No Longer the Smartest Kid in the Room


The most blissful moment of my life was near the end of my freshman year, when my high school gave out awards for academic excellence. I won honors in three subjects—I was most proud of the English honors—and then took the cake overall: I had the highest GPA in my grade. Walking down from the bleachers, being watched by everyone, wearing a pretty dress picked out for the occasion—it was a perfect experience. Before I accepted the medal and shook hands with the principal, I thought, “This is the best I’ve ever felt.”

I felt completely validated by the external measure of accomplishment. Being best in my class bolstered my sense of self-worth. That was the pinnacle; sophomore year I had the second highest GPA, junior year, the third highest. I left high school early to go to Reed College, but once there, found I had no coping mechanisms for not being the smartest kid in the room. My classes were interesting, but I was overwhelmed and unable to cope with the amount of reading assigned. I had a nervous breakdown. I left Reed. I dabbled in community college for a bit, but after a year I dropped out altogether. Of course, too much homework wasn’t the root of my problems; the real issue was clinical depression (for which I am thankfully now medicated and therapized). Without academic success I didn’t feel anchored. (read more…)

The Disappointment Antidote

MC Escher

It’s easy to be disappointed as a mother.

We spend most of our “free” time doing things for our children, or making sure other people — our spouse or partner, nanny or daycare provider — do those things. While some of these tasks are rewarding, most of them aren’t very gratifying. We don’t often hear from our families that we did a good job cleaning the house, doing the laundry, or juggling making dinner with driving carpools.

In my first year as a new mother seventeen years ago, I was often disappointed. (read more…)

Behind the Scenes at Small Answers

Behind the scenes

Writing is one of those funny things, like breathing, that everyone can do in the most literal way. We all wrote in school– stories, essays, reports. We are all able to string words into sentences and commit them to a page. Yet, as adults, few people claim to be a writer. We get hung up on the meaning of the word, and we fear not measuring up to our expectations around what a writer is. We get stuck.

Because the stories we share on Small Answers are born in self-reflection, when we feel stuck, it’s generally because our thinking hasn’t crystallized. We haven’t done the hard work of figuring out what we are really trying to say. (read more…)

“Do I Have it Figured Out?”


When you grow up witnessing your dad beat your mom, does that shape what you do with your life? Saeeda Hafiz focused on school, going to college and landing good job in banking… only to realize that this wasn’t for her. She started taking cooking and yoga classes, and was captivated by the power of holistic living to nurture and heal her. (read more…)

The Creativity Myth

This is terrible - 1994

I have a distinct memory of going through my journals and notebooks when I was 10 or 11 and grading my own artwork; I gave almost everything an F. “This is terrible,” I scrawled across one page with the beginnings of a sketch of a minaret, my intense frustration apparent in the big, sharp-edged letters and the dark, hard lines of the pencil. I’ve done art all of my life. My parents and my brother are all artists, and creative expression is fundamental part of my family’s culture. Although I often got encouraging feedback about my work growing up, I was never satisfied with it. I had grand visions of what I would create and was often disappointed with the reality of my ability.

(read more…)