am I radical?

My short answer to the radical question: no.  Don’t worry, there’s a really long answer coming at you.

A long while back, Eric Stoller asked “Where Are the Radical Practitioners?”  My gut reaction back then was the same – that I wasn’t one, even though I felt like it is a necessary part of learning and growing.   If nothing else, I saw the value of constantly questioning as a part of positive group growth (thank you, Tuckman).  I started this post in February, with the same title.  I didn’t have the courage to finish it until today, though.  I kept trying to find ways to change my answer to yes.

I still feel scared about posting this.  In the midst of a job search, I’m not sure what prospective employers will think about “being radical” and pushing the limits.  However, I maintain that being authentic is one of my best strengths, so I’m writing it anyway.  In addition, if you read through the comments on Eric’s article (please do), you’ll see a lot of folks who generate some great conversation about being radical while developing partnerships, remaining collaborative, and being student learning focused.  These are all skills & traits I value and strive to exemplify and uphold.

The reality? Some days, I feel like I’m just an average do what’s expected of me practitioner, but I know that I also challenge the status quo.  The problem? Managing that “push” and maintaining relationships is really tough.  There are a thousand factors to consider and you won’t always be successful.

There are a few other sources that prompted my courage to complete this post.

#1: Last Thursday’s #sachat.  It was my first go at moderating (yay!) and I really loved the discussion.  The topic was “Discussing job (dis)satisfaction with supervisors.”  The transcript isn’t up yet, but I’ll link to it when it is.  Some of the great points mentioned included understanding fit & office culture, identifying allies, owning your responsibility in dissatisfaction, and knowing when it’s time to leave
#2: Recent performance feedback and processing that feedback with several sources
#3: Re-watching this amazing talk by Brene Brown
#4: Reading this fantastic article from Tara Sophia Mohr on the Dark Side of Girls’ Success in School
#5: Lots and lots of twitter chat over the past six months on being “innovative,” which I correlate with radical in a way

Now, obviously, that’s a lot of information and you don’t actually have all of it, so I’ll try to reference important facts when necessary.

I want to be radical in that I am wholeheartedly idealistic and I just want us to do better, always.  And by us, I mean me, my staff, my colleagues, my department, my institution – all of us.  There is always room for improvement and if we’re not trying to do what we do better, then what are we doing this for?

Enter the understanding that I learned both 1) to be a “good girl” (via Tara Mohr’s article) and succeed in school by following the rules and doing what I was told and 2) that a piece of my core self disagreed with a lot of what was going on in the world around me – which created a strong internal need to bring voice to that disagreement.  A strange dichotomy, for sure.  When I was younger, this often appeared as bringing home A’s but engaging in some nasty screaming matches with my mom, needing to feel popular but standing up for those being picked on (which, among other reasons, made me not popular).  As an undergraduate, I learned quickly how to write the kind of papers my instructors needed (I was an English major – there were LOTS of papers) while still staying up late and often engaging in some irresponsible behavior (I’ll leave it at that).  I learned to be smart about where I was defiant, at least in the classroom.  I didn’t always complete my reading, but I knew how to participate in class as if I had; I wrote a final paper having only read half the book (and earned a B+ on it).  I learned how to work the system so that I could get my grade and still have the “college experience.”  Graduate school had a different impact.  Smaller classes and peers who really knew how to challenge me ignited my desire to engage in passionate conversation.  It wasn’t always pleasant, but I always learned more.  We also spent a lot of time reflecting (to the point where we began to make fun of it), something that I actually miss being structured into my requirements.  Unfortunately, despite all the conversations about learning institutional culture and spending a year before you try and affect change didn’t really teach me how to truly handle that dichotomy.  In graduate school, there were still assignments to complete to achieve the goal – good grades and a degree.  I learned a gazillion things in the process, but my syllabus guided me through that.  In professional positions, you have a job description and possibly a timeline, but completing those things is not always the way to the “A” or the next step up the ladder.

The last few paragraphs from Tara’s article stood out to me.

“To blaze a trail, women and men need to know how to experiment with their ideas when they are messy and imperfect. They need an ability to take considered risks, challenge authority and respond to criticism with a thick skin.

Boys are more likely to acquire these skills from what they learn from family and peers and from the stories of adventurous, authority-challenging boys and men that they see in video games, films, TV and popular culture. Too often, girls are still learning a different story from the media and from school itself — how to be a good girl. It’s time we started rewarding girls’ risk-taking as much as their rule-following at school. It’s time we celebrated them not just when they gained the teacher’s praise, but when they thoughtfully challenged authority.

Those of us already in the midst of our careers need to make a shift. Let’s use our “good student” toolkit as a foundation for doing quality work. But let’s also start to paint with new colors: greater risk-taking, shrugging off criticism and experimenting with our work when it’s imperfect and not yet fully formed.”

I’ll be honest – I’m definitely still learning how to do all of these things (enter the piece about recent performance feedback).  My transition from a small, private liberal arts institution to a large, division I institution has been a little rough on me.  I 100% own this transition and the accompanied struggles as my choice; I sought out this space in order to have colleagues/peers who are in my same role rather than being “the only” at a small institution.  However, the ways in which I was able to challenge things at my previous institution are not always working for me at my current institution.  Now, I’m part of a larger system, but I haven’t yet learned how to trust that larger system.  There are now multiple levels and deeper nuances of political savvy, which I’m not always conscious of.  I’m not as able to take considered risks, which leads to less successful results.  And I know that it hasn’t been 100% successful, yet the feedback has left me a little stunned.  I want so much to “earn the A,” be liked, and do my best work.  I also know I need to be true and authentic and to listen to that voice inside that is constantly questioning.

Therein lies the rub.  How to navigate those relationships, partnerships, and politics while pushing for positive change?  I need to figure out how to be my authentic self without just succumbing to my exposed vulnerability and shame in not succeeding.  That struggle with feedback that you know you want to take in, but at the same time makes you feel defeated.  My initial reaction was that I should silence myself, disengage.  But a wise friend and mentor sent me Brene Brown’s talk after processing through this feedback with me.  I had seen the talk and watched it several times before, but it held so many valuable reminders.

“Courage: to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness…

To deal with vulnerability, we make the uncertain certain.  We are afraid.  We blame as a way to discharge pain and discomfort.

The wholehearted have the courage to be imperfect, show compassion for self and others,  and are connected to others as a result of authenticity.  They are willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are.

Brene’s talk was compounded by well-timed tweet from Cory Booker:

So here I am, tempted to be silent and struggling to navigate this world in my authentic voice.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

until then, ekt


Filed under relations, student affairs

13 responses to “am I radical?

  1. Great post and excited that you stepped out and wrote about it…and your feelings about the topic. I think you made the right choice in speaking publicly because if an employeer does happen to read this and dislikes it, are you sure you’d even want to work for that institution?

  2. Kudos on writing and posting about this topic and your feelings around it via your authentic voice. Another way to think about it, is if an employer saw this and didn’t like it, would you really be happy working for that institution?

  3. Thanks, Tom. It was definitely scary to hit “post,” but I’m really glad that I did. And you’re 100% right on about the institution/employer. I want to be somewhere that my authenticity and reflection are valued.

  4. You get an A+ for the Cory Booker reference. You are a fabulous professional, and I hope your next institution values you for the real person you are.

  5. This is a wonderful post (And also, I meant to tell you, great job moderating last week!)
    I feel itchy about describing myself as “Radical” sometimes too- it goes against so much of what we’re taught to be. That said, I also like to think of it as a form of being good custodians of our resources and education. If we know something can benefit a student, but it might not be the way we’ve “always done it”, or it might “ruffle some feathers”, we go for it, because the ultimate goal is to do what’s right for the students we work with.

    Be proud to be radical, and the right school and department will love that about you 🙂

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