Best of 2009: Challenge

Prompt: Challenge: Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?

As the economy continued to be unstable many people faced a lot of challenges like relocating, losing their jobs, etc. I faced nothing as serious, though job security is certainly not a given even on the university level. In fact, after reading many of the #bestof09 challenge posts it became difficult for me to consider any of the events or experiences I had this year as challenges. They seemed somehow less important than the challenges of others.

And if anything was challenging in 2009 it was facing these moments of doubt. As a child, I was hard-headed, stubborn. I did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I was incredibly spoiled by my extended family who lavished attention and time with me, and who allowed my imagination to soar. Many of my favorite childhood moments are with my grandparents who, while strict with rules and expectations, certainly indulged many of mine and brother's whims. I was a confident child, easily carrying on conversations with adults and with other children. As teenage-hood hit, so did the awkwardness that comes with it. Still, I excelled at school and was praised for my writing in high school so I managed through it. School was the one place I felt the most like myself, particularly once I started graduate school. I tried a lot of other experiences in the year between my undergrad and Master's when I was in Europe. But academics were where I belonged.

I loved my Master's program. I became comfortable in the classroom, with talking about writing. During my Ph.D. program, however, something happened. I began to doubt myself in significant ways. Part of it was that I was putting myself on the line in ways I really hadn't before. I met M and realized I wanted new possibilities for my life. I began to focus on my emotional life as well as the intellectual one and as I became more engrossed in my projects for coursework, the more my emotions were tied to that work. I had some incredibly negative experiences with a set of professors about halfway through my coursework that really shook my faith, not only in myself, but also with my career choice. It took an incredible amount of therapy, friendship and a project on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to break me out of the despair. Traces of the experience lingered, however, through my dissertation and into my new position.

In 2009, I began my second year as a tenure track assistant professor. I'm trying to figure out what that means for me. 2008 was a year of beginnings and endings and 2009 has been about moving forward and letting go. The challenge (beyond the actualities of a 4/4 load plus a 1 hour roundtable, committee meetings, faculty meetings and directing internships) is not letting the doubt and insecurities hold me back. It's too easy, sometimes, to give in and believe the worst. It's particularly difficult because the university places so much emphasis on student evaluations that I'm constantly concerned about what students think of me both as a teacher and a person. I know I can't be a slave to that. I know that doing so makes me less effective. But that's the challenge, trying to find a comfortable place to resist all the ways I doubt myself.