Nayyirah Waheed’s quote “I have always been the woman of my dreams” has been one of my favourite sayings ever since I read it for the first time. It made me wonder whether I was becoming the woman of my dreams, and what criteria one must check off to achieve that level of self-approval.
The last six months of my life have been nothing if not retrospective. Since I did my undergraduate degree in my hometown (Calgary, AB) and lived at home up until starting my Master’s, getting my first apartment in Montreal has finally made me feel like an adult, whatever that means.
As such, the pure joy of beginning the graduate school chapter of my life also has parts of deep reflection. Would the 10-year-old me be proud of who I am today? What about the teenage version of me? I think the answer is yes for both.
Becoming a McGill graduate neuroscience trainee of course is a milestone that excites me to my core; the pursuit of knowledge is certainly something the younger me had wanted for my future.
Science has always been the end-goal. So yes, career wise, I am the woman of my dreams (or at least one step ahead than I was before). But that is not even close to the whole story.
I believe younger me would admire current me because being a version of yourself the child-you would have been proud of goes way beyond something as extrinsic as career.
It is the people we become internally as we pursue these external achievements.
I am the woman of my dreams because I am finally, and undoubtedly, in support of myself. I do not shy away from adversity because I know win or lose, I will be here to pick up my own pieces.
Irrelevant of whether I am chosen or not, I will choose me. It is as simple as that.
However, let me clarify a few things. Being team-you is not believing you can make no mistakes; in fact, it is quite the opposite.
It is realizing that you are flawed just like every other being on earth, and accepting those flaws so you can either work on them, or deciding that you will not expend anymore energy on them and letting go. This mindful comprehension of one’s own shortcomings brings the power back to the self.
Also, being your own does not take away from your capacity to make substantial social connections or your grit in going for your goals. It simply means you do these things not for validation, but rather to give life that extra zest.
As graduate students, we have lived enough life to have had to prove our worth to others. Proving our academic capabilities is something we have all done, but craving acceptance and starving without it hardly remains within the confines of academia.
We remain on this hamster-wheel of needing constant approval even if it is at a subconscious level. When we can break out of that illusion; sit back and realize, hey, I may need to show that I am worthy of a certain career, but I unequivocally do not need a gold star to exist, that is when we can truly start living! Sounds like a no-brainer, but also so easy to forget.
This ability to be radically your own gives you freedom that is nothing short of magical. We are constantly breaking and creating ourselves (and that is what makes life beautiful), so I will not say being self-assured makes you invincible, but it surely gives you conviction in your own strength.
This of course is not an overnight process.
It takes time, wisdom, heartbreak, and the resilience we achieve through said heartbreak; but once we realize we do not need permission to live, when we can like who we genuinely are on most days, when our lives are saturated with our own definitions of meaning, that is when we become the adults our younger selves had wanted us to be.
And that is why, I have come to realize, I am the woman of my dreams.