In Profile: Jordan Tivers

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 9.31.30 AMEvery conversation with Jordan Tivers is, more or less, an interview.

By this I don’t mean the standard question and answer format, the one-sided focus, nor the intent of either side to either reveal or have something revealed.

What I do mean is that, in any audible moment, Tivers is likely to provide the rare honesty and open-door scrutability usually reserved for interviews.

This profile was constructed over several conversations with Tivers and one focused 40-minute interview, the contents of which are nearly indecipherable as to which format it was produced from. His verbal offerings come agnostic of atmosphere and context.

Tivers is a native of suburban Chicago, a former student in Iowa City and New Orleans, and a former professional in Austin. His relocation to Chicago (“homecoming” as it was put more than once) came after an epiphanic trip back in March and the feeling in his gut that this was where he belonged—amongst family and old friends.

The various things other cities lacked for him—diversity, public transportation, real connection opportunities—were all things he saw in Chicago and has found in his short stint here so far. He lives on the north side, in an open studio apartment designed for his habits and lifestyle.

He describes the Chicago he loves in a hodge-podge manner, bringing people together in a way only few big cities can.

And if there’s something that speaks to Tivers it’s people. He talks about loving the EL; but in strictly people terms. “It has all walks of life on it,” he says, not mentioning the actual utility of it being a mode of transport.

He talks about his love for hip-hop music by talking about the performers who make it. His childhood experiences are wrapped around interactions with family members, with friends, with opponents on the basketball court. The monuments demarcating the world of Jordan Tivers have faces, and hands with fingernails, and hearts.

And so it comes as little surprise that his work is wrapped around the experience of intimately connecting with other people.

It was back in New Orleans he finished graduate school in Social Work and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). It’s in this field—his field—that he’s prospered, specializing in group therapy and honing a deep understanding in addiction therapies of several kinds.

If you want to see an animated Tivers, his career is one way to bring it about. He can talk about it (“my mecca”) all day. Though he’s not hooked in 24/7—in fact he goes great lengths to keep a balance between his working life and his life life (we’ll get there)—it’s inarguably clear that he’s found a line of profession that provides him avenues for passion and curiosity that seem limitless.

His professional goal is simple: help his patients with self-growth. And yet he’s quick to point out that that’s not the highest priority.

“Work is not my priority,” he says. “My priority is balance. First is that.”

It seems at first blush like this might be a trite selfishness or a paradox until you break it down further. Self-growth is a intensely personal goal. To bring this to a patient is not something unlocked externally. Tivers cannot be a magician with a wand that wills magic to occur. And so the internal journey that Tivers wants to see in his patients must also be a part of him. (One is reminded of Rilke: “the only journey is the one within”).

And so fundamental to Tivers’ success at work is the energy he turns on himself. It’s imperative, then, to understand the journey that has made him himself. And it’s the self-curiosity to continually examine, meditate, and uncover that allows for a deep curiosity in his patients, his friends, and the strangers he meets.

“Being a therapist is the greatest thing in the world,” he says. “When people bring their dark side, it’s an intimate thing and I don’t take that lightly.”

His does not speak lightly of his own dark times in his youth. There was lots of good  he’s quick to mention, but also lots of hardship—most of this due to struggling to understand who he was, or feeling pushed to be something he was not. For years, he was devastatingly hard on himself.

In these reflections, anxiety comes up in several stories; and in more than a dozen costumes. It wasn’t easy to overcome this all, and perhaps he hasn’t. But he’s certainly come a long way. He’s written a lot about these times, even drafting a book about this journey.

Things began to change for him in college. The shift was hard; with fears of losing everything he held to be good. He needed space to find himself.  He lost friends. He gave up a serious relationship. He had to question everything in his life. Those were trying times.

These days, he speaks of mindfulness and buddhism practices. He speaks of emotionality and mental health. He sees when anxiety rears its head and has methods to cope. He wants you to understand how far he’s come—not for his ego, but so you too will not take lightly the honesty he proffers.

“The judgments you carry yourself, you’re going to put those on other people,” he says. And he says it like a warning.

He’s impossibly energetic, engaging, and enthusiastic about his work—something rarely seen in most young professionals, let alone those who delve into the darker pockets of our society. It’s hard not to imagine him walking down the wide and well-lit hallway of success when it comes to his line of work.

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Back to our conversation. Some of the quotable Tivers:

“[calendar] Dates are really important for me.”

“I want to be felt and I want others to be seen.”

“There’s something really beautiful about talking to a stranger. People are missing out on that.”

{On dating apps}: “I get it intellectually….but people do not take many risks now. “We’re robbing ourselves of emotional experiences.”

Some word counts from our 40-mintue interview:

  • Emotionality: 7
  • Authentic: 9
  • Playful: 7
  • Buddhism: 8

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There’s another word that comes up more than once that I couldn’t get out of my head. It seemed to fundamental in the whole of the parts we uncovered. That word is contrivance (in its different forms: contrive, contrived, contriving).

This is the villain in Tivers’ world. It’s to be avoided at all costs. It’s this that hurts him most when looking around. Others constructing their own images. Constantly and anxiously tinkering with their own presentation. You find it in the restaurants, the bars, the dating apps, the school hallways of our already damaged youth.

It’s, in short, the opposite of authenticity—his highest value. And it’s high on his mission list to help solve.

This harkens back to the idea of conversations with Tivers being like an interview. In correspondences, we tend to keep ourselves a bit contrived. We reveal what we feel is best; and shutter the doors on some real parts of ourselves we’re not ready to open the window to. We act before allowing any vulnerability. We self-manage rather than self-SCUBA-dive deep.

One wonders how often, if ever, Tivers allows himself to take the easy street of contrived anything. These days, it’s so easy. So much begs us to surrender our true selves for the sweet safety of conformability. If it’s easy to say “always be your true self”, then it can’t be easy to fit in with everyday life as such.

Tivers has managed this in his own ways. He rarely uses apps on his phone. He drinks little. He’s the kind of guy who still asks girls out on dates in person. He doesn’t own a TV, rarely talks about his Netflix queue, and doesn’t talk about new restaurants he just-can’t-wait-to-go-to.

And still it’s worth asking: what does one give up to strive for authenticity? Where is the room for our vulnerable population amongst the electronic walls we put up as we laser-focus on our phones? I have no doubt Tivers has ruminated on these uncertainties. Ask him about it when you see him; he won’t be shy with answers.

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There’s a self-examination activity I did a while back. It’s a simple exercise, consisting of just one question. The question is “how do you love?

The answers can be whatever comes to mind. As soon as you answer this once, though, you’re pushed to answer again. And again, and again. You go on naming ways you love for several minutes—or until you run out of ideas.

After everyone’s finished, the idea of the activity is explained a bit further.

Think of how many things you named that were ways of showing love to others; and how many were ways you love yourself.

For most of us, the latter was noticeably less. We tend to think of love as something we give to others, and can unfortunately neglect to provide for ourselves.

I asked Tivers to answer this question for a full 60 seconds, listing as many line items as he could on how he shows love. He listed 14. Everyone single one was internally focused. Ways he showed love in something he did for himself.

His story is one of toiling for years in a deep well of not being himself. Now, he has emerged loving himself; tried and true. It wasn’t easy. It’s never easy.

Self-love is on the path of self-growth—and you’ll certainly find Tivers on it, though it’s hard to know where it’ll eventually take him. Or you. But he’s an open book—ready at any instant to talk or to listen—if you’re willing to come along for the mysterious, wild, and wonderful ride ahead.

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