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I always do a blessing on my house each morning. Being a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian, there are things you do partly out of love, partly out of tradition, and partly out of warding off the first-generation karma.
Lately, I have asked for courage. Sometimes, it’s a conscious request with a specific scenario in mind. Like, “Please grant me the courage to have that god-awful and awkward conversation I’ve got to have with one of my students who’s failing. Help me speak with compassion and directness, help me hit the right mark, help me go there and hold space for the discomfort.”
Other days, it’s just what pops up into my heard + heart, unbidden, “One order of courage today, please!”
In asking for courage, here is what I have received in my last term of teaching:
I asked for courage, in order that I might have the self-compassion and patience to be out of action for 7 days to soothe my spirit and recover from the sickness of intensive travel with the ANZAC Music Tour. The tenderness with which I have to speak to myself, that I might understand and fully embrace the fact that I am not super-human, that I must rest, and that the exhaustive pull of this sickness will pass, and I will recover, and my spirit will rise up again.
I asked for courage, that I might catch the newly-awakened love of leadership that came from leading the tour. You always get what you absolutely don’t want, and I cannot tell you how MUCH I DID NOT WANT to lead this tour. I didn’t know the crevices of it, I hadn’t planned it, my heart wasn’t embedded in it. And yet, I found myself holding the reins, in charge of the emotional, musical, and physical safety and joy of the students under my direction. I got on that plane, leaned in, and led like a MF. All the while, knowing that I would have been just as happy with a holidays curled up reading, or cooking, or fresh-faced from a morning run along Henley Beach, and I was on the other side of the world, discovering, experiencing, leading, learning, feeling; wholehearted, courageous, and completely present. I gave my heart to that tour, those kids, and my supporting staff. The fire in the belly has been awakened, and I find that I like being in the driver’s seat. That I like considering the dynamics and well-being of a team, and that I like pin-pointing potential and helping others to grow.
I asked for courage, that I might take a bigger, more audacious bite of life. I am always on the conservative side of the average. But lately, by design or by default, I have found myself pushing limits. Reaching in, asking for more clarification, talking, engaging in discussion, and leaning hard into discomfort. So much so that I come home completely wrecked and exhausted, sometimes wondering if I’ve done right by everyone – and knowing, instinctively, that I have.
I asked for courage, that I might let go more easily, learn how to forgive more completely and honestly, learn the process of forgiveness more intimately, that I might take bigger, more audacious bites of life. The more that I protect myself and tell myself and the world that everything is okay, the more that I don’t embrace the gritty reality of forgiveness. Forgiveness is what allows each of us to fully embrace life, and allow us that “lean-hard” into joy. Because unfortunately, there cannot be a filter for embracing life completely; if you want the joys, you need to run headlong into the shitty moments. Forgiveness is the navigation tool of the bold and brave-hearted.
I asked for courage, that I might love more fully. Loving is such a unfurling, tender, human act.
I asked for courage, that I might not embrace fears before they actually become fears. I see the audaciousness of those much older, much less educated, much more courageous that I am, and I see that they are living life with balls-out, audacious, vibrant wholeheartedness. And I cry, because I realise how many times I have played small from fear. I have the complete Derwent set of pencils in language, emotion, connection, life, stability, family, love, friendship, finance; the ONLY thing stopping me is fear. And perhaps a well-made flat white. I have everything I need to live life audaciously + fiercely.
I asked for courage, that I might learn how to navigate the unforgivable. When fear or circumstance make people act in ways that are less-than, when there is no rhyme or reason to a decision, an act, or a situation. I am afraid of becoming closed-off and bitter when I have to navigate these situations. Conversely, I don’t want to treat them superficially. So therefore, I ask for courage that I might engage with every part of life, even the situations which challenge me deeply and I do not easily understand, those which are seemingly unforgivable, incomprehensible, and driven by fear. I ask that I do not respond in fear, but I respond with courage and compassion, that I might retain and even build my understanding of myself, the world around me, and my understanding of humanity, and continue to live fully. One of my greatest fears is becoming bitter and not knowing myself.
I asked for courage, that I might be perceptive. That just because someone is embedded in a place of leadership or power, that does not make them a person of integrity and worth, and those qualities need to be demonstrated and trust earned over time. I ask that I learn to see things authentically, that I process things thoroughly, and that I anger + react slowly.
I asked for courage, that I might have the courage to be different. Lately, assimilating has been strangely seductive for me. Perhaps it’s been a long term, perhaps I feel like I am up against it, but I ask for courage that I continue to think differently to others, see my different points of view, and bring fresh new insights to the table, even if they seem – different. I am put here to be creative and compassionate, playful and insightful, and no one else will see from my point of view. And just because a decision is not made in my favour, doesn’t mean my viewpoint isn’t valid. The validity is not the question. It’s whether I have the courage to embrace seeing things from my point of view, and whether or not they make sense and are done from a place of generosity and egoless-ness.
I asked for courage, that I might live. When it gets too tiring or overwhelming, I want to fucking dance.
In asking for courage, I got a shitload of challenge, problem-solving, closed doors, fear and unfairness.
I’d say The Universe delivered very nicely, don’t you think?
I got comprehensively “couraged”, and I walk with battle scars, head-up, and a whole new sass.
Fears will rise up, but they will fall away as well. I am standing straighter, stronger, and taller. And while things shake me – as they should if I am any ounce of a human being – I am less afraid of being shaken. Not because I am cast iron or Teflon-coated, no. I have a very great desire NEVER to be either of those and in fact, I think I am softer and more supple than ever before, with a heart that rises up so easily with joy, emotion, and gratitude. I just know that I will make it through all that which shakes and unsettles me, because I can cry and seek help, I can listen and reflect, I can lean into the discomfort, I can examine and pull back, I can hug and laugh, and I can practise courage of the highest sort.
I have all the tools I need to walk through whatever adversity is presented, knowing full well that I do not have to solve anything straight away, but that I have the capacity to solve it. And if I don’t? All I need to do is reach out and ask for help. Oh, the delicious joy of reaching out in humanness and brave need. Because I am all human, feeling and thinking, doing and being.
Why should I be in fear, when I need to walk through adversity and struggle anyway? Look struggle face on. What do you see? Pain, problem-solving, and strength unmeasured and untapped.
Walk into all of this with strong backbone, but open heart.
Stay open, stay open, stay in the heart, stay open. Even if it is by millimetres, stay open.
Don’t numb the journey if you can take one more step.
The most amazing learning happens when you sit side by side with the impossible, and ask it questions. Quietly, audaciously, whatever your take on adversity and problem-solving entail.
And I always am moved with sheer wonder at how my heart finds its equilibrium.
And that, actually, I need to step up and challenge the challenge right back.
I’m overwhelmed today, so unexpectedly.
Overwhelmed by the love + support around me, which I say thank you for, over and over. It affects me deeply, lifts me up, and means so much. It gives me the courage to be all that I can be, without apology or sacrifice.
Today, and everything about it, reminded me in full force that words count, actions matter, character is seen, and love is unmistakable. That you can NEVER UNDERESTIMATE what you might be contributing to the world, andhow everything that you are changes and affects the people around you, always more than you realise.
We celebrated the beautiful Ruth Howley today; her work and extraordinary contribution to Pulteney, her generosity of spirit, her compassion towards others, and her diligence in leadership + teaching.
I’ve known her for less than 2 years. This was a friendship + working partnership that totally caught me by surprise by how dear it is to me, and how greatly I value it. You’re not supposed to find a kindred spirit in under 2 years, but sometimes, if you’re incredibly lucky, you just do.
So thank you for being my compass.
Some people walk into the room, and without a word, the room changes momentum, and life, joy, and connection are possible. That’s Ruth.
And that’s what I hope to be.
How does she hold it all on her delicate shoulders?
She mustn’t receive a lot of unfettered, unattached, no-strings kindness at all. She must spend her time wondering why she’s received certain comments, attentions, emails, presents, and it must corrode her soul, no matter how much integrity she holds her heart to. The challenge must be intense, and heart-breaking.
I wonder how she stays connected and open. I wonder how she walks into each day, knowing the battles she must face, but living for the minute, the moment, and the hour, still being present, even though it costs her so much some days?
It must cut so deeply, all those careless words swirling around her, like shards of glass and just as ragged and dangerous to her spirit. And she walks through this shit-storm with grace.
I do not always agree with her. But fear must cut a path that dictates some of her most challenging decisions. Imagine having to work from a place of compassion, surrounded by fear? I couldn’t do it. It would break me. How does she stay whole?
She is a mother. To see that beautiful picture of her at the formal with her son, both arms around him with an open smile, was poignant. How does he walk through each day? How he must be challenged too, with the responsibilities he faces, despite being told to just be normal. There will be fears, compassion, anger, resentments, and maturity above his years from holding this role with his Mum. And she is just a Mum. Yet she cannot be “just a Mum”, with the bad days, and the bad hair, and needing too much coffee. She has to be superhuman. All the time.
She is just a Mum, wife, daughter, woman, sister, friend, who happens to be in an excruciating and gruelling job, which does not offer much forgiveness.
I wonder where she goes when she has a bad day, who she checks in with? I wonder if she socialises with anyone at work? How hard it must be to want to connect, and yet, you are an island. Everyone else is allowed that one human ounce of integrity and humanity, and she is not. How must it feel when the people around you are angry and resentful when she is sick or away, or distant or preoccupied, rather than forgiving and compassionate. What made her so different that we lock her away in an ivory tower? I am grateful that when I am sick, I am allowed to be human. She is only human, please let her be.
She must tell her story over and over, she has to make clear her intent every day with courage because people don’t believe her immediately. How much that must cost. She cannot rely on previous work; the time is always changing around her. How do you even begin to navigate this?
That smile is all the more heartbreaking, because she has to guard herself all the time.
I wish her joy and connection, and a pathway to her heart.
I remind myself that I need to walk that path regularly for myself. I am so grateful that I know my heart.
I like this. It’s very much in my thinking right now, as I have the time and space to consider deeply what I do in the classroom, and what I do for myself as a teacher.
Also applies to great leaders; ‘The things that great leaders, in any capacity, know about their “people”.’
The ONLY point that I don’t agree with is the very first one; I think great teachers DO have great lessons. They usually work hard to plan them that way, have thought about all the variables in the classroom, including the well-being of their students, and can drop the plan and be flexible at a moment’s notice. I “get” the point being made, but I wholeheartedly believe that great teachers cannot HELP but create great lessons…lessons that are excellent in content + organisation as well.
I have been watching outstanding educators and choral directors from all over Australia this week, inspiring hundreds of young people to a level of musical and personal excellence that has made my heart burst. These young people come from such different backgrounds, unified through a shared passion for singing. These young people have produced affecting, heartfelt, magnificent, perfectly detailed, truly outstanding performances. They have stepped on stage with a sense of self-worth, and a message to share. They have stood their sacred ground and affected time and space around them and in doing so, affected us, the listeners, in ways magical and unexpected. It’s been a weekend of defining, over and over, what it’s like to be human and joyfully alive!
And I have come to realise, unequivocally, all over again, that LOVE is what produces this excellence.
And ONLY love.
That this most positive source of momentum and motivation of young minds MUST come from a place of love, and that ONLY love can distill such pure passion and this particular brand excellence. A healthy striving. A healthy excellence.
This LOVE is disciplined and hard-arse. It can be quietly contained, and brief, depending on the mentor.
But it is NEVER, EVER derogatory, rude, or disrespectful.
Every chorister, whatever their unique set of strengths and weaknesses, personal or musical, is DEEPLY SEEN, HEARD, and VALUED, that their potential is maximised through persistent and tenacious growth, from a secure and safe foundation. THIS NEVER WAVERS OR CHANGES.
This LOVE can be playful, with the unique spark and joy between choristers, and their director. These playful moments are built through experience, a shared story, and TRUST. Only time and a sense of humour can produce this delightful connection.
This LOVE can be boring and monotonous. Choristers will not find each other eternally interesting, and the choral directors certainly won’t! But this love is founded through tolerance and care, and a quiet patience that walks, one step at a time, through the development and growing process. There are no cheap thrills, and a total guarantee for monotonous and very ordinary days of hard work.
This LOVE is shared through choral excellence. Each crystalline detail is refined and polished to that magical place of excellence not through fear, but through a high-held mutual respect for the music. And that respect for the composers’ words can only be embedded THAT DEEPLY by love. And that commitment to telling the story on stage, and the heat that comes off a performance which is unprecedented can ONLY be produced by this brand of love.
Why do I say this?
I have been forced out of my comfort zone this year.
I have been asked to consider the role of overt, un-earned discipline and flippancy, power, and shame. And you know what? I asked myself to be open-minded. And sure, I see that these all produce immediate results.
But they are not HEALTHY, LASTING, or EFFECTIVE. These are quick-fixes, and unbelievably damaging ones at that. Ones that take away years of confidence, joy, and motivation, and create an atmosphere of doubt and instability. Reversing that? Infinitely harder.
To create life-long, self-motivated, embedded results is truly a labour of love. Any educator and mentor who doesn’t want to be in it for the long haul, or have the tolerance to care for the needs of different young people should examine why they are here, entrusted with so much potential.
So I am going to stand against the tide for this one, backed so strongly by what I have experienced this week. Inspired by more people and wisdom than I can number, pulled to this point by the sheer force of what I have seen over and over these last few days.
Learning must be motivated by a unique respect and love.
There is NO QUESTION for me.
The magic and messiness of creativity.
My goodness, I cannot tell you how much this resonated with me, as a person, and as a teacher. I felt like I was on the edge of a marvellous precipice of understanding, looking in, hearing the things I’d been thinking, living, doing, and trying to generate in my classroom, put into definitive words. And that is refreshing!
What the speaker, Linda Hill, so beautifully confirmed was the extreme paradox of creativity, the creative process, and how to plant the seed of creativity in a group of potential creators – in my case, my students.
Here are the paradoxes I heard that need to co-exist in equal force for creativity to be truly at work:
And now my mind is buzzing as to how this actually looks in my classroom when my students are tackling a composition assignment, when they are collaborating to create choreography for a choral number, or when they are trying to stylise a piece for a small-group ensemble.
So much which resonates!