What it Means to Love Yourself

“Are you going to let the shame of imperfection keep you quiet or in your shoes?”

It was the thought I just had about two separate yet connected occurrences. I was taking part in a drum circle and we were told to keep a steady hushed beat. Stepping in for solos when and if we felt compelled. I noticed myself wanting to sing. Then wanting to drum loudly and with a specific rhythm I was feeling in my body. For a long time I did neither. Not until I closed my eyes and erased everyone else in the room. Focusing on my own sound, my own rhythm. Then I struck out on my solo. Well…except I noticed I partly interrupted someone else. They bowed out and I kept going until the end. It felt so good to keep my own pace that I decided not to go back to the original beat so I didn’t. Attempting to make sense of it in relationship to my being, I became curious about my own propensities towards perfection. I didn’t think I had one. And it’s not exactly perfection, if we are calling a thing a thing, it is not that I need to be perfect. It is more that there is a specific way in which I wish to be seen. Flawed, but in this way (not that). Competent, but in this way (not that).
-1Which brings up the point about shoes. I was sitting out and enjoying a sunset reflecting on my day and how I felt. And I wanted to take my shoes off–as I often do whenever I am not in motion. But I did not. Why? My skin was ashen from the dry desert climate my toes were unpolished as my work schedule the past few days had prevented me from getting a pedicure. And so I asked myself the opening question. Was I REALLY going to let unpolished toes and an improv solo keep me from fully experiencing the moment as my body was asking to experience it? I took my shoes off. And I put my feet up and I began this post.
This time I caught myself. And I suppose I can take small comfort in my knowing that I was able to call attention to my own behavior. Modify it and engage myself in critical inquiry. However, how many opportunities have I missed? How much of my life have I allowed to be governed by how I think I’m going to look to other people?
-1Liz Gilbert posted a picture on Instagram that made me chuckle and then made me pause and really think. The caption alluded to the fact that sometimes in order to do great things you really DO have to not give a fuck. You have to let go. Not only of what other people might do or say as a result of your actions (aha!) but also the judgment you place on yourself which honestly are probably ten times worse than the things others say. We can be our own worst critics. Yet we also have the power to be our own biggest advocates.
I want to become a better advocate for myself. I want to assure myself that it is okay to try and it is okay to fail. Isn’t that what my last post was about? Because you learn. And at least you tried for something. Having your heart broken is nothing to be ashamed of, it means you had the courage to surrender your heart in the first place. This is what Jeannie meant when she told me the key to life. Be present. Tell the truth. Let go of the consequences of telling the truth. It wasn’t just a telling of truth she was speaking to. It is also a living of truth. I have to let go of the consequences of living my truth. That rocked my whole body to type that sentence. Again.
That sort of unbridled affirmation, the lack of judgment, that freedom, the forgiveness for who I am not and the acceptance of who and what I am? That’s love. That is what happens when I love myself. I feel as though I just got it. It just clicked. That. Jessica, is what it means to love yourself.

An Open Letter of Love and Leadership: A nod to Paula Cordeiro

I do not consider myself particularly political or militant in any way.  In fact, I work to maintain certain levels of peace and stasis at high costs, sometimes to my detriment.  However, I have learned that when you go to bed with something on your mind and you wake up and it is still lingering, attention must be paid.  

It was brought to my attention, again, yesterday that my university, the University of San Diego, is embarking on a search for a new president and the President’s search committee as it stands does not have adequate representation from the graduate community, and in particular my own school.  As a doctoral student in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), I take great offense to this oversight.  

Working for two years in SOLES Admissions and Outreach, I was privy to learn insights and “bragging rights” that SOLES had, which I would openly share with prospective students.  We are currently ranked in the top 10% of graduate schools of education in the nation, according to US News and World Report. We currently have the nation’s only mobile technology learning center–a university-based research center dedicated to studying the implementation and impact of technology in the PK-12 classroom both domestically and abroad.  We have the nation’s first PhD in Leadership, and one of the only doctoral leadership programs that teaches leadership using an interdisciplinary curriculum. Our Department of Learning and Teaching was recently recognized for the attention it places on diversity and a global perspective to education by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).  We are one of only seven Marital and Family Therapy programs in the state of California to be nationally accredited, our counseling programs are one of our greatest arms into the San Diego community working at schools and mental health facilities all over the county.  

Not to mention within our own university, SOLES students comprise approximately 1,300 (or 16%) of the university population and hold leadership roles in every graduate serving organization (Asian Students in Action, Black Graduate Student Association, Latino/a Graduate Student Association, Graduate Student Council).  Our Higher Education Leadership Masters candidates support our division of Student Affairs working in the Center for Student Success, Residential Life, the Women’s Center, Torero Programming Board, United Front Multicultural Center, Associated Students, and IFC/Panhellenic.  And this is just current students, to begin to count the number of SOLES alumni in university administration leadership roles would exponentially increase the amount of reach and influence that has already been unearthed in the aforementioned.  So, you can imagine why I, as an active and vocal member of this trailblazing community, feel incensed at our lack of representation when looking for a new University leader.  It seems all but too obvious that our own institution might call upon those who have been facilitating and exercising leadership all along, to join the process.  

I feel extremely blessed to have been a student in SOLES while under the leadership of Dean Paula Cordeiro, if for no other reason than this: At a hosted brunch held to thank First Lecture keynote David “Mas” Masumoto, I shared with Dean Cordeiro my consideration of my six-word memoir–something Mas urged us to consider during his lecture the previous evening.  I shared with her I knew four words, “Already am. Always was.” but noted that two more were needed, she offered a simple, “Now what?” The moment may seem simple enough, but it is the constant question that inevitably comes for leaders.  For what are we without forward motion, vision, and a sight beyond what is? It is no surprise that our own leader, Dean Cordeiro was recently honored as an outstanding leader and visionary by the Classrooms of the Future Foundation.  When I considered the probable impact of this letter, whether or not it was appropriate, whether or not it would be read, whether or not my classmates colleagues professors and administrators would agree with me, it paled in comparison to the idea that somehow my words, my actions might bring about a new possibility.  Leadership is about entertaining possibility and really, that is what we all work for in education, and in leadership: new possibilities.  We work to be open to them, to give them shape and purpose, to better our environments and to move humanity to a more compassionate and connected space.  That is what I’ve learned from my Dean, that is what I’ve learned from SOLES.  

My words, and this letter are my fist in the air, my banner waving boldly on the lawn of Hughes Administration.  It may have been a choice you made, but it is not a choice I have agreed to.  Not as a student, not as an employee, not as a future alumni of the university. I find it inexcusable, yet I find it telling that SOLES was not included in the university search for new leadership.  I hope the candidates ask this question of the committee when interviewed, “With an education and leadership school of your caliber and renown, why are they not here in this room helping to determine great leadership for an institution of higher education?” What we also know as SOLES students is that often environments are not yet ripe for change. It does not mean that we remain silent, it does not mean that we stifle ourselves shrinking hard to stay small, dim our lights, or recoil our reach.  It means that we work that much harder. We work to inspire, to influence, to understand that which is (seemingly) not of us, we cultivate empathy and we continually challenge our spaces to rise grow and stretch to accommodate new ways of thinking and being.  The distance between where we are and where we can be is the space we have been trained to work in, and so we must audaciously and ardently and always.  



The Curious Case of Salt and Elle

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 12.42.24 PMI tried to imagine what it would be like to be popular on a massive scale like Alex Elle or Nayyirah Waheed.  Are they even massive? I mean I suppose its relative. They have considerable social media followers but would Jay-Z know who they are? Probably not. I was in the process of asking for something, last week the intention was opportunity. It woke me up at 5 am and beat down my door until I found resolution, and eventual resolve with it. Then came the talks of writing a book again. Again. How many times do I have to hear it? It is starting to be clear to me that the book may precede the work (and the next book).  

Okay, so maybe I knew that. In my office there is a sign which sits right in front of me. It reads “Follow your heart”. I hate it.  It mocks me daily. Mostly every time I stop working and pause, my mind almost immediately wanders to the place where I’m happiest. It is not within four white walls or a beautiful marble-floored building, or even an ivory sanctuary atop a mesa with an ocean view.  Metaphorically speaking. 

Kanye West said he remembers walking through a mall and feeling as though it was the last time he would walk through the mall and do so anonymously. He said he could feel himself about to be thrown into the spotlight.  I actively work against that. Or, I should say I have actively worked against that.  For a while now I have been apathetic to it, indifferent and not caring either way whether people read, shared, commented, engaged, etc. And now, I feel as though I’m about to leap into recognition and I’m asking myself, “Are you ready?”   

Do you ever really get ready? Or does there just come a point where the tables turn and staying put, sustaining becomes less comfortable than the unknown? Anything could happen, how absolutely true.  This song, Ellie Goulding just came on my radio. Coincidence? Never much believed in those.

So here is the truth. And I’m wincing as I write this… I will take the next few days and write the prologue. What has gotten me to here. Blog posts. Coupling them. Using them to tell the story. Then..as I’m researching, piecing together the patchwork quilt which will begin the foundation for my work. As I write this our research librarian emails me and says the following:   

Dear Jessica,
I did NOT find anything under Women AND Leadership AND (Obese OR Obesity OR Physical Characteristics OR health).
What I heard her say was that the lane, my lane, is open.  And that everything I have done up until this point has uniquely prepared me to tell this story in a way that only I can tell it.  Wait, no…not tell the story but begin the conversation. The post-conventional conversation about body, weight, authenticity, connection and capacity.  tumblr_lo06h95mlo1qiaf2xo1_500I don’t know if I’m ready but I’m leaping and I am no longer apathetic or indifferent. I openly solicit the recognition, too.  A lump in my throat appeared as I typed that. I openly solicit the recognition.  AND I lean heavily on my support system because this is not about me personally, I am just the vessle, but I understand that being themedium, the conductor is what makes the energy constructive.  I own my importance in the process. That’s the piece I’ve been uncomfortable with and that’s the piece I’ve been running from. Well, no more running. No more hiding. I will not die wondering. 

Last Night a DJ Saved My Dissertation

The entire room felt like one massive, united tribe of thousands of people, and the DJ was the tribal leader of the group. People weren’t dancing to the music so much as the music seemed like it was simply moving through everyone. The steady wordless electronic beats were the unifying heartbeats that synchronized the crowd. It was as if the existence of individual consciousness had disappeared and been replaced by a single unifying group consciousness, the same way a flock of birds might seem like a single entity instead of a collection of individual birds. Everyone in the warehouse had a shared purpose. We were all contributors to the collective rave experience.
~Tony Hsieh “Delivering Happiness” 

I’d read these words sometime last year and highlighted them to remind myself to share them with my Work Wife. I knew she attended raves, and I wanted to know if this experience that Tony described was what she felt, too.  When I asked her, she confirmed and ever since then I’ve wanted to attend a rave. Last night I did.

A short remark before I continue, people are often surprised at the things that I get into.  My thought now, and for most of my life has been to just have fun and never be afraid to try new things.  Of course there are things that I do not like or that do not sound appealing to me (sky diving), but more often than not I believe in the fun of the adventure and a life free of what-ifs.

So, last night Work Wife (WW), her husband and friends and I went to see Armin Van Buuren here in San Diego.  I was dressed like a highlighter in bright neon workout clothes because she told me to dress bright and light–as in light fabrics because with so many people dancing it can get hot.  We arrived at the concert at about 8, and for the next five hours were treated to lights, smoke, acrobatics, singing, dancing, live musicians, confetti, and of course, really really good music.  I’ve told WW previously about my ability to see people’s auras and colors in music.  There was a moment last night when I sat down and just closed my eyes. She asked me if I was too hot or needed anything and I told her no I was fine but I could see better with my eyes closed. I tried to describe to her the way all the colors looked to me but nothing I said could quite paint the picture. It was amazing, and the words Tony used, or that I would use to describe the experience fall daftly short to even begin to explain.

I texted a friend of mine who has been to raves and told him that it was easily one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life, and asked him why he never told me about them before.  He messaged me back and simply said, “Its a total different experience, right?” It is.  When I woke up this morning I was still so curious about what I’d experienced the night before. What was that? It was beautiful, whatever it was, but what was it?  It was then that I went back to my copy of Delivering Happiness and looked for Tony’s words to see if I could find my own truth hidden in them. It was exactly it.  It’s a shame that raves get this stigma of drugs and out of control behavior, because it was so much more than that. It was, I thought, exactly what I’ve been trying to describe in my dissertation.

Connection…drafting…murmuration…movement…one purpose…deference to the collective…this was it. It was the experience of being at a rave but in a classroom.  How do we get that? How can we foster that? What do we call that so we can ask for it specifically?  My synapses were firing all over the place lighting up connections between this theory and that study. It was like a laser light show of thought.   I went straight to my computer and began typing. I didn’t stop for two hours.


Sharing the Madness or “How to Eat an Elephant, Part 1”

I decided to post the following exchange between an invaluable member of my dissertation committee, Zachary. I’ve made reference to my committee before and they know I often publicize my process. In fact, my chair, “The Chair” will often say to me, “Okay now I guess you’re going to go blog about it…” when I have drawn a conclusion about something. I have not, yet, written about Christopher but his time is coming. I try to spare him as much as possible from my mess until it has taken more of a shape. I warned him about my “how” though, and he still signed on.  In any case. I fully intend to document my process both for sanity, the sake of sharing, and reference. I openly welcome feedback, dialogue, and sharing with anyone who might have thoughts…that being said, here goes part I of “How to eat an elephant”
As a small aside, I named my dissertation process How to Eat an Elephant because of that old joke, ‘how to do you eat an elephant? one bite at a time’.  The idea actually came from Christopher when he said to me to stop thinking about the whole dissertation and just think about writing one day at a time. Sage wisdom.  Okay and now… 


To preface, I have not thought any of this through, as a result I already made the mental boundary to send this to your personal email versus your professional one as I am very much asking for much more than I am likely offering in terms of creative thought.

I am in the process of creating a literature review, and have found myself down many rabbit holes; some good and some not so good. I must say, the business/organizational literature and reading is much more exciting than the education literature and that in and of itself is cause for questioning. However, I’ve stumbled upon the book Tribal Leadership  and I love it if only because I feel so validated in the way I look at organizations and systems.  On the front cover it says, “Leveraging natural groups to build a thriving organization” and that is the crux of so much for me in terms of leadership. George and I had a conversation about leadership for what?  Does leadership always have to be about change? We both agreed that it does not and that leadership can sometimes be for stasis, much like a human organism, or a biological system which does not need excess or continuously dies and births, and cyclically owning each as part of the process.  So yes, we change but we also work very hard for stability and elements of predictability. It is a delicate balance.

The piece that struck me most keenly was this:

Tribes emerge from the languages people use to describe themselves, their jobs, and others.  For most people, language is something they just live with and don’t think about. Tribal Leaders know how to nudge language in a way that makes it morph…Change the language in the tribe, and you have changed the tribe itself.   Hold that piece and then sift in the following:

(President of Griffin Hospital in Connecticut, Peter Charmel says the following when asked about the success of the hospital) Looking back, it’s clear that we never could have accomplished this without engaging our employees and getting them involved in the process.  I think that’s what distinguishes the approach.

  This idea that somehow a leader is both responsible and in deference to the power of the group is fascinating and is at the center of my research and where it has lead me is to the work of Vygotsky around thought and language. His ideas that consciousness preceded language make sense and we can grasp that, but add to it the idea that a leader fits in between that.  A transformational leader or a tribal leader…a leader both in front of and embedded in a group…that somehow a leader is able to articulate the consciousness of a system and then the leader is both|and at the same time the symbol and the meaning.  Is that not what grabs us and holds us???  When someone can bring life, not just life but detailed, articulate, emotive, affective life to our lived experience?  We rally behind that because it validates us, and it makes us feel as though we are seen and heard and we matter.  Ironically, or really no…not so, but this correlates to your thought from this summer about connection across space and time. The cloud atlas effect. I can think of examples of when leaders have preceded consciousness, perhaps in the universal design, intentionally, like Galileo.  Where sometimes the leader becomes a martyr for consciousness, dying in the system like a cancer. Yet, if what Senge says about the indivisible whole is true, then you cannot ever kill a thought, or a leader with a thought because you cannot unthink it and if it exists in one part of a system then it exists in the entirety of the system.  Typically what we look for are those to affirm the perceptions we believe (Kegan Imperial, Erikson Industry v. Inferiority) but this is only sufficient for a time…we are called to be stable and growing simultaneously.

Now, in this book it is also stated that, if a groups leverage points are applied incorrectly then it results in tribal mediocrity…I reframed that as status quo; and if I am still to use Scharmer’s U as the backbone this would move to support the left side of the U in that maladaptive  or ineffective leveraging connect to voices of fear, judgment, and cynicism. This would keep us stable, this would keep us healthy enough, but as we work to balance change and stasis, too much deference to one severely cripples the other.  I have not gotten so far into the book to see how it lays with the rest of the theory, but I needed to write to think straight.

In my pilot study there was so much with the groups…group affiliation dictated behavior, rules of engagement or disengagement, connection, and authorship.  Which, theoretically speaking makes sense…but my question is about creating connection, how do we do it? And I just feel really close to something right now with this work.


Jessica Williams

**I thought I should ask prior to posting Zachary’s response, await with bated breath and until then, if you have thoughts, comment!!

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.

Mile high mind massage

I am currently in Denver for a leadership conference for school…and while originally I wanted to write about all the things that I have learned and that have come up for me here…and perhaps that will come later but what’s alive for me right now is the notion of commanding.

I’d been looking forward to meeting this scholar who studies mindfulness, attention, Buddhism, and leadership for the past month. I walk into her session and she is not there. Not physically, but she’s on a phone which is hooked into a speaker. Not hardly the same. Next we proceed to meditate to which people are coughing (my pet peeve, self admittedly) moving, shifting, coming in and out, etc. I just wasn’t into it, so I left. I thought to myself, “I can (and do) do this on my own and have a much more pleasant experience. That’s the point though.

See…my “work” in this life is to connect to others. I knew that, Jan Spiller reiterated it. And as I literally sit above a mile high mountain top as I did many lifetimes before, I have never hated “connecting” more than I did 20 minutes ago.

When faced with the abrasive reality against my polished expectations it felt so raw and displeasing I left. As I set meditating, whenever someone made a noise it felt as though a noose tightened around my neck. Literally choking the throat; the sound chakra, truth blocked by lies. So what’s the lies? Maybe that I used the noise as an excuse for my disturbed concentration. Maybe that I was connected at all. Maybe both. Or maybe I was annoyed at this demand being made by the noise makers for attention. How dare they ask to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be given attention?

Brene’ Brown said a lot of interesting things this morning but perhaps the most personally provocative was when she said we need to make a bid for connection. I tell my students all the time to say what they mean to say. Think of the answer you want, ask the question that beckons that truth. Its a difficult thing…to be intentional which requires asking yourself what do I want? What do I want in this moment?

What do I want? When I had to think of a word to describe myself yesterday I knee-jerk came to the word:POWERFUL. To be entirely honest I am not sure where that came from. What space or what place produced that? Am I powerful?

I had a conversation with a woman yesterday and she inquired how she might have been “playing small” in various areas in her life. Then today Brene’ iterated how she had previously purposefully engineered her career to stay small. Her viral popularity was much to her chagrin and she was not prepared for neither the negativity nor the positivity that came as a result of her vulnerability. She aptly professed, When [I] stepped into [my] power, [I] became a lightening rod.”

The thing I find interesting about that particular metaphor is that the rod is not the source, it is the conductor, but it attracts the energy of source power and likely outlets alike. Yesterday I was made an example of when describing how to “command presence.” Then last night, Nicole told me that I have a way of commanding attention. Rather than shrug off the attention, I found myself engaging in dialogue around it. I told her that I am learning to hear it, but I will not allow my ego to make this about me. Its really about the source, I am just a conductor. And really, I am not sure that I’ve fully stepped into my power, but I have more incentive than I did yesterday to do so.

And while my mind continues to wrap itself around this entire experience; what it means for my work, my Self, and my way of being I doubt it strays far from this thought. Make a bid for connection. Stop playing small, a beautiful lightening rod once said it does nothing to serve the world. And I am beginning to really think she had a point.

Heart and soles

When I started my doctoral program, I wanted to (in the end) be the director of counseling services at a college or university and maybe teach a class in the counseling program. Once I got here, that expanded to me being open to work anywhere within student development and wellness. Now that I teach in the counseling department, the work is a bit intoxicating and my mind wanders through the halls on a faculty high. It just keeps evolving!

I talk with Mo most often about these sorts of things and while she is firm in her higher education lane, labeled very much an academic administrator (and possible faculty) I’m a bit less cemented. My mind makes far too many connections between fields and areas of interest to stay in the higher ed world–not that I don’t love it. I do, but I love it so much that I want to tell the world about it!

I often wonder how to leave a place like USD, or really Soles. Its a literal think tank for innovation in leadership. Not just educational leadership, not just organizational leadership, but all leadership. How do you walk away from that environment? I suppose I’ll always carry it with me. That paired with an already idealistic and imaginative spirit will likely stay with me anywhere that I go, but not every place will nurture it, protect it, and also constructively challenge it.

More than I think of what I want to do, I think of where I want to do it. I have already begun crafting the type of environment I see myself in and praying for it years before it is needed. We both have to be ripe at the same time. I will know it when it comes.

One month into year 2 and I have a topic for my dissertation and am planning pilot study research. I am collecting works and thoughts and stockpiling them for year three and four. I am, most importantly, living. Taking advantage of many opportunities to work with different kids of people because you just never know…

Last week I made mention of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and its explanation that if you know the velocity then you cannot also know the position of a thing. Meaning you can’t know both where something is (position) and how something is moving (velocity) at the same time with any accuracy. Once you start to see clearly one thing, you lose sight of the other. Sometimes I know where I am, othertimes I just know I’m moving towards greatness (or destruction–though not recently). Right now that uncertainty is okay. And according to physics it’ll always have to be.

I think, what an honor to be where I am in such good company. To be able to do what I am passionate about, and encouraged to grow. To be challenged yet supported in my endeavors. And even though in the end my dissertation is my work, everyones fingerprints will cover the trophy.

I suppose that this morning I am just feeling grateful. Happy about everything that lead me to this point. The things fell apart, the things that fell together, and the things that have remained since the beginning. They do not make me, but they shape me and if I had to call it one thing I would call it grace.

The one where I cried in class

Last night was the first meeting of the infamous Adult Development class with Dr. Green.  I could literally feel the anxiety in the room as my classmates and I sat there expecting the worst. We had our notes in front of us, and flipped through them desperately as we waited for our Socratic beat down to begin.  At least that was my interpretation of the situation.

Of course, like most things, it was not nearly as bad as I (we) imagined it would be.  During the course of all the excitement I forgot how excited I was for this class because I actually am very interested in human development.  Ever since Dr. Keim’s class during my masters which was “Lifespan and human development” but really focused more on the theories of child development I have wanted to know more about the adult.  Dr. Green’s class is poised to cover all of it.  On an academic level *pushes glasses up the bridge of my nose*, I am thrilled that a few of the people we are covering in class will be used to inform my dissertation research.  On a more human level, I find it interesting learning about how we grow and change throughout our lives.

It was made supremely clear to me my strengths last night.  As he began to ask us about Kegan, Piaget, Erikson, etc. I felt most comfortable discussing those who were rooted in Psychology.  This came as no surprise as that is my academic background and training up to this point.  Dr. Estrada asked me a few days ago why I chose a Doctorate in Leadership rather than in Counseling Psychology, and gave her an answer that I don’t remember…but right now what is coming to mind is that Leadership is something new and its making me WORK.  Not to say that I wouldn’t have had to work with another Psychology based degree, but this is all together a new foundation.  Its refreshing on any normal day to learn something new.  However, last night I was happy to have my crutch of explaining Piaget’s stages with relative ease.

Kegan…that twisty bastard.  Honestly, could this man have explained development in a more loopy way?  I know that people love this guy, and it seemed that my classmates had a handle on what he was trying to say. I, however, sat eager to hear a human explain to me what his text could not.  I mean, okay…yes I can read and comprehend text  of course, but it isn’t a living breathing thing for me yet.  I can’t see Kegan’s work in life quite yet, so for me (the stubborn practitioner) its just words on a page.  I want to like Kegan and am hoping that by the end of today’s lecture we can get to know one another, but our first date sucked.

Naturally the things I am most excited about are coming at the end…I love me some Theory U, and I want to dive in to this Wheel of Life by Ploitkin but I have to wait.  The universe deals me “patience” challenges every chance she gets.  Hmph.

Right…so the part where I cried.  Well the Socratic bit was over, the lecture was over, all the questions of logistics were done and it was time to introduce ourselves; in this the 4th hour of our class.  I knew that the Col. would start because that’s just how she is, and damn me for sitting next to her, that meant that I would be second.  Our task was to introduce ourselves and speak about a thing of importance we brought that made a difference in our own development.  Before the task even began I thought, “I am going to cry tonight.”  Ever since one of our classmates discussed recently ending an 11 year relationship I felt a hint of sadness in the room. Not just having a bad day sadness, like…Tonight I wanna cry

So I went. I talked about the Princeton hoodie I was wearing and as I went to describe the relationship of P2AD (who gave me the hoodie) and I, I could feel emotion in the back of my throat and I ran in the opposite direction.  I mumbled something about love and doing things from love rather than fear. It was truthful, but not honest.  And as I am here in my safe place I can say, there is no way I could have gone there in class.  Hell, I can barely go there period…but it did make it painfully obvious that all that “stuff” is still very present.

Anyway so then a few more people go, and we get to one classmate who talks about his father and I lost it.  I couldn’t even understand why.  I ask myself my usual, “Are these your tears?” And I think they were a mix. Maybe I was expressing the emotion I ran away from. Maybe I was sharing an experience with my classmate. Maybe I was thinking about my own relationship with my own father. Maybe it was all of those. Either way I sobbed to the point where someone slid me a stack of napkins.  I had to laugh because here I was weeping a river seemingly over a story of a man I never even knew.  5 people later and I thought I had myself under control until another classmate discussed being changed because of an accident, and I was off to the emo races again.  I am completely changed because of my accident. It gave me everything I love in life, including life, and it was the biggest turning point in my human existence.  Tears.

Now, I have cried before in class and one of those ugly cries that you can’t control or stop. However, that was at least halfway through the semester and in a class that had “healing” in the title. I feel it is somehow more permissible there.  <—These are excuses.  I do not exactly have a picture in my head of what a Doctoral student is or what they do, because I have never been around any until I was one.  I can say this, I did not think she was the type to cry for an hour on the first day.

Within the first 5 minutes of our meeting Dr. Green had us work with a partner to come to a consensus about a thing.  I was partners with the Colonel and we immediately decided that we were not in this degree program for the degree, though it is a welcomed consequence. We are both here for the personal work, and to come out as changed people because of it.  For her, a retired Marine Colonel it probably makes more sense to do something just for you and just for the personal benefit. For me who hasn’t even had a solid year of professional work experience outside of Graduate research positions? It seems a bit more unlikely, but its true.  Of course, I will be glad to have completed a terminal degree and contribute to the world of academia but honestly I am more excited about the person I will be, and the person I already am so far.

So if it takes a few tears on the first day of a very scary class to say I learned a lesson and am changed from it, well then I guess that is the cost of presence.

Make your Life your Art

I was walking home having a conversation with myself, something that is not completely uncommon.  I was mulling over a conversation my advisor and I had about research and my desire to do more of it this year.  She suggested that I enroll in a class this fall centered around conducting research and preparing for an international leadership conference. Immediately I thought, “I can’t afford to take another class” because my scholarship pays for two per semester. I literally shook my head and said “NO! Jess you have to stop making money a barrier as to why you can’t do what you want to do.” My next thought was pretty brillz

What you give power, has power

Simple, yet right.on.the.money.  And why did it take until today for me to really really get that?  To understand that debt has power because I have given it power.  That inactivity has power because I give it power.  Or that my academic preparedness has power because I give it power.  It really clicked today that things have power because I willingly assign it.  I decided that I would add the class and I felt good about the decision, the money? It will come. I have truly grown tired of worrying about money.

Before I spoke with my advisor, I sat outside of the conference room waiting for her to prepare for a meeting. As I waited, I started reading a book called The Nature of Leadership.  Reading a story by a CEO about learning to listening another thought occured to me:

People don’t want to be lead.  People want to be understood.  Understand them, and they will come with you.

It was unedited and that thought is just what arose as I digested the CEO’s revelations about the necessity of listening to people.  Its just what I heard the other night…old familiar words but powerful none the less, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

  • The authors spoke of art and life…how throughout school the two were separate. There was time for learning, tools for success and then there was the extracurricular: art.  It was supplementary, not rudimentary.  Until he came across an artist who wove his passion for art in his home, his career, his volunteerism, his relationships.  It was an epiphany for him; life and art do not have to be separate.
  • I was watching a CBS special about this author who wrote a book about decision making entitled, “Wait”.  He spoke of waiting until the last possible minute to make a decision and it kind of speaks to Wheatley’s idea of clarity arising from chaos.  He used sports as an example, “sitting in the pocket” for football or tennis players waiting for the ball to come to you…its patience. Its waiting until the muddy water settles and things become clear, answers come organically and readily and our actions are not forced and we act with certainty. It is not always procrastination…it is acting from our Self who has not left room for doubt.

Cycling back to the second thought…I contemplated its truth. Is this true of my experience?  Well…isn’t that the entire premise around counseling? I reflect, I mirror, I show my clients that “I get them” and then together we head to a place that we have both agreed on. I am seen as the therapist, the facilitator but in fact I am not leading and clients are not following.

So if I can understand I can have a movement.  This is not to say that I cannot lead or I should not lead…but I believe it to be key in the execution of my leadership.  I have to understand people.  In the universe’s beautiful way…this happens to connect back to the book because it was partially authored by Steven Covey who listed “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” as one of the 7 habits of highly effective people.  Because when I can show people that I get them. I hear them. I see them. I know what is important to them. It is then that share vision, purpose and they will likely come. Why? Because they believe that because I get THEM I get IT.  At least that is my belief, and honestly my experience.

This came from reframing the way I understood my role…as a friend, as a daughter, as a student, teacher, counselor, etc.  This came from seeing the things that I did differently and as a result, they were different.  The process was different. It stopped being how can I make people better or how can I help people, to how can I understand them and what is there to learn?  That small shift makes such a big difference.  THAT is what allows me to, in those moments, sit in the pocket…to wait for the ball…to be patient because the clarity comes. People just need time.

See how great conversations with yourself can be?