the stuff we're good at

To say that a lot is going on would be an understatement. But besides moving, most of it has been going on in my head and heart as I begin to look toward the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. I am already mourning the end of summer and dreading the reality that is next week and the next. I have, throughout the summer, been trying to make some decisions about this next semester, what texts to use, what assignments to give, what approach to take with the class as a whole. As I said in a previous post, I think much of my struggle the past 2 years has been that I've focused so much on trying to be what I think or what others say a "good teacher" is that I've gotten away from all the things about who I am that make me a good teacher. I've lost the spark that used to drive me because I've been overly concerned with checking things off a list.

And worrying about what happens if I get it wrong. Because the stakes feel high, like keep or lose your job high. I know this tenure system is flawed. Most academics know it, too, but we can't or won't do much to change it. So we keep playing the game to ensure our survival even if it means sacrificing who we are and what we stand for. This is, at least, what it seems like to me.

I truly believe that if you misplace energy into fears that the very thing you're afraid of is exactly what is going to happen. For example, if I'm a jealous person constantly concerned that my partner is going to cheat on me and/or leave me in some way and I begin to put energy into that one fear, letting it drive my decisions and actions, then I'm going to do things that push my partner away. And the one thing I was trying to prevent will happen; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. And I've seen it happen again and again. But fear is powerful. It creeps into the spaces in our minds, works on us when we don't even realize it.

When I look back at some of the decisions I made in the past, the ones that perhaps made things a bit sideways or weren't the best ones to make at the time, I made out of fear. Afraid of change, of admitting I'm wrong, of asking for help.

I don't know exactly how you shake off the fear and become more proactive. I do know that I no longer want to be driven by the fear of what if. I do know that I cannot control anything as hard as I try (why do I keep trying?); why can't I just let go? Plans/goals make me feel in control. If I can do x,y,z then a,b,c will happen. It's why I was a good graduate student: fulfill these requirements, take these classes, jump through these hoops. But then there's a part of me that resisted all that structure, my creative side that pushed against the boundaries while being grateful they existed.

I've been thinking about all of this for a while. I've been trying to think of strategies, approaches, ways of thinking that will help me complete the necessary requirements (those hoops) but at the same time, allow me to be myself. I think much of my struggle has been about figuring out who I am as a professor. What things are important to me? Where should I direct my energies? What am I willing to bend on? What am I good at?

I think I underestimate myself with that last one and I think I forget how important it is. I think we all do, no matter our job description or role in relationships. We forget so easily that we hold in us amazing things. I've said repeatedly that it's often very weird when I'm sitting among friends and someone will ask me about work and suddenly I remember I have a Ph.D. There's a odd disconnect for me between how I see myself and make meaning of that degree and how others do. And I wonder if it isn't because it asks me to embrace publicly, in a way, intellectual capabilities.

Look, I know I'm smart but I can also be incredibly gullible, silly, ridiculous and even dumb at times. I have often taken great pride and comfort in my intellect, embraced "the smart girl persona" when it suited me. So why do I feel so awkward about it, at times? What am I afraid of seeing in myself?

I'm sure I've told the story before of the 8th grade teacher who told me I would never be a writer, that I should stop trying so hard. I believed that, due to her "authority," she was right despite my mother's urgings that I was talented and creative and shouldn't let anyone stop me from doing what I loved. I thought my mother was just doing her job as my mother, encouraging me. I stopped sharing my writing for 2 years though I kept journals full of stories and poems. After we moved, my 10th grade English teacher insisted I enter a poetry contest and encouraged me to turn in creative assignments whenever I could.

My mother knew all along how I loved words. She knew there was something about how I saw the world and then relayed it to others that was important. I could never see it through her eyes or my own.

It is so easy to believe all the ways we fail. We can list our faults quickly without thinking. But what about all the places we excel?

You knew this was coming right, from the girl who loves lists.

1. I am creative and have a good imagination.
2. I am good at conversations, small talk, schmoozing.
3. I have a lot of technical skills including web design.
4. I am good at breaking down difficult concepts and theories into manageable and readable pieces.
5. I am good in relationships, most of the time. :)

What about you?