Vulnerability: One Word 2014
Recently there has been a gaggle of bloggers and colleagues writing on the subject of vulnerability, sharing, TMI, and SoMeSe by Vijay Pendakur, Valerie Heruska, Kristen Abell, Matt Bloomington, and Chris Conzen. It has been an interesting and fun conversation to follow and partake in. To me it demonstrates the large role social medial not only plays in our professional, but personal lives. To be perfectly transparent with you all, I actually wrote this post a few weeks ago and have been sitting on it because it is personal. However, as Kristen Abell says, “sharing is caring” and I have gained so much from this community that I do believe this is a space in which I can be vulnerable.
So, I am well aware that I missed sharing this at the beginning of the year, but it is mainly because it has taken me some time to write this post. No, not because it is a new discovery or I just now took the time to write it (not that there is anything wrong with doing that), but because it is a subject that is very close to me. All of that said my one word for 2014 is vulnerability.
In the spirit of vulnerability I want to share a personal story about something that I have kept very close for the past few years. Since July 3rd, 2011 at approximately 1:00PM Pacific Standard Time I called 9-1-1 and since that time my family has been engrossed in a battle. First, one would think, as someone who has worked in Residence Life for almost 7 years calling 9-1-1 wouldn’t be such an issue. However, calling 9-1-1 for a personal issue was not the same thing as calling campus police for a student in crisis. Also, we have been in a battle for freedom. That seems to be the best way to describe it. On July 3rd I called 9-1-1 on my brother’s behalf because our mother was in a domestic dispute with our (at the time) stepfather while our younger brother was in the house. My brother who called me made it clear that the usual physical assault was happening, but this time he was concerned for his safety or he was so frustrated with the constant state of instability.
Perhaps, I was also just as frustrated at the state of instability or I was equally as unhappy with my immediate family’s state of existence. All through high school my mom and step-dad got into fights, they often escalated into physical fights, and as I reflect on the time they were about nothing meaningful. Yet, plates, screams, and awful words were usually exchanged. I had just completed my undergraduate degree, was doing a summer internship, and was about to head off to Texas for graduate school. It was the fact that I was going to move almost 1,400 miles away from my family; my two little brothers and mother, which led me to make that decision. I did what was needed to when I was asked by my 15-year-old brother to call the police. I called the police and this is what began the battle.
In the next few weeks my mom will be entering a courtroom to hear the final deliberations on her divorce. It will determine what spousal support, child support, and other asset divisions she will have to divide amongst her soon-to-be ex-abuser and husband. This is probably a main factor in why I feel enabled to write about this issue, but beyond that, what the past two and a half years has taught me is a lesson in vulnerability.
I am who I am today because of the experiences I have had. Through my undergraduate experiences I told very few people about the unfortunate home circumstances I had, but then all of a sudden I was in graduate school with my mom undergoing a second divorce. I was from a “broken home” an “extremely broken home” if you will and I felt more empowered to share.
This post is not written in a quest looking for sympathy but in sharing a story because I believe this community that I am part of has given me so much strength through this time that this is my way of giving back. This is a true story that is probably experienced by countless families across the nation, and has served as a lesson in vulnerability.
This story is not something I share with every student, co-worker, or colleague that I come into contact with. However, it is a story – rather, journey – that I share with some people. It is a journey that I am currently experiencing and living. It is a journey that impacts my overall being. Yet, it is a story that is not commonly shared, but a story that informs much of my life. It does lead me to make parallels to my professional life because something this “big” is impossible to ignore. So, why vulnerability…
So much more to our lives. There is so much more to our lives than our work. Even if you are the person who works over 40 hours week, something we all have been guilty of, we all know there is more to our lives outside of those work hours. It is impossible to separate issues of this magnitude from our personal and professional lives. While I try to limit the impact of my personal life on my professional duties it is impossible to ignore that there are aspects of what has gone on during my mother’s divorce or past experiences that have influenced how I feel or view certain situations. I also do not try to completely
limit exclude these influences. These past experiences make me who I am today and inform what I contribute to my team. The lesson to be learned here is similar to the old adage that, you can’t judge a book by its cover; there is so much more to our lives. This is why when working with colleagues and co-workers it is crucial not to assume things about them or why they are doing something.
It’s the small fissures that break us. Some days it is easier to pretend that all of this is not going on than others. However, there are some days when I wake-up check my personal email to see 20 emails from my mom, mom’s best friend, aunt, and grandparents and read the absurdness from being two hours ahead on Central Time while my family lives on Pacific Time. As I wake-up I have the opportunity to catch-up on the latest discussions on how a particular exchange should go or give advice on how a certain sentence should be worded. I do all of this because the family court system is not necessarily fair nor does it often work in favor of justice. Then I go through my day, often not sharing the complicated or tiresome e-mail exchange that I read, but instead focusing on the required tasks of the day. However, what this has taught me is it is the small fissures that break us. It is the small cracks of negativity that work at getting into our core. These fissures can be difficult to work around, especially when we are working at securing the foundation of our own lives, but they have the ability to break us down and break us. We have to work at being vulnerable and addressing these pre-existing fissures. Whether that is working within ourselves or discussing it with others, we need to ensure that we have retrofitted these fissures in order to survive the daily pressures of any given day, because it can be the small fissures that break us. We have to work at building a support system around us to ensure that these small fissures do not break us and we can continue focusing on supporting our institutions and students.
There is a risk. I had a supervisor who always told us to take calculated risks. Those words have never spoke more true to me than now. There is always a risk involved in being vulnerable, but there can also always be a reward. There is the risk that by sharing this story I am sharing more personal information than some would suggest is appropriate to share in a public platform or the risk that by sharing so much of myself creates unprecedented expectations. There are so many risks that could exist, more than I care to count, but for me it is worth it. I have decided this is a calculated risk I am willing to take. This is part of being vulnerable. There is always a risk with sharing a part of yourself, but the great part of the risk is there can also be an immeasurable reward associated with it.
Vulnerability. This word is often thrown around our field during difficult professional times. It is a word that is often associated with encouraging professionals to be who they are at their core. Yet, this word is difficult and challenging at times. Sometimes it is a formidable word, something that seems unattainable, and a state of being that ignites conference presentations, one on one conversation, and a call to action. What I want to offer are tips on being purposeful with how one decides to be vulnerable. As technology advances, it becomes easier and easier to share parts of our identities, random pictures, and really whatever else we want. It is my opinion that it is my decision every time I post a blog, or tweet a tweet, or more importantly read any content, it should be with purpose. It is my responsibility to ensure that the content on my newsfeed is purposefully there. In the next few weeks the divorce proceedings will be coming to an end, but it does not mean it will be over. There will still be healing but more importantly I will keep on surviving and thriving, serving students, and purposefully living my life. And that will all require a good amount of purposeful vulnerability on my part.