A fire has been lit inside of me since about 7:15pm. To be fair, in retrospect, the it started way before that but as of last night it is full on raging. I went to a talk by Bill Torbert, an adult development theorist, and he said something that gave me new perspective. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but for whatever reason this time I was able to really hear it.
Fifteen minutes prior to Torbert’s talk, a friend of mine in another cohort, D, talked to me about some transference he was experiencing with our adult development professor. He didn’t call it transference, but in his description of the experience, I am assigning it that name as it is befitting. He also mentioned wanting to work with one of our professors to possibly do a “messy” action research dissertation. I made a face because it seems this topic keeps coming up for me, but it IS difficult and it IS messy and in general I like things tied up in bows, and I really like completion and resolution whereas action research is never done. It works against me in many ways, but here it was again in my face.
Thirty minutes prior to Torbert, I sat talking to Crystal about expectations of self and really what do you do when part of your Self is temporarily unwanted? For example, as a teacher when you are having a bad day, or maybe something bigger like you’ve just experienced a loss…how do you not succumb to the sadness in order to still be an effective educator? As I sat in conversation with her I thought of Liz Gilbert.
“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience.
The human experience. We all experience sadness, loneliness, heartbreak, and no we don’t want to “fall apart” at work or in class but what does that denial of self do to is? We are never really fooling anybody. What would happen if I were to acknowledge my hurt? If I were to be honest with my students that I was grieving and that in this classroom I was really in need of collective leadership? I suppose that many professionals would be opposed to this. Would the students still respect authority? How would it affect those students who need more structure? Blah blah blah…but I’ve found that, in the acknowledgment of those darker things, when we shed light on them they lose power. It kind of goes back to Plotkin’s autumn…it is the threat or the unknown but not the imminent danger; we act instinctively then. See…when we are in class and something takes us by surprise and we are vulnerable or emotional or “lose it” the class adjusts and continues. I’m laughing to myself, this is chaos theory. The point is, we are full bodied beings and we experience a range of emotions. Why do we only want to pretend the positive ones have functional value? If we as professionals were to become conversant about our “shadow selves” how would it change our students, our departments, our schools, our communities?
Four hours prior to Torbert a former classmate and colleague of mine wrote to me about wanting to present at a conference for student affairs professionals. One of the topics she mentioned was wellness of SA pros. I searched for some work I’d already done on the topic and looked for theorists that might be key in any proposal she wanted to do. I jotted notes but sat on the idea to give it room to breathe and see how it may take shape throughout my day. Torbert spoke about spirituality having a place in his life, and therefore in his work and I thought of my own want to feel alive in both. I did not want to be a researcher who was solely objective and detached from my work. I want, desperately, to acknowledge my place in my dissertation because we are a part of one another. Then Torbert mentioned action research, and ideas began to form. I burst into flames.
My hands began to shake and I started writing. I couldn’t find words fast enough before my mind tied in another theorist and made another note. I wrote and revised and then tried to stop and be present to Torbert’s words but I couldn’t, something was taking shape. As my ideas flowed, I mentally began to draft an email to my advisor. I could see her face, she is a thinker and she always asks more. Namely because it is so hard to explain every bit of my train of thought in person on the fly. When I write, I am simultaneously thinking and working things through whereas in person there might be long periods of silence that generally get filled with rambling. I tried to anticipate some of her questions and wrote to her about my idea. This notion of an action research dissertation, working with higher education professionals, studying their decision making and its relationship to spiritually rooted self-care practices. But even as I wrote it it felt bigger than that and right now in my inability to sleep it has grown.
My point is that we have to take care of ourselves as leaders, including spiritually, and in our ability to best care for the self as a system we also, in turn, more effectively guide our organizations toward its purpose. I feel like there is so much life to this. I see my dandelion seeds of possibility moving through the breeze and many ways this could shape my future. I am excited by this like it was christmas at disney world with harry potter. It has me up at 5am not only writing, but taking notes and jotting down things to look up later.
In one day, how magnificently did it unfold for me to hear and receive this message, this calling? It were as if I solemly swore I was up to no good and the map of my next journey were revealed to me. The theorists were labeled where they existed in the lay of my work, I could see it all clearly before me as if if were always there as such, but wasn’t it? I have to go back to Crystal…I think to myself what world had to die for this new one to be born? I think its the one with the picture of what “okay” or “productive” or “together” looks like. Where we are allowed to be beings that are sad or vulnerable or in various states of grieving, because aren’t we always?
If I have learned nothing else in the first year is that we always bring our whole selves to our work as leaders, whether we intend to or not. So we may as well learn to navigate and make a map of whatever our “loneliness” is. Its there anyway. I just know how beautiful scars can be, and how after we tell the stories of our own we begin to spot fishermen, and it truly liberates others to share their stories. What happens if we all see every part of our selves as powerful?