What Am I For?

Courtney E. Martin

is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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July 13th, 2017

Can being lost be productive? Our columnist on lingering in the mystery of our purpose — and surrendering to the paths that choose us.

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July 6th, 2017

Shame and defensiveness about racism are not the path to change. Our columnist extends a challenge to white progressives, and to herself: to face the reality of deeply embedded racism directly, and to resolve to change the prejudices that remain.

Intense rehearsals kept students focused while performing under the direction of Alonzo King LINES Ballet instructors.
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June 28th, 2017

Do we second-guess ourselves to the point of poisoning the trust in our own abilities?

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June 22nd, 2017

Might our obsession with every tweet and news bite be too much? The difference between misguided fixation and engaged awareness — and how to redirect our attention to what really matters.

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June 15th, 2017

The personal growth that comes from activities we do for joy, rather than status or reward — whether it’s painting murals or sprucing up cars, pick-up basketball or beekeeping.

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June 8th, 2017

In the shadow of tremendous loss, a message about the gifts we are to each other, the raw truth of who we are, and what really matters.

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June 1st, 2017

Sometimes we need to trick our hearts to make great art — and do the things that most scare us.

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May 25th, 2017

A reflection on the emotional drain of civil conversation, and how we can reframe our thinking to see the best in each other — even those we deeply disagree with.

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May 19th, 2017

A lack of intimate friendships doesn’t just lead to loneliness; it can negatively impact your health, too. Courtney Martin on the particular importance of meaningful relationships between men — and how it can add a few years to men’s lives, to boot.

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May 12th, 2017

Parenting is a joy and a gift — but we should also give parents space to acknowledge the lost freedoms of youth that they miss. Courtney looks wistfully back to what life was like before her daughters, alongside the huge love and gratitude she feels for motherhood.

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May 5th, 2017

Can we learn to be tender even if we can’t fix each other’s pain? How would our world be different if men had permission to be vulnerable in public?

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April 28th, 2017

Inspired by the Pope’s TED Talk, Courtney issues an invitation and a challenge to slow down, notice, and make room for brave tenderness.

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April 21st, 2017

There may not be one magic key to successful relationships. But it helps for us to share this goal: to have our partners’ back, no matter what chaos life throws our way.

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April 14th, 2017

Creating a false division between life and work has its own pitfalls.

A CNN employee runs after a Supreme Court ruling was made on race-based college admissions on June 24, 2013 in Washington DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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April 7th, 2017

College rejection and acceptance letters are in the post this time of year. Our columnist drops truth on how rejection can teach us to find value in ourselves, and not in the affirmation of the decision-making process of an admissions department.

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March 31st, 2017

What if we learned to trust in the resilience of our relationships, and recognized the occasional necessity of butting heads with the ones we love?

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March 24th, 2017

The elemental closeness of a mother to her children, and to her own body.

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March 17th, 2017

Passing the baton. Gathering with others. Taking the long view. Lessons on persisting and persevering, even when we feel exhausted by it all.

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March 10th, 2017

Courtney Martin on the questions we learned to be afraid to ask, and how our quest for the answers shapes our lives moving forward.

A child with microcephaly receives aquatic physiotherapy treatment with a doctor in Recife, Brazil.
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March 3rd, 2017

It can feel painful to reflect on our mortality — especially the mortality of our loved ones. But maybe embracing the reality of death can help us to fear it less, and appreciate the wonder of life all the more.

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February 24th, 2017

Courtney offers up a fear- and judgment-free space, and draws forth the perspectives of women who don’t have kids, by choice or otherwise.

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February 17th, 2017

Whether to have children is one of the most life-defining decisions we will make. And there is joy and meaning to be found on either path — as well as endless challenges and frustration. Courtney Martin on why the best place to turn for guidance is inward.

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February 10th, 2017

Anger can be a powerful motivator. But we must also remember to build something bolder on the foundation of expansive love.

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February 3rd, 2017

Are we unconsciously selective about the causes we mobilize for? Courtney Martin asks the uncomfortable question: when do we choose to show up, and for whom?

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January 27th, 2017

Courtney shares the practical insight of a wise elder — on the tumultuous history we’ve lived through, and the work we must do to shape our future differently.

A girl dances to the beat of a drum line during a protest after the funeral of Freddie Gray, on April 28, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland.
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January 20th, 2017

Ahead of the Women’s March, Courtney Martin with a call to hit the streets and a vision of peaceful protest enlivened by joy and courageous togetherness.

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January 13th, 2017

There is a danger of blindness in both presuming good and ill intent in our political figures. Courtney Martin looks to the shared stories that bind us to save us from our prejudices.

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January 6th, 2017

A lesson on trusting on trusting our gut about the lives we’re called to lead, and the unexpected ways that might manifest.

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December 16th, 2016

A brush with that fleeting, transcendent gratitude that only comes when we stand on the edge of losing what we treasure most.

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December 8th, 2016

Sometimes the refuge we need is not an escape, but a safe place to grapple with our hardest questions, and to challenge ourselves to be better.

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December 1st, 2016

A reflection on reimagining American identity, which may require us to break down our most basic assumptions about the society we live in in uncomfortable ways.

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November 19th, 2016

This moment forces us to face challenging questions about who we are as a nation, who we want to become, and how to get there.

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November 13th, 2016

We cast ballots for the candidates who stand for our values. But is our political instinct also a quest for identity? An exploration of the desire for belonging at the heart of our voting drive.

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November 4th, 2016

Real love for our nation calls us to look at ourselves, as citizens, whole. A long view on the future of a beloved and broken America, and our potential to shape it moving forward.

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October 28th, 2016

If you could speak to a passed friend or family member, what would you say? An exploration of the healing that can happen when we stay in relationship with the ones we love, even beyond the end of life

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October 21st, 2016

Donald Trump’s statements about women may not represent most men, but they do point to a larger dynamic at play between the sexes. Thoughts on the performative roles of men in public, and the harm it does to women and themselves.

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October 14th, 2016

Like all of us, Courtney Martin wants the best for her family, and rightly so. But from education to strollers, the best is often only accessible to a certain group. She reimagines responsible parenting as embodied care for one’s own, as well as for the families of strangers.

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October 7th, 2016

Courtney Martin on C. Nicole Mason’s new memoir and turning toward what’s uncomfortable to witness, and then acting on what we feel.

Yiu holding hands
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September 30th, 2016

Some emotional wounds need closure to heal, but there are times when the best way forward is to let go. Courtney Martin on mending our deepest relationships by embracing the paradox of love and imperfection.

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September 23rd, 2016

We bring different aspects of ourselves to each interaction, to each unique circumstance. But where do we find space to be true to ourselves? Courtney Martin on the radical, courageous act of embracing ourselves in all our flaws.

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September 16th, 2016

To stay curious and questioning in the modern world can be a lonely endeavor, and yet there is refuge and wisdom when we gather. Courtney Martin​ on restoring our moral imaginations, together.

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September 9th, 2016

The world as we know it is undergoing a profound transformation. Courtney Martin scrutinizes our most dearly-held defaults and finds an abundance of innovators challenging the traditional model of success.

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July 22nd, 2016

The final days of expectation can bring surprising clarity. Courtney Martin pauses in this suspended space, and marvels at the end of the wait for new life, in all its gritty wonder.

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July 15th, 2016

The tension we feel at this moment in our history can be an opening for catharsis. Courtney Martin engages with perspectives in the dialogue that provide opportunities for greater understanding.

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July 7th, 2016

Reckoning with the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by the police, Courtney Martin pens an impassioned missive to her white children: to understand their privilege, redistribute power, ask questions, and always to hold each other accountable.

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July 1st, 2016

In journalism and in life, a generous understanding of people’s stories is crucial. Courtney Martin with more questions and counsel for imagining each other in all our complexity.

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June 24th, 2016

How do we avoid cliches and generalizations of entire groups of people? We must tell better stories and more of them by more people who deepen our understanding of the nuances rather than reducing them to a single narrative.

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June 16th, 2016

Blame abounds in times of crisis, but this can be a destructive endeavor. Instead, Courtney Martin advocates for emotional generosity to ourselves and each other, and for holding ourselves accountable for bringing about a better reality.

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June 10th, 2016

Sometimes our wildest dreams are not for ourselves, but for those we love. Courtney Martin pens a powerful message of hope for her daughters’ future, and for the future of women in the world.

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June 3rd, 2016

For Courtney Martin feminism is a living, breathing thing. But in an age of gloss and soundbites, how can the movement remain inclusive and sustain its influence?

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