Reconnecting with Humanity

Sunrise over the St. John's River in Jacksonville, Florida

I had initially sent out to write a blog about all that I’ve been learning on this trip to Jacksonville, Florida for the Association of Teacher Educators annual meeting, and particularly what I’ve learned being a part of this year’s W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. It’s been a moving experience that has challenged me to find ways to walk alongside our friends and colleagues in spaces that are facing greater situational challenges than I face. It has renewed my commitment to centering those who are most marginalized. It has given me so much.

But when I started to write that blog, this blog, that wasn’t there. In fact, that whole last paragraph and this one, are only coming after I wrote what comes next in the post. I may write that other blog, or maybe I won’t, in that form, but it’s okay. There can be no room for committed action, if there is not room for the reflection that allows for us to step into ourselves. If we are not present and authentic, we are just going through the motions. I do not want to lead at a frenetic pace from an absent space. So here’s the blog I needed to write today:

I have been extremely overwhelmed lately.

This is not a particularly new feeling.

In the cycles that make up the year and make up my life, I have become accustomed to periods of overwhelm, from both exciting and hard things. In the past, I would power through these periods, snapping irritably at those I loved who might try to slow down my frantic whirlwind in an attempt to connect with me and in hopes that I might honor any form of self-preservation. These attempts often failed and I would inevitably collapse in exhaustion or illness. During these periods, there was no time for pausing, breathing, or stopping. There was no time for my own humanity.

There is a distinct feeling in these times of acute anxiety, the sense that although I am doing so many things, it is never enough. Every small request or critique feels like a huge obligation, and things that I normally want to do become burdensome things that I have to do. Everything within me wants to withdraw from everyone, particularly the people I love the most.

I don’t do this, but in some ways, I do. I offer a small shell of myself because it is what I have accessible. Then I feel badly because I am not fully present, my attention pulled in a million directions.

I have been working on this a long time. I am learning to pause and recenter. I am realizing that the old habits of withdrawing are a desperate cry by my own brain to have some space, some pause, to free itself from the obligations it puts upon itself, but also from the many demands it feels by commitments made to others. Perhaps it is my brain’s way of drawing boundaries.

I am not perfect at this unlearning, but yesterday, I found moments to pause:

  • Walking at sunrise across the St. John’s River, breathing and taking in the birds chirping and the water flowing
  • Writing a Narrative Ethnosketch/ Emulation poem (see below) under the guidance of Drs. Rudy F. Jamison, Jr. and Chris Janson.
  • On the bus between destinations in Jacksonville.
  • In my room, reading The Art of Stopping and trying to actually practice stillpoints as a form of pausing.

Although I still feel chaotic in this busy time, I am reminding myself that part of entering this next period of my life is about coming back to myself, honoring who I am, and remembering what I bring to people, places, and communities. I have seen time and time again that when I can reconnect with myself, I am also best for others.

I wrote this Narrative Ethnosketch in a workshop yesterday as part of the W. Robert Houston ATE Leadership Academy. We were given the prompts: I come from a place where … –> I went to a place where … –> I am still going to a place where … :

I come from a place where…

my mother left all of the life she knew for a chance to bring better to her children, yet unknown

a place where she was told that the best way for us to succeed was to speak “perfect English”

a place where my success meant turning away from her (our) histories, her (our) heritage, her (our) language

I come from a place where who I was never felt good enough,

where I always felt between two worlds, never belonging to either

where I was not seen as a leader

where my voice and its power surprised others

I come from a place where I knew I was not what everyone hoped I would be

where I was surrounded by others but always felt invisible and alone

I went to a place where…

I had to lose almost everything I cherished to find myself.

where I had to prove myself at all times

where I began to build (in/with) community to survive, and eventually to thrive

I went to a place where chosen and created family filled the void of lost love

where I began to educate myself rather than believing all that I had been told

where I began to reclaim my own power and become comfortable with my own voice

I went to a place where I began a journey to reclaim my (our) histories, my (our) heritage, my (our) languages

I went to a place where I could see and honor my mother’s choices for me, rooted in her humanity and love, even as I make different choices for my own children that are similarly rooted in my own and our shared humanity and love.

I am still going to a place where…

my heart is an asset instead of a liability

where I can fully embrace and hold space for my own humanity

where I continue to grow in community even when it is challenging,

especially when it is challenging

I am still going to a place where love flourishes in collective movement that does not always mean agreement but that calls me in with love, courage, and grace, knowing I can receive and grow.

I am still going to a place where I recognize and honor who and whose I am in the ways I walk & work in the world.

I am still going to a place where there is space for sustainability, rest, and thriving in all of this.

Showing Up

Photograph of the cover of How We Show Up by Mia Birdsong

I’ve been reflecting a lot this weekend on how I show up and who I show up for.

I started rereading How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community by Mia Birdsong, a book that was gifted to me during an earlier part of the pandemic by my dear Sister-Friend, Ruchi, and that I had read then, but in a different space and place.

In coming to it this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about chosen family and the ways I show up for community and how I allow community to show up for me. This has been particularly in my heart in the wake of the ClubQ shootings and as we approach the 10th anniversary of Sandy Hook.

I think about my LGBTQIA siblings; I think about my own brother and my nephews and their town; and I think a lot about how to show up, using my platform, positions of power, and proximity as ways to hold space, reach out, speak out, or do work unseen, all grounded in love and community and centering those who are suffering most.

I have also been thinking about how I show up, given that this has been an incredibly busy and challenging time for me, and will be, for the next few weeks, a time in which I need to be fully present, as much as possible, while holding space my own continued grief, for the trauma and loss of people that I hold dear, and while also helping my sister with an unexpected move and my daughter with unexpected and lingering unemployment.

All of this leads me to the realization that I cannot show up (fully, authentically, truly) for others when I am not showing up for myself.

This is funny to me, in some ways, because my whole life has been about compartmentalization, and showing up for others in spite of a profound lack of connection to my own heart and longings. But showing up in that way has left me at a loss, exhausted, and in many ways broken.

I have been on a journey to reconnect with myself, and in finding myself, to find my community.

I have been on a journey to reconnect with my community, and in finding my community, to find myself.

In this moment on this journey, I know that I can only do what I can do right now, that this is the best I can do. The limits of the grace I can show to others, and the space I can hold for them, and the ways I can show up, is bound in the ways that I show up for myself and in the ways that I call upon and connect with community in ways that allow them to show up for me.

I am trying to let go of the guilt of not doing more.

I am trying to remember that I am enough.

I am trying to feel with each breath that those I love know that I am always with them, and that our love for one another is not contingent on what I can or cannot do in a moment, because we journey together over a lifetime.

I am trying to hold on to love and rest as resistance.

There will be other opportunities to show up if I cannot show up today.

But I need to be around to show up for them.

I have been reminded in the ways that those I love have shown up for me recently that my life matters deeply, that needing to rest is human, and that I do not need to keep running. I can simply be, and the next right thing will come to me. I can simply be, in all of the complexity that being may bring, and feel the love of those around me.

That love, and that being, will bring forth my love, and my authentic voice, which will speak in its time.

There is nothing to prove to anyone.

Those who need to know have always known or will come to know, and those who do not understand cannot be convinced. Those who feel my heart are connected in ways that need not be seen or known.

I just need to work on trust, trusting myself, trusting those I love, trusting community, trusting that in whatever time I have left, what is mine to do will be done.

I am showing up as best I can, for myself, and for those I love.

And that is enough.

Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

A few weeks ago, I tweeted, “Work is an addiction that will literally kill you. We are all replaceable to institutions, but not to those who love us. Reminding myself because I need to hear it.”

I was feeling the heaviness of all the labor, paid and unpaid that I have been doing, certainly since March, in a pandemic, but long before that, for over 40 years, to prove my worthiness to multiple individuals and institutions, when my worth should have been evident in my humanity.

Addictions are so hard to break.

But here is what I am realizing as I fight against this addiction, as I fight for the right to my life, for the space to thrive, for the time to dream, as I fight to use the privileges that I have to live my life in a way that honors the sacrifices of my ancestors which gave me these opportunities:

We cannot foster transformation within oppressive structures.

We cannot freedom dream without time, energy, space to dream.

Of course, we are tired. We are working so hard and seeing so little change.

If we “blow it all up” (metaphorically) to start from ground zero, there will inevitably be so much collateral damage, and this is not humanizing.

If we work through intentional, incremental change, it will be painful and exhausting. We should expect this pain and exhaustion. But it is not easier to bare when you expect it.

There is power in being seen and affirmed, in weakness and in strength. This is innately human, the need to be seen and affirmed. The need to be embraced for our whole selves, even when we are broken.

Some days, weeks, moments, survival actually is the only goal.

Follow through makes the vision realizable.

Being valued in word alone only goes so far. Actions speak loudly. Who do we show up for?

Our stories and experiences matter. Sometimes, we have the words another needs. We never know when that moment is.

Community carries me when I cannot stand on my own.

Cycles of grief and trauma may come to remind us of our deepest humanity.

My friends, this is a hard season for me. You may not see the challenges, but they are always there for me in the background. Sometimes I hide it better than others. If I don’t hide it from you, it is either because I am just too tired to hold it in anymore or because I trust you to carry it with me. PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME WHAT IS GOING ON. If I want to tell you what is going on, I will. But if I don’t and you love me, I ask that you hold space for me, in my full humanity. Just hold space, and maybe pray or offer blessings. I continue always to move forward because I have never had a choice and I do not have a choice now. I will, I am sure, one day, be okay, maybe later today, maybe in 6 months, maybe in 5 years, but I am moving towards better. I trust my community and myself to get me there. I acknowledge that it is a process.

I share this letter with you now, in the openness of my humanity and in a public forum, because I am not ashamed of my humanity. I want people to know that people are carrying things that you may have no idea about, people you admire, people you love, people that love you and are there for you.

Because feeling the pain of humanity is a start, being honest about where we are is a start. It is not always inspiring, but humanity is not always inspiring.

We have to be able to be with our whole truth.

This is my truth.

Peace to you all, and deep love.

Protocol Over People: Why (Educational) Institutions Need to Stop Dehumanizing People of Color

In the fall of last year, I was asked to participate in a faculty diversity panel for a leadership retreat at my university.  I did so.  I rescheduled my week, drove 8 hours roundtrip, prepared my words carefully, spoke from my heart, and did it all for no compensation.  As part of my participation, I was asked to fill out travel paperwork for liability purposes.  I did so.

Last week, I was informed by my department office that I could be reimbursed for mileage to the retreat.  It was a token, but I appreciated the gesture.  I was then informed that the money would be coming from my own personal travel funds.  I asked if it might be possible for the Provost’s office (who sponsored the retreat) or the Vice Provost’s office (who asked me to be part of the panel) to reimburse the $80 mileage cost so that I could maintain my scarce travel funds for the multiple academic conferences I was scheduled to participate at in the Spring.  My department assistant said that it couldn’t hurt to ask.

I sent an e-mail to the administrative staff member who had helped to coordinate the panel.  I never heard back.  After a couple of days, I e-mailed my department chair and dean and they both offered funding for my mileage.  While I thought that it made more sense for the funding to come from the university, since I was there at the request of the university, I was just grateful that it was taken care of.

End of story…or so I thought.

Today, I was told, by my department chair that our fiscal office had been contacted by the Provost’s office who informed them that a “faculty member” had contacted the Provost’s office directly for money and that all requests for money should be processed first at the department level then at the college.

I had broken protocol, and apparently, I should have known better.

I want to preface the forthcoming rant with a few things that shouldn’t be relevant but may come up: 1) In my email to the Provost’s administrative staff, I was both gracious and respectful, even to the point of being deferent.  I reminded the administrator why I was e-mailing (specifically that I had participated in a faculty diversity panel for the retreat that was coordinated by that office) and also said that if I wasn’t emailing the appropriate place that I hoped they would excuse me and let me know who to contact; 2) I also stressed that the $80 wasn’t a big deal (Except that it was…or should have been.  I was already doing hours of unpaid labor.  I was not asking for a stipend. I wouldn’t have even asked for the $80 mileage had I not had to file the request to cover the liability); 3) I am not upset because I don’t respect protocols.  There are reasons for protocols and I know every faculty member on campus can’t go to the provost office for requests EVEN WHEN the request of the faculty member was made by the Provost.  I understand that.

But, here is why I am angry.  The humanizing and respectful thing to do would have been for the administrator to e-mail me directly to say, “Hi Betina, Thanks for your message and we really appreciated your contribution to the leadership retreat.  There’s actually a protocol for reimbursement that should start with your department office.  If your department and/or college office doesn’t have funds to reimburse you, then have your [title of fiscal officer] contact us.  We don’t deal with faculty member reimbursement requests directly because we don’t have the capacity to do so.  Best, Administrator” That would have actually been a much easier e-mail to send than 3 e-mails around me which eventually got back to me and referred to me as “a faculty member in your college” and completely dismissed that there was LOGIC to my request.

To be fair to my institution, this is only the second time in 6 years this has happened to me personally.  The other time was in my first year when I was not angry, I was sobbing uncontrollably in frustration at the fact that a poster order that I tried to place at least 5x was kicked back to me with no explanation and that NO ONE would explain to me how to properly make the request.  This happened in my college fiscal office.

With that incident fresh in my mind, I went to a local school where one of the first things I saw was a substitute teacher remove an African American boy from a class that one of my student teachers was teaching.  Neither she nor I felt that this was an appropriate thing for him to do, but neither of us was technically the teacher of record.  I believe that the substitute thought he was doing the right thing by removing the disruption from the class. I imagine that the protocol was for “disruptive, defiant” students to be sent to a “buddy teacher.”  My student teacher was in an awkward position.  I was in an awkward position. But neither of us should have let our awkwardness stop us from doing what was right.

I am clear that a little 12-year old who wasn’t doing anything more than, PERHAPS, chatting with a friend (and several other students were as well) missed out on his English class today and sat in another room, feeling like his teacher (and this other random adult in the room) didn’t have his back.  My student teacher and I spent most of a 2-hour debrief talking about how to own responsibility in that situation and build back the relationship with this student. She told me of an earlier incident in which the student had cried in class because another teacher hadn’t listened to his side of the story.  Her mentor teacher had simply dismissed his deep distress because the other teacher hadn’t called his mother or written a referral.

No harm. No foul.

Except that it is.  What message are the educators in this room giving this child about his life, his emotions and his education mattering? Why are we so willing to dismiss the damage done if the end result is that the “situation is resolved” and “no one got in trouble.” Why don’t we tell these stories?

I write about these two incidents not because they are equal in degree, but because they might be easily dismissed by those who cannot understand how deeply traumatizing dehumanization is.  I am an educator because I believe in the humanizing possibilities of education, in the power of education to liberate and connect us, and in the power of people, the power of love, the power of words.

But today, I am deeply discouraged by our educational institutions, even ones with individuals that I firmly believe are trying their best to “follow the protocol” and keep the ship running.

I will get my $80 from the university.

My student teacher will take responsibility for her part in what happened to her student tomorrow and work to reconcile their relationship and rebuild trust.

But long after that $80 is spent (to be honest, it’s already spent, but compensation as dehumanization isn’t the point of this post), long after the bell rings tomorrow, long after the next time he is or I am put in our places and reminded that we are only conditionally accepted, even by those who may ostensibly be on our side, the institutions will still exist, and they will continue to dehumanize us and those who are like us or unlike us, if we continue to accept that this is protocol. This is the way things are.

Unless we work to change these institutions.  Unless we work to humanize them.  Unless we remember to relate to one another and be responsible for the fact that our institutional protocols only serve us, if we can remember that we should be serving one another.

I hope you’ll read this. I hope you’ll share it.  I hope you’ll commit to doing better.  I believe telling our stories can convict people to change and can spark collective action.  We cannot change institutions alone, but in solidarity with humanity, we can find the power and courage to change.

Choosing Wisely

Photo by Qimono courtesy of Pixabay

Now that I’m on day 3 of the 30-day writing/ blogging challenge that I’m doing with my friends Wes & Darlene, the ideas for blog posts have started rolling.  Today, I thought about writing a post on the idea of beloved community or a companion piece to yesterday’s piece on my daughter about my son.  Those posts will be forthcoming and I’m excited to write them.

But honestly, today, I just don’t have the time.

Last night, over late night happy hour pumpkin cheesecake, my friend Patty and I were having a conversation on ROI (return on investment).  She is on my “life advisory board” (alongside my husband and some trusted friends–Yafa, you’re on it too, it just never actually meets…I consult you all individually)–the people who give me valued advice about not taking on things that aren’t worth my time, who know my values and commitments (and my tendency to do too much), and who tell me when they think I should probably let something go.  I’m more likely to listen to them than others, but I still (CLEARLY) don’t listen enough of the time.

So, today, with a million different commitments and 41 assignments to grade, I’m just going to write this blog post on choosing wisely, which sometimes means choosing the easiest thing that will help you honor your 150 word daily commitment. I’m working on letting go of this standard of profundity all the time, and being willing to be just good enough more often in these 30 days (and hopefully in life outside of this blog).  I suppose my desire to always do my best holds me back from sometimes from doing things I want to do, knowing that I could do them better, if….  But, as my current best self says, this was the best choice I could have made today; this is the best I can do in the moment, and that’s alright.  It’s just a blog post.

Choosing wisely doesn’t always mean choosing the hardest, most reflective or best idea.

Sometimes we need to choose that which allows us to survive. Wisdom shifts.  I can shift too.

Just leaving this here to remind myself.

New Semester Resolutions

Photo by Lukas Becker on Unsplash

Yes, it’s the end of January, but my life seems to be driven more by the academic calendar than the calendar year, so it seems like this resolutions post comes just in time.

In writing this post (and making sure that I hadn’t already written a New Year’s Resolution post because it’s 3 weeks into the new year and that seems like something I’d do…), I reread all of my posts this month. I saw a pretty clear theme. This month has been about finding calm in the storm, taking time to appreciate the beauty of moments, and taking a breath.

And that’s what I want this semester to be.

Here are my resolutions for this semester:

  1. Cook more. Eat out less.
  2. Spend more time with my family. Limit weekend and nightly commitments to what is REALLY important to me.
  3. Check in with an accountability partner before taking on ANY new commitments.
  4. Get 7+ hours of sleep per night.
  5. Run a half marathon in under 2 hours.
  6. Take a moment out of every day to reflect (and breathe).
  7. Write (something besides e-mail) everyday.
  8. Use my voice to advocate, in some way, everyday.

Any (academic) friends want to share their resolutions with me for this spring semester (or winter/ spring quarter)? Or anyone want to check-in with me to make sure these resolutions stick?  Growth is about accountability and this semester, I’m committed to growing in peace and community.

Complicity, Contradictions, Criticality: The Challenges of Finding a Voice

I don’t even know how to characterize this week except to quote from the title of Angela Davis’s collection of essays, interviews and speeches to say that, “Freedom is a constant struggle.”  Dr. Davis, in this text that I’ve been listening to on the long drives to visit with my aunt or the shorter drives around town, discusses the collective, global struggles of oppressed peoples and the importance of collectivity, coalition, and extending the struggle for freedom beyond civil (and human) rights towards freedom and equality.  She argues (and I agree) that this will not come without the dismantling of structures of oppression including prisons and our current ideologies of “security” which are founded on corporations and individuals profiting from dehumanization of groups of people to maintain control of societies through fear and separation.

In light of the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia of this past weekend, which are not just indicative of the persistence of white supremacist ideologies in the US, but demonstrate how they have been emboldened in this current political time, I find myself, as an individual, standing at the intersection of multiple identities (Chinese American, Asian American, Social Justice Educator, Teacher Educator, Mother) and struggling.  I have been selective in how and where I raise my voice, particularly in relation to social media.  I am more outspoken on Twitter than on Facebook, but more through retweets and amplifying thoughts than through offering original thoughts.  On Facebook, I did engage in one dialogue countering notions akin to color blindness and brought forth the importance of naming white privilege as critical in beginning to dismantle structures of oppression on a friend’s Facebook thread with another Asian American woman. But, I regretted this engagement. I felt that this discussion didn’t lead to very productive, critical reflection. Instead, it turned into defensive justification of points of view (hers and mine).  I was frustrated with the time invested in this conversation (and others like it) and with how these conversations leave me angry and frustrated with the fact that within Asian American communities (particularly East Asian or Chinese American communities, of which I am a part), individuals often choose to align themselves with dominant discourses and fail to speak out against racism in our society, buying into notions that white privilege is divisive and that racism really isn’t so prevalent, that we can work our way to freedom and success if we just continue playing by the rules.

The problem is, racism is inherently divisive with very real consequences for people.  When we fail to acknowledge that racism (systemic, embedded in institutions) at a societal level inform our actions subconsciously (and for some more consciously, with or without justification), we continue to perpetrate and benefit from (if we have forms of privilege) this racism.  The logic leveled against me was that no one is “given privilege,” that it is earned by themselves or their ancestors in good or bad ways.  At that point, I just had to leave the conversation because I just got too frustrated.  I fail to understand how being born a certain race or to certain parents is a form of earning any privilege or rights, and that the mere fact that one was not born a certain race or to certain parents should deny them these rights.  Then I was informed that language is powerful and that we should use it to unite and not divide.  I agree with this.  Language is powerful.  And we should use it to unite, but who are we uniting? For what ends?  Are we united in confronting injustice?  Can this be done without calling out injustice for what it is?

I don’t know.  But, the thing is, I left the conversation.  There are many conversations I just don’t enter into, or don’t enter into unless I am in a space, with people with whom I feel comfortable.  I am EXTREMELY non-confrontational, and this troubles me.  Freedom is a constant struggle.  Struggle means confrontation.  I hate confrontation.  Yet it is necessary to move forward.  Discomfort is necessary to move forward.  I am confronted.  I wonder where my commitments are and where I am complicit to the oppression of others (Black & Brown others, fellow Asian Americans, religious minorities, immigrants) because my privileged fear allows me to remain silent, because I don’t want to be judged by the people I know.

So, I’m calling myself out, and I’m being honest about the fact that I’m struggling.  My commitments call me to make a louder, larger stance.  My identities call me to find quiet ways to contribute to the resistance without putting myself on the front lines.  I don’t know if that’s simply privilege or complicated privilege, complicity, self-care, or just a different form of resistance.  I don’t really want to make this about me, but I also don’t think I’m alone in this struggle.  In trying to find my voice, I want to be honest.  In trying to be authentic to all the parts of myself, I want to share where I am in this struggle with you.  Because the struggle against injustice and for freedom are real, and I need to find a way to participate productively, sustainably, and in coalition.

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.

Let the Light In

My latest academic piece is a chapter in an edited book on women in academia.  It’s incredibly personal and was very difficult to write.

The struggle I had with writing this piece differed from my normal struggles because it brought me back to a series of  intense times that started in my late adolescence, with the loss of my mother, and continued through my early career, with the adoption and health concerns of my older children. These are events that I generally try to forget, even though they shaped (and continue to shape) my career and my life in important ways. They remind me of very dark days, days which often made me want to disappear.

When I first saw the editors’ comments on my piece, I was deeply conflicted.  Their comments were spot on and will be helpful in revision, but they mean that I have to reopen the piece, and work on it again.  Each time I think about revision, I think of each individual incident in the manuscript, and I feel a deep pang of pain, regret or resistance.  It is not a simple revision.

But, I was inspired this weekend by the vulnerability and honesty of a dear friend, in her blog and in her testimony at church.  It made me realize that though this piece is hard, it is important, perhaps the most important piece I’ve written, at least for myself.

I am walking away from the darkness of silence and towards the light of honesty.  And by moving toward that light, I hope that some of it will come into the dark places that still occasionally haunt me.

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.