Joy in the Struggle


It is ironic that I am an identity researcher because I am constantly in a struggle against facets of my own identity.

I am the daughter of a single-mother who died too young. I am an Asian-American woman, an academic in a teaching university, a teacher but also a scholar. I am a wife, a mother, a nerd, an overachiever, a person of faith, a believer in justice.

I am also a recovering strategic, rule-following, people pleaser. This comes from YEARS of approval seeking that followed a protocol: observe/study needs, interact carefully, do what people need so that they like you and think you’re important/ good at what you do, don’t make waves, become successful. I seem to be thinking and writing about this a lot lately.

And, I’m a doer.  I get things done out of impatience and a desire for accomplishment.  I like seeing a shiny product at the end of my work day, work week, project deadline, etc.

All of these parts of my identity and many more impact the work that I do and who I am, and they are constantly at war with one another.

Oh, and did I mention that I hate confrontation and struggle?  Keep it moving, work hard, get things done, people like you.  You win.

Until that day when you don’t.

Doing, people pleasing, and avoiding confrontation can lead to a profound sense of dissatisfaction when what you’re doing is not aligned to who you are and what you stand for, at your core, even if you’re very good at what you’re doing, by all accounts. And, the fact is, that no matter how good you are at doing, people pleasing and being non-confrontational, people are STILL not going to always like you and call you out (leading you to question what the heck you’re doing anyways).

How do I know what I stand for at my core? It’s what lights me up and drives me forward.  It’s my passion, not just what I’m good at.  It’s my calling.  For me, this is social justice and equity work in schools, particularly with teacher candidates and new teachers.  It’s helping people look critically at their identities, how their identities impact the work that they do, with children and within systems, and the impact that this work has on society.

I’m clear that’s my work.  When I do that work, I feel renewed, even when it gets really hard.  Even when I can’t produce something shiny.  It pushes me to go further because I know this is what I’m meant to do, in spite of the struggle.

But, it is FILLED with struggle, mostly the struggle against myself, a struggle bound in systems of success and failure.

I want to get things done; I need time to think; I don’t have time to think;  I want to do my work without making too many waves; I can’t do my work without making waves;  I want people to like me and value my contributions so that I can get tenure; I shouldn’t care about what people think so much; I want to be recognized; I should be humble; I want to work hard then go home and be with my family; I want to be satisfied with what I have because what I have is pretty darn great; I want to do the work that is important to me; I have to do the research that is the most readily available to do to keep my job; I need to spend more time with my kids; I am too much; I am not enough; I need to keep quiet; I need to speak up; I want to focus on teaching; I want to do important research; I need to do service to contribute to my profession (and to keep my job); I can’t let go of these commitments, but I have to let go of something.

And on and on and on.

I’ve been really down on myself lately for not really honoring my calling in my work and my life to this point, but I realize that I need to start where I am and do what I can now.  I have to honor what I have done as well as who I am.  I need to dig deep to do the work I need to do, work that will nourish me even though it may not always come easily.  I need to find accountability to speak up when it’s hard and to move beyond a fear of confrontation. I need to honor my need to think deeply as much as I honor my need to get things done.  This is what I would tell my children, my students, my friends and colleagues.  So I need to say these words to myself.

Find joy in the struggle. Honor yourself. Start where you are. Start now.

Partnerships & Perspectives


This is often how I feel, as if I am constantly juggling a bunch of puzzle pieces that I know fit together somehow to make up the gestalt of my life.  This week is no exception.  I am attending a professional conference, spending two nights away from my family, trying to see two friends (and their families) in the city where the conference is being held, presenting twice, trying to still keep up with grading and work that has to get done no matter where I am and yet trying to balance the time I know I will need to “make-up” with my family after my absence (in addition to balancing the guilt I feel at being away from them).

It is fitting that partnership is the topic of the conference I’m attending, and that this week I’ve been reflecting a lot about partnership and perspective.  So this week, I figured I would share those thoughts with you.


My presentation, with my colleague and mentor yesterday, focused on reciprocity in faculty mentoring relationships.  Our work, drawn from the evolution of our own relationship, is anchored in the idea that each member of a partnership (whether it be a mentoring relationship, a friendship, a working relationship, etc.) has something which they bring to the table.  By acknowledging these types of partnerships and seeing the inherent value and worth of each person’s contributions, progress and growth can be achieved towards shared goals.

I get this type of partnership, and most days, I feel like I’m good at this type of partnership.  I share my contributions and learn so much from the people around me, and their unique contributions, whether those people are senior colleagues, friends, students, or my family.


But sometimes, when I feel like partnership is about sharing the load, I struggle.  It’s not that I value this type of partnership less, it’s that I never really feel like I am pulling my weight.  Although, in this image, both partners are still contributing towards a shared goal, often times when partnerships involve assistance, I end up somehow feeling like that’s a sign of weakness on my part.

For example, this week, a good friend and colleague of mine, who has a much stronger background in quantitative research methodology and evaluation design, helped me with a survey study that I am in the process of developing.  She graciously gave of her time to help me do a massive overhaul of my original survey, to align better with what I’m interested in studying, and we hope to work on this study together after the data is collected and publish from it.  I needed help.  My friend lent me her expertise.  We will likely partner up to discuss what we find from the data I’ll collect based on the survey she helped me design.  A wonderful partnership that will likely result in mutual benefit.

But, what I was left with is: I needed help when I shouldn’t have.  I mean, how hard is survey design? Shouldn’t I know this at this level? My friend is busy, but she was gracious and generous with her time when she probably had many other, more important things to do.  What have I contributed? Nothing at this point.

Or, in my personal life, I think of my partnership with my husband, who often, when I am away for professional conferences, has to take over 100% of parenting duties for both of our children.  What kind of partnership is that?  I mean, sure, because I have the more flexible schedule, I often am the first one called from daycare, manage my hours around to get my son to Tae Kwon Do practice early on Thursdays, and am up doing projects, managing fundraisers/ schedules, and printing out last minute items for them.  But, seriously, this semester I’m home late almost every weeknight which means he has the bulk of the “heavy lifting” parental duty.  What am I contributing?


I haven’t figured anything out yet, except that partnership isn’t about equality in any given moment.  In the bulk of my partnerships, it is about shared goals based on shared commitments: to students/ future teachers, to research and growing knowledge in areas of joint commitment, to our children.  More than that, so many of my partnerships are based on love and contribution.

I am often uncomfortable with being contributed to, by taking up space or time for myself and my needs, even if those needs allow me to be the best that I can be and allow me to contribute to others.  But part of growing is pushing through discomfort to allow others to give freely without feeling like I am taking advantage of their generosity.

So, instead of beating up on myself for being weak in accepting the contributions of others or for taking up space, I will breathe in and take it in, grateful for my partnerships, humbled by those who are willing to work with me, alongside me and to support me, enabling me to do the work I am so committed to doing in the world.

I Am No Longer Here for Your Approval


For pretty much all of my life, I have lived for the approval of others.

It was the path of least resistance and I hate confrontation.  Just do what you’re told.  Do what’s expected of you.  Be good and when someone says you’ve done something wrong, believe them, apologize, repent, think about what you’ve done and what a terrible person it makes you.  Try to do better. Repeat ad nauseam until you die.

Or at least until you die inside.

This living for the approval of others means not being at the center of my own life.

I was afraid to do the research I wanted to do because the rejection of a part of myself in my research would be too much to bear. I apologized for my beliefs.  I cried at home whenever anyone said anything the least bit critical.  I believed completely false evaluations and accusations that EVERYONE said were false (and gave me evidence against), and that I knew were false.  I questioned myself every time someone left a snarky comment on a Facebook post.  I questioned my parenting choices, my life choices.  I did things I regretted because I didn’t want to stand up for the things that I knew were right, at least the things that were right for me.

I let all of this hurt me and I hid.

I hid behind work and success and my awesome family.  I hid behind pretty words and apologies.  I hid by not going out, by silencing my voice, by losing my appetite and fading away, not deserving the people, places and experiences I valued most.

But, I’m not going to do that anymore.

Because, why?

Because, what am I doing with the time I’m given? Because, what kind of example am I setting for my children? Because, my life is short and I don’t want to die a martyr for a cause only I know.

I am no longer here for your approval.

It’s going to be a process, but each moment, each day, each week, the commitment grows.  Doing my work means not being here for what you all think.  You’re not me.  You don’t live my life.  And, I may love you, but love is not about controlling someone else’s life. It’s about empowering them to do the work they choose, whether you agree with their opinions, beliefs, work, choices or not.

So, I’m still here for you, and I’m still me, and you can like me or not, and I will still love you. I will still work my butt off.  I will still probably cry a lot.  I will still spend far too much time for my own good on social media.  And you, you can choose to support me and love me and follow me and encourage me and together we will soar because strength begets strength.  Or you can choose to judge me, never like any of my posts of Facebook, and only interact with me to put me down, but you know, that’s on you.  That’s on you.  Because I need to be busy being me and being the change, with the people that are coming alongside.


With the Time You Are Given


It’s tenure file time around my university.  Having finally made the decision not to go up early, the deadline is not looming over me, but I do have friends and colleagues going up who have been updating me on their progress as they reach the finish line and submit their files.  One of my dearest friends and colleagues started her narrative with the question, “What will you do with the days you have been given?” and I thought this was the perfect topic for reflection this week.

I was thinking while driving yesterday (a dangerous thing for an academic as I’m liable to keep driving past my destination) and conceptualizing what I hope will be my next research study.  My mind automatically went to what the simplest study would be for me to conduct, related to a topic that I find relatively interesting in an area in which I know there’s relatively little scholarship to date.

After attending a meeting of my church’s social justice committee, however, my friend’s words struck me, “What am I DOING with the days (in academia) that I have been given?” Is my research a reflection of what’s important to me? Of my real life’s work? Does it represent who I am as a person? Or is my scholarship safe and somewhat divorced from my core commitments? Do I do the work that is easiest for me to do (for a variety of reasons) or the work that pushes me to be the person I want to be? This led to some furious brainstorming of a different study/ topic that I’m passionate about, combining my life’s work with my core passions and commitments around teacher support, development and issues of equity.

I realize this isn’t the first time that this tension has arisen for me.  Before accepting my first teaching position, I was encouraged to apply for a position at the middle school where I student-taught.  Though diverse, this school had more of a suburban feel and higher performing population than the urban site where I ended up accepting a job.  I would have loved teaching at my student teaching site, and it would have been great, but it wouldn’t have felt authentic to my core commitments.  It would have been doing good work, but not necessarily MY WORK.

And that’s something I’m growing in and towards–knowing what my work is and how I want to put myself out there in the world, as a person, an academic, a professor, a lifelong learner, a person of faith, a mother, etc. It’s a life of inquiry.  But there’s nothing else I’d rather do with the time I’ve been given.