Photo credit Dev.Arka
My short answer to the radical question: no. Don’t worry, there’s a longer 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, though I didn’t have the courage to finish it until today. 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” 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.
- A couple weeks ago I moderated my first #sachat (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 (if you weren’t able to participate in this #SAchat, I highly recommend reading through the transcript – folks were really engaged and honest)
- Recent reflection on the nature of feedback and how to best create a culture of feedback (here’s a great article that guided some of this reflection: How to Get Feedback When You’re the Boss)
- Re-watching this amazing talk by Brene Brown
- Reading this fantastic article from Tara Sophia Mohr on the Dark Side of Girls’ Success in School
- 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 (can you tell that input is one of my top strengths?) 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: 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) 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, and one that manifested in a few different ways. 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, it looked like writing the kinds of papers my instructors wanted (I was an English major – there were LOTS of papers) while staying up late and engaging in typical young adult behavior, learning to work the system and do the minimal amount of work to keep up my GPA but still have the “college experience.” In graduate school, it surfaced as reading enough (but not everything) to participate in engaging dialogue during class while also trying to confront the things I saw wrong with the “system” of my program (which my faculty can likely tell you was not always pleasant or effective). In professional positions, the dichotomy still exists. It shows up in accomplishing the tasks in a job description or possibly a timeline but trying to create new programs or change institutional culture. The kicker in the professional world is that completing those “assignments” does not always guarantee the “A” or the next step up the ladder and though graduate school taught us strategies to understand institutional culture and affect change, putting them into action is a whole different ballgame.
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. My transition from a small, private liberal arts institution to a large, division I institution has been a challenge for 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, strategies that worked really well for me last year (when I was in my third year on a small department) are not working for me quite as well this year. Now that I’m part of a larger department, there are now multiple levels and deeper nuances of political savvy, of which I’m not always conscious. I’ve always been a jump right in kind of person (despite being a worry-wart), and a verbal processor (despite being an introvert), which leads to talking first, considering the risks of participation second, and often less successful results. At the same time, 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. 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:
“Don’t allow your wounds to turn you into a person you are not.” Paulo Coelho
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) June 5, 2012
So here I am, tempted to be silent (to make the uncertain certain – disengage from the discomfort) and struggling to navigate this world in my authentic voice.
Have you experienced an internal struggle such as this? How did you successfully (or perhaps unsuccessfully) manage to be your own person but also fit into the culture around you? In an effort to be a voice for those unable to speak, please share advice, tips, stories for those who are in a situation similar to mine.
This is cross posted at EricaKThompson.com.