“Brigitte’s Garden: Liberating Our Minds By Liberating Our Identities” | ESSAY

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“Belief, like fear or love, is a force to be understood as we understand the theory of relativity and principles of uncertainty. Phenomena that determine the course of our lives. Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today, it is headed in another. Yesterday, I believe I would never have done what I did today. These forces that often remake time and space, that can shape and alter who we imagine ourselves to be, begin long before we are born and continue after we perish. Our lives and our choices, like quantum trajectories, are understood moment to moment. That each point of intersection, each encounter, suggests a new potential direction. Proposition, I have fallen in love with Luisa Rey. Is this possible? I just met her and yet, I feel like something important has happened to me.”

- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

It was a quiet, sunny Friday afternoon in August of 2020. My Mom, Brigitte, and I sat in her garden — a garden she’d dreamed of having for years. We walked through a metal arbour that led us to a stoned seating area lined with hostas, azaleas, and other wildflowers. Covered on all sides by greenery, it felt like a secret garden away from the rural suburb she lived in. Her active bird feeders and the wind chimes created a symphony of chirping and melodies for our soundtrack that day. My Mom sat upright on her metal garden bench with her makeup done, hair curled, and front bangs straightened the same way she had styled them every day for 20 years. She wore her classic black flowing tank top, a knee-length jean skirt, and flip-flops with a small wedge. In one hand, she held a wine glass that was filled to the brim with ice and a bit of white wine, and with the other hand, she pet her cat or would fix something in reach in the garden. My Mom was truly free here. I sat across from her in an Adirondack chair (“Muskoka chair” in Canada) painted brilliantly by my sister, Robyn, with bright blues, purples, and dragonflies. She painted it for our Mom when we first found out about her cancer diagnosis in March of 2017.

By looking at my Mom, you would not know she had Stage 4 breast cancer alongside Stage 4 lung cancer, and that’s exactly how she wanted it. She repelled the title “cancer patient”, but would rather be ‘someone who happened to have cancer.’ According to her, Cancer would not define her identity. With this mindset, my Mom carried a jovial sense of humour and strength to all of her appointments and that made doctor after doctor remark in astonishment at her demeanor. This was echoed by my Mom’s palliative care nurse, Cassidy, who made home visits to her twice a week and happened to drop by that day. She shared that my Mom was her favourite patient (and now friend) to visit. Cassidy had witnessed numerous people with various conditions, but she said when people kept their mindset optimistic and didn’t make their life about cancer, they seemed to live longer and had a better quality of life.

Cassidy’s intuitive observation was not wrong. How people think about their diagnosis does alter their outcomes. In a 2020 oncology journal article titled, “Cancer Survivorship-Considering Mindsets”, researchers Heathcote, Zion, & Crum wrote:

“During cancer treatment, [patient] mindsets about the meaning of illness (eg. whether it is a catastrophe, a manageable challenge, or an opportunity to make positive life changes) are important… empowering patients to shift their mindsets could completely alter their cancer experience. Instead of catastrophic thinking, viewing cancer as manageable and recognizing the body as capable and resilient may motivate patients to participate in activities and initiate lifestyle changes like eating healthier and getting exercise. Patients may become less afraid of side effects from treatment and cancer recurrence afterward.”

My mom lived 3 years and 6 months beyond her original life expectancy when she was diagnosed.

This idea has had me thinking for years. Some people wear their preferences, their ideas, their opinions, and their diagnoses as identities while others see identity as something fluid that might be part of them today, but might not be in the future. Or it might be a part of who they are in the future, but it is not their defining identity. Cancer is an extreme example of how taking something in as an identity might actually harm your physical being. Still, it got me thinking about all of the ways people wear opinions and ideas as identities and how ultimately limiting and mentally oppressive it can be.

Just recently, in a less extreme example, I joined my sister and her colleagues for dinner while they were attending a conference in Toronto, where I live. One of her colleagues, a nice man who manages operations for a township’s new builds, was vocal and vehement about his hatred for life in the city. He preferred his life in rural Canada. He was a self-proclaimed “country person”. It didn’t make sense to me. All five of us were having a great time together. We were laughing, having fun, eating some of the best Italian food T.O. has to offer, and doing so in the city. It didn’t seem at all like he hated city life. By the end of the dinner, he realized that while he still preferred his life in rural Canada (nothing wrong with that), he actually did enjoy his time in the city with the right people and experiences. I considered this a great feat in liberated thinking.

As people, we cling to identities that we believe define who we are. “I’m a gamer;” “I’ve always been a country person;”, or “I am someone who only wears suits — that’s how people know me.” But in this process, we often define who we are not as well. “I hate the city”, “I don’t dance”, “I’m not the writer, my sister is” or “I only vote blue” (this example has entirely different meanings in Canada and the US).

The difficulty with this way of thinking is when an idea or a personal preference becomes so much a part of our identity that we limit possibilities and mental liberties for ourselves, and perhaps unintentionally, we restrict those same possibilities and liberties for others. The identity becomes the lens through which we have to look at everything, even in the face of our own evolution and life’s many changes. If “I don’t dance”, will I not allow myself to try salsa dancing when my partner wants to? If “I only vote blue,” will I not allow myself to consider that I might have new needs today that are better represented elsewhere? If “I’ve always been a country person,” am I preventing myself from enjoying a night in the city with my colleagues? Continuing down that path, by enjoying my night in the city, does it mean I’m no longer a “country person”? These unchallenged identities we give ourselves can become the chains that keep us oppressed in our minds, not allowing us to explore, try new things, or evolve. We become the ones not allowing ourselves the mental freedom we so badly crave. My Mom did not want “cancer patient” to become her defining identity because she felt it was the worst part of her existence at that time, and why would she want to live through the lens of the worst part of herself? She also knew that this identity would come with limitations imposed by others, who themselves are not mentally liberated enough to see other possibilities for people with cancer.

My Mom did her hair and makeup every day until the day she died in February of 2021. It made her feel confident and good about herself. However, it also invited unexpected vitriol in everyday scenarios. In the Winter of 2018, my Mom finished another of many surgeries that left her in need of a walker for half a year afterwards. Despite this, my Mom still did her hair and makeup every day. One day, Robyn took Mom to Costco to do some grocery shopping. They parked in accessible parking, and located the last motorized scooter Costco offered to customers with ability issues. My Mom hated using it, but she could not stand for long periods of time anymore. During their visit, a man who saw her using the scooter scoffed and under his breath said something to the effect of my Mom being lazy. I saw something similar when I took my Mom on a trip to the Dominican with her walker and she had to travel in the accessible lines. People stared at her and gave her dirty looks every time she didn’t use the walker, but a walker is precisely meant to get you walking again. That day in Costco though, Robyn did not let the scoff go unconfronted and promptly rebutted that our Mom had cancer and back surgery. The man, in disbelief, justified his comments by stating, “her hair and makeup are done”. I do hope it was a liberating event for him though, because maybe now he can imagine new possibilities for what someone with cancer can look like.

When we start making associations between identities and then prescribe those associations to others, we don’t just prevent ourselves from exploring and expressing in new and natural ways, we also prevent others from being able to do the same.

The example above showcases the bigger problem. When we start making associations between identities and then prescribe those associations to others, we don’t just prevent ourselves from exploring and expressing in new and natural ways, we also prevent others from being able to do the same. Because of his strong associations about what a sick or disabled person looks like, he felt entitled enough in that belief to harass a woman he didn’t know in Costco. Though this man sounds like the villain right now, we all make associations. For example, most of us could likely fill in these blanks with everyday associations.

  • “People who really love camping usually also love _________?”
  • “If you’re bad at public speaking, you’re probably also not great at ___________”.
  • “If you’re a ‘city person’, you probably hate doing _________.”
  • “If you’re a writer, you probably wear _________ and usually live in ___________.”
  • “If you have cancer, you probably look like ________.”

Even in writing this essay, I considered other people’s associations. I thought, “if my examples are about topics that are associated with being ‘conservative’, will people who identify themselves as ‘left’ write this off?” And on the flip side, I also thought “if my examples are socially liberal, will people who identify themselves as ‘conservative’ decide they can’t agree with me or not appreciate these ideas?”

I considered your associations because I understand that limited thinking and associations can have serious, real-world consequences. If you’ve made it this far in reading, it might be obvious that I chose to believe you are a reasonable person interested in exploring different ways of being and thinking. I chose to believe you do have the ability to take examples and apply them to your own life and context. Even if they are not literal to your every day, I chose to believe you can understand a central theme and extrapolate from there. I chose to believe this because this conversation is worth having with everyone, and quickly.

These prescriptions and associations have consequences. They mentally oppress us and others. To be oppressed is to be “kept in subservience to someone or something; kept in hardship, or distress.” If I am not allowing myself to enjoy my night in the city because “I’m a country person,” I am keeping myself subservient to some idea of a “country person” instead of exploring as I am at this moment. If I am an “Apple person” or a “Ford person,” and I prevent myself from exploring Android phones or Chevy pickups, even when my needs could be better served by them, then I am oppressing myself. I am keeping myself subservient to Apple and Ford. Meanwhile, having worked in marketing and branding for many years, I can tell you this is exactly what Apple and Ford want — that instead of thinking for ourselves, we remain brand-loyal regardless.

Furthermore, if I’m afraid that my “country friends” will judge me or make fun of me, then they are keeping me in subservience and distress. And here’s the kicker. If I am the one making fun of others for their night in the city or for being better served by an Android phone, then I am the one keeping them in subservience and distress. I am the oppressor in this case. To be clear, throughout this essay, I’ll use examples with varying degrees of seriousness to illustrate my theories about limiting identities and implications, but know that when unexplored, what I’m discussing here can actually have critical, even life or death consequences for yourself or those experiencing the consequences. My Mom couldn’t exist freely as a “cancer patient” because of other people’s associations with what that meant she could or could not do. So instead, she rejected the identity and chose to live as a person who happens to have cancer. She, fortunately, had that choice in this instance. So on one side, if we all opened our minds to what “a cancer patient” means, she would not have had these problems, but on the other side, her living as a person who has cancer, without the associations, allowed her to do and be anything she wanted. It liberated her.

Understanding our limiting identities is worthwhile because it has been proven that by changing how we identify, we can also change our more empirical experiences as well. For example, researchers out of Stanford University discovered that our physical and physiological stress responses can change pending whether we define our stress as ‘enhancing’ or ‘debilitating’. Furthermore, the researchers found they could improve people’s stress responses by explaining the differences between them and encouraging a ‘stress-is-enhancing’ mindset. Essentially, when people took on an identity as a stressed person and associated that stress with debilitation, debilitation happened. But when someone saw themself as experiencing stress because of something ‘enhancing’ or worthwhile, they were more likely to thrive through it. Different researchers out of Stanford University found a similar outcome in students who were taught about “growth mindset”. They found that students’ ideas of intelligence contributed to their performance. Students who believed their intelligence was malleable (growth mindset) had more sustained and improved academic performance in mathematics over time compared to their peers who believed their intelligence was fixed (set and finished). If a student sees themself as someone with intellect that can change and grow, they are better off than the student who defines themself by the fixed brain they live with today.

Whether it’s living longer with cancer, finding the products that best serve us, or reacting less harshly to stress, it seems that in most ways, people are better off shedding their limiting identities and seeing themselves as an evolving being with changing preferences and interests. So why then do we oppress ourselves? Why do we grip onto identities that no longer serve us?

This gripping happens more when we allow our subconscious brain to do the thinking for us. Our brain takes in so much information at any given moment, so it relies on a “mental shorthand” known as a “cognitive bias” to interpret this information. A cognitive bias is our brain’s attempt to simplify information processing, helping us make sense of the world, and make decisions quickly. If we are stressed or experiencing other forms of cognitive impairment, our brain is more likely to rely on these biases. I think of cognitive biases as the “default settings” in our brain’s “operating system” (OS). We all have a different OS and different settings within, but if these settings go unexplored, we will remain in the default setting. But, our default setting may not be the one that serves us best today. Different biases make us cling to limiting identities and it’s worth understanding some of the most prominent ones.

I think of cognitive biases as the “default settings” in our brain’s “operating system”. We all have a different OS and different settings within, but if these settings go unexplored, we will remain in the default setting. However, our default setting may not be the one that serves us best today.

Here are some examples:

  • Conservatism Bias — This is when our brains will prioritize original, pre-existing information over new information. This can make us slow to react to new data and place more significance than deserved on old information. When it comes to identities, perhaps it is easier for our brains to cling to old identities and associations instead of allowing for openness and change.
  • Anchoring Bias — This is where our brain relies too heavily on the first piece of information given regardless of the validity of the subsequent information. This means the first associations we are taught between identities, even if they happened when we were kids, are likely to be the default settings if not explored consciously later. If you learned young that all writers wear bright yellow shirts, that might still be your association today.
  • Confirmation Bias — This is the pattern-seeker. This is where our brains look for and interpret new information in a way that matches our prior beliefs. It takes more work for our brain to break a pattern than to find something that matches it. Because of the previous two biases, even if the initial assumption is wrong, the confirmation bias will still look for a pattern. Regarding identity, it’s easier for our brain to match something to who we were than to consider who we might be instead today.
  • Binary Bias — This is where we tend to create distinct categories for things that are actually on a spectrum. This “all or nothing” bias makes your brain want to move things into those categories instead of caring for the data that falls in the ‘in-between’. We may feel the need to say we are either “religious” or an “atheist”; a “country person” or a “city person” even though, like most human preferences, it is likely a 4D spherical spectrum. We want to say someone is healthy or they are not instead of caring for the varying degrees and nuances of health. Spirituality, geography, and health are all examples of spectrums our brains subconsciously want to reduce down to binaries, but the real liberation comes in recognizing that they are not.

This subconscious quick-thinking can be flawed. That man in Costco may have had a few interactions in his life with people who had cancer, and it’s possible they did not want to do their hair and makeup every day. His anchoring bias begins. Then he may have seen cancer represented in TV shows in a similar way to what he’d seen before. His confirmation bias ensues. Then, even when he was confronted with my Mom — new data and a new visual for what someone with cancer might look like — he refused to believe her. His conservatism bias prevailed. Unexplored biases encourage a past version of ourselves to think for us instead of our conscious selves as they exist and learn today. In this respect, cognitive biases might actually be unknowingly keeping us oppressed by this past version of ourselves — a version clinging to old modes and beliefs.

Cognitive biases might actually be unknowingly keeping us oppressed by a past version of ourself — a version clinging to old modes and beliefs.

Gripping outdated identities and prescribing flawed associations between those identities have consequences for ourselves and others. Sometimes those consequences can work in our favour like if you assume I will be a good leader because I am extraverted and well-spoken. But what demands more concern is when the consequences are negative and limit others’ ability to be free. For example, when we draw associations between someone’s accent and an inability to perform effectively in leadership, we oppress them. We are keeping them subservient to our own cognitive biases and flawed associations. Similar to how that man in Costco put my Mom in a flawed box, we are preventing them from existing freely as who they are, not harming anyone else, and without consequences. When we draw flawed associations between someone’s race and intellect, or their sexuality and morality, we prevent that person from existing freely without consequences. When others do that to us, they oppress us, unwillingly or willingly. The dangerous implications of applying flawed biases to people’s social identities — and particularly the identities they can’t change — has/is being explored by many intelligent people more well-versed in this than I. For starters, I recommend the works of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Roxanne Gay, Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Angela P. Harris, bell hooks, Robin DiAngelo, and so many more. If you’re already familiar with their writings, you might also already understand why I’m writing this essay. I might be so bold as to say this particular essay is probably not for you, but then I’d be making a flawed assumption about you and I won’t do that to you.

These consequences can be made worse by certain circumstances and conditions. It’s worth repeating that when we are stressed, our energy is working elsewhere, so our brain is more likely to rely on mental shortcuts in these times. As someone who teaches stress management at my company, and whose husband researches and quite literally wrote the book on burnout (see: The Burnout Gamble), I am concerned about people right now. There is a rising level of collective stress, so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) called stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century.” Shortly after this, the WHO formally recognized “burnout syndrome”, suggesting it comes “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Increasing inequity, social media, the pandemic, [impending] wars, climate change, polarization, and our ability to interact with all of this on a constant basis has contributed to these rising levels of stress. I’m concerned about this to a degree I cannot overstate. The more distress people experience, the less likely they are to think for themselves. It is that simple. The more distress, the more likely they are to rely on cognitive biases, limited identities, and past associations, for themselves and others. They are more likely to believe what they hear around them and on social media without question. Increasing inequity, social media, the pandemic, [impending] wars, climate change, and polarization are all issues that worsen without critical thought. I hope you see why I’m concerned about this self-fulfilling cycle. We must break the cycle.

From the moment we were aware we existed, we also wanted to know ‘in relation to what?’

There are these forces, such as biases and stress, that might unwittingly lead us to the downfalls of limited identities and associations. Still, there are also forces that pull us towards the benefits of identities and these can’t be ignored. I don’t want to suggest that it is unnatural to want to find identities and label ourselves because it’s not. It’s the opposite. “Who am I?” is a question as old as self-aware homo sapiens. From the moment we were aware we existed, we also wanted to know ‘in relation to what?’ To find a label we connect to helps satisfy the profoundly human desire to know who we are, and who we are compared to other humans. To have an identity is to know that we exist as an individual different from others. To know we are unique individuals with preferences, strengths, and stories is to find meaning in being who we are. I know I am someone who loves cinema, philosophy, travelling, my family, and cheese for days. No one else has the exact same set of interests or stories that brought me here. Knowing this about me will also help me find the ‘you’ who shares these things with me. To know ourselves makes it more likely we will find our kindred others with whom we can get the benefits of community: connection, love, belonging, validation, safety, support, enjoyment, and even a higher likelihood of passing on our genes. So, maybe the really important message here is that if you also like scarfing back buttery popcorn and breaking every frame of a film down afterwards, you and I may be kindred. Ultimately, we want an identity because we want to mean something. If I didn’t attach to anything — if I didn’t exist in relation to others — was I even here at all? Did I matter? I want more people to experience these benefits more often and I believe opening our minds to who we could be might just expand the possibilities of who we consider kindred to us. We might just find community where we least expect it.

I want more people to experience the benefits of community more often and I believe opening our minds to who we could be might just expand the possibilities of who we then consider kindred to us. We might just find community where we least expect it.

If there are so many benefits to finding or being part of a community, and liberating our identities could help us get to them, the next natural question is how do we do it? From a top level, the honest truth is that hundreds of essays have been, and could continue to be written on how to break the metaphorical chains keeping us mentally oppressed. To understand the true breadth of this answer, we’d have to elaborate on government, capitalism, social psychology and development, power, white supremacy, education, community development, and many other expansive areas that all play together. The “why” is certainly crucial, but for this short essay, I am writing from the point where identities become limiting and attempting to illustrate a problem as I’ve seen it. The root causes of this problem are vast, deep, and outside of my scope. However (and this is a big however), a problem seeming vast and overwhelming is not an excuse for us not to play our small part in solving it. We must try. So, born out of my observations from working in soft skills development and my own experiences breaking my mental limitations, here are a few things I’ve seen mentally liberated people do well, and things you can try today.

A problem seeming vast and overwhelming is not an excuse for us not to play our small part in solving it. We must try.

Know thyself.

Mentally free people often have a solid understanding of themselves. They are self-aware, meaning they are consciously informed of their own thoughts, feelings, preferences, strengths, limitations, etc. They understand that self-awareness is not a box to be checked off with an hour of journaling (though that’s great too), but rather a lifelong practice that requires regular reflection about what happens to us and what it means for us from then on. The meaning-making part of this reflection is a key ingredient in mentally liberated people. As the world around us changes, we do too. So, the first step is keeping track of ourselves in relation to those changes and paying special attention to how our identities are morphing or limiting. Thinking back to the colleague who came to the city for the night and had a great time, I would hope he’d reflect on his time and change his identity from “I hate the city” to at least an “I don’t mind the city when it’s for short periods of time with fun people.”

The meaning-making part of reflection is a key ingredient in mentally liberated people. As the world around us changes, we do too. So, the first step is keeping track of ourselves in relation to those changes and paying special attention to how our identities are morphing or limiting in the process. We make meaning of the experiences for our identity moving forward.

Resist “both sides”.

Trying to understand “both sides” of a way of being presupposes only two sides exist. Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, “both sides” reinforces polarization. Since you now know about the binary bias, you know our brain’s default is to make us choose between the two. But mentally liberated people often understand that most things fall on a 4D spherical spectrum — with more complexity than a line and with the 4th dimension consideration of time. Like any good bell curve, most people are actually somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, not at the poles. Mentally liberated people allow themselves to exist independent of the binary bias and the poles and find their true identity somewhere in the sphere. At the same time, they also understand that “all sides” are unknowable. So whenever you find yourself in an “either/or” conversation, start by playing what I call “4 sides’’. Determine the poles and then try to determine at least two other ways of being.

4D Sphere.

For example:

  1. I love the city. I’m a city person.
  2. I hate the city. I’m a rural person.
  3. I like living in the suburbs because I can go to the city for a night or go ‘up north’ for a night.
  4. I have felt judged when I go to the city because of how I talk, but I have a good time when I’m with friends.
  5. I like to relax in city settings with the galleries, shows, etc., but I like to work in a rural setting where I find myself more focused.
  6. (The list could go on forever)
Trying to understand “both sides” of a way of being presupposes only two sides exist. Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, “both sides” reinforces polarization.

Ask yourself “open-minded” questions.

To train our brain to resist biases and detach from limiting identities requires just that, training. If it’s not natural to think of other ways of being, it may require we consciously ask ourselves questions that inherently open our minds. Mentally liberated people live with minds open and training this muscle is a game-changer. Playing “4 sides” in a seemingly binary situation is one simple way, but here are some other questions that might prompt open-minded thinking for you.

  1. What would best serve me today?
    I have to go to the city for a conference. Does it actually serve me to be a “city-hater” or would it serve me better to consider that I may like it under the right circumstances?
  2. Am I allowing room for myself to change?
    I used to like playing darts with my buddies, but when I think about it, it’s not as fun for me anymore. Am I allowing myself to let go of this and change?
  3. Am I allowing room for others to change?
    My buddy has been playing darts with us forever, but now she’s dropping out because she wants to try volleyball on the same night. Why can’t she?
  4. Am I allowing space for others to exist freely?
    I may not like my hair blue, but others should be celebrated for their liberty in choosing it for themselves. All the power to you. They may not like my choice of rock music, but do they allow me to love it?
  5. Who does this ideal actually benefit?
    If I am a “Ford person”, even though I could actually be better served by Chevy right now, who does this ideal actually benefit? It’s not me. It benefits Ford. If I associate a “hard worker” with an employee who answers my calls, even after 5pm, who does that ideal actually benefit? It’s not me and it’s not my employee. What if that employee was celebrated for choosing a balanced life? Would I be too?
  6. (This list could also go on forever, but these are some starters).

Live rich in experiences.

From a psychological perspective, our brains rely on biases when they do not have all the information on any given subject. However, our brains rely on these less when we actually have real experiences to refer to and to fill in the information. These experiences can be free or expensive. They can be our own or others’. They can come from trying new things, travelling, consuming stories in movies or books, or simply talking to different people nonjudgmentally. This access to information is one of the positive sides of the internet and social media. I can access a world of others unlike myself in ways I never could before. For example, I might not know firsthand what it’s like to lay concrete or sell a 20-million-dollar company, but by knowing people who have, I don’t have to rely on associations I have with those two job functions. I don’t know what it’s like to be a wealthy kid in boarding school, a plumber for high-rises, or a queer person living in Kentucky, but by listening to rich storytelling from people who do, I have a better understanding than I did before. And even still, I know these stories are just one person’s perspective on that experience, and that there are many more. The more experiences in that sphere I can access, the less my brain will have to rely on limiting biases. Mentally liberated people fill up on various experiences. They invest in them or access the experiences of others through art, conversations, and listening.

Engage in lifelong learning.

First off, I’m truly sorry if someone in the traditional education system turned you off learning or made you feel like it wasn’t for you. This, to me, is among the greatest of sins. Learning is for you. It is for all of us. And we all learn differently. Learning happens in many and all of the ways I’ve shared so far. Everyone can learn, which is great because it is an integral element to a liberated mind. To learn new things, unlearn things we had wrong, or relearn things that no longer serve us is precisely how we keep our minds free. I can’t say what happened to that man in Costco after he berated my Mom, but I hope this experience made him relearn what being a person with Cancer can look like.

Learning is for you. It is for me. It is for all of us.

I know this is not an extensive list, but I think it’s essential to attempt to go beyond the illustration of a problem and try to provide tangible steps to take immediately towards liberating your own mind.

With minds free, we all live happier and healthier. We get one step closer to answering the age-old question of “who am I?” We see life’s changes as opportunities and view ourselves and others as unfinished canvases that can morph and change too. We expand our definitions of “community” and find kinship everywhere, so we care for each other more. We are actualized day to day, designing a life that truly suits us, and as a result, we do not fear death as much. This is worth writing for.

Ultimately, we should be mentally free to explore who we are. Life’s ups and downs change us and we should be able to take ourselves in different directions as we age and evolve. With reframing and learning, we can change our lived experiences and liberate our minds. And through understanding the perils of limiting ourselves and the benefits of identities, I think we can find a happy in-between and get the benefits of identity while still allowing freedom of expression and evolution. This is the future I want to help create. A future where my Mom can be a person with cancer one day or simply a woman doing her shopping with the help of a motorized scooter the next. I want a future where we fundamentally understand that this “human experience” we get to live is pretty short in larger scales of time, and that it can be made better by our minds. A future where we can all sit in our version of Brigitte’s garden. Where we can be truly free.

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit Theories of Intelligence Predict Achievement Across an Adolescent Transition: A Longitudinal Study and an Intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263.

Crum, A. J., Salovey, P., & Achor, S. (2013). Rethinking stress: the role of mindsets in determining the stress response. Journal of personality and social psychology, 104(4), 716–733.

Hayes, A. (2022). How Cognitive Bias Affects Your Business. Investopedia. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from

Heathcote, L. C., Zion, S. R., & Crum, A. J. (2020). Cancer Survivorship-Considering Mindsets. JAMA oncology, 6(9), 1468–1469.

Zion, S. R., Schapira, L., & Crum, A. J. (2019). Targeting Mindsets, Not Just Tumors. Trends in Cancer, 5(10), 573–576.


Bailey Parnell
Bailey Parnell is the Founder & CEO of SkillsCamp and was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in 2016. Bailey is a 2x TED speaker with over 3.5 million views, an award-winning internationally-recognized entrepreneur, active humanitarian, and one with a talent for helping people develop the skills they need for success. Her work and expertise have been featured in Forbes, Good Morning America, CBC, FOX, and more.

For speaking, media, or a quick chat, reach out to Bailey today.

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