Kindness and Generosity

I spent my second Monday in a row, with a friend, along the coast, sipping a delicious minty tea beverage while overlooking the water.

Yes, I live a ridiculously privileged life.

Yet, I am often not present to the beauty of it all, caught up in all there is to do to prepare my tenure file, to get my research projects done, to finish this project, to get this IRB proposal turned in (so that I can do more projects), to counsel doctoral students working on theoretical frameworks, to think about teaching in the fall, to clear the clutter that gets moved from pile to pile, to do and fold the endless hampers of laundry, etc, etc.  I live in the future, am constantly thinking about what’s next, anticipating where I’m going, what I need to do, and who will be disappointed in me if I don’t do it.

If I’m not living in the future, I’m feeling guilty about my privilege and constantly thinking about who doesn’t have it, how I’m showing up (or not showing up) for them, whether I’ve done or am doing enough, whether any of the 15 projects I’m working at are really about addressing the issues I care so deeply about.

I find myself feeling resentful, in the midst of all of these blessings.  I become irritated and then become irritated that I’m irritated. I become angry with myself and world.  I tense up and make it about me and what I’m doing or not doing.

Full stop.

First of all, I need to remember that part of my privilege is that if the work I do doesn’t all get done (or doesn’t all get done this afternoon), there aren’t likely to be dire consequences.  I do intellectual work that, while important to me, really gets read by a few educationally elite people (and my friends).  Second, I need to stop living in my head and on social media, and prioritize the work and action that has me doing things in the world, with and for the people I care deeply about. Third, I need to breathe and remember to be kind and generous to myself.  Self-care is actually not a privilege, it’s a necessity.  I need to model that if I’m going to be a contribution rather than a resentful, sullen, brat.  And I’m committed to contribution.

It’s a process.  And every time, I think I am taking two steps forward, I take a step back.  It is humbling.  But this is actually the work, the work of being present, the work of contribution, the work of kindness and generosity.

Note to Self…

My new life mantra…

It’s a stressful time of year.  In the past 3 weeks, I have graded over 100 individual assignments (averaging 5-7 pages each), I have chaired 2 successful doctoral defenses (with minor revisions pending), sat on a 3rd doctoral committee, submitted 2 manuscripts, conferenced with 17 cross-curricular groups on their final projects, recruited in 4 classes for my current research study, attended and chaired a session at the major research conference in my field, taken on a volunteer service position in my field, sung with my church choir in a gospel concert, and run a half-marathon (with a new PR and raising over $1650 for clean water in Africa).

Today, for really no reason, I started tearing up while talking about the Retention, Tenure and Promotion policy revisions in my department meeting.

Okay, it really wasn’t for NO reason, but it was a little uncharacteristic of me. I’m emotional, but not usually when it comes to policy, and this particular policy, while related to a process that determines my future in academia, is actually, shockingly, not one that I’m so stressed over.

Well, okay, I am so stressed over tenure and promotion, but really, did you see what has happened in my life in the past 3 weeks?  And that’s not me in a rush to make my tenure file look better.  That’s just me working.  So, if that’s not enough, I really can’t do anymore.  And, I’m not in the business of worrying about things I can’t do anything about (I’m trying to get out of that business in fact).

But, I was emotional because: 1) in the past 2 weeks, I’ve been frustrated that what I’ve said has landed as something that is completely different from what I meant; and 2) when I get busy, I fall into the trap of thinking that I have to prove my worthiness.

But I don’t.  The fact is that with or without tenure, with or without an academic job, with or without a new PR on my run, with or without a boatload of publications or a book deal or stunning teaching evaluations, I am worthy.  I contribute because that’s who I am, not because it proves what I’m worth.

Sometimes we are all misheard and misunderstood.  It happens.

Sometimes we cry in the middle of meetings, surprising everyone including ourselves. It happens.

And sometimes, we just need to chill out. Good vibes. Everyday all day.

Lent Days 6 & 7: Contributing by sharing what you love…

I am learning so much about how simple contribution can be.

The last week has been transformative in many ways.  By looking for ways to contribute, I have been so present to the ways that others contribute to me, and these last two days have certainly been no exception.

Yesterday, my contribution was made through words of appreciation to my husband, who returned from his weekend away.  I realized that his partnership is invaluable in supporting my work, my motherhood and my life in immeasurable ways, and I really don’t tell him that often enough.  I love to write.  I love cute cards.  And, I love him.  So, I wrote him a cute card:


It wasn’t a fancy, monetary contribution, but it was from my heart, and it touched him, which certainly made it a contribution in my eyes.

This morning, I posted some pictures of my first Stitch Fix box. In case you don’t know what Stitch Fix is, it’s a service where you fill out a style profile, send it off, pay $20, and a couple weeks later, a box of 5 wearable items appears via mail.  You can keep 0-5 of the pieces, and your styling fee ($20) gets applied to your purchase. You return anything you don’t want in a pre-paid envelope within 3 days. You can schedule a box to arrive as often or infrequently as you like.  The concept seems simple, but I seriously was more excited to open my first box last night than I have been for a Christmas since I was maybe 6 years old.  Seriously.  Like pee my pants (except not their pants that I was trying on…is this TMI?) excited.  Here are a couple pics from the box:


So, yeah, I shared these pics and was not expecting that to be my contribution.  I was just sharing because I was excited.  Except that then people were also super excited to try it, so I realized it really was a contribution.

And there it is, contribution doesn’t have to be hard.  In fact, it’s often right in front of us, and something that’s a natural expression of who we are, if we don’t think too much about it.

Lent Days 4 & 5: Contributing to those closest to me

This weekend, I found myself a single parent, with my partner out of town, hosting a bachelor party for his brother.  In addition, because of a shift in scheduling for the semester, I had not only 1, but 2 classes worth of grading to get done, 3 events to get my son to on Saturday (and 2 more on Sunday), and we’re in the midst of a preview of the terrible two’s by my 21-month old little girl.

So, contribution.  Yes.

Saturday, my contribution was to my family and my students.  I got up at 4:30 am to grade until both kids were up, then focused my attention on them, got my son to his activities, got my dog walked, practiced patience with my little girl (who was none too happy about being dragged around to 3 different activities that were not geared towards 2 year olds), and even had some fun. I didn’t get to bed until almost midnight.  But, I spent my (19-hour) day contributing to the goals of my students and my family.

As I’ve noted, contribution as a lens is helping me realize more and more the contribution around me.  Saturday, I recognized in a real way, the contributions that my husband makes as a co-parent everyday, and was blessed by the contributions of community, as my friends came together to shuttle my son home (completely out of their way) and stay with the kids so I could walk the dog without waking the baby.

Sunday, my contribution was to a close friend of mine who is running the LA marathon for the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance (APIOPA).  One of the things that this Lenten season of contribution has helped me to do is to be more active in supporting the people I love doing the things that they are committed to, in order to support various communities.

We truly do go farther together and this season is one of walking (and running) in faith together.  Hope you all have a great week!

Lent Days 2 & 3 Contributing to Communities

You know the great thing about contribution?  It’s a great feeling to support people and organizations doing great work.  Yesterday, I was blessed to attend the 26th annual California Conference for Equality and Justice Interfaith Intercultural breakfast, an event that brings together people from many different communities to support an organization committed to “eliminating bias, bigotry, and racism through education, conflict resolution and advocacy.”

While I was there, I was able to contribute to the organization as well as contributing to another great community-based organization, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, an independent bookstore and cultural center that serves the Latino/ Xicano community in the San Fernando Valley, which is owned by Luis J. Rodriguez, LA Poet laureate and acclaimed author, through the purchase of lots of great literature and a cool new shirt:

Literature and clothing with a message, for a great cause

And, I got a gift of my own, in getting Mr. Rodriguez to sign a book for someone close to me and posing with him for a picture! Such an awesome contribution to me since I’ve admired his work since my middle school teaching days:

Me with Luis J Rodriguez!

Today’s contribution was also about community and my teaching days.  My very first student teacher, who is also a dear friend, started a gofundme campaign to support her Junior and Senior students, in a public high school in Oakland, California, explore the world around them during an intersession in the community.  They designed these projects and were encouraged to dream big.  Now she is raising the funds to help them make their dreams come true.

Contribution is a beautiful thing.  Community is even greater.  It’s been a really important season for reflection for me. Thanks for coming along for the ride 🙂

Approaching Lent with a Lens of Contribution

I have always appreciated the period of Lent as a time of reflection and response to the sacrifices that allow us to be who we are.  As a protestant Christian, I choose to celebrate Lent in relation to the sacrifices of Christ, but I think that the season has implications beyond a circle of believers since all of us have come to be who we are because of the sacrifice of others, sacrifices often made in love, even when we are not capable of fully comprehending them.

This year, I decided that what I committed to sacrifice “silence, separation and solitude” in the spirit of community building and to take on contributing actively to one person daily in order to begin to establish a habit of regular contribution (and an awareness of that contribution) and to begin to change the narrative of divisiveness which has seemed so loud around me in recent days.

Today is the first day of Lent, so I decided to use this blog to chronicle as much of this 40-day journey as I’m able to.  I figured I would start by looking up the word “contribution” so I knew what I was taking on. The three definitions I found through a quick google search were:

  • A gift or payment to a common fund or collection
  • The part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance
  • An article or other piece of writing submitted for publication in a collection

By taking on the lens of contribution, I realized that there were already ways in which most of us contribute everyday–to our families, to friends, to total strangers, to journals, to movements, etc.  It’s just that we don’t pause and reflect on the importance of contribution and how it advances our work with solidarity and a spirit of caring.

So, I’m inviting you on this journey of Lenten contribution with me.  Share with me via Twitter (@ProfHsieh), Facebook (in response to my daily posts) or on this blog how you’re contributing to those around you, as I share with you.

Today, I contributed to my students and my college by reading and giving feedback on lesson plans, teaching my course, and interviewing candidates for one of our credential programs.  And, I got acknowledged for past contributions to students in my program.

Contribution is a gift that gives back immeasurably so I hope that instead of (or in addition to) giving something up for Lent, you’ll also joining me in giving forward, giving back and contribution.