This post represents my re-entry into participating in social media and not just doom-scrolling Twitter. I haven’t posted anything personal or substantial on Twitter ever. And I haven’t been to my Facebook account in years. I’ve not been hiding, rather cocooning, gathering energy and preparing to emerge and participate again publicly as someone more authentically me. I’ve been in many of the same stormy and traumatic seas as all of you in the last five years, just in my own boat with my own holes to plug and water to bail. In the end, I’m building myself a better boat as I engage in healing and recovery. (How many sappy metaphors can I throw at this blog post??)
What are my goals with this post?
I want to catch you up – for those who know me and those who are meeting me for the first time – with what I’ve been up to between 2017 and 2022 and what interests me now. But…I don’t want this to be a completely self-promotional post.
I want to frame those personal-professional updates within the idea of “finding your voice.” I want to share some thoughts with graduate students about what “finding your voice” could mean and why it’s important for this academic/professional stage of your life.
I want this post to reflect the kinds of themes and values I hope you’ll find in my blogs in general, including: identity development in graduate students, meaning-making, heart/soul-warrior work, authenticity, courage, vulnerability, belonging, community, curiosity, and validation.
What have I been up to?
My professional work has always focused on graduate student development. I worked for fourteen years in a teaching center supporting graduate students as instructors. Since I took a job in a graduate school in 2019, my work has expanded to a more holistic approach of personal and professional support. I find the most fulfillment helping graduate students walk through moments of transition in their roles and identities. They are letting go of an old “Self” and becoming a new, wiser, more individuated, actualized, and authentic “Self.” They are entering into new communities and at the same time, renegotiating roles within their existing personal and professional communities.
PS I’ve been doing the same thing myself. It’s relatively normal, and painful, adult human development.
I want to share with you three meaningful projects on graduate student development that I’ve been working on in my own midlife and mid-career transition space. These projects have been collaborative with some of my closest friends-colleagues. Both the projects and the people have nurtured a supportive holding space for me to learn new ideas and expand into my capacity with courage and vulnerability.
- I am a contributor author, with so many great educational-developer-colleagues, to a book about graduate student teaching competencies. Hear an interview about the book (“Humanity in Higher Ed: Supporting Students, Modeling Care, and Forging Connection”) with one of the co-editors, Dr. Molly Hatcher.
- I co-manage a multi-institutional hybrid workshop series on course design for graduate students and postdocs called “Transforming Your Research Into Teaching” as part of the CIRTL Network. Props to my friend-colleague, Dr. Darren Hoffmann, for letting many of us help him share the experience with over 600 graduate students and postdocs. Ten of us across five institutions published a paper in Teaching and Learning Inquiry about the course in 2021.
- I’m a co-editor of a collection of narratives from current/former graduate students about their stories of becoming instructors: Teaching as if Learning Matters: Pedagogies of Becoming by Next-Generation Faculty (available summer 2022).
What does “Finding your voice” mean?
Self-actualization. Authenticity. Self-authorship. It’s the ongoing, dynamic, internal conversation and reflection between differentiation/individuation – “who am I?” – and belonging/integration – “who are we?”
It’s growing into who you are supposed to be. Allow – instead of resist – the growth that is developmentally appropriate and supposed to happen. The “scared egg” is a phrase my mother-in-law sometimes uses;“boy-yun-si yi-ka” is her suggested Polish pronunciation guide; I think the Polish phrase might be boisz sie jajko. The Tony Robbins quotation comes to mind: “Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”
It involves putting your gifts, strengths, hard lessons, and wisdom to reduce suffering and to enable collective, joyful liberation.
In these last five years, I’ve been reclaiming my voice:
- I notice what feels meaningful and gives me a sense of purpose.
- I deliberately and intentionally make more space in my life for meaningful things.
- I am more authentic, expressing how I feel, what I need, what I want.
- I allow myself some messiness and try new things, some of which don’t work out. I allow all of those experiences to be learning moments about myself, what’s “me” and “not-me.”
- I am a little more aware, skeptical, and critical of “the rules,” norms, and sleepwalking of everyday life.
- I am becoming more discerning about what space I need and what takes up my space and what/who is reliable for what and when.
- I choose to do things everyday – sometimes in solitude and sometimes with others – that are fun, playful, happy, calm, peaceful, joyful, pleasurable, connecting, and validating.
Some starting places for finding your voice
Identify your values. What’s important to you? When I’m interacting with graduate students, I recommend Brene Brown’s Values List. Circle words that feel really important to you. Keep narrowing until you have about three groupings of words. Right now, the values that guide my personal and professional decision-making and best describe my self-story are Belonging, Curiosity, and Compassion.
Clarify your commitments. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, in How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, have the following thought questions: “What sorts of things – if they were to happen more frequently in your work setting – would you experience as being more supportive of your ongoing development at work? What commitments or convictions are implied in that response? I am committed to the importance of…” Responses I wrote down to these questions are: transparency, communication, dialogue and deliberative process, curious questions and co-learning, goals/targets/strategy/focus, and validating me as a full human.
State your intentions. How do you want your life to feel in general? In order to achieve your goals of where you want to be in the future, how do you want to live your life now and every day? Try answering those questions as a statement of gratitude. My intentions sound like: “I am grateful for my ability to make my life feel: stimulating, buoyant, spacious, flexible, calm, unburdened, capable, influential, bold, compassionate, receptive, joyful, abundant, hopeful.”
I hope to use my own voice to help others, especially graduate students and their allies, to use their voice and live into their power to do collective good.
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