Wining and Dining Quitting

If, at some point during your doctoral studies, you do not think solidly about quitting…I mean plan out your life for the next year, finances and all, as though you were to walk into your department chair’s office the following morning with a typed letter on your best stationary (or a hand written note on a post-it depending how busted your give-a-damn is) and explain to him or her why you are taking a permanent leave…then I might not trust you.

IMG_0043Over the past month I have thought considerably about why I am still here.  Now, here is the part where I spoil the ending because so many of my professors and colleagues read my blogs and are probably thinking they need to check on me, don’t worry folks I’m staying.  But I was seriously thinking about it.  I looked at jobs I could do given my educational background and experience and I wrote out a 6-month plan for having my first book done.  The idea was so appetizing I could all but taste it on my lips.  I do not consider myself the type of person who needs to finish just to say she did.  In fact, I take great pride in not being afraid to leave nouns (people, places, or things) that no longer serve me.  So I had to figure out did this work still serve me? What did I stand to gain besides three small but powerful letters at the end of my name?

I was seriously entertaining quitting. I was wearing my best outfit, I had my best bottle of aged red aerating and the most decadent meal was being prepared.  I was being a most gracious host and thought, well you’ve learned some great things the past three years you can walk away knowing it was not a total waste. And then…

I stopped.

I had to remember why I started.  In my personal statement for admission into my program I wrote:

Though my career path has changed many times, my goal has remained static: I want to inspire people…USD’s PhD in Leadership Studies’ international study requirement shows the dedication for grooming new world leaders.  We must reach beyond our own frame of reference and stretch into the unknown, and the unfamiliar to find growth as leaders.  We must do it as leaders before we can expect those who follow to accept change.  I strongly believe that embracing the idea of a collaborative global community, especially in helping professions, only aids in the building of an effective and inventive leader.  Lastly, one of the four types of knowledge USD instills in its Doctoral candidates is somatic knowledge.  In my growth as a leader, I have come to rely more on my intuition, and essentially faith in my decision making. It is faith that guides my work as I counsel college students through anxiety, depression, grief, and loss; faith that I am a capable practitioner, faith that my knowledge and training will prevail over personal bias or limitations, and faith that I can make a difference in the life of a student. In a profession that is often heavily reliant on empirical proof, research, and reliability, it is refreshing to find adherence to something as powerful, yet unintelligible as faith.

That is why I am here. It is much less about the PhD and what that means and more about learning and receiving training from people within an institution who share my vision of leadership and change.  I was reminded of conversations particularly with my Org Theory professor and I told him how I understood leadership and relate it often to biological metaphors.  I often use the sciences (biology and physics mostly) to make sense of my experiences and here was a place, and a person in a place, a person in a place in a space that not only understood me but supported my thinking and pushed me to consider even more.  So, it’s changed a bit. I came for the degree and am staying for the community.

Dr. Avery (sidebar, she is such a gem…she does not know it yet –or maybe she will shortly–but I am going to make time to talk to her at least once a month because she anchors me. Not just academically but in a lot of the very important ways.) Anyway, Dr. Avery asked me “When your dissertation is done, printed and bound, what do you want it to say about you?” I did not have an answer for her, but as I was talking it through with Nicki last night in a chat about Kegan I realized this dissertation is my work.  Not just my research but my work.  It will be evidence of my own desire to balance the both and; embededness and differentiation. To be both I and We and the same time over and over again in new ways.  So what it will say about it me is that I and We existed in that way at that time never to be replicated again. And more so that through my own work (and work) people came to understand their own embedded|differentiated selves.  That perhaps we push a little harder for connection.  What that says about me? Well perhaps that I was simply the medium for which something greater was uncovered.  It will be a hallmark, and that I find great peace in.

If we’re being (way too) honest…

A conversation between one of my very best friends and I. I often get told as a writer I write my heart here on this blog…but the truth is I do not want to only write it here. I want to live it always and this is a perfect example of being the type of person in real life that I am on the pages.  I have a-ha moments. I admit my mistakes. I fall down and get up again and sometimes it takes me a while.  I need help from those around me but I keep a good team. This is evidence. 

KSO: how goes it?

Jessica Williams: today? Great. Yesterday was not so great. It was just one of those days….I was feeling sad and rejected and hurt and all the things. I just wanted to NOT feel all that stuff. But am very proud of myself, I didn’t drink, smoke, have sex, spend money or any other numbing behaviors. I just sat on my couch watching RomComs and crying.

KSO: oh man! :( ese no bueno

Jessica Williams: Eh…it goes in waves. slooooowly getting over the whole [P2AD] thing.

KSO: yeah it definitely is not going to be a one day or a few day thing when you all had such a long history.  Patience sucks but they do say its a virtue, its a building process.  You are being wonderfully crafted and sculpted by God. I think its amazingly fantastic :) that is when you know something good is in store for you, when you are at that stage and you can see, hear, sense, and almost taste the signs of God’s wonder.  It’s a difficult state but a good state to be in all at the same time to have that moment of continual clarity…to me, it is a rush like none other

Jessica Williams: I feel like…IDK I woke up yesterday with absolute clarity that those things didn’t work out because they were not supposed to. That wasn’t the plan for me and I’m like okay but….what is?!?!

KSO: the wait!

Jessica Williams: I could have been more okay with waiting if I hadn’t just got slapped with cold ice water a month ago.  And I know THAT was about me listening and trusting AND putting myself out there. Because I typically do not do that. I have total faith that what happened should have. Like on one hand I’m at peace, but it does not change the emotional backlash. Well really…just a really hurt ego.

KSO: it does not, but soon you will have whole peace instead of just one hand of it :)

Jessica Williams: I patiently await it…I was thinking about it yesterday talking [a] group of girlfriends…when you love someone friend, BF/GF/ etc. its because they see in you what you see in yourself. They love the you, you feel you are. So…then in the situation of [P2AD] I thought he loved that me and when everything happened I was left questioning who I was in some respect. It was immediately dismissed or at least combated internally because I am pretty self aware. But never the less it introduced doubt into a stable system.

KSO: well you already know you just have to move past it and we cannot say whether he does not love you or not, that would be speculation. for all we know, he is going through his own wall of hurt, pain, shame, guilt and he is having a hard time expressing it to even the people that he does love that does not reflect on you that is an issue he would have to deal with

Jessica Williams: yes, but you know….original sin was trying to assuage curiosity. I had to understand it to move through it. I can forgive his actions but I won’t forget the effect that the consequences of his actions had on me. And I don’t choose to ever call myself into question again.

KSO: undoubtedly i do not think that is something to forgive i mean forget, forgiving is another story, but i do not think his actions or inactions can be forgettable.  I dont want you to harbor unforgiveness and let it eat away at you because of his (in)actions or response. That hurts you, not him

Jessica Williams: No, and that’s what makes this hard. And tricky to navigate. As bad of a day yesterday was, I needed yesterday to get me to that point of clarity.

KSO: i know we on the same page here lol. but in case, you missed some small facet or you just do not mind hearing your thoughts outwardly from someone else, i will happily say them to you

Jessica Williams: haha, no its a good thing. I’m probably about to blog this conversation…because its just that good.

KSO: lol blog away. your blog helps so many others to receive that same clarity
Jessica Williams: I’ve realized that. Also, in terms of that and just thinking future I’ve been quietly praying for more exposure. Something that used to terrify me previously.

 KSO: good. God is working. You are healing.  I am blessed to be a part of the process and be with you as you go through it.

And while it came to no resolution, it never does because that is life. 

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I know well enough what happens when you try to force fate.
Being aware does not save you from the discomfort of feeling helpless. Knowing what’s coming and what will never come again; and feeling like nothing you do can bring back stability.

So do you resign to spin haplessly across black ice hoping at some point you will get your bearings before you lose anything else? Or do you exhaust yourself whittling your square peg into enough of an ellipse to pass?

I am not very good with loss. And I yet, so much of life’s work is grieving. I feel myself at a crossroads…one road faith the other good intentions. And I’m on my knees crying please don’t make me take faith. It is not always (or ever) a facile decision.

I will move eventually. But for right now, I just want the time and space to mourn the loss of clarity. Of sure-footedness. Of competency. Of knowledge. Of everything I ever knew about myself. I just need that much.

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It happened kind of like this

“…but I need freedom”
“What if you are free?”
“How can you feel free behind bars when you’re literally trapped in a place, a position, a life?”
“You are always as free as you think you are…what if you abandon whatever idea of what freedom looks like and decide against all ‘common’ sense that freedom is not in places, in positions, or even a time in one’s life. Freedom is a state of being and one you can choose at any moment in time. How many times have you run away to chase freedom?”
“Too many.”
“Have you ever caught it?”
“Sometimes. Usually after I get to a place and stop and catch my breath…then it escapes again and the binds come as if when I am too still the vines grow up around me holding me captive.”
“What happens when, for that brief moment you exist in freedom?”
“I am whole. I feel whole. Then almost immediately I feel terrified of its tendency to flee and I grip it so tightly my hands ache.”
“And it goes?”
“And it goes…maybe that’s the trick. I love it too much.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll eat you up I love you so…that type of love. The consuming kind. Because I crave it so much, I do not know how to co-exist with it. So it runs…and I chase it and it lets me catch it for a moment to see if I’ve changed, and I never have.”
“So?”
“So…maybe you’re right. Maybe I am always only as free as I decide to be, and..you know that saying, ‘don’t chase, attract’?”
“Yes.”
“Maybe it’s like that. Maybe I need to be free to attract freedom.”
“Maybe, how do you plan to do that?”
“I guess I’ll start by sitting here a moment.”
“And the vines?”
“Let them come.”
“Could freedom come to you?”
“Maybe.”
“Maybe?”
“Actually it has before.”
“Could it again?”
“I suppose it could.”
“What if it’s not a thing to be chased but a thing to be realized?”
“Hmm…”
“..and the only way to see it is in those times when we are pausing and catching our breath?”

50 years of dreams, and Oprah and Brene

I have written three journal entries about meeting Oprah and Brene Brown Monday. What I realized was that I needed to get out of the way of the post and let it come.  The words were ready but per usual when things go awry, I could not let go.  I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to attend a taping of not one but two Lifeclass shows.  The first Brene talked about her book Daring Greatly and the 4 myths about vulnerability, and the second show she talked about shame and becoming shame resilient.

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I thought my arm looked HUGE in this photo on the top and I remember looking at the photo and saying, “Dear arm, you will not be allowed one ounce of the joy of this day.” And I posted it on every social media site I am on. When I see the photo even now, I think of the moment and then of my declaration, and I feel immensely proud of myself.

Who is Brene Brown? I suppose that is easily google-able but I can tell you who she is to me.  She is someone who put her heart into her work. She is someone who defies antiquated mindsets in “The Academy” which do not always prioritize the accessibility of research to the non-academic. She is one of my professional heroines. The thing that I can appreciate most about her is that she is relatable. I know she is a PhD but she does not lead with her degree, she leads with her heart and it is that which allows so many people to be touched and changed by her work. When I think of the kind of impact I want to make both professionally and as a person, she is someone that I can look to and say, She did it and did it well. I have shared my apprehension about being too “academic” or too “poetic” and wondering how the two could possibly exist within the living breathing dynamic creation that will be my dissertation.  What I came to understand is that if it is coming from me then it will have both because both are of and in me.  I am a poet, and I am an academic not always in equal measure, but certainly always both simultaneously, and what I can now acknowledge is that: We cannot help but to be ourselves, even if we do not wish to be.

Everyone knows Oprah, except for that one salesperson in Switzerland, and ever since I first told people that I was going to get to attend the taping I have been getting all sorts of requests of how to let her know just how much she means to people. In reality, I probably said 5 words to Oprah and none of them were life-changing, I’m sure. What I can take from the experience is this: you cannot chase Oprah.  When you look at Nate Burkus, or Dr. Phil, or Suze Orman, or even Brene Brown these are people who allowed themselves to be naked, or on fire, or whatever metaphor suits your minds eye illustration of “in it”; passionate in their own fields and surrendered in their work.  These are not people who wake up saying, how can I be a celebrity? How can I be successful? How can I get Oprah to notice me? That is chasing, and Liz Gilbert bless her beautiful soul has haunted me with the idea that the things we chase like thieves run like thieves.  So why “Chase Oprah?” I think…when I look even at myself and my own goals it is not so much that I want to meet Oprah, it is that I want to be recognized as being a passionate and dedicated educator and leader. What I believe Oprah has come to symbolize in our country and arguably in the world, is the definitive arrival at such a place. If you are meeting Oprah, as a guest in the capacity that Brene is meeting her, then Brene has “arrived”. And, don’t kill me but…Oprah is just a person. I have written before about this, but the things we feel about ourselves, the things we know about ourselves when we see her is what makes her who she is.  The thing I wish we really acknowledged is that we are JUST AS SPECIAL as she is, she just already knows it.

And while I absolutely am thrilled for Brene and her successes that have come and are sure to continue, for myself I see, there is work yet to be done.  When I got home from the taping that night I wrote thoughts of how to make small changes in my classroom as both student and teacher to be more present and apparent in my work.

dreamI am a person who believes whole-heartedly in the power of dreams, and it is no wonder that this post did not show up in me fully until today, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s I have a dream speech. I believe that dreams are blueprints for the type of world that we are capable of creating. I believe that anything that comes to me (or anyone) in a dream is not only possible but that it has come to us in particular because we have everything that it takes to bring said dream into fruition.  I believe that more often than not we get caught up in our own self doubt, shame, and then the projections that other people place on us of their insecurities.  Somehow it has become far easier to believe the awesomely negative rather than the awesomely awesome. I am a person who anticipates extraordinary.  I wait for it like I wait for the sun to set, and I am person who does not think small of tiny miracles.

When I announced the Brene/Oprah opportunity, I had many people asking how this “stuff” always happens to me.  Honestly? I wait for it to.  But not without work, faith without works is DEAD! I practice gratitude daily, all day beginning with my first morning thoughts, and I pull goodness to me with absolute intention. I foolishly believe that I am deserving of amazing things and experiences and the universe conspires on my behalf.  It is a simple and as complicated as that.  How can we dare to expect extraordinary if we cannot find the beauty, the joy, the grace in the so-called ordinary?

I think Dr. King had to have been one of those people as well, who despite all the negative that other people may have seen in his struggle was so fixed on the end goal, The Dream, that the other things did not mar his spirit.  Did he say to himself, I am in jail but Thank you God, I am not hurt, my family is safe, and my purpose is not lost? I think he must have been because he persisted. Not only that, but it did not tarnish the spirit of the movement. This summer, during the conference one of my group members said, “Sometimes I’m grateful for anger, because it makes people get honest. People get angry and they really show up.” Non-violence did not mean that people were not angry or that they numbed themselves to the human experience of feeling humiliated, angry, frustrated, worn, or deflated. But the absolute belief in this dream of equality, of being Seen, of being Heard…it refocused the energy of an entire generation.

That is where I can draw a parallel in what was happening 50 years ago and what is happening right now on Sunday mornings on OWN across the world.  There is this…space where acknowledgement for the full human experience is not only present but encouraged.  We are invited to be in community with one another as our whole selves, and what Brene’s work speaks to is the challenges we have in doing that and how we can overcome it for this dream…the same one Dr. King had, where people–all people– felt worthy enough to show up and the collective was accepting enough to say, I See You, I hear you, you exist.

It is a beautiful thing…and I see my own place in it all as well. I know that my own work in concurrent individual and systemic development has a lot to do with how people “show up” in groups. It has a lot to do with authenticity, with values, with vulnerability, with shame, with doubt, with trauma, with fear and with judgment.  At the end of the day I want my research to show that, I could not get there myself, but damn it, we got there together.

I wish this for everyone; for everyone to find something that gives them absolute peace and fire at the same time.  Something that keeps you up at night thinking, something that you want to share with your spouse, your neighbor, your children, something that makes you want to live a better life and help others to do the same.  I wish for everyone to find the thing that gives them purpose and to DO THAT THING. Take the time to find what fills you, it is absolutely worth it.  Ask yourself the hard questions, co-conspire with your imagination, indulge your wildest dreams because we are SO worthy to create a beautiful world.

Lastly, and these two I got from Brene explicitly, the first is to give yourself permission to be uncool.  It is why I had to take a step back from social media a few weeks ago, because I found myself becoming increasingly more concerned with other people’s lives, and not only that but I was beginning to define my own life by the standards set by others. My outfit was only as cute as the number of ‘double-clicks’ I received on instagram.  I had to take a pause and say wait, “Does this matter? How does this matter to your life? How does this feed you? How does this nourish others?” It didn’t. And while I did get caught up in it, I also caught myself, and really that is all I can hope for, is to stay aware enough to catch it and to reset.

Second, was that the world needs to hear what YOU have to say and in YOUR voice. Brene said this to an 8-year PhD student who had lost her voice and was deferring to the voice of her faculty members around her.  It is not easy to be yourself, and so many people don’t want you to be.  It makes other people uncomfortable when you are too honest, because it gives them guilt for all the lies they tell daily. The thing is, you cannot carry that with you. I cannot. I cannot write for my advisor or my committee. I cannot teach for the one student who loves me or the one that hates me. And I cannot build my career around trying to meet Oprah.  What I can do, is to follow my heart. I can listen to my inner voice and create a life full of intention, purpose, love, and connection.  I can do my best and forgive myself when I give any less.  That is all I can do.  I think of the quote Donald Miller said of his future wife, “I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer.  I will love you, as sure as [God] has loved me.  I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me…” and that is what I feel in large part of my work. I will give my voice to it, in language only I have been equipped to offer but it will still remain vastly unexplored yet I will keep it in all in my heart as mine and as me.

It is a bizarre thing when you realize that even when you’re pretending to be someone or something else, you are only–at best– a very good imitation.  I do not want to live my life in costume. I do not want to exist in elaborate baroque garments of society convenience, couture fabrications and designer illusions.  I want to be one-hundred percent me at all times in all spaces. How can I expect or want someone to see me, to acknowledge me, if I am not willing to step out and be who I am?  I have to be willing. We have to be willing because I cannot do it by myself. You’re scared? I am too, but I’m ready.

I prayed this prayer to the night after, I said:

God,

Your will terrifies me. But I trust you, completely. I hear you. I’m ready. Let’s go.

Sincerely,
Jess

Because for as much as this opportunity was about Brene and her work, it was also about me and mine–and everyone else as well. We were chosen to awaken to our own potential and to be in community with one another. We were shown what is possible and because I know of the absolute connection between us all I know that if greatness is possible in one of us it is possible in all of us.  Yes, it may look different for me than it does for LeBron James, but believe me greatness is greatness.  So I said to God, lets go. I say the same to you.

The Lifeclass featuring Dr. Brene Brown will air on Oprah’s OWN on September 22nd, and September 29th, for more information check out Oprah.com. 

Burning the side of a mountain

I couldn’t take my eyes off the flame. I suppose I knew the word “destroyer” was floating around without assigned meaning, but it was certainly not a conscious thought when I devoted one-hundred percent of my attention to the tiny dancing flame.

We were asked to begin at the base of a mountain and face our shadow. There I was, balancing on a ball of air staring at a girl on fire. I named her E. I am not sure why, but the letter “E” was the only thing that felt right. What did I need to acknowledge? She told me that I needed to know I was powerful. I thought about Zachary’s red shoes. How in wearing them he felt present in the red space, the power space. I, however, had not. Wearing red shoes did not make me any sassier, or feel more powerful. I considered my toying with red in other ways….we’re they silent prayers for power? I moved up the mountain.

Her legs moved into the earth and she left a trail of blazing rock behind her guises as orange red and golden locks. All part of her, leaving nothing behind. What was she here to teach me? She said, very matter of factly, you act as though things happen to you only…as if you were not intimately involved in the creation of your path. When are you going to take responsibility for your part? I felt her. My skin began to warm and while I must have known it was “just” a visualization as Dumbledore warned, “just because its happening in your head doesn’t mean it isn’t real.” I allowed myself to consider my recent prayers. And to flicker across the adage, Faith without Works is dead. I moved up the mountain.

I felt my neck sweating and then my face. She wanted me to hold the flames. I couldn’t. I was too afraid of burning myself and worse, being unable to control the flame outside of myself. What if I hurt someone? What if I destroy everything? She said, oh? That was all she said. But I heard my questions back again reverberating in the space between us. As it is with my air, I do not create it I only work with it, I move in and around the currents that exist outside of and independent of myself. The same must be true of fire, I reasoned. I moved up the mountain.

imageIt was here that I looked around for her and saw no one else. It was only myself and the sun, only I was wide open, hollow and the energy from the sun was pulsing like a current through me. And while there was no fire, I was hot. The fire was in me. I crossed my legs and balanced on my small sphere of air. I allowed myself to feel the source energy, this wild and vibrant scorching energy that danced thought my being, and I raised a hand, my left hand, and produced a tiny flame. I laughed despite myself, hot damn. I am an avatar.

I took a mental snapshot of myself making a promise to sketch it later (here). I also took note of what just happened. Jessica, you have to acknowledge your power. You cannot ignore it, and destruction is not the enemy of creation. In making an adversary of destruction, I was limiting myself to only living the life I’ve been given rather than creating the one of my imagination. Sometimes things need to be destroyed, set ablaze before new things can emerge.

I can still feel her with me. Every time we breathe my spirit ignites with the warmth of pure source.

I understand.

Dream come true

Girl, that’s called “visualization”!

I’ve had an amazing weekend. Where to even begin? I met with a healer. We shared stories about how we came to know our gifts. It was interesting how the whole meeting came about, really because it was the result of a simple request. Maybe a year ago I was talking to Terri about how energetically, and spiritually difficult it has been for me during certain times and classes. She insisted that I find a community. I heard her, but as much as I needed it, I was not sure I was ready to be in a community of people who knew me in that way. In other words, I was not sure I was really ready to be seen.

Well, that has since changed and two weeks ago I made a very intentional request for connection and community. So it was beautiful that after making the request, I was having this amazing breakfast with someone who was offering me connection and community. After the breakfast I was enthused to really spend time creating my vision board. So I gathered magazines and pictures, markers, glue, and all sorts of supplies to create. One of the things that I put on there was a picture of Oprah and Brené Brown and I wrote the words “MUST MEET” in gold marker. That was Saturday.

Today I get home ready to work on some stuff for a class I am a TA for, and I get a phone call. Now three weeks ago I saw a tweet from Brené Brown mentioning her going to tape a Lifeclass session with Oprah. I followed the link and wrote a short essay about how much Brené’s work has influenced my own and said a few words about Oprah as well and honestly hadn’t thought much about it since. Until today when on the other end of my phone was Oprah’s audience coordinator asking if I was available for the show. What?! Did I not just speak this into my FUTURE? Oh wow that’s now.

So I racked my brain for how I was going to get to Chicago, who I knew in the area, where I would stay, when I would have to leave, my mind was spinning with all the reality and I just took a moment to breathe and I looked down on my arms to see goosebumps and I cried. I cried and I laughed and I thought about Steel Magnolias… “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” I thought about how awesome this moment was, is, was. I thought about how much I just wanted to thank GOD for my good fortune, no, for my good favor.

During breakfast I told Melissa that I have been trying to get comfortable with being who I am. Because I am a huge presence and I want to own that, I can fill a room. I told her of having to learn my worth, my value, and being able to assure my self that I was deserving of grace not because of incidence or luck but because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I truly believe that. People listen to me, I quit trying to figure out why and I just accept that they do. And it used to make me want to speak less, because I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone’s misery. But now I want to speak UP and say, God order my tongue so that my words are the message you wish to deliver. I want to get my ego out of the way and be a vessel. Truly. And here we are.

So as I have told all my friends this weekend, be careful what you ask for! Prayers are definitely being answered in my life, scarily fast and it is exciting and terrifying and…wonderful. It’s wonderful. And a blessing and I am filled to the brim with joy. So full.

imageAnd just a quick word about my vision board…it is funny that most of it is full of places I want to see. Africa, the Bahamas, Paris, Joshua Tree, and of course Jamaica. There’s lots of quotes and beautiful reminders like “never hide”. There are four people you’d recognize, Sean Carter (Jay-Z), President Barack Obama, Oprah and Brene Brown as they are the four people I want to meet (really…I want to know them. There is a difference). And I haven’t finished yet but I will post a picture when its done. The process has been interesting because it really makes you focus your attention on the question, “What do you want?” It’s a great process. And one that, apparently, yields results.

PhD in Leadership? What does that even mean…

I freaked out. Admittedly. I had a small internal panic attack that here I am getting a PhD in Leadership Studies (whatever that means) and that somehow at the end of all this I would be unemployable, sad, and broke.  It was only a tiny panic. In my heart of hearts I know exactly what my degree will mean both to others and to myself. Most of all I know that I am already a better person having been in my degree program. But honestly, how many good people do you know that are un or underemployed? Plenty right. So I went to my advisor.

Now, normally when I see my advisor I like to tell her the situation get her advice and then resist and fight whatever wisdom she offers. Yesterday I went to her and said, “What am I going to do when I graduate?” I have mentioned before that she has a quiet way about her that is nothing if not intentional and kind of like a spider bite you don’t even know you’ve been bitten by anything until you’re laying on the floor dying. It’s not that bad, but it kind of is. So I asked her this very serious question and she said, “You don’t want to do faculty anymore?” “I mean yes,” I stammered, “but realistically what am I going to teach?”

Let me sidebar…since I have moved to San Diego my world as I know it has been completely turned on its head. Most of the time I try to just “go with it” but then there are times, like now, when I need desperately to find my footing.  My personal plans that I had when I moved here have been shot to shit a long time ago, but professionally, I never wanted to leave the world of counseling. Hence why I teach in it right now. That world that reveres silence and reflection and intention, that is my world. And I am not going to leave here any more qualified to teach counseling than when I came. Not to mention, I am completely out of practice. So when I asked her what am I going to teach, what I really said was…my world has changed too much and I don’t even recognize where I am anymore, which way is up?

She reminded me of some pieces of myself.

  • I do research in university diversity efforts
  • I do research in retention efforts
  • I teach in counseling
  • I teach in leadership
  • I have counseling experience and a counseling degree
  • I have worked in a center focused on diversity
  • I currently work in an office focused on outreach and admissions for our graduate programs

Oh yeah, and I am getting a terminal degree full of research experience, personal development, knowledge of organizations and leadership efficacy, and this is all stellar but does not even account for a network of colleagues and support from the faculty. Later reflecting she basically said to me, “Do you know who you are!? LOOK!” And I think perhaps the greatest of my pieces and the part that went unmentioned is my absolutely love for what I do. No matter where my life takes me professionally, I will always maintain a place with an institution of higher education.

College is the stuff that occupies your time so that you can become who you were meant to be. That time in your life is so precious and I just want to be a part of that for people. She also reminded me that many college student personnel programs have significant counseling influence so my work in that realm will not go wasted. It put me at ease. There is still much to do in the coming years…I have to publish work, present at conferences, start digging into my research area…but there is time and it will unfold as it should.

At the end of the talk I said to my advisor, “Do you like this new thing I’m trying where I don’t fight you, I just listen.”  She said, “I do actually,” and she remarked on her fondness of being right. I don’t mind when people are right, I just hate when their “right” comes at the “wrong” time. Of course that’s just total irony because it comes exactly when its supposed to. Damn spider bites.

Loveeeeee

I was driving home the other night when a song that reminded me of E came on. As I sang along two conversations occurred in my head. One in which I thought of him and us and our laughter, and another where I laid to rest those sounds and continued on up the 805.

I had a dream the night before of my wedding, my beautifully romantic Christmas wedding. My maids in white again the smell of trees and sweet berries. I remembered more this time. I remembered Kim, Ken, Jennie, Jewels, Tre, and Trin with me. Praying with me and standing with me. Laughing and toasting to love and laughter. I never walked down the aisle, but they were with me.

If I think about what it was like to love before I remember, more than anything the effort. The trials and the battles, the compromise. It wasn’t right. And more than I knew anything about my partners, I knew how I was going about the business of love was wrong. I imagine it needs to be as all meant things are, effortless. Divinely crafted and seemingly coincidental, only…not. I took this photo of myself before I went out last night.

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I looked at my body. My belly cleverly hidden in my billowy, and feminine XL top. My thighs squeezed into shape in my size 20 jeans. I studied my curves and my twa hidden under a flowy lace front. I applied a thin layer of MAC “Media” and I love myself despite it all; and perhaps because of it all. I’ve never looked in the mirror and felt even remotely effortlessly in love with my reflection. The truth was not hidden from me, I knew what was there. And I was not hiding, obviously as I’m baring it all now. I was proud to take me out. Now if I’m lucky enough to find another who makes me feel the way I felt about my reflection last night…

And when I think back, I can reconcile a question I’ve pondered; yes I loved him. I loved him with every broken piece of me, however now that I am whole I want a whole love. There is nothing wrong with admitting that to yourself or to the world. I am not counting down the days or waiting with baited breath, I am living my life, fully. And when the time is right, it will be. Settling for self isn’t exactly settling. I feel incredibly blessed to be in a place where I can recognize and truly believe that.

Everyday miracles

I believe in all the things that are normally left in fairy tales and make-believe. I know angels to be real and love when I see little timestamps in my journey that tell me I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Last night I had statistics class. I hate it. For a lot of reasons, but mostly because its just not my cup of tea. It also does not help that every example we get to make the content “real” is biology related, but I am taking it in the nursing school. Needless to say I spend a lot of the class lost. Yesterday ways particularly difficult for some reason, I am not sure why. Normally, our professor gives us the last 45 minutes or so to do our homework and everyone stays to take advantage of her help. Last night, I couldn’t do it.

I walked out of class frustrated at not being even the slightest bit interested in a class at this stage in my education, and then the funky spiral. I got upset because I wanted to go home and couldn’t because it gets dark so early now that walking home is not the best idea. And I hate that my plans to get a car are always ruined by some unfortunate circumstance. I had worked myself up and just wanted my bed to be my fortress of solitude.

Then I looked down at my phone and saw an email from my student asking about extra credit. I remembered that I’d sent them to “some leadership workshop” and thought, well let’s see what I’ve sent them too. I walked to the UC imagining how nice it would be to have my own car finally and to be able to just come and go as I please. I was lost in thought the whole walk over. As I arrived to my destination I thought about a classmate who works in the building. I thought maybe she’d be around and I could ask her for a ride home. So, I touched the handle and said outloud, “find something to be grateful for.”

Ten steps later I get to the doors of the workshop and its Zachary. And Crystal. And my advisor. I also saw Mass Elle, who I’d been texting earlier about how miserable I felt in stats class. I looked around the room and found lots of familiar welcoming faces and I took my seat and joined the work.

The thing that I have to laugh at was how I so desperately wanted home. Its all I could focus on, and now here I was dedicating another hour to being on campus, but that space with those people was and is home. Not only that, but the work we were doing was work I told Zachary I wanted to do more of with him. Well played, God. Well played.

So there was still the issue of going home. How was I going to get there? Mass Elle told me I could just take her car and drive back in the morning. I could have cried. Not because of her offer, though it was incredibly kind and I am grateful for it. But because of the quick return on my prayer. I needed that independence, to feel it, it have it affirmed and if only circumstantial and if only for one night.

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When I went downstairs to get keys from Mass Elle I saw the book Blue Like Jazz which I have referenced several times. There it was just sitting there on her desk. I asked her who’s it was and she didn’t know, but I knew. It was there for me to notice. For me to be sure that in this moment I am where I am supposed to be. In every sense; physically, mentally, spiritually, etc. I recalled the opening lines…

I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I also took one more step in the direction of choosing teaching. Because, after all, it was my students who lead me there. When Henry asked me what was important to me right now (because, he said, this same thing will govern the trajectory of my next years) I thought of two things, family and seeing people go within. That’s really what I want to do. I want to show people the way. Not my way, the way, so really “I” just want to get out the way.

Two things just struck me, the night I saw Henry, he sang this little light of mine with his wife, my advisor, what an appropriate song for the space. And also, some of our students put up a board outside the Student Life building with the question, “what is it you have been called to do?” I wrote big as day in bright orange marker, LOVE~thats all there is~

Way to bring it full circle. Again, well played, God, well played.

Listening the first time

I am horrible at that. Full disclosure, I have a hard-head and have to be told things more than once before I listen.  To my credit, as I have gotten older the number of times I have to be told has lessened to an inordinate amount to just a handful, but I am aiming to listen the first time.  That requires a level of trust that I consciously work towards, daily.

I was reading this book recommended to me by Nama called Astrology for the Soul by Jan Spiller which explores the North Nodes.  My North Node is in Gemini, and among the many very insightful things I read the one that made me laugh out loud the loudest was this:

One of the best ways Gemini North Node people can experience the integration they’re seeking is through the process of writing–a journal, books, articles, etc.–on a regular basis…Writing calms their internal restlessness, releasing the tension and anxiety in a form that brings them peace.

These folks are extremely talented writers, though they may not recognize this until much later when they look back over what they have written.  They have an ability to clarify thoughts on paper in a simple way that actually communicates far beyond the words.

Fitting, right?  I mean, honestly tell me something I didn’t know. Though it was funny to see it written on paper.  Validation is a sneaky little thing.  The next thing was this:

In this incarnation, Gemini North Node people are here to teach.  They are here to bring Truths, principles, and practical application of ethics into society…If they let go of their ideas of Truth and really listen, they will automatically tune in to the other person’s belief systen and spontaneously say–through a sincere question or a new piece of information -those words that will shift the perspective for both of them to a fresh recognition of Truth…As teachers, these folks have to divorce themselves from prejudicial viewpoints and allow the other person to think freely, without trying to guide the other to a conclusion that’s identical with their own…When they act as true teachers, these folks behave in a way that creates a win/win situation for everyone.

This was something I closed the book on.  Not literally, but it was one of those “okay okay, I’m listening,” moments.  When I was in high school my step-dad first told me, “You’re going to go to college, major in psychology and be a college professor.” To which I scoffed, at the time I wanted to be the editor of a fashion magazine–I can say that writing has been a constant for me since I was about 8 years old.  Then, when I (of course) went to college and majored in psychology I hated that he was even a little bit right. Hard head.

After college, I sought opportunities to develop my creative impulses with photography and event planning, but the attention to detail worked against my natural ability to see the big picture and I hated it.  After working at Verizon and having people yell at me all day, I figured I should be getting paid for being a damn therapist. So off I went, to be a therapist.  Got my masters and decided, well hell why stop there?  Once I got to my doctoral program, I do not remember at which event it was but Dr. Nash told me that I should really consider the full-time faculty route–to which I scoffed. I.Am.A.Practitioner. I am not an academic.  I keep saying this, but at this point I’m talking to no one because clearly…I’m in a doctoral program, I am (at least partially) an academic.

Then, of course, there is the obvious fact that I am teaching right now.  Two classes.  Then today, the sign of all signs, after just reading this book and that passage about teaching, and just having a conversation about it all with Mass Elle, my Assistant Dean comes down to my office to tell me that I was approved to teach with Dr. Nash in a Global Study course (Multicultural Counseling) in Jamaica next summer.  Need I say more? Hard head.

So at this point, I feel that I have to stop saying what I’m not going to do, because clearly God has had plans for me since the beginning.  Psalm 139.

I will say this, its amazing to me how things fall into place.  I know by now I should not be surprised or even the least bit dazzled but it is still so amazing. As I have further affirmation that “shutting up” is not in my plans, I will continue to be as open, as expressive, as gracious as ever.  And of course, never shy about the knowing and sharing from whom all blessings flow.  (According to the book, in my past life I was one of those religious gurus on a mountaintop–lol, I doubt anyone is surprised by that either)