A letter to Cheryl

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what you said during our last meeting, “maybe you should teach people how [to be uncomfortable].” I still don’t quite know how to do it but something about the charge has been stirring in me ever since.

After the Stedman Graham talk yesterday I left feeling pretty exceptional, because so much of what he talked about I already subscribe to. You know I believe fully in the law of attraction, I do not speak negativity into my life and have come to know that kindness is an awesomely effective preventative measure. I, like he, feel that “love” is the most powerful word (movement, task, purpose, action) in the world. We also agree that the value you give yourself is the value the world gives you. We show people how to treat us. What his talk proved to me was that all the things I believe in and want to help others to grasp is possible in career form. The difference is our approach.

I do believe–and it talked this over with the Colonel, Julia, Nicki, and Amber later over wine–that vulnerability is the missing link between people hearing you and listening to you. That is why I think Brené’s TED talks were so amazing for people to witness because here was this amazingly capable researcher losing her shit in front of the world. There’s something so refreshing about that. Our stories are what make us who we are, there is such tremendous power in owning your story: the good, the bad, and the breakdowns.

My first opportunity is at the EMPOWER women’s retreat. I have an opportunity there to tell my story. Or at least part of my story, and I have a choice, right? To tell it from the head space which I can do without thinking twice or from the heart space, which I have never done at least not orally. It’s terrifying to even consider, but it’s how I know I have to go for it.

I also had a conversation about the future. Amber asked me why I don’t start my own business. I made a face, I’m sure, and I told her the story of the survivalists. I met them in my Tao of Healing class and we got the opportunity to ask them, “as a survivalist, someone who is always preparing for the end of the world and training in how to survive unexpected outcomes, what do you need?” Was it a tool? Was it water? Was it the perfect shelter? What does one need to survive the unknown? They said quite frankly, “people you can trust.” How very hunger games Katniss and Peeta, right? But I knew it was true the moment I heard it. So, I told Amber that story and said, I am not a business minded entrepreneurial person, I am big picture and the do-er but details aren’t my thing. I need someone else to be that if I’m going to have a business. And the coolest thing happened, Nicki spoke up and said, “I could be that person!” And while we have set no plans into motion the entire exchange just reminded me of something Terri told me in year one: if you need community, all you need to do is ask for it.

My charge from Zachary to figure out what my career looks like is taking shape. Beginning with knowing what I don’t want. I know I don’t want full time tenure track faculty nor administration, but I also know that I do not want to entirely leave higher ed. Whenever I work with students I am reminded of why I love it here: it is a hot bed of possibility. For someone interested in helping people find purpose, passion, and changing their lives that’s like a dream. And I also realize that there are so many people drawn to higher education for the same reason and that’s, theoretically, the mission of the entire student affairs profession. So a bigger challenge is in those places where it’s not so common. Where transformation is a bad word and change is frowned upon. I try not to worry too much about the wheres and hows only the thats. That it’s possible, that it’s probable, that it’s the will of something greater than myself.

So here’s what I’ve become sure of: I have a gift. A big gift that has the potential to inspire change on a large scale. My purpose is the share that gift. I have to stop playing small and surrender myself to what I know, and what I know is I have a gift. I was not meant to do it alone and so I collect people I can trust. And where there is shared vision, we can work towards something together. I know that I lean (heavily) on writing but I was always meant to use my voice and so looking for opportunities to do that is key. I know that I cannot even see the step before me but that I’m taking it. Because you reminded me that’s how I live my life, based on faith. When I am following my heart, things work out. It defies all conventional wisdom and our limited understanding. I know that the universe is always conspiring on our behalf and so when we speak into the world, we better make sure we are ready to receive it.

I was so terrified to tell you about my decision to not pursue faculty and now looking back I’m not sure why. But I can’t quite put into words what it meant that you see the me that I see. The me that IS capable of something big, something bigger. It means something quite wonderfully inexplicable that someone like you believes in me. And maybe that’s how you help people learn to be uncomfortable, because it’s never quite as scary when you’re not alone.

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