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.

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