“Are you going to let the shame of imperfection keep you quiet or in your shoes?”
I have struggled for a while with the idea of my dissertation. At the same time, I’ve been salivating at the idea of having to produce this major body of written work. I consider myself a writer–actually I consider myself an artist with the written word being my favorite medium of creating. So, for “a writer” someone who literally wakes up everyday drafting, someone who writes everyday be it in journals, on notepads, on a blog, or even just in her mind, the idea of a dissertation is something that I can totally do. It is not a question of can, or even will, for me it is a question of how…the process.
Words just flow through me. I do not sit down with an intention or a plan, no outline no map. I flow in and with words at the same time. I’ve been working on cognitively not creating such a dichotomy between my joyous writing and my academic writing. I believe that it is in large part due to my own paranoia have I found there to be such a difference between the two. I have also realized that there is no way I am going to be happy writing a dissertation that is not both academically rigorous and yet poetic and meaningful. So, I decided the route I am going to take.
Earlier this week, I said to myself, “On Friday, you are going to begin. You are going to start to pull all the inside to the outside and you are going to get naked in this thing.” Risk. I guess the best way to explain my decision is that I decided to be vulnerable in my work. That is what I believe separates my joyous from my work. I learned really early how to “do” school, I figured out what teachers valued and I played to that strength, however when I began my PhD program I decided this degree would be for me. So, I’ve taken opportunities that have scared me. I’ve pushed myself and sometimes failed but learned in the process. I’ve whole-heartedly believed in every piece of work I’ve produced in this program and I want the end to be an illustration of not just research but of my journey through my work.
It started with mentorship. Safe. Then spirituality, but it was too big and I got lost in that. So I pulled back out. Then decision making, but I realized it wasn’t the decision it was the process. Then I read. And I found that the decision making process is different depending on where people are developmentally. So it became about development. Then, there was a question of but who? First I looked at different types of individuals. The student. The professional. But I realized something, that at the same time I am me, I am also we. So I couldn’t just study the individual. It has to be both the individual, the system, at the same time.
It was a question to Brené and it is a question that I think is coming for my own research, and that is how does one encourage and promote vulnerability systemically? There are some things that happen, people open up with you or those that cannot or will not almost resent the vulnerability and act out in different ways. But how does that shape the organization? And what does the individual who was first “open” do? Do they experience shame ? Or are they shame resilient? And because I am looking at student affairs practitioners, how does this then affect the students that he or she advises?
It is still taking shape. But it’s my place. It is where I fit and it involves all the other pieces. I had to leave it so that I could arrive in this place, and I am excited to share it with my advisor who will soon get a new name, My Chair. It is a tricky thing, time. It moves so quickly and even before you can catch your breath, sometimes the seasons have changed and time has marched on.
So it’s Friday. I’m ready to write. I set my intention, I’ve taken off my armor and I’ve got my pen. I am right here right now and it’s the only place I want to be.
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.
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.
I 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:
Your will terrifies me. But I trust you, completely. I hear you. I’m ready. Let’s go.
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.
It’s been a crazy 72 hours. Though, I think things were in uproar before I even left Atlanta. I’ll start from Jamaica though. After a million hour redeye flight (thanks DCam–joking…sort of…) I arrived in easily my new favorite place. After seeing Silver Sands, I was overjoyed that I invited friends down so that I get to share this place with people I love. It’s that kind of a spot.
It’s 6am…the fact that I am up, alert, and writing is a testament to the beauty of this place. Because the sun wakes up around 4:30am from what I can tell, because by 5 there was a beautifully lit sky sitting atop the Caribbean Sea right outside my bedroom window. When you wake up to a scene like that, sleep isn’t as tempting as it usually is.
I had my duck on while I’ve been here…calm cool and collected on the surface but paddling like hell to just stay afloat underneath. My emotions were in an uproar and everything felt urgent and worty-of-sharing. Unfortunately P2AD boar the brunt of my wrath. I couldn’t figure out why I was so triggered until I had literally unloaded everything. Then I realized…this was residual from Summer 2011. I had to remind myself that this was not that. That I was in a new place now, and that even though the scene felt familiar, this was not history repeating itself. When I literally said these words to myself, it is like I came out of the tailspin nosedive and leveled out, instantly. Then I had to suck the poison out, a la Mean Girls, and apologize (profusely and adamantly) to P2AD.
I didn’t explain to him the ins and outs…I didn’t want to tell that story. But afterwards, he said there was no need, I was just working through my emotions, and assured me that I wasn’t as nuts as I think I was. He’s wrong, but I am glad he let it go.
After settling score, I got to tell him about Shantal* teaching me local Jamaican phrases, how I am considering resigning my vegetarianism, and my new love of 5am. It’s an odd thing…I am in this beautiful place but the capacity in which I came puts me in an in-between. What I just realized in typing this is that Chile, my last trip abroad, was also liminal. Something about travel seemingly begets transition. Hm. Anyway, so I am here as a teaching assistant for the Counseling program. It’s weird because the other instructors, all male, are all together in a villa and I am here with students. Although my “students” are my age it is still felt that my role…my space, if you will, holds differently than theirs. But it is not a bad thing, or a good thing, just an observation. Something that makes me wonder about my role within the walls of school…because I believe you always bring your whole self into a place, I wonder how teacher me has affected student me in the classroom and with my peers.
Lastly, I have had the pleasure of several walks (in the hot Jamaican sun) around the property by myself. Often heading from one meeting to another, but solo nonetheless. In these, my thinking times, I’ve gotten to just be 6. Kick rocks, and make up stories about the guests staying in different villas. Dream up how each house earned its name. Admire the art and wonder what I can leave here as my small contribution.
I had this thought yesterday that we are going to leave with so much, what are we going to reciprocate? Not just stimulation to the local economy, tips for our house moms, bartenders, route taxi drivers, and the like, but what thing of real substance can we offer this community? Immediately a list of intangibles: gratitude, appreciation, humility…but I think the real thing I may be leaving are a few definitive limits. What and who is beautiful, what and who are poetic, lyrical, worthy to be a muse. What and who is acceptable, rich, and admirable.
Shantal told me last night that she requested to work every day because she needs the money to finish building her home. She has two sons and her home will be a 2 bed room, 2 bathroom home that right now does not have a roof. Initially, my instinct was akin to Liz Gilbert’s, I wondered what I could do to help. Then after sitting for a minute I wanted less to help, and more to just admire her hustle. Not everyone steps up to the plate like that, even when life is demanding they do. No going out, no new shoes, no trips, she said, every extra dime I get I save for the house. And she’s not paying a contractor, she told me she was contracting herself, finding builders who could do it at the price she could afford. It made me smile to hear her story. It reminded me of a conversation with my mom before I left home. She was talking about how hard it’d been to cut this crown molding trim for the rooms she is painting in the house. I asked her why she didn’t just get the Home Depot people to do it for her, and she just looked at me quizzically and said, because I can do it myself. And while I definitely will not be cutting up crown molding, there are other things that I can do, and should not be afraid to try to do, even if I haven’t yet figured out how. That, I think, is being in the arena…getting your butt kicked.
*Shantal is the bartender on the property, obviously we became friends early on. Judge not, lest ye too be judged.
I was watching Dr. Brene Brown on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday today which in and of itself was like an academic and spiritual explosion, but something in particular stuck out. Brene mentioned how we measure our self worth on menial things such as twitter followers, likes on facebook and that sort of thing. Because we’re always looking for validation in a society of uncertainty–and uncertainty is the ultimate enemy. It is not okay to not know. And so we need someone, anyone, to tell us we’re funny (enough), pretty (enough), influential (enough). Enough enough. In a culture of scarcity, we just want to feel full and we’ll take whatever we can get to fill us…
I thought about what’s ‘enough’ for me. And I drew a sketch. Ego me salivated. If I just got there then…and the mind wanders to love in Paris, kisses in rain, cherry wood offices in the perfect brick home, and my cute little puggle named Charlotte. And then the other part of me says no. Because those things are not off limits to me right now and the only reason they feel that way is because I’ve set them up to be that way.
I believe there is a point where you look at the things that happened in your past and you draw the lines connecting the past to your present. Then, you realize that those things, while they happened, they are no longer happening and while your past may have gotten you to a place but your present choices have kept you there. I’ve arrived in this place.
I wholly admit that I am not very good at gratitude for who I am. What I do for others? Yes. But simply grateful for my own talents, attributes, skills? No. Further, I have worked tremendously hard to maintain a level of distance between myself and others. I do not lean fully into joy. I do not express the depths of pain I feel. I understood the man Brene mentioned who rode the middle…never expecting good and never enjoying it when it came. This alleged “safety”, this neutrality…it is living outside the arena.
What I have decided is that I want to be in the arena. Daring greatly. It means being open to the risk of both joy and failure. It means answering to god and self. It means being clear in my values and my faith. It means showing gratitude at what is.
The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~Anaïs Nin
There was another Super Soul Sunday I saw where the metaphor of emotional anorexia was mentioned. Living off crumbs and expecting to feel satiated by it. Settling for scraps in relationships or careers because we need, so desperately, to just be full. Or rather to feel full. And some people die chasing the high that was. I don’t want to die chasing what will inevitably always remain just out of arms reach. I want to live, hands to the heavens full of grace at what I have. I am full. And its time I started living that way.
I’ve become acutely aware that the 10 year anniversary of my accident is approaching. My mom hates that I remember it, but I do. Every single day. And as February 17th creeps closer, so does this sense of panic.
I specifically recall tell God I had to be okay because I had work to do here, still. Right now I impatiently wait for that feeling of any sort of accomplishment, of validation that I remained here and okay for a reason. I keep struggling with this idea of be patient. I wish I had the ability to trust more. To feel certainty in surrendering control to a power more knowledgeable than myself. Its always the same issue.
Usually I’m waiting on money. Right now, financially I am set. And then when I think money is the answer…I’m faced with needing my car to be shipped and having to wait and rely on someone other than myself to get it done. I wish I could explain what it does to me to have to need other people. It enrages me. I feel useless, helpless, powerless, defeated, weak, and most of all vulnerable.
As if it weren’t enough, last week I started fighting against this “Ick” my body felt. And this morning, no car and feverish I ask the universe: in how many ways do you need me to feel like shit?
And I get it. My word for the year is surrender. Yet, I never meant surrendering control or surrendering to someone else’s timing. God doesn’t seem to care about my interpretation of the word, God just cares that I do it. Why is it so hard?
I think about what it means to me that I am not vulnerable. It means that I am capable, strong, intelligent, and put together. There is an element of disheveled that I associate with vulnerable. Not being put together is among my tip 5 pet peeves. I guess my big work is to understand these things are not opposites and that vulnerable does not mean weak, or incapable, or powerless.
The things that I keep in the garden…that’s the stuff, I suppose, that is at the crux of this. I’ve built walls around my heart because I know where I’ve been after it broke and I never want to go back there. But what I never realized was that in trying to stay so strong, I’ve made anything that threatens vulnerability a weapon against me. Whereas, if I were open to it then it would not be so threatening.
But the truth is, I don’t want my heart broken again. It nearly killed me the first time. And I suppose it wasn’t just the devastatingly swift blow of rejecting, but also unhappiness, and the grief of my own expectations. I was a widow of many husbands. But one thing is certain–I can’t keep up this fight. Did it take me 10 years after begging to live to begin doing so?