What would it look like if…?

a small stream falling over moss-covered rocks and branches

In one recurring dream, I’m standing at the front of a classroom of students I’ve never met before. In the scheduled lesson, I’m supposed to sing an operatic aria I’ve never heard before. I’m seeing the score for the first time as I stand in front of the class. It’s in a language I can’t decipher. In another recurring dream, I’m wandering around the stairwells and service hallways of a conference center trying to find the room for my presentation. I don’t know anyone attending the event. The staff don’t seem to know where the room is.

My voice is strained and my throat and chest are tight. I’m not enunciating clearly. I’m not able to transfer my thoughts into conveyed words. My eyes dart and scan for anyone and anything familiar. My body is activated and hyper-alert. I can’t find the doorway or the exit to get to a place where I can reorient. No one is helping to relieve the distress. I feel stuck, lost, confused, and alone. Depleted and defeated.

For dream readers and psychologists, these are probably versions of well-known performance nightmares. When I look at the inverse of the distress, those dreams speak directly to my hopes for my professional self-determination: autonomy (ability to choose), competence (ability to do), and community (ability to belong). My hopeful dreams spark my spirit, give me momentum, feel meaningful, and contribute to community and accountability. If I chose what to do and who to do it with, what would I dream of becoming expert at and employed in?

Simu Liu spoke his dreams into existence on Twitter in 2018 and later played the role of Shiang-Chi. I wish I could find the original Twitter post in which a different public figure encouraged followers to speak their dreams into existence. They acknowledged that in USian competitive, capitalist culture, we keep our dreams to ourselves out of fear that someone will steal it, as if our dreams are patented, copyrighted, and monetizable trade secrets. If the wrong person knew our dreams, they could out-compete us, drive us out of the market, and squash our dreams. At the same time, no one can help us and support us in our dreams if they don’t know about it, the OP said. 

text says "Be fall-in-lovable. Allow yourself to be seen." The background is a blue/grey sky with a sunlit cloud that is orange-ish.

I remember what the dream first looked like when I imagined what I wanted for my professional work supporting graduate student development. With abundant creativity in naming, I called it the Dream Team. I wanted for any of the people in my professional circle across the US to become the director of a teaching and learning center. In the dream, they hire the rest of us in the circle, people who are excellent at the work and excellent to work with. I imagined us as the Harlem Globetrotters and Upright Citizens Brigade of educational developers: creative, bold, equity-minded, kind, improvising, empathetic, harmonious, courageous, collaborative, generous, attuned, easy-going, and fun. 

It was probably around 2015 when I first started speaking of that dream out loud with my professional friends at conferences. Other people shared similar versions of that dream. At banquets and quiet corners, we would imagine our draft picks from within the organization’s membership. In our co-imagined fantasy of employment, we would do exactly what each of us loved doing. It would be meaningful and needed work with the people we loved. 

And then we would cut the dream short. We would lament about the likelihood of perfect alignment and timing of situations. One of us would have to land a directorship. A university would have to support a major hiring initiative within a teaching center (those who know will find this idea absolutely hilarious). The position descriptions would have to be written with each of us in mind. Each of us would have to be available and willing to move to that particular center. 

I remember when I started challenging my own self-limiting assumptions about that dream. It was the day the dream started being called Academic Beach Consulting. I remember saying to my best friend at a conference, we don’t necessarily have to do this work from within an academic institution. What if we could do our work as consultants and freelancers from our preferred location: the beach? We could be the deciders of who, what, where, when, why, and how. 

That mental shift in affiliation and creative control liberated my dream into a continually unfolding existence beginning in 2019. Looking through experiences since then, I have been speaking the dream into existence by saying yes to ideas, people, experiences that are consistent with the dream. What is my reason for being (“ikigai”)?: What do I love? What am I good at? What does the world need? What could I get paid for? 

I can see traces of my dream in recent choices I’ve made. I was speaking my dream into existence when I said yes to “who” when we co-created Transforming Your Research Into Teaching at a sushi dinner among CIRTL Network colleagues in Irvine in spring 2019. I said yes to “who,” “what,” and “how” with co-facilitated trauma- and mindfulness-informed zoom workshops for colleagues in graduate student development in February and March 2020. The “where” became reality in the summer of 2021 when a couple of us in the Dream Team vacationed together in Chicago and spent a lot of time on the shore of Lake Michigan.

If I place those experiences in a forward-looking direction, what would I dream of becoming expert at and employed in, what would I choose to do, and who to do it with? I’ve transcribed some handwritten notes below about what I think the elements sound like for the ways I want to put my heart, mind, hands, and spirit in service to myself and others. These notes are drafts that are open to refinement. If I made these draft notes “perfect,” they would never get out there.

I hope that by speaking these dreams into existence, they might resonate with people hoping for similar things. I hope that I will get to be in community with people who are creative, bold, equity-minded, kind, improvising, empathetic, harmonious, courageous, collaborative, generous, attuned, easy-going, and fun.

a close-up of a tree trunk with a couple threads of barbed wire through the middle of it

Who: for graduate students and educational developers who support them, particularly when they have entered a transition period. They might be experiencing burnout, self-doubt, boredom, or frustration. At a subconscious level, their bodies know a decision to change is upon them.

What: to encourage their spirit to return to their bodies, to restore purpose and support their pursuit of their dreams; to encourage integration, unity, and alignment of the body, mind, spirit, and soul; to support change, new boundaries, and new identities; to leave the workplace whole

Why: in feeling dispirited, graduate students and the people who support them want to rest, restore, and rejuvenate; they want to imagine without limit the person they can, could, and are becoming; they need to mourn the version of themselves they are letting go of. They want to explore how they want to let go of behaviors of false urgency, competition, individualism, punishment, scarcity, and self-abandonment. They want to be with people who understand, who validate their experiences, who can mirror their strengths, and who want to be in interdependent relationships of community, consent, and accountability.

When: the turn of the academic seasons, the doldrums of the semester, the times when we need a little nudge to keep our momentum going: Jan/Feb, April/May, July/Aug, Oct/Nov. The midpoints between the solstices (shortest/longest day/night: June and December) and equinoxes (equality of day and night: March and September).

Where: retreats where people are treated as divine, where nourishment of the body, heart, mind, and spirit is abundant. The presence of moving water is important: beach, lake, river, fountain, singing bowl

How: Three principles guide the work of restoring the spirit: developing inner safety, remembrance and mourning, and community.

  • Safety: mindfulness, calming, rest, stillness, settling the body, quieting the thoughts, exploring the reality of the fears
  • Remembrance and mourning: journaling and reflection, offrendas and alters, art and movement, testimony, witnessing, fire
  • Community: skill-sharing pot lucks.

One thought on “What would it look like if…?

  1. “At a subconscious level, their bodies know a decision to change is upon them.” — I love this.

    Maybe the first step is a Dream Team work trip to a beach for wellness and cross-institutional schemes 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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