Intelligence — Do You Believe You Have It?

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‎I’ve recently been thinking a lot about ‎intelligence — smarts, talent, whatever you’d like to call it.

It’s interesting that no matter how intelligent you may be in reality, if you don’t believe or perceive that you are, ‎you’ll be stuck.

Stuck doing the minimum that you think you’re only worthy of doing — whether it’s the kind of job you go after, ‎pursuing certain interests you wish to develop, or anything else that requires self-belief.

I see someone I know going through this now and it breaks my heart knowing they are capable of so much more. ‎But somehow, over the years, they seem to have lost the confidence that this is the case. And so, they settle for less.

I’ve been there. I know exactly how it feels to not believe in your own worth.

There’s been two main things in my younger years that led me to experience this same way of thinking about myself.

But before I get into that, I want to explain that I was always smart when I was very young. I did advanced math and was in my school’s gifted program. I was also very creative and read a lot of books and wrote stories and poems. ‎So objectively speaking, I was an intelligent kid.

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But the first thing that started me down the road to thinking less of myself was that I got into the cycle of working low-paying, survival jobs for many years.

I worked long, hard hours and usually multiple jobs at a time — but at the end of the day, I felt like I was working constantly around the clock towards a dead end as my destination.

It started when I was in high school and my family had to go on welfare. Aside from attending school, I was also usually working a couple of part-time jobs to help out with money.

When I moved out on my own, right after I graduated high school, it got harder having to fully support myself. At that point, I felt as though I couldn’t rely on anyone else.

There was never enough financial stability in my life to have the luxury of “taking time off” to gain experience towards some kind of meaningful career or to build up the skills I was lacking. Or to apply carefully to jobs and wait for the right one to come around.

It was “take what you could get” and, moreover, take it right away or you wouldn’t be able to pay rent the next month.

Living this kind of life meant constant physical and mental stress, It meant living in some pretty awful places that never felt like home. And it led me to feel a sense of hopelessness that would come crashing down on my optimism.

Even though I dreamed to have more for myself, that’s all I felt I could achieve because that was simply life as I knew it.

The second thing that got me to a point where I doubted my intelligence was that I was in a relationship for a period of time where — whenever he was mad — this guy would tell me that I was fucking stupid, an idiot, loser, retarded, pathetic, worthless.

Even if I objectively knew that he didn’t really think so when he wasn’t angry, it was hard not to internalize it after hearing it yelled at me again and again and again.

After a while, I seriously started questioning whether I was actually stupid. And it eventually got to the point where I felt so much helplessness and despair when he’d shout those things at me, that I would punch my fist into my computer screen or bang my head against the wall.

I think it was the innate, visceral reaction of needing to fight back, except I had been so conditioned not to hurt him that I hurt myself instead.

I had come to feel very worthless — just like he said I was — and as though I was in the bottom of a deep, dark hole, unable to see a way out.

How could this be the rest of my life? I wondered.

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With all of the repeated instances where people put down your intelligence, and with all of the actions (or omissions) you make that reinforce the idea that you aren’t deserving of a better situation, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle where you stay stuck at the bottom.

‎And when I say “bottom”, I mean at the bottom of your potential. You never aim higher. You stay fearful. You don’t ask questions or reach out to people who could become your connection or knowledge base to “better” things.

And so, you never find out just what you’re capable of.

If you don’t believe something is possible and within your reach, why would you even try to take the steps to get there?

* * *

Since that time, I got accepted into a very competitive Master’s program and graduated with a 4.0 (out of 4.0) GPA. I have worked higher-paying, salaried positions. I have been a manager‎. I have proven to some of the most brilliant minds in my field of study that I am unequivocally deserving of their reference any time I’m applying for a new job.

I have also gone on three solo backcountry camping trips with zero fear.‎ I have learned how to play the piano and guitar. I have composed my own songs.

I clearly am an intelligent person. ‎I always have been. It just took some time, a whole lot of sweat and tears, and an enormous amount of love and support to actually see it.

And now, I believe I can do anything I put my mind to.

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The road that led me down the deep, dark hole was long and complex. And thus, it was a long, complex process to get out of it.

One part of that journey was creating a new cycle in my life — one of continuous, positive reinforcement that told me: You are worthy to have better for yourself.

That positive reinforcement came in the same two ways that conditioned me to ‎grow my self-doubts:

In the same way as my ex continuously put me down with words to the point where I internalized his negative image of me, receiving constant messages of encouragement and belief in my talents ‎helped me to view myself in an alternative light.

Two further things on that: It meant choosing to surround myself with positive people who brought out and saw those good things in me. And while most of that validation came from others initially, I had to eventually find it in myself. This is still a work in progress and I imagine it always will be.

Secondly, just as fearing to aim higher resulted in me staying stuck in a cycle of insecurity, taking small (and eventually big) steps that resulted in personal successes gave me tangible proof that I could in fact accomplish things I once only wished for but never thought I could do.

The journey towards greater self-worth also involved a lot of other things, like going to counselling and finding ways to cope that were healthier than my defense mechanism of drinking.

It included building the social and human capital that we all need, but that I hadn’t learned to develop, in order to navigate the system.

It included finding a more stable living situation so that my mind could find greater stability. And it included having friends and family who gave me unconditional support through all the not-so-great decisions I made.

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It’s been a long road — it took many years — but it brings me an immense, unexplainable joy that I can now genuinely tell you how much I do truly believe in myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still and will always be a work-in-progress. But the distance I’ve come so far gives me hope that if I could get here, others who may not think it’s possible can too.

As much as I resented having to go down this road at times, I’m truly grateful for all that I’ve learned and for all of the people who stuck by me.

Because if it wasn’t for them, I would’ve likely stayed stuck at the bottom of my potential.

I would have likely never contributed my skills and talents to the places I’ve worked at or the groups I’ve volunteered for that serve to help others through their own challenges.

I might have lost all hope in finding my spirit and struggled to pass on the positive messages and energy every person should strive to add to this world.

And that would have been a serious waste of intelligence.

~ Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3

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On mental health awareness and stigma: I think as a collective, we really need to open up more about mental health and talk about the hard issues we all face. Too many people feel alone and ashamed about their mental health issues. Let’s change this.

The discussion that happened on this past post I wrote really gave me hope that people want to talk about mental health. And that no one is alone in their struggles!: On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”.

As I said then, thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

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Photo #3 Credit: Sad woman
Photo #4 Credit: Storm clouds gathering
Photo #5 Credit: Thanks, Amy! :)
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Taking Down Stage Fright: My First Show

I played my first show a couple of weekends ago. It feels pretty surreal now that it ever happened.

Even the next morning I wasn’t sure that it had. Probably because I went from singing on a stage to a crowd of people in a bar to sitting alone in my cubicle staring at some graphs.

But happen it did. It all started out with me attending my first ever open mic at a place called Free Times Cafe. I don’t want to sing professionally and I don’t care much about performing. BUT I hated the idea of having stage fright.

I’ve had stage fright all my life, since I was a little kid when I would cry if I was being forced to sing in front of people.

When I was a teenager I was taking classical voice lessons and actually dreamed of becoming an opera singer. But I would enter into these singing competitions and when I’d perform, I would get so nervous that I’d forget all the words and something that was NOT my voice would come out of my mouth. It was pretty brutal.

I got back into singing many years later, but this time just for fun. I was taking lessons at my friend’s music school and every year they put on a recital. I still got the uncontrollable shakes the couple of times I sang on stage. And that bothered me.

People who aren’t sure if they’re going to get killed stepping outside of their house on any given day in a war-torn country have something real to fear.

Stage fright? Well, I believe stage fright is an irrational fear stemming from the insecurity you have that people may think you suck after hearing you perform.

I actually think many of the things we’re afraid of doing in life come from caring too much about what other people think. And so we hold back. We don’t pursue the things that would bring us great enjoyment or a more fulfilling life.

And so, when I was asked by the Free Times’ open mic host to come back for their Best of the Open Stage show, I said yes because I knew it was time to really kick stage fright in its big butt.

I practiced really hard for the next couple of months to prepare. I went to a couple more open mics to get practice singing in front of people. I almost planned to go sing out on the street — I figured if I could do that, I was golden!

But I got sick a couple weeks before the show (of course). I tried not to panic and focused on getting better. The night of the show, I was still battling something and was barely keeping myself together. But the audience was so incredibly amazing and all I wanted to do was lay out everything on that stage so I could walk away knowing I did my absolute best.

It turned out to be a great night and I was mostly just ecstatic to have so many of my favourite people in the same room, showing so much love and support.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I truly believe that conquering fear in one area of your life will just make you less fearful in other areas of your life.

And as with most things, practice makes perfect — so, the more you practice pushing fear away and just going for it, the easier it becomes to ALWAYS push fear away when it’s trying to steal the spotlight.

What’s been one of your life-long fears that you’ve either conquered or would like to conquer?

~ Cafe <3

Exploring Family History on the Death Road

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While my fellow Torontonians partake in ribfests and fireworks to pay homage to the birth of our Motherland, I sit here on the couch, sipping some red, as my mind wanders off to another region of the world (sorry, Canada).

Los Yungas. The lush, green rainforest that stretches across Peru, Bolivia and Northern Argentina. Teeming with colourful flora and weird and wonderful fauna, it is accessible from the city of La Paz in Bolivia via the deadliest road in the world, “la Camino de la Muerte” (the Death Road).

About 50 years ago, a Korean family consisting of nine siblings and the parental heads ventured across the world from their home country to South America. (The tenth sibling would later join them). They landed in the Los Yungas valley.

My mom was eight at the time, third youngest of the siblings. Although most of the family later moved to La Paz where they opened a clothing business, my mom stayed in the rainforest for another year with her father.

They would frequently make the trip to La Paz and back, and the whole family would sometimes journey to the Yungas for restful getaways. Which meant a lot of Camino de la Muerte for my mom.

My mom remembers how unregulated the Death Road was back then, absent of guardrails and vehicles having to play the passing game when the road became too narrow to constitute a two-way. (Don’t think too much has changed there, ma).

She also recalls trucks filled to the brim with oranges and people sitting on top of the oranges as they zoomed towards their destination on the winding road.

I remember hearing about these stories when I was much younger, but back then I didn’t comprehend the global infamy of the Death Road. After days of travel research, I now find myself in awe that this rugged journey — that thrill-seekers from all over the world pay bike tours to take them on — was just a part of life for my mom.

Yes, a significant piece of my family history puzzle lies in Bolivia. Thus, Bolivia is where I must go.

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Visiting “the heart of South America” was barely a shade of a dream a couple years ago. I could only hazily envision myself in what I conjured up to be a dusty town where old Bolivian señoras in their bowler hats sold fresh fruits and nuts in open markets.

But today, the dream has actualized itself into a plan. It won’t happen tomorrow, but I’ve sketched out a pretty solid draft of my future explorations in what I consider to be the Third Motherland.

While I’d love to do the typical tourist traps, like Salar de Uyuni, I also want to be able to travel slow and really immerse myself in Bolivian life and culture. And, of course, I want to visit the Yungas and experience an important part of my mom’s childhood.

Now I just need to work up the courage to face the Death Road …

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… and maybe stop watching stuff like this:


If you were to explore your family history and culture, where in the world would your journey take you?

– Cafe <3
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Inspire Me

Lately, all I’ve wanted is to be inspired. Inspired to dream. Inspired to know that there’s bigger things out there waiting to be experienced. Inspired to think outside the box of my own little world as I know it.

When I was younger, one of my secret wishes was to be a photographer for National Geographic. I loved reading the magazines, marvelling at the extraordinary photos that someone got to take. Yes, some other person was in that place that I could only stare at on the page before me.

They got to view that beautiful landscape in person, or witness that animal as it was gliding in motion. I would daydream that I was that world explorer, riding along the Serengeti in Africa in a jeep, waiting for the opportune moment to capture something crazy spectacular that unfolded before my eyes.

That dream was eventually forgotten, but I still love reading National Geographic and I still get that inspired feeling when I gaze at the photos that have been shot all around the world by adventurers. Or that feeling of complete disbelief when I read articles like the one about free-climbing (where people mountain climb up thousands and thousands of feet without any ropes or harness).

It’s not that I necessarily want to be inspired to scale a mountain ropeless (I don’t). But I want to be inspired to know that there’s a whole wide world out there that’s so incredibly different and beautiful, and that if someone else could have been there to take a picture of it, well, then no doubt I could be there too.

– Cafe <3

Top photo: Moonlit Canoe, Alagash River

Morning Landscape, Lithuania

Tundra Trek, Svalbard

Aurora Borealis, Iceland

Olympic National Park, Washington

Waikawau Bay, New Zealand

Yosemite Free-Climber

Serengeti, Tanzania

Oceanic White Tip Shark, Bahamas

If you could be teleported to anywhere in the world — on the peak of a mountain, at the bottom of the ocean, or maybe just on the patio of a coffee shop in another country — where would you want it to be?

 Dream big!

All photos from National Geographic