“What is a strength and what is a weakness of yours?” The classic interview question that we all love to hate and hate to love. For me—and many others non-confrontationists like me—that weakness is conflict management. I continue to try and improve on my over compromising style, a style I’ve learned has been conditioned in me as a female—I always make room for everyone else’s needs. That is the definition of settling, right? “Meeting halfway” means everyone gets closer to what they want while you, the settler, get closer to having nothing and standing for nothing. This is a scary reality when you apply it to all or nothing scenarios.

I still don’t consider myself confrontational, but advocating for oneself takes some real effort, don’t you think? I’ve asked myself to get louder. Supporters around me have started to turn the microphone in my direction to ask “What do you think?” —Wait, what do I think? The first step in advocating for anything—a cause, a people, or a movement—is knowing who you are.

I know what you may be thinking. “Really Tanika, again with the self-reflection?” Yes! You can never know yourself too well or guess how you’re constantly changing. Let’s sit down and study the intricate ways our minds make connection from the weight of our experiences, the conditioning of our environments, and the noises we have heard, absorbed, and rebounded. No matter how grand or subtle the discovery, we grow closer to knowing ourselves and understanding our connection to everything else.

It you’re not uncomfortable yet, then great! Maybe you’ve been here before. If you are, then also great! So am I. Stay a while in this dirt of discomfort, and as changing rains blow in with winds that whisper “Who are you?” take a breath and be true to yourself. We have the opportunity to bud and blossom every time we look within ourselves. Imagine if we took advantage of every chance for introspection; think of how expansive our leaves would be, how far our branches would reach. If you’re wondering why this loony hippie is talking to you about being a tree consider taking a deep breath, unclenching your jaw, and saying “I am” slowly, over and over again. Still too hippie for you? That’s alright, the metaphor will soon be over.

We may be quick to accept the identities the world puts on us. This type of thinking can throw us into the confining binary logic of “I am XYZ, therefore I cannot be ABC.” The real power is not in those identifiers but in our transfiguration, in how we get to know ourselves. Absorbing the characteristics we think will match our dream job or building ourselves up to fill the shoes of our predecessors is a disservice to ourselves. For just a second throw out the job description—I know everyone is telling you to look at it, breathe it, become it—but think of what you lose, what you hold back, when you’re not being fully yourself.

Yes, each stage of life, each job, each day brings about change and that is uncomfortable. I’m asking you to be brave and sink into that discomfort, holding your core as your candle in the dark unknown. That’s why we need to return to ourselves—when we’re in unfamiliar places, we are our own closest allies. This does not mean we operate alone. The journey we’re on requires friends. The changes we want to see requires the support of everyone.

I don’t think racism, sexism, classism, or any form of projected bias is something we can “agree to disagree on.” Instead, I’d like to add “But we can always have a conversation” into the mix. That is where the wheels of change meet the road. Like I’ve asked you to open the door to yourself, I also encourage you to open the door to others.

It’s not easy to change some of our deep-set beliefs. Ingrained ideas are just that, the fabric of our hearts and minds as we know them. But what if we learn something new? What if we learn to know ourselves differently? Everyone is capable of change—not to the left or right, not closer to one side or the other, but up. Keep the conversations going because they move us to a higher frequency, a higher level of knowing.

I told you my weakness, but what about my strength? My strength is knowing myself so that I may know you. Life is all about connection, and I hope you’ll allow me to keep connecting so we can all get a little closer to a better world.

Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistant at University of Kentucky | NIRSA Profile

Tanika Santos, NIRSA Student Leader, is currently the Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistant at the University of Kentucky.