Charles River SkylineI’m so excited that this website and blog are finally a reality! The initial feedback I’m getting is very positive, and I’m so proud and honored to have recruited some amazing, enthusiastic people to the CIOS mission. Can we count you in?

You may be wondering, what’s this “Be Who You Are” stuff? How can I be my genuine self if I’m not sure what that is? (I’m wondering, “Are all my blog posts going to contain a million questions and few answers?”)

If you’re a teen or young adult agonizing about the meaning of life and how you’re going to navigate your way through it, my biggest tip for you is: be patient with yourself and others, and never give up. We are all works in progress, no matter how young or old. That’s why it’s “Comfortable in OUR Skin,” not only the sum of our individual journeys, but also our collective destination. I hope that, by coming together, the world will become a more harmonious place, one where teen angst and suicide, prejudice, youth homicide and bullying will no longer be the public health concerns they are today. As a pediatric dermatologist I touch and try to heal a lot of skin from the outside in. As a doctor-patient patient advocate I’m working from the inside out.

So now I have a confession, because the foundation for this whole endeavor is connection through honest self-inquiry and compassion. I am excited, but equally terrified. Is it an amazing metaphor or a cliché that while revealing the secrets of my skin, I am revealing my inner self? If I let you under my skin, will it make me more beautiful and more believable? Brené Brown, champion of the positive power of vulnerability, says yes. I say yes. I spent years secretly feeling ugly, not talking about where that came from, and not getting over it. One of my main coping mechanisms for my extensive birthmark and racist comments about the way my face looks has been minimization and denial. But does trying to make people think you’re perfect or impervious actually make you so? How is that a solution in romantic relationships? How about moving past qualifications like “defective” vs “perfect,” whether physical or psychological? True beauty doesn’t depend on these concepts, and neither does true love.

Today I have a good sense of who I am and what makes me so happy to be alive. But I spent much of high school and college being a very good girl who was never good enough. Perfectionism is a fuel for achievement, but it’s also a poison. I didn’t know what my life was for and often felt lonely in a crowd. I wanted to make a difference in the world but didn’t know how.

A major turning point for me was realizing it only takes a few minutes to make a difference, to brighten someone’s day or even change the course of a life. One positive act can instill a belief in everyday heroes, selflessness and love, or motivate someone to hang in there when they want to let go of it all. I have lived by this guiding principle since the evening a homeless man wandered into the MIT Student Center for a slice of pizza, sat down at my table and told me his story. He wasn’t asking for money. He just wanted to talk. He thanked me for listening and said I was beautiful and strong, that he knew I was destined to do good things. I’m not sure why he said that, but it doesn’t matter; it’s just what I needed to hear that night, and it made me believe there could be angels on earth. It’s what helped me choose medicine as a career, so that I could encourage others the same way, one brief encounter at a time. You can do it too, right now. Start with “Hello!”