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Who are you?
When you search for “how do we decide” here’s what autocomplete thinks you may want to type in next: 

… who we are 
… what is true 
… on electors. 

Bear with me; I am going to touch on all of these this week in reverse order. Let’s start with electors.

Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened” needs more press the way the desert needs more sand. But color me a liar if I said my copy didn’t arrive the first possible day the bookseller could ship it to me. Then, the book sat on my coffee table for days. 

Then, I didn't pick it up for days. I wasn’t sure I was ready to handle what was inside. After all, it would be some time before electors would enter the public consciousness again, and my consciousness post-election was still bruised. Eventually curiosity got the better of me as did this thought: if I found it hard to start reading, imagine how Hillary must have felt before writing. I put my lady pants on, yanked the book off the coffee table, curled up and got started. 

Time slipped away, and I was transported into the world of a fellow Wellesley woman. For the first time, I felt as if I was reading the words of Hillary Rodham as if she were down the hall in Stone-Davis. The poetry choices are spot on, the wonky-nerdy is right in that sweet spot alongside cutting humor. The daggers long held are thrown with expert marksmanship by a hand with the softest, most velvety glove.  

Four women — one fictional — were the Earth’s magnet to my compass during my teenage years and young adulthood. First, there was my mother. Nothing phased her then, and nothing does now. If there’s a problem, you solve it. If things don’t go your way, you find another way. My mother doesn’t suffer fools, she won’t give into intimidation and she always finds the devil in the details and outsmarts him. That’s my mom. 

Second, there was Gwen Ifill. If I couldn’t be her (and no one can), I was going to work for her. I did. It was one of the greatest honors of my life, and she will always be one of the greatest mentors I will ever have. She taught me in days and weeks what it would take me years to learn otherwise. 

Then there was Princess Leia, because Disney princesses weren’t my bag (although she’s now a Disney princess, apparently). Watching her stare down Darth Vader in that first scene in “A New Hope” even as I was quaking at the site of that horrible mask was just … well, yeah. Then there was Hillary — the First Lady who came to speak at my high school and who made me sit up and say, “I'll do whatever it takes to be no-prisoners smart like her.” Less than three years later, I was in my red t-shirt posing for the class picture on Severance Green.  

This brings me to how we decide who we are.  

The saying goes that the gods hate you when they give you what you want. That’s because the gods know something you don’t: what you want isn’t what you need. I have spent years chasing satisfying work in fields that are known for small salaries and grueling hours. I've jumped at unconventional learning opportunities and, ultimately, a career I could not only be proud of but could honestly say was one I crafted for myself rather than for anyone else. 

Well, that’s a lot harder than it sounds. It means resisting others’ expectations, getting paid an absurdly small amount of money at times, having people insult you by asking you to work for free and moving back in with Mom and Dad more than once. It means letting the gods really wail on you with the things you want and, in so doing, showing you what you really need.  

Dear Emi:

We gave you a phenomenal career with all the bells and whistles of dream jobs, city living and travel. Then, after we gave you what you wanted, you figured out that what you really needed was a partner, family and a cozy home to call your own. We coulda’ told you that, sucker. Good luck to ya’. Ha!

Sincerely, The Gods. 
P.S. We hate you. 

We don’t decide who we are, we become that person. Each victory, defeat, conquered fear, captured flag and difficult choice makes us who we are. We may want to become a particular type of person, but each circumstance we find ourselves in challenges that notion. The act of confronting each challenge, of making each difficult choice and of suffering the consequences chips away at us, shaping us into ourselves.  

Finally, how do we decide what is true? I’m approaching this with the understanding that facts and truth are not the same thing. Facts are objective where the truth is subjective. So, we decide what is true based on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To borrow from the Merriam-Webster example: It may be true that a man is young or old depending on where he is at the time and how he is perceived, but it's a fact that he is 60 years old and 10 days. Truths are easy; facts are hard. Our ability or inability to cope with the difficulty of facts determines the outcome of elections, wars and matters of the heart.  

In a way, you might say that how we decide who we are, discern fact from fiction and, ultimately, who represents us rest at the very heart of our existence.  

With that, here are the five:  

  1. Consumed by anxiety, give it a day or two. (The Guardian)
  2. How we make up our minds (The New York Times)
  3. The two things killing your ability to focus (Harvard Business Review)
  4. Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou (The Poetry Foundation)
  5. Change becomes you (Aeon)

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May you be safe.
Emi Kolawole · E is for Everything HQ · Palo Alto California 94306 · USA
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