Jeffrey Davis' month-long Dare to Excel free online challenge is taking many dedicated Questers who began this deep soul searching journey six months ago to the next level. I love his precision in word choice here - Dare to Excel - because it acknowledges a penalty for achieving excellence that often goes unnoticed. There is an unspoken assumption that we all wholeheartedly strive to excel, strive to get the respect, recognition, confetti, awards, at the end of this one-way street.
The truth is we often have a much more ambivalent, multidirectional, and complex relationship with our best self and truest potential for a multitude of reasons, most of them socially and culturally contrived and constructed, that cause all kinds of traffic jams and detours. I, for instance, didn't dare to excel as a middle and high school student in hip and shiny Miami, because I couldn't handle being any more different than I already was.
At thirteen and fresh of the boat, I had been teased for my unfashionable, tailor-made clothes, my accent, my haircut, my chalky flea market make-up, my social awkwardness. I had a last name, Tjenalooi, that stumped at least one teacher on any given day. I was from a country, Suriname, that no one had heard of. I spoke a language, Dutch, that no one spoke. I had weeiirdd childhood experiences that could bring any conversation to a screeching halt. There was not a single tv show or thirteen year old cultural reference that I could relate to. My family went to the airport to ask any willing Surinamese stranger to take a care package to relatives back home. There were very basic things that I didn't understand and that freaked me out, like placing a paper plate in an oven. A microwave oven that is. I felt like a Martian, and couldn't decide if I wanted to fit in with Miami-ans or return to Mars.
All subjects that involved English (History, Social Studies, Biology) were foreign and hard, but there were plenty of ESOL students who were similarly struggling. Subjects that involved mathematical reasoning felt like review, but placed me at risk of standing out. They also afforded me wiggle room and some control in positioning myself where I preferred to be - in the middle of a beautiful bell curve. So I purposely underachieved. B+'s or A -'s were fine. They made me appear sorta smart, not weird smart. As long as these grades accompanied missed or messy suntan-oil stained homework assignments and a vibe on nonchalance, like cutting my split ends or scribbling in my notebook in class, they were acceptable.
Only after I moved to mellow Sacramento, did I give myself permission to really excel in academics. I had partied enough in Miami and not even classmates with the worst cases of senioritis could tear me away from my books. College applications were already sent off, but there I was, wrestling for hours with complicated physics and calculus problems and crying tears of joy and gratitude when I was able to persevere and excel in these subjects.
But I held back for longer than a decade in many other areas where I could excel. Once I gained fluency in English, my social skills were fine, but I used them all to stay as far away from any outer edge, more often the one to the far right, as possible. I could smell disapproval, adoration, envy, judgment, self-doubt, exploitation, competition, unconscious darkness or criticism from a mile a way, and molded, chameleoned, blended in as much as I could to dodge conflict. Until this strategy placed me in a terrible bind in graduate school and I could no longer rubric puzzle my way into pleasing everyone around me, but myself, without going crazy. There was always some voice or symptom or vision or dream that was boomeranging itself back to me, refusing to accept the artificially imposed splits (excerpt from my book):
Perhaps trying on every diagnosis in our trade's bible, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), had over the years done more damage to my impressionable brain than I'd realized. A few disorders persistently orbited around me as if we were playing a sick game of Russian roulette. Some days, the paranoid bullet got in my face, making it all too clear that I was "reluctant to confide in others because of unwarranted fear that the information will be used maliciously against [me]."
Other days, I was spun around my own axis by an obsessive bullet while each of these words "obsessions - distressing ideas, images, or impulses that enter a person's mind repeatedly . . . perceived to be senseless . . . the person finds these ideas difficult to resist" relentlessly marched up and down my mind on the beat of my inner drummer.
Occasionally, a faint inkling, You are fine, there is nothing to worry about, seeped up from a powerful source within. It longed to wash all this nonsense away with just one strong gush. But as soon as I opened up to this redeeming source - the knowledge that I had created all of this madness and could take it apart - it was just as quickly slammed shut by the definition of grandiose delusions, which are "delusions of inflated worth, power, knowledge, identity, or special relationship to a deity or famous person."
I rattled an invisible cage somewhere far off in my mind. No, you can't tell anyone about this, I heard when the caged me got louder. When the drumming got louder. SEE, you are REALLY losing it. Expecting some kind of special consideration for your unique condition will sound ENTITLED and NARCISSISTIC, at best, and GRANDIOSE, at worst, to anyone but you. Do you want to be permanently branded with a scarlet flag in an environment that already places you under daily microscopic scrutiny?
My responses to the next three Dare to Excel questions (summarized) are drawn from the new beginning of my book, Amazon Wisdom Keeper – a modern psychologist's bold journey in reclaiming her intuitive mind and divine nature, the story that emerged after I began to resist and write through the pressures to split.
1). What are my burning questions of possibility?
What if losing our young genius and childhood connection to our inner Creator is a thwarted rite of passage into adulthood that can be corrected?
What if we break this unnatural and unnecessary sleep-wake, lost-found cycle for our children/the next generation by deeply exploring what happened to us, by reclaiming our true genius, and by making it our main priority?
What if we could teach rites of passage and daily rituals to prepare others, especially the young ones, to commit to becoming wisdom keepers of their own ingenuity first and wisdom seekers second (fix all the leaks first before gathering more knowledge)?
2). How will I do this?
What if Amazon Wisdom Keeper offers keen insights into the mental interference and social obstacles that often get wedged between our adult and our young genius selves, and carves out a few universal, core elements that could clear these out of the way for my patch of the planet, no matter how unique their sacred path.
3). What are my young genius qualities that describe my 8-9 year old self at my best?
Below are four early genius qualities, seeds and saplings that I fought to preserve and cultivate, starting in the third grade, to pursue and manifest my soul's purpose and work as an adult.
Deep contemplator and writer:
Anne Frank's beliefs can't be foolish or her diary would not have become a famous book. If she was able to stick to her beliefs and ideals, despite all that she went through, I will for sure be able to hold onto mine. Perhaps I should write them down too.
The thought alone filled me with joy and burning passion. I particularly wanted to explain to adults that just because children don't have a lot of life experience doesn't mean that they don't know what's wrong or right with the world. Perhaps if I kept a record, like Anne Frank, they could read for themselves what I meant. If it ever became a book, like Anne Frank's diary, it would for sure be taken seriously.
There was only one caveat. No one around me had a diary. Our flimsy notebooks were primarily used to copy textbooks from the chalkboard and not to be wasted on useless scribbles. I had no choice but to make do with an imaginary diary, and keep track of my most important entries like I kept track of my biggest dreams and insights. It was easier than you'd think. They were my only oxygen tank.
Highly-sensitive and intuitive empath:
I got in trouble for an entirely different reason: for shedding “crocodile tears” like a leaky faucet. I was unable to stop the drip and unable to explain what was wrong with me, which seemed to infuriate the grown ups even more. My first grade teacher took me to the principal's office when she couldn't take it anymore, and even my mother one time threatened to give me a reason to cry if I couldn't provide one.
I didn't quite know how to say, "I'm crying because I feel sad, upset, and unsafe around all of you mean adults." No one around me did. All I knew was that I felt at times like a bucket of water that was flowing over. It wasn't any different than going to the bathroom. If your bladder is full, you have to pee. If you drink a lot, you need to pee a lot. I suppose that would get me in trouble too. But I wasn't drinking a lot. I wasn't doing anything on purpose that was making my tear ducts fill up and spill over.
When I got in trouble for crying, I ended up crying harder. Perhaps, I was too warm-blooded, or perhaps it was just too hot. I didn't know how to chill and get all icy cool like my trouble-making classmates, as much as I tried.
Nature-wisdom healer and freedom fighter:
Could it be the white pimba doti, ceremonial clay, plastered on the dancers' skin, glistening with sweat? Wait a minute, that wasn't glistening skin! Those were big, shiny safety pins! Your everyday, regular kind of safety pins, pierced all over their bodies through the skin of their arms, legs, and stomachs, but there wasn't a drop of blood in sight.
I imagined how much it would hurt to pierce all those pins through my skin, and shuddered. They did not seem to be in any pain. Perhaps it was true that the sacred, mysterious powers of the white pimba clay could heal all flesh wounds. A sense of fearlessness and power started to swell inside of me, pumped up by the beat of the drums.
I let myself absorb the dancers' infectious energy until I was completely filled up. I felt more energized than I'd ever felt and much bigger and more grown-up than my usual self – clear, wise, loved, and invigorated – not at all on the brink of tears.
A similar surge of curious feelings grew inside of me once before when we learned in our history class about a daring slave who taunted and spat, “Go ahead, do what you want, kill me if you want. I am more free than you'll ever be,” until he was tortured to death by his increasingly more incensed tormenter. I somehow "got" the profound sense of freedom that the tortured slave was referring to. I fantasized being as brave as he was, saying outloud how much I hated the harsh discipline that I and my friends were regularly subjected to, no matter how bad the repercussions."
Feminist adventurer and trailblazer:
There was always something that needed fixing. I loved to tag along and "help" Pa when he was “just keeping busy,” cementing platforms and brick walls, solidifying the play structure, making orchid beds, and tightening outside water faucets and pipes. After heavy rains, I was allowed to climb the extra tall ladder and play on our flat roof when Pa was drying puddles to prevent leakages.
Unlike most other parents, Ma and Pa didn't seem to realize that I was a girl. Or perhaps they did, but they still let me do more than my female friends and cousins. I never thought much about it. I just happened to be the one who outran and outclimbed the boys in our neighborhood when we played tag or hide and seek in the trees. This was what I was accustomed to at home, being a year and a half older than Mark and for sure the bigger daredevil, always ready for the next adventure.
I can't tell you how ready I am for this dare to excel adventure! Email me if interested in joining. To read the entire first chapter, click here: