Category Archives: relations

Forgiving Ourselves

I am honored to have contributed to the CSJE Blog last week. The blog has been my baby for the past six months and I’m so excited to take on a new role within the directorate as the Vice Chair for Social Media.

The CSJE Blog

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.
~ Marianne Williamson

Without forgiveness, there’s no future.
~ Desmond Tutu

Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.
~ Hannah Arendt

I often leave the annual ACPA convention with unexpected themes in my learning and reflection. This year’s theme, as you may have guessed, is forgiveness. Constructed through powerful conversations with a mentor, engaged dialogue with our commission’s directorate, unabashed vulnerability during CSJE’s open business meeting, and wholehearted moments with dear friends, forgiveness – particularly forgiving myself – resonated and became a pattern throughout my trip. Plus, I went to sessions!

My journey to the conference of forgiveness began on my flight to Las Vegas, where I caught up on a book from a book club (led by some of our fellow ACPA commissions) that I had intended to read ages ago…

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picking the battle

Do you list social justice as a core value?  Are you passionate about creating change?  Do you ever get stuck and feel overwhelmed with how much change is needed and struggle with where to start?  Me, too.

The really great thing about something being a core value, though, is that I will always feel that desire to pursue change, despite the struggle.  At the end of the Social Justice Training Institute, everyone gets a social justice related pin through an activity where everyone picks up a pin face down and then you exchange them with others until time is called.  The idea is that the pin you end up with is the pin that was meant for you.  Here’s what I ended up with:

If you want peace, work for justice. *

In my opinion, there is no better quote for me than this because if I want peace, internally, I know I need to work for justice.

Still, it can be easy for me to hang out in my privilege and not take action.

Two case-in-points:

#1: Toms Shoes vs. “Truly” Helping:
I read this great article about how Toms has a great idea, is marketed well, but isn’t ultimately solving the problem.  Inside, I had always kind of felt this way.  Sure, someone in need getting a pair of shoes when I buy one is a nice perk – if I was going to buy the shoes regardless; at the same time, it’s also a way to feel a little better inside about ourselves.  It’s like the $100 a plate formal banquet to raise money for the hungry — why don’t we just feed them?  Well, because it’s harder to feed them and we don’t always know how.

#2: The Idea of “Professionalism” and the Embedded Hierarchy / Power Dyanmics:
Waaaay back in April, this tweet came up in my feed:

Well, I’m ready now, I guess!  Joe Ginese and his All About Development post had my brain spewing ideas faster than I could collect them.  Therefore, when Lisa’s tweet really got me thinking about this topic back in April, I was actually writing this post about conferencing instead.  In addition to Lisa’s tweet, back in January, #SAchat tackled Dressing for Success: Is it a Privilege?  I wasn’t able to participate in chat that day, but I definitely read the transcripts.  I 100% understand that there are reasons to dress professionally (& repercussions if you don’t).  I can also agree that there are ways to dress professionally on a budget, but there are repercussions there as well – like how nice your suit is or whether it’s a brand name.  Now, for me, it’s easy to see how rooted our society is in socioeconomic status and deconstructing that – well…yeah.  Here’s the idea that creates the dissonance for me: I believe that our perception of what is professional is rooted in what upper class white men decided was appropriate attire long before I ever lived.  Royals wore the predecessor to the suit, politicians dressed in coats and ties, and women wore riding jackets with billowing skirts.  Dressing for success implies that we need to tailor our attire to a culturally inherited idea of what conveys power, respect, money, and knowledge.  Just like Mr. and Mrs., Sir and Ma’am (Madame), dressing “professionally” engages us us in this “required” nod to our predecessors.  Is this a discussion I can engage in?  100%.  Is this something I feel like I can change?  Not really.  I can dress informally, but that doesn’t send the same message as refusing to buy a product (not that I’m refusing to buy Toms – more like refusing to buy things like the currently trendy t-shirts emblazoned with so-called “Native American” prints and patterns).

Practicing congruence (acting in line with one’s values) and living authentically could mean that I would question each person wearing Toms and ask them why not just donate the money – or wearing sweats every day as a refusal to comply with an antiquated system.  Yet I do neither of these.  I see it as choosing my battles because if I didn’t, working for social justice would overwhelm me.  I would constantly feel angry and powerless.  And yet I know that my ability to choose is a privilege in itself.  It’s cyclical and complicated, but for now, it’s how I manage.

How do you manage?  What are your strategies to address injustice without getting angry at every commercial (don’t get me started on advertising/gender norms)?

 
*footnote: I only just found out today this quote is from Pope Paul VI; to be honest, a lot bubbled up for me in that moment based on my experience/opinion of the Catholic church – my vision of justice doesn’t always jive with theirs.  Going to have to spend some time unpacking that one.

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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

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silenced

 [friend]: …But therein lies the problem- I don’t like it when people are rude and dismissive. I operate from my insecurities and it gets the best of me.
 me:  I definitely relate there. It’s a big trigger for me to get defensive and want to tell someone all the reasons they should listen to me.  Like we’ve been silenced too many times and now someone needs to listen, goshdarnit.

Have you ever felt this way?  While this is the most recent example, it is definitely not alone in this category.  I can quickly recall (but won’t elaborate needlessly) several times in my life where someone else’s behaviors or words have triggered something in me.  And then I behaved in a way I am not proud of.

I’ve yelled, “You’re NOT listening to ME!”  I’ve screamed at someone to “Shut (insert expletive here) up.”  I’ve stormed out of a room.  I have hung up on more than one customer service agent…and a few friends.

And I would love to explain away this behavior.  To tell you story after story where I was the person being silenced, where I could not share my oh-so-important perspective. Or stand up appropriately for myself. To say yes willingly. Or no.

Please know that I carry each and every one of these silenced moments with me every day.  They are an important part of the roots that have grown into this tree.  But the times where I have responded out of anger and pain instead of the caring understanding of someone who understands – I carry them, too.

As I get older, it is easier and easier to feel like I am right, that I know best, and to trust every piece of my own experiences – to go with my gut.  That instinct also protects me, right – it keeps me from dealing with difficult situations by dismissing them.  My number one strength is empathy, though, and I owe it to myself and the peeps in my life to listen, even through the anger and pain.

with open ears and an open heart…ekt

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