Sometimes shit hits the fan. Sometimes its emotional. Tonight was sometimes. Sitting in class I felt my anxiety hit its peak, I’d been feeling this…yuckiness this stress and I’d notice as it took a slow chokehold on my life. I noticed as I worried constantly about my day to day processes, do I have my keys? Did I check the mail? Did I close the refrigerator door all the way? And I’d become a bit of a check-er. I had to be sure I was doing it right. Doing it at all. It was tightening and binding and tonight I stopped breathing.
Sitting in class listening to a colleague discuss his dissertation process, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. And being the usual light heart that I am my classmates laughed my behavior off not knowing that internally I was counting. Counting to ten, repeatedly just to steady my breath. I was choking. It, the anxiety, was squeezing me and in this moment I knew two things: 1) that this feeling was mental/emotional 2) that something was really really wrong, and I needed to call attention to it immediately. So I went to find my advisor. Sane right?
I knew she was somewhere in the building so I just hung out for a while til she appeared. And I told her everything. And she listened, in her way. And told me the same thing my work wife said: one day at a time, one step at a time. And while that offered some solace, I couldn’t help but still feel very unresolved. I called my Person.
I told her about the panic attack. I told her everything, as I always do and I told her how foreign this felt because I am just not anxious (at all)…she laughed and agreed, because usually that is her role in our relationship. I told her something was wrong. She asked, innocently enough, why I couldn’t just focus on right now and I told her because I felt like working towards faculty meant I needed to do certain things like publish articles, present at conferences and…in the midst of telling her this I realized here was my anxiety. It was performance anxiety. Since I made this decision to pursue faculty, I’ve felt extremely inadequate. Like I need to do more, be more, like I needed to do things that feel so god-awful to me.
My Person asked if I had to “choose” like officially, if there was some track. I said no, but that the preparation for the admin versus faculty tracks was different. And what I realized in explaining to her was that I’ve been putting immense amounts of pressure on myself lately to be what I think “faculty” is. That, in and of itself is not me. I somehow got sucked into the house of should and was suffocating under the weight of expectation.
She shared her personal opinion that she saw me as more of a practitioner, as an administrator. And maybe I am. I don’t know. There are things about both that I like and enjoy. I think what I want to try to do right now, though, is just be where I am. In my 2nd year doing research and not thinking about what it could/might/should lead to…just the right here right now. That’s what I can handle.
In the moments after I felt extremely grateful for my advisor, and for my work wife, and for my Person. For people in my life that ground me and offer far more clarity than a glass of Pinot. I don’t have to stress about what’s coming. I don’t have to BE 5 years from now, it will come. I just have to be right now, over and over again. And for the first time in many weeks, maybe even months, I felt the noose loosen and I could breathe.
I have mini panic attacks that my advisor is going to me angry with me. I keep finding elements that have to be a part of my dissertation. Right now it feels like I’ve got all these extremities of work and yet I sorely need them to be a body. So far I have:
- Decision Making
While that does not seem like a lot…it’s a lot. What is even more frustrating is that I have become increasingly more patient through uncertainty, despite myself really. I have developed the ability to sit and wait for things to unfold rather than force them or manipulate them in any way. So, I’m waiting, and in the meantime I think my advisor is going to kill me.
Very few writers, researchers, “storytellers”, have influenced me in the way that Brene Brown has; mind you this is an extremely recent thing, too. The way that she talks about her work, the way that she conducts her research it does not seem like work! It looks joyous, and fulfilling, and there is so much passion in that work–she’s inspirational on different levels. And while I realize that she has been researching for many years, it appealed to me, and I cannot do it any other way. Again, my advisor…
When I think of what I want to do, the outcome of my own work, I want to understand the role that spirituality plays in the decision making process. In that, I believe I will find themes of guilt, grief, creativity, and self-care practices along with many others–I am open to being surprised. I also assume that as people are more developmentally mature, they will experience and describe spirituality in very different ways. I definitely find that where we are in life greatly shapes the perspective we have on it.
My work is on the individual, but it is about a collective. Are “we” recognizing that “we” are connected to one another? Do I consider this connectedness when I made decisions? Do others? My guess here would be that if there is an external consideration that it is likely family, or if its a professional decision, the system or organization. However, how many people are thinking globally? Jung describes the presence of a collective unconscious and I wonder how many people not just know about it, but live in constant awareness of it?
Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”
― Brené Brown,The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
When I heard Brene speak about her work, specifically her experience with her research topics, I felt like I was given permission to be present in my own work. Honestly, how could you not be? There is something in us all that draws us to our passions, our vocations. I loved that her cognitive aptitude did not excuse her from the very human experience of shame that she was studying. I love that she admitted that.
If I sit back and think about what got me to this topic it was literally a moment sitting in Terri’s office crying thinking, “How did I get to this place? How did I arrive here?” My answer, that came later, was that a series of very spiritually governed decisions led me here. And an idea was born. Brene says to “dance with the one who brung you.” And for me it is going to be those two things: spirit and choice.
Perhaps it’ll be as “simple” as this: Understanding the role of Spirituality in Decision-Making: A Comparative study between Student Affairs Professionals, and Tenure-Track University Faculty. And perhaps it won’t.
One last thought, Brene mentioned that shame will often try to make us question ourselves by asking, “Who do you think you are?” I experienced that earlier this week, and earlier this month. Those moments where I call out my audacity, and side-eye myself. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE. My mind answered in a small tiny quiet faux-humble voice and began, “I am just…” and my heart said with great certainty, NO. You are ANYTHING but “just”. And I liked that answer. I told it to shame and I haven’t heard anything since.
Sincerely, Jess, “Anything but Just” J.
“I am going to be in school forbleepingever.” That was the thought I had yesterday in class as we considered how this conference we attended has changed our research and/or our career path. It was one of those things where I was shown the power of creativity and I know the impact its had on my own life, so I had to ask myself where it was in my work? Then I repeated, “I am going to be in school forbleepingever.” My dissertation keeps getting bigger. There just has to be this piece about developing the spirit, and of course I can’t leave out how that relates to leaders…and now its like but what about art?! While the practical me, which lives in the dungeon of my mind and only comes out to do my taxes, says, “bitch…you need to graduate!”
I had just finished a reflection paper for class in which I wrote about stepping into power and not being fearful of my own potential. I’d just submitted this body of work dedicated to thoughts of self-authorization and the importance of perspective and vision; knowledge that it is not about me. And with these words fresh on my mind I turned the page in my journal and saw this picture.
I chuckled. Then I said, okay okay…noted. The God’s honest truth is that academia is my safe haven, and while I may research here and even reside here, my work will be bigger than the university I teach at, and transcend my field. What I have to get over is…myself. Girl, this is not about you. Get out of the way of this blessing. That’s what I feel right now.
More than ever my thoughts have surrounded grief. I made a claim in my Masters that all work is grief work. I teach to that claim. I used it in Terri’s class, often, to make sense of the overwhelming emotion that lived in the executive classroom. Even today, when I walk in that room I feel the presence of a million mental models laid to rest. You know how Brene Brown researches shame and vulnerability? I want to research grief and possibility. Taking a sweep over the things I write about anyway, its those things. Almost always. And while I see that “coming soon” I still wonder, well what about right now?
I need a thought partner. I need to talk this out, and through, and figure out where in this matrix I fall. I can tell you that, I’m close. And I know because my world has nearly stopped spinning.
If I lay in bed and look up at heaven, dreaming of what my life looks like…I see published books. I see a cherry wood office with three degrees in coordinating frames and a big photo of Neyland stadium. I see black and whites of my husband, children and I scattered throughout. I see a home filled with questions and books and artifacts from a life wholly lived. A kitchen with fresh flowers and fresh fruit. A living room with magazines, coffee table books, blankets, and a sofa that lovingly welcomes your feet upon it. A kitchen table wrapped in prayers and gratitude. A yard with jump ropes and bicycles laying to rest, temporarily. A closet full of clothes for life’s many occasions. A silver frame holding in it a picture of my best girlfriends and I. A jewelry box containing the locket and earrings from my mother’s wedding day. On my fridge, each of the invitations to my sisters’ graduations. And in the cabinets, the cast iron I bought to make my grandmother’s Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. And nowhere in my dream exists fear or trepidation, just love. Love and love’s residual.
And so, to get there I must say the words that burn my throat and cause my palms to sweat. I must be disheveled and imperfect, and everything else that scares me. I have to do whatever I can to get closer to love. And I suppose if that takes another year of graduate school, so be it. Its my own grieving. For “the plan” and the shoulds, and the defense that follows, “oh you’re still in school?!” Yes I am. And I absolutely love it.
I just read this: As someone who knew me during the dark days, Simone even suggested that I had found my heart’s calling. “You needed something to propel you out of your survival story, Jane,” she said. “It wasn’t working for you. You didn’t know how powerful you are on a universal level…”
So naturally, I cried. But it was okay because only moments before I read, “I’ve never been a crier. But when the heart is this full, it must overflow.” The words come from an article by Jane Ganahl about her calling to rescue cats–a topic I’m not particularly passionate about, but pulled relentlessly on my heart strings. As I read the first quote I mentioned, I placed my hand over my heart and wept. And I thought, that’s me. That’s me, with people. People are my cats.
I rarely claim to do things well. Which, I suppose, is befitting because my motto in life is do less, well. However, I an excellent writer and I am an excellent listener. When I listen to a person its a spiritual experience, much like my writing process. I’ve learned not to close my eyes, though that would be my preference, and its like I plug in to right now. I hear things sometimes that I do not call attention to. I used to say I’m not sure the other person was ready for it to be spoken. Though, I think it may also be that I am not. Ready, or willing. Because see, when you call people out on an intangible “truth” they can easily deny it. Then my ego takes a mighty blow. Whap! Right across the jaw. That’ll teach you to meddle. And then I shut up.
But this past week as I was writing a paper for a class I have with Cheryl (my advisor), I found myself accidentally telling the truth. After I submitted I remember thinking, I don’t know what she’s going to say about that… that paper is the first assignment I’ve had since Zachary’s very accurate accusal of leaving myself out of my work. As I sat to write, I felt like I do when I’m here writing. In a zone, a trance and at total peace. I had a short conversation with myself in my head: Ego: Cheryl said specifically, don’t copy one of your blog posts, but here you are blog writing. Self: academic me, blogger me, same-same.
So, I wrote that. I wrote that my goal in life professionally is to not lose my Self in this world of academia. I cited some authors but wrote that I wasn’t sure yet who all I wanted to study, but as I live I’ll know. And after it was done I said to Cheryl (in my head) give it the grade you think it deserves, but I didn’t complete that assignment for you. I did it for me, so it had to be my way. I am at peace with that. All is well with my soul.
And so it seems this PhD journey just got a bit more interesting. There has definitely been a shift, a shift since this summer. A shift since the kundalini. And a calling out by Zachary, but not in a superficial way. He literally called me out of hiding. The space that used to feel safe and secure now feels restrictive and confining. He called me OUT. He pulled me out of my survival story.
So begins the next chapter…