husband this week: the Chicago Cubs won the World Series (first time in 108 years!) and Americans voted in a new president.


One event took us to the moon with joy.


The other made us feel like we were walking through a cold, terrifying night in Hell.


I will let you postulate on which event had which impact.


The one event from last week (you know which one I mean, right?) has got me thinking about what it means to be free.  It has me devouring history textbooks to see how societies of old managed belligerent, steam-roller dictators who put the shouts of the many over the cries of the vulnerable.  It has me predicting world events like I am some sort of self-proclaimed political scientist.  Many of my friends and colleagues are using the language of fight or flight.


I could go on for pages, but I won’t.


Because this blog is all about your own choices, and the truth as I understand it.


What I know to be true is that no one can give you freedom.  Just as no one can take it away.  Sure, someone can take your things, take your land, take your family, force you to change you name and your religion, but no one, and I mean not even the Devil himself, has a right to the part of you that actually matters, your spirit.


In the most inhumane circumstances, the human spirit has survived, and lived to see another generation of love come forth.


Today, we need to wake up and see that we are the creators of our own personal destiny. And yes, we are part of a collective.  We have neighbours and friends and co-workers who have ideas that may be different than our own.  But we also have agency.  We have agency over our actions, our thoughts, and what emotions we let flood our bodies.


I would implore, to all my brothers and sisters who believe in the human spirit, now is the time to remember your anti-bullying workshops from high school.


Maybe it’s been a while, so let me remind you.


Bullies thrive on attention.  They thrive because they get a rise out of people, and they get an audience.  In order to stop a bully you have to a) refuse to react and b) band together.  In the anti-bullying training my son receives at his elementary school, a program called “Bully Back-Off”, children are taught specific words to say to a bully when s/he is picking on someone.  The bystanders are taught something very simple.  They are to stand beside the person getting bullied, and say, firmly and with direct eye contact: “I want you to leave us alone”.


They say “us”.


They don’t say leave him alone or leave her alone.


The bystander joins in and says, “I want you to leave us alone.”


And sometimes, a second or third or fourth bystander will join in and say, “I want you to leave us alone”.  And the group keeps growing.  And surprise surprise, eventually the bully backs off.


I implore you, let’s remember to stand together, and tell the haters to leave us alone.  The people who will are most afraid are the ones who also will find it hardest to speak when the bullies come knocking.  But if enough of us say, “I want you to leave us alone”, then the bully backs off, once and for all.


So enough about that, let’s go back to the Cubs.  Years ago, I attended a game at Wrigley Field.  It was the most incredible experience.  This team hadn’t won in a century, and yet the stadium was packed up to the bleachers, and everyone knew the words to every song and chant.  There was such happiness and hope, and even though they lost that day, I felt like I was part of something so meaningful.


Cubs fans never gave up on their team. 


And finally, they played the game we were all waiting for, and won it.


If we could believe for a hundred years that this team would rise again, just you wait till 2020.


We are finally awake, and we are not going back to sleep.


More thoughts on “waking up” on my weekly YouTube Talkshow, Today is your Day.