The Fat Woman breaking point

I got feedback from the article I wrote about my Fat Women study. In the study’s opening I wrote the following:
The current discourse around fat bodies is a simple one: it needs to change. While body-positive and fat-positive popular culture movements are beginning to gain momentum, much of the change is focused around shifting from “thin” as a goal to “healthy” as a goal often underestimating the fact that in our society the two are commonly synonymous.” To which my professor wrote “Any citations here?” To which I thought, “Um yeah ‘America, two-thousand and always'”. I understood what she meant but it irked me none the less.

Later on in the evening I’d find myself capitalizing on a living social deal for two months of free Audible book rentals. I’d recently purchased Andy Cohen’s audiobook and loved it so I wondered what other ear candy I might find. Wondering if I could capitalize on lazy learning I searched the word “fat” to see if perhaps any books I came across might help me in my research. Of course, diet book after diet book. How to lose weight. “French women don’t get fat.” “Japanese women don’t get fat.” “But just in case you’re French or Japanese and accidentally get fat, here’s how to fix it!” Almost 200 books of bullshit propaganda on how to surely feel worse about yourself and look at your body as infected with some disease in need of curing.

Also, for the personal memoirs I encountered many mentioned this a-ha moment of knowing they had to lose weight for their health. With my tongue pressed firmly against my cheek, I roll my eyes. Not because health concerns relating to weight are mythical or to be taken lightly, but because far too often people (fat and non-fat) use health as a guise for discrimination and prejudice against the fat body. It feels much like the good Christian praying for my damned homosexual soul, if you follow. A little too, “Bless your [fat] heart.”

If I continue with the parallel between fat and non-heterosexual ((because in my American life if you’re not straight up Hetero, no cherry Chapstick fantasies then during any given week you’re likely on the chopping block)) then it feels a bit like diets are conversion therapy. As if the only way we know how to react to fat (LGBTQ) body/being is to change it to what we DO know and accept, thin (Hetero). Far too often we dangle health (straightness/cis-gendered) in front of fat (LGBT) people as if it is the key to happiness and a get out of jail free card from discrimination and pain. WRONG! I’m tired of that discourse. I’m tired of the unquestioned associations between healthy and thin and happy. As if the only way to obtain one is to have the other two.

And I’m perhaps most upset because for so long I bought into it. And I buy into it. I have to consciously undo the associations in my head daily, multiple times daily, so that I do not continue to punish myself mistreat myself or deny myself access to joy because my thighs touch. It becomes particularly troublesome when it comes to dating. I turn from a strong capable fiercely independent woman into an unsure insecure frightened girl in desperate need of validation. I’ve gotten better, but the messages that men like a certain type of woman who does NOT look like me, they are there. And here, in Southern California, they are blatant. And repeated. Over. And over. And over again.

And I try to remind myself of who I am. Who I really am, beyond just my jeans size. What I have accomplished what I am destined for and what I have to offer. I also affirm myself. I take photos of myself looking my best. I dress well. I carry myself in a way that is the woman I want to be, not always the woman I am. I’m not ashamed to say much of it is armor. But I am proudest because I can take it all off too. The mascara the gloss the filters the heels and slimming jeans. I can sit with myself naked in all the ways and still I can find light in my smile.

I just wish it wasn’t so damned hard for the world to do the same. To look at a me and see all the things I know I am without wanting to change me. Without seeing me as a problem to be fixed or an enigma to be prayed over for health and healing. Stop worrying about my damn blood pressure and just See me! Stop averting your eyes or stealing uncomfortable glances. Don’t qualify my beauty with “…for a fat girl.” I am worthy simply because I am. Do not wonder the secrets behind my laughter, and companionship as if I’ve stolen them from you. Love is not in limited supply.

My wish is that one day all the fat girls (and boys) women and men feel safe enough to show up. Make them see us. Make them see themselves. And for us to stop retelling the story of body hatred and body wrong-ness. Stop building the fortress around ourselves and believe that we are more resilient than the pain of other people’s insecurities being hurled in our direction. That we are stronger than the pain that reverberates in the cavern of our own being. I want us to know that we matter, we are not mistakes, and we deserve every happiness available in this life. Just the way we are.


1500 words of reflection

Odd though it may seem, I am just realizing that this is my last semester of being in a classroom taking classes ever (ever ((ever(((ever))) echoes into the infinite hollow). I have been in school in some shape of form for the past 27 years. That is a significant amount of time and now that I’ve come to the end, I genuinely can’t believe it. True to form, all I can think is, “What happens next?”

Technically I know. I mean next semester I enter dissertation stage and I’ll be in seminar, then I’ll propose and transition from Doctoral Student to Doctoral Candidate (Jessica Williams, ABD!) and then…it begins. I am very fortunate that Annie, my work-wife and writing partner, is a speed racer and I am a slow turtle because it means we are now on the same pace and will be going through this together.  I keep reminding myself ‘one bite at a time’  that’s how you eat an elephant and that’s how I’ll finish this dissertation. Come what may, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

As I take a moment to reflect on all the tiny moments that got me here a few stick out that I think serve as lessons I can always return to.

  1. If it is meant to be, IT WILL BE.  This is the greatest lesson.  My journey to physically get to San Diego was crazy, dramatic, unbelievable and so humbling. It really taught me the lesson that the universe really is conspiring on my behalf and I was supposed to be here. In fact, I was never not going to be here. I am so happy I went with my gut.  USD was the only PhD application I completed. My Stanford and Vanderbilt applications went unfinished because I just did not get the same feeling from those universities that I did from USD.  All of the things in the checkboxes matter: Cost, Program, Faculty, Location, etc. But at the end of the day you have to feel it. At the end of the day your doctoral program, or really anything has to FEEL right. It has to be somewhat organic.  Fit is by far the most important decision making factor for me when it comes to things I align myself with or commit to and I learned that from this process.
  2. If its costing too much energy to keep it together, let it fall apart. It is kind of the antithesis of #1. There were many things I tried to force into fruition. My timeline, my topics, certain projects and even certain friendships or relationships throughout my program. But, what I’ve learned is that it is not working for a reason, pay attention to the signs! There has been nothing I’ve lost that was not for the better (in the long run).  So if you are falling out of love with your topic that you have so much research on it is okay. Do not cling to it fearful of what you might lose, open your arms in anticipation of all you may gain. You might find yourself returning with renewed perspective or you might find yourself somewhere entirely new, but do not deny yourself that journey.
  3. This is YOUR education, own it.  I am not exactly what one would call a rule follower. Sometimes I do things my own way and in my own time and the beautiful thing about a terminal degree is that you are charged with the task of being original. Take that up! There have been assignments that I’ve completed in a different way than asked by the professor. I explain my process, and then I do it in a way that is more suited for me and my learning. It is tricky because you want to make sure you are challenging yourself, but at the same time you have to be true to your vision.  I am fortunate that my professors and my program support innovation and creativity (see why fit matters?), and I have really been able to step into my own as a professional as a result of their blessing.  Your professors are your future colleagues, collaborate with them in that way.
  4. Year 1–meet everybody Year 2–say yes to everything Year 3–tighten your circle and your interests.  It was important to me to leave my university, and every university I have attended, with relationships as rich as knowledge I acquired. In many cases those relationships have opened more doors than the knowledge. I have found at the doctoral level, the situation is no different in fact in education, who you know is kind of everything.  My first year I was a sponge, and I absorbed everything. I met everyone that I possibly could and kept in touch with them too (that’s important). Those relationships led to opportunities that I was offered my second year when I had a bit more experience under my belt and had my bearings. My third year I had discerned which opportunities were great for the experience and which ones I really wanted to invest more of my energy into. I could not have done this if I hadn’t experienced so many things the previous year. For example, I got my job teaching in the counseling program (2nd year) because of a relationship that began and I nurtured from my 1st semester. When offered the chance to TA a class, I took it even though I could technically teach my own. That lead to me being able to teach abroad in Jamaica that summer.  Which leads me to the next lesson…
  5. You are never “too smart” “too experienced” “too successful” to take a back seat.  One of the first assignments I had to complete as a doctoral student was shredding for our teaching department.  I hated it, who wouldn’t? But I did it and showed up everyday in business casual attire to lift heavy boxes and shred paper. The professors who were around would notice me shredding and eventually they started to talk to me. I told them I didn’t mind the work even though I hated it, and seeing my work ethic I got two more assignments. One was a research project with a professor in that department.  I have experienced so many doctoral students who are “full cups” and who are unwilling to really listen and take in feedback or humble themselves and do menial tasks; but people notice that. It is unattractive to say the very least, and in the field of leadership? And yes we are working towards terminal degrees so that we never have to make copies and shred papers again, but that does not make you better than the work. It does not make you above the work.
  6. Don’t be afraid to be wrong, and don’t be afraid to be right. Some of my greatest learning lessons have come from conflicts, arguments.  When I disagree with someone or something that was said about me and I have to sit back and engage in critical self inquiry.  Not only was the comment or observation true, but why was it bothering me? What did I believe about myself?  It resulted in the greatest growth.  Similarly, learning when to stop hoarding insights was key.  Why was I holding onto it and not speaking up? Whatever the reason it was not a good one and I finally started speaking up and coming forth with my opinions. Sometimes people agreed, sometimes people didn’t respond at all but it was out there.  The most rewarding byproduct of this degree has been access to really really intelligent and opinionated people. Take advantage of that audience, dialogue really helps to sharpen the saw.
  7. Have Fun. Seriously, if this work doesn’t fill you up with all the good stuff at least some of the time, why are you doing it?  It is a question worthy of consideration. I’ve had people who just want the title of Doctor. I’ve had people who just “love school” I’ve had people who feel its the “next step” and having been through3/4 of a PhD I can say with some authority that that’s ridiculously stupid. Yes stupid. It is far too difficult a process to go through not to love it and quite frankly what joy will you have at the outset if you’re killing yourself in the meantime? I may complain (often) about my program, my being a professional student, my debt (!), my work, but I sincerely love what I do.  Otherwise I would have walked away a long time ago.  Marching too long in the wrong direction just means more work for me in the long run.  There were certainly times when I thought maybe I’d gotten what I needed from the experience and could quit, but then I would learn something new. I would have another opportunity, I would gain another new insight and I would be reminded that I am supposed to be here.

What a blessing this has been.  What an absolute blessing.

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. 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. 

Barefoot at the defense or Call of the Torchbearer

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.
~Audre Lorde

I was reading a book I’d checked out from the library about women of color in academe. I could tell it was one of those books I wanted to read immediately and without interruption, and I could also tell that it was a book I would need to constantly stop reading and make notes about. I was ready to dive. On the introductory page written in italicized letters was the word “Fuck”. I knew then that I’d been very right about this book.

I interrupt myself to add a bit of context. Today I went to the dissertation defense of one of my classmates and pseudo-cohort members. I internally and externally–as evidenced by my lack of critical questioning–cheered for her successful defense and all the while deeply considered the pending arrival of my own.  I studied her body language, her notes, her slides, would my slides be the university standard Torero blue? I made a mental note that prior to my defenses I would need to buy a wireless clicker to maneuver my slides. I wondered what type of suit I would wear and I got down to her heels and I asked myself what type of shoes would I wear? It was then that the words that first began my initial doctoral class rang deafeningly though my head, “How would you like to begin?” Before I  could think about it I answered myself and said, “By telling people exactly how I felt, acknowledging whatever emotion was there and I would like to be barefoot.”

As a read the second story of From Oppression to Grace I came across a metaphor introduced by Menthia Clark but derived from work by Smith ((sidebar, I tried desperately to find the whole name of this author but unfortunately the citation only lists Smith, D. and the internet isn’t too fond of ambiguity.  I see this as a major flaw in the system, APA….major flaw)).  Smith states that, “I work hard at staying in my mind and not allowing spirit to visit me as I speak about critical education theory, womanist/feminist theory and pedagogy or qualitative/ethnographic research.  It is the dis-dancing with myself that creates a kind of distancing from the southern Black girl/woman who enjoys spirit-filled conversations that push the boundaries of a different kind of intellectual life.”  When I read it my breath left me, temporarily.  I felt this way. About spirit and particularly about art.

Much of my research is about connection, authenticity, feelings of belonging, vulnerability and all of that for purposes of facilitating innovation. AND much of my degree has been running through mud trying to make space for both my artist and my academic selves. I’d long sense surrendered a battle I foresaw with my department over doing a non-traditional defense. Partly because I was not sure the fight would create more heart-ache than hedge-way and partly because I conceded to do both the traditional defense and a nontraditional option.  However, in completing research on facilitating innovation, everything in me scoffs at the traditional defense with black words on white backgrounds and an hour of intellectual hazing.

Get me get me out of this box I feel so claustrophobic in here...

Get me get me out of this box I feel so claustrophobic in here…

How far can I push the boundaries, I wondered? Again, I answered myself lamenting that if I were going to dare to buck against tradition, I better damn well know my shit.  How is it that the sole purpose of the doctoral degree of philosophy is to promote new ways of thinking, and being and yet the process by which we go about it is, to some extent, archaic and riddled with binding rigidity?

Clark recalled a story where she asked a classmate what she, a Black woman, should wear to assert power. He laughingly responded “a power suit.”  She pointed out the illustration of westernized patriarchy in the subliminal suggestion that a woman must wear a “power” suit in order to assert power as if she could not any other way.  And the very fact that for women it is called such supports the social construction (and thus, to some–large–extent the consciousness) of such a remark.

I struggle with idea that I am working within the confines of a system that was not designed with me in mind.  And for as much creativity, forward-thinking, innovation, and imagination that we (the academy) claim to foster, there is only but so much the system can handle before it begins to reject it entirely.  It is kind of like what I’m studying.  In explaining my research earlier to a colleague I wrote to her the following: If the leader’s vision is not in alignment with the values of the group the leader will quite literally be destroyed like a parasite or a virus.  The group acts like a body and each individual is a white blood cell working for systemic stasis.  If a host upsets that stasis then it is attacked. However, my understanding is that what they call the leader I also see as this intermediary.  It does not make the leader a person, but a role, literally then the one exercising leadership in the moment and the person who is holding both the “human community of individuals” and the “greater collective system” at the same time. However because of the danger of any such group requiring this of one person, and repeatedly, that model is not sustainable over time.  In this sense, sustainable leadership requires individuals to each hold a piece of the leadership responsibility.

Herein lies both the problem and the solution.  If I chose to throw out too much of the tradition, the process, the standard way of going about my dissertation I would be treated like a parasite, a virus and the body of academia would destroy me.  However, if I am able to work within the system.  Both sharing the responsibility of creation and connecting with others who are working towards the same end, the perhaps I might survive.  In either case, it just won’t sit will enough with me to go along to get along. That has never really been my style. Fitting as such, my current facebook cover photo is from a professor in my program that perfectly summarizes exactly how anyone willing to fight against convention must do so…

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 7.09.05 PM

Such is the task of a torchbearer.  “Jessica.” I think, almost daily, “You have to just do it your way and forget how hard its going to be or how much longer it will take.  You have to go with your gut.”  It is a gift and a curse  to have such a vocal and ardent inner voice. But she has gotten me this far and we have many more miles to go.

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!!

Reflections after Day One

After one of those weeks where I feel blessed beyond measure to be one within this community of people who encourage questions uncertainty and growth in the now…there was more.

It has been a long day and at the end of it, all I wanted was quiet. I wanted to close my eyes with my keyboard in my lap, as I am doing right now, and let all the words that had bubbled to the surface of my consciousness flow out of my fingertips. I write from the purest space when my eyes are closed. It’s like I can hear better then. I suppose it makes sense…because when vision is taken away then the other senses are heightened. Also, it is curious that I rarely make typing mistakes when my eyes are closed, or if I do I can correct them easily, however when my eyes are open I stumble all over the place. Curious and yet not curious at all.

Anyway, so I spent my day at an Action Research Conference at my university. Ever since I really understood what it was, I’ve been fascinated by it, mainly because the rsearcher has a place in the work and reflection is welcomed. I seems like a type of research that fits with me…I can imagine that throughout my dissertation process if I did not do action research, I would have jornals upon journals filled with thoughts and reflections. Why not make the apart of the process? Anyway so I had so many memorable quotes and reflections (to see them check out the hashtag #SOLESar2013) but among them, was this:

2. Willingness of practitioner to self-disclose, telling his or her own story and how that relates to that of the students they advise. Vulnerability begets vulnerability, are we, in student affairs practitioner training programs, setting an expectation of discomfort/uncertainty/vulnerability? <>Torbert
–>>idea of self disclosure opening one up to judgment and questions of the safety of space as excuse to avoid the work of vulnerability. Work avoidance.
–>>action research on dynamics course?

I find myself, throughout the refinement of my research area of interest, constantly trying to balance my love of self-work and the practitioner, and how said work then affections our actions, and the self-work itself. At first I wanted to look at how practitioners rejuvenate, spiritually. Then I wanted to look at how spiritual practice affected decision making. That turned into how identity (en totale) affects decision making. Which evolved into how decision making processes are different for those with different identities. That, then, became looking at how identity negotiation and salience affected decision making. And now we have arrived at how the development of the practitioner affects the development of the practitioner. And perhaps it is not yet done evolving because it still has to get smaller, more focused. The obvious choice, after hearing today would be to explore story-telling and how transparency/authenticity/vulnerability of the practitioner affected their students. But…when I step back from it all and think about what all these things have in common I see, self work, and how that somehow informs professional practice. In what ways do we bring our true self to our professions? And how does that influence our product/output?

I think that this absolutely comes from self-inquiry. I HAVE to feel at home in work in order for me to do it. I cannot just put my head down and bear through things, I have to make a bed in work. Swim in it. Live in it. I have to be intimately connected to my work. I think that is why I a really good at jobs I love and really horrible at jobs I do not love. In those instances…I bail. In reflecting on a situation where I was being asked (silently) to connect and to share in a time and space where I felt I shouldn’t have it, I bailed. In looking back I wish I would have realized in that moment or in those series of moments that I was being solicited for intimacy and withstood the discomfort…my OWN discomfort for the growth of something bigger than myself and more resilient/functional/useful than my shadow. Once upon a time it may have served me to retreat? Maybe? But I guess I now want to call attention to it and stand firm in the eye of it…and I want to know how other people are coming to those conclusions as well.

Long day…still processing, but lost in thought isn’t the worst place to wander.

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.

Close your eyes and leap (or stand still):The Trouble with being a Twenty Something, Single, PhD student

Yes–my title needed to be that long. The trouble is that I want to be done. The other trouble is that, I am enjoying what I’m doing.  Merely hours after I wrote the previous post, I met with my advisor who looked at my neatly organized, color coded, 4-year plan and spiked it viciously into the sand.  So maybe that didn’t happen–but that is how it felt! The thing to note about my advisor is that she is very quiet, and yet she speaks with tremendous volume…so even though its very gentle and soft-spoken, her words are about as gentle as a jab from Ali.  Or maybe that’s just my experience of her when she’s telling me truths I do not want to hear.

So she gently suggets that I slow down my pace and consider doing 4.5 years maybe even 5 years so that I can continue only taking two classes per semester (the recommended course load) and teach and research and whatever else I do.  Whereas I want to take three, and get the heck outta dodge.  This was our first disagreement. I finally just turned my program plan over and said, “Let’s move on.”

Then she asked what I wanted to do when I graduated. This made me frown…mainly because I am not so sure anymore. I keep flirting with teaching, but the idea of the publish or parish lifestyle of a tenured-track Full-time Faculty member just makes my stomach turn.  I just want to teach…and research…and work with students (yes I realize that all of this describes what a FT faculty member does) but saying it out loud? I just do not know that I’m ready for that. Naturally, my advisor gave me until November 1st to make my mind up.  Not for my whole life, just my course of study, but isn’t that the same thing?

Here’s where she got me, though. She asked in her big booming Wizard of Oz voice:


See, here is the problem with being a 20something single PhD student…technically I have no reason to rush. I do not have kids that need raising, a husband that needs attention, hell I don’t even have a plant that needs watering. I just want to be done.  I cannot even convince myself that this is a good enough reason to kill myself for the next two years, but it is not going to stop a valiant effort.  Something I just realized in texting Mass Elle (who, oddly enough has been very present for this whole sham-foolery today)…

Mass Elle: …but I think you’ll be great in it and it’ll be nice in the long run to not cram it all in.
JessJ: I know. I know. I just need to sit on it and grieve my freedom.

It struck me when I said those words that I am feeling stifled. I do this often–I feel stuck and I want out and then I get somewhere and feel stuck again.  The truth is, I am as free anywhere that I choose to be, but I’m always looking for the  next big adventure.  Oddly enough, the book I mentioned earlier honed in on this saying that North Node Geminis often crave freedom.  This also explains why I fancy myself an Air Bender (above all other benders).  I cannot tell you how frustrated it makes me when my advisor is right.

Air is the element of freedom.
— Iroh to Zuko in “Bitter Work“.

One Done

The first year is done and I have to admit I am feeling pretty proud of myself (hence the quote in the photo).  I had a wonderful semester and although I still have to turn in my final paper for my literature review class I am not dreading it nor is it hanging over my head. I have completed it and stepped away from it for a while, and I will look at it again on Sunday then submit it.

One thing that I learned this semester that was wonderful to get so early on in this program was that the things I am doing in class are for me.  It is no longer about the grades (though they matter) it is about getting the most out of my professors, my peers, my experience in my program.  It is about me and my work and I have to utilize every resource afforded to me to produce the best research that I can while I am here.  Its stretched me.

I asked Nama how she was doing today and she said, “I am stretching and expanding with life.” I thought what a perfect illustration for this place us twenty something young professionals are doing right now.  I see myself and my work as being much bigger than I anticipated.  I have found myself dabbling in teaching and entertaining the idea of not working in administration.  I have even thought about not working in higher education and tossing my skill set to the corporate world.  I guess I just see the infiniteness and rather than it feeling daunting or overwhelming it is starting to feel exciting.

I cannot believe that this time last year I was graduating with my Masters degree and stressed over how I was going to find the money to get to San Diego.  It all worked out though.  As it always always always does.  I was telling my Department Chair, who is also my advisor, why I have decided to pursue spirituality in leadership as my dissertation topic.  I told her I wanted to understand the intuitive influences in decision making and she asked how it was personally relevant to me.  I told her my story of the last year and how the decisions I made were illogical and impractical yet felt so incredibly right that I had to listen to them.  I explained to her that when my life talks to me I have learned to listen because if I ignore it for too long it begins to yell.

If I had to sum up the first year of my doctoral program in one year I would choose: immersion. I am in it.  There was no tip toe-ing there was not an easing in, we fell into the deep in of the pool and as my head breaks the water my lungs are stronger, my vision is adjusting and I am okay.  I’m not looking for land or anyone to rescue me, I am here in this vast body and I am surviving in it, with it.  One done.

PhD Option Une

  • Who? Vanderbilt University
  • What: Peabody College of Education, Ph.D in Learning, Teaching, and Diversity with an emphasis on Development, Learning and Diversity
  • When: Fall 2011
  • Where: Nashville, TN
  • How: Vanderbilt waives admissions fees for applicants that apply online, and “All admitted Ph.D. students receive funding for up to five years of study. Those invited to join us will receive a financial package which includes full tuition, a monthly stipend competitive with any college of education in the nation, and health insurance.”

My first day of class in Graduate school I had to fill out a note card about myself. Name, age, ugrad degree, track, and future career aspirations.  I wrote: Jessica J, 25, B.S. Psychology, Community Counseling, and I will be attending Vanderbilt University for my Ph.D.  Arrogance. I knew that Vandy had a very good college of education though, one of the top in the nation…and I’ve had my focus on maintaining a 4.0 GPA while working on my Masters so that this goal (may) come true.

Now…you guys know that I want to move to Cali more than anything in the wooooooorld.  But, I promised myself and Deeds that I would do the best for my future.  The things I want to do are not available in California quite yet, perhaps in a few years. For that reason getting the PhD I was supposed to be trying for, would leave me unemployed out there lol.  So I need a degree I can work with. One not so specific.  I found this one looking for Higher Education programs (which was my 2nd choice PhD but they often require work experience prior to admission) and it sound absolutely amazing.  Here are highlights:

Vandy says: In the DLD concentration, students investigate and experience the variety of ways in which diversity plays out in human learning. We employ an interdisciplinary approach as we examine a broad range of sources of diversity, including variation in racial and cultural backgrounds, learning environments, organizational supports, and developmental and learning histories.

This works for me because working in higher education (something I’m qualified for with my Masters degree and experiences) and diversity is really what I want to do.  Whether thats teaching multicultural counseling, working in a college counseling center and conducting research on diversity affairs in higher education, or working in admissions on diversity recruitment and retention.  That may sound like garb to you guys but to me it sounds like a DREAM!  I’ll be highlighting other programs as I find them…but as for right now this one is pretty exciting.