You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
An interesting moment of clarity for me these last few weeks:
That I have always struggled with doing things for the pure joy of it.
That is strange on so many levels as I’ve always been so passionately in the guts of life. I have always fought to live well, been motivated, worked hard, been dedicated a committed as a student, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a partner, a woman.
But when I ask myself, “What shall I do because I am motivated just by the very essence of who I am, and for my own gain and worth?”, there are days I genuinely struggle to differentiate duty from desire, hustle from worth.
For example, I am dedicated to my piano practise because I have Year 12s I need to look after and play well for. I like maintaining my technique. But how often do I play for the pure joy of playing, for the creation of sound and feeling and light? And more tellingly, how often do I tell my students to do this without doing so myself? And then when I actually catch myself playing for the pure joy of playing, when my soul is alight in my fingers and the phrases roll like waves, that feeling of authenticity makes me shiver with recognition, but also simultaneously grieve my iron-clad sense of duty.
And then I wonder, how many times have I acted from that sense of duty? In the immediate sense, I am a woman of my own moral compass. I am strong, independent, joyful, and courageous. I am imaginative in my ideas, interested in the world, curious about happenings, compassionate to humankind, loving by the minute and day. But I wonder how many times I’ve had to be forcefully selfish to prove to myself that I can choose for myself. And as warped as that sounds, I am sure many of you know what I mean. That you need to go a little too hard out, a little overboard in your rest-time, spending, arguments, ideas, and so forth to make sure that you are being fully yourself, and that you are fully realising your net worth.
The fact is, you don’t. Ever.
You get to make the choice.
Quite simply, I do not have to defend anything, I can state it. Sounds great, but my goodness, in practise, that pang of lingering doubt is hard to erase.
I can walk in and just be.
Be, be, be, all of me, over and over.
With each day, I marvel that I can sit at the piano and play, and my heart rises up in what it recognises to be deep, unshakable joy and brimming self-worth, rather than just a youthful, girlish, manic sense of duty. That the words I choose do not have to be overly preppy or enthusiastic to make their point, they just have to be spoken. That I can use my time and space any way I want, and when people walk into my home, or into my presence, they share that realm with me, I don’t bend to make them comfortable. That I can sit in a conversation and be so far left of the middle, but still be gracious and calm and interested.
It’s a good place to practise being.
I was thinking about the concept of self-worth today, not in terms of how effectively we set boundaries, but what we actually do to follow through with them. I see myself as a comfortable and developing boundary-setter; I need time to consider a situation, consider what I need versus the greater good, and then decide what I am comfortable with and what my boundaries are. I also line up my decision-making with my values, which, I have found to my equal joy and frustration, are continually evolving. Values are elusive things that are continually shifting ever-so-slightly, constantly becoming more defined as you gain life experience. For example, one of my values is to be kind. This then grew into, “Be kind where possible, and if that is not possible, be accurate and honest.” The addendum to that was, “And if all of that is impossible, then don’t say anything at all.”
I like my values. They have formed me into a compassionate, imaginative, articulate, courageous, and determined woman with a blood-linked desire to grow.
My errant thought today was to do with kindness. I have always made it cost “more” to me when an apology is being made. That is, when I can see there has been genuine suffering and remorse, and someone I value is making an apology, I accept it quickly and readily, almost to take the pain and suffering away. Why? Because, I figure, if they’re sorry enough to make an apology, they must really be sorry about the action that caused it. I also see it as a good mark against my own character, “Oh, there’s Annie, so easy-going, and ready to let things go!”
But the thing is, generally I’m not that girl. I’m not that easy-going girl. Forgiving, playful, and joyful, yes, but forgetful and easy-going? No. I like checking things out. I like understanding the inner workings + motivations of people. It’s what makes me the teacher I am today. It’s my super-power.
But then there’s the shadow-side; it’s also my kryptonite. I think that I can predict good behaviour, and I have an unfailing ability to see the best in people. Sometimes, I have to protect my ready compassion + optimism my fencing people out until I can observe them a little longer. And why should I apologise for my own values? If I forgive, and I DO forgive well, I want it to be because some new understanding has been reached, some border crossed to a new level of connection…or moving on.
And the “AH-HA!” moment I had today?
If I continue to let people easily off the hook just because I feel sorry for them without proper conversation + examination of the issue, then who gets cheapened? Whose boundaries get worn down?
I am taking away value from myself by allowing people off the hook the moment they start anything that seems like a compassionate apology. Small everyday moments, no worries. But disagreements or hurts that go against my values? I shouldn’t let those go so easily.
And what will that mean?
I need to be more courageous.
I need to step into the place of discomfort and examine the situation and have the conversation with the person apologising. I need to redefine and realign the relationship and the value.
And I need to treat myself with the grace and value that I deserve. I need to hold people accountable. Which means engaging in conversation with them about the issue.
The apology need not be a blood-bath. It can be real, informative, and calm. It can be the most connective conversation, transforming two people.
But I need to hold myself with higher integrity in how I accept apologies and how they look alongside my value of compassion + kindness.
I did it. Ladies and gentlemen, I did what I set out to make a habit of in 2018, today. In the flesh. In real-time.
I. DID. IT.
I was trying to explain to a colleague how disappointed I was with the resources I had been given. I was not complaining or whinging, there was an end in sight, I wasn’t burdening or ranting, and I just needed 30-seconds to be disappointed before moving on and finding a solution. I asked for her time, she said, “Yep, no worries!”
At the end of my debrief, she said, “Well, it’s all about how you look at it! You’ve just got to be more positive about it!”
She wasn’t being unfair at all. But have you seen the trail of dust I leave behind? It’s flavoured with that much eff-ing positivity, you could grow unicorns and fairies out of it.
I was asking for empathy, not a rah-rah cheer-squad pom-pom dance.
And what disappointed me even more was that she was someone who has asked me for the same sort of compassion and empathy, which I have gladly given, or tried to do my best to give. Her words felt like a sympathetic slap in the face. A backwards glance, when I was actually trying to calmly articulate disappointment.
Here’s where it gets magical.
Rather than brightly thanking her for her time, walking away, and stewing for a while afterward, I stood my ground.
I very calmly re-articulated why I was concerned, why this wasn’t just a flippant “just be positive” situation, that I am both persistent and innovative for finding solutions and that what I needed was care and concern, because I am hard enough on myself as it is. I retold my concerns with courage; I told my situation exactly as it stood, while standing my ground.
Her face changed from flippant to listening, she went quiet and took it onboard. And while I know she might have been mildly annoyed that I asked for more time, I am so pleased and proud of how I handled it. I am so glad that I didn’t run away from this small opportunity to create greater understanding.
At the end of the day, it was a small, non life-threatening disappointment that I am now happily trying to brainstorm solutions to. I am in a different mind-frame now.
But I am so proud of myself that I tried again to make myself heard, without apology or sacrifice, within wanting to hurt anyone, just for the need to build a better understanding.
If I am not happy, speak out.
If there is something to be done, then I am “somebody” that “can”.
If there is something to be seen, see it and articulate it.
If I am given plenty to create with, create with wild abandon.
If I am given nothing, I still have a reservoir of creative spirit within me.
If I am pushed to the limits, I will find more stretch in the limits.
If I am given a stage, sing.
If I am silenced, sing.
If I am made small, rise up in spirit. Grow with the complete glory of all that I am.
If I am celebrated, stand with humility and joy on my own sacred ground, in my own light.
Let me know and remember that I am undoing “CAN’T”, and replacing it with love, curiosity, and wonderment.
I ask myself to stand and have a look around, and see what is possible to problem-solve.
I have no idea the greatness of my spirit if I would only try.
To engage with life and the world around you, you need to be up for discomfort and struggle. And after a period of intense rest and time away from interaction, that can be the last thing you want. Add to that the very introvertness of my introvert nature, and that’s recipe enough for me to lie on the rug in the middle of my floor and pretend I’m not a teacher.
Every single year, no matter what sort of holidays I have, I always have the irrational thought before going back to school: “I CANNOT DEAL WITH STUDENTS.” Right now, it’s even more basic: “I CANNOT DEAL WITH PEOPLE.”
Why am I so antsy and afraid?!
Am I afraid of the intensity of work? Because I may get hurt? That I don’t think I will survive the roller-coaster that is teaching? Interacting with the staff who give me the shits and drain the life out of me? My own unrelenting standards and expectations? Having less time?
The thing is, these all make sense. And I will survive, one thought and step at a time.
The intensity of work? Yes, it will be intense. I will be in the coalface getting blackened again. But I have done this before, and I have the fitness and ability to do it now. I have the tenacity and determination, and I have been working on my concentration. What I need to remember is how to step out of the intensity of work. To see the little moments and don’t discount them. To hug them tight, because they will sustain me.
That I may get hurt? Of course. I think there are flying shards of glass every day. You wouldn’t be living life if you didn’t step into a shit-storm every once in a while. But I have firm ground under my feet and a quiet confidence. I need to remember that I’ve survived so much, and far worse more capably than I believe. Every day is not supposed to be filled with just all things wonderful and breezy brightness, there is supposed to be some gritty consideration and thinking in there. That’s called living. And I am not perfect. I need to remember that. In living and loving well, I will skin my knees. But my goodness, my survival skills are developing nicely and so is my connection circle of people who love me.
That I won’t survive? Just one foot in front of the other. Look all around you at the people who are surviving, on far less, with more gumption. Take a leaf out of their books and look, learn, and admire. Talk yourself through the stressful moments. You’re allowed to worry and fuss. But don’t stop. Don’t hurry, but don’t stop. And hold a very big flashlight as to what you think is correct for you. Stay in your own lane. When things get crowded, get back in that lane like your life depends upon it.
And oh, the shitty shitty people? Again, we are all one big happy family, and some of those “family members” will give you the shits. Big shits. What sort of person do I want to be? I survived most of 2017 by cocooning myself from the shittiest of shitty people. I’m going to test something new out this year, to see what sort of result it will give me; I’m going to apply grace and lean into the things that scare me, or piss me off. I am going to speak truth and honesty, but with grace and compassion. And I will do it FOR ME, because that’s the sort of person I want to be. When there is a problem, I am going to quietly and courageously stand my ground. I am going to fortify myself with love from everyone around me who really love me for all that I am, strengths, achievements, and weaknesses. In other words, I am going to ruffle some feathers and see if I come out looking and smelling even more authentic.
My own relenting standards? Oooooooh, yes. Somehow, the perfectionist streak in me rears its ugly head when I am on holidays. When I am supposed to be relaxing and getting myself prepared for a new year, this horrible gremlin asserts itself, I think partly because there are no “normal happenings” around me to beat me back into humanness, and I am allowed to be perfectionistic. Relaxed, but perfectionistic. So to this, I tenderly remember that I am an imperfect and worthy human. I’ll have to yell it at myself, but I know that to be true. And telling myself I’m not perfect, putting myself into context, and putting everyone else into context, their words + failings, faults + successes, helps soothe and encourage me immeasurably. I am suddenly able to touch on forgiveness, even if I don’t yet, or can’t go there, and life moves on again. So again, engaging with life is incredibly humbling and normalising. Having time away to reflect is essential, but getting back into it, also just as essential.
Having less time? I think that’s less disposable, aimless time. I need to get very clear about what is important and how I would like to spend my time. One of my biggest time-sucks and numbing of behaviours is scrolling Facebook. When I am stressed out or feeling small, I need to get the hell off Facebook, get the hell back into my lane and engage with something that really sustains me…creatively, musically, personally, humanly. And all of that takes courage. Because Facebook is like the massive scoop of salted caramel ice-cream. It goes down easy. What I’m asking for is something like hot chicken soup, which takes some time to see the healing benefits and is going to take some discipline, but I have to believe + know that it will nourish me more.
I cannot live life being afraid. The more afraid I am, the MORE I need to practise engaging with the world, listening, being mindful, being present. This whole “warrior + happiness training” thing that I have inadvertently engaged in these holidays because I opened up the Pandora’s Box Of Unprocessed Thoughts and Emotions is not to make me feel good right now. It’s to build up a bank so that I have happiness and courage in credit for when the shit hits the fan. For when I am struggling. That is when I look back and realise the catalogue of events I have survived with grace, the endurance and problem-solving skills that I have, and that I can lean HARD on them. The immeasurable joy in my life, and the joy that emanates from me.
I think my desiderata for 2018 is going to be this:
That I will walk into each day challenging EVERY shame and scarcity gremlin that comes my way.
That I will lean IN, rather than close up, when adversity bubbles up, and when joy prevails.
That I will care deeply and tenderly, joyfully and playfully, for myself. And from this deep nourishment and love, I hope that all the other types of love and connection will flourish.
This holidays has been an oasis of time. I thought it would be a walk in the park, and such a relaxing and wonderful time of reflection. OH. MY. GOD, did I have that wrong. While some days were, other days I did what can only be described as TOTAL AND ABSOLUTE battle with all my gremlins, demons, and scarcity-mongers of 2017. The thing is, I’m pretty vigilant with all of this. I’m facing the North Star. I take care of my emotional well-being and I am lifted up by so much honest and genuine love.
But I also knew that with the stretch of time uninterrupted by choral camps, school preparation, and assessments, I had an extraordinary opportunity to sink into some of the processing and reflection that needed to happen to fully experience and understand the events of the past year. The interactions, the intensity of work, and every single time that I’ve asked for more from myself. Time may have soothed them, or life has simply gotten interesting and active, and taken my mind off them, and I think I am okay. Letting each story rise up and present itself…excruciating and exquisite. Effing-hell. I felt like I was on a roller-coaster ride some days.
The intensity of some of the questions I had to look at made me reverberate all over, and there were some days where all I could do was breathe through the anger and pain. Waves of anxiety and questioning coursed through me in a way that I’d never experienced all year, and for many years, in fact. Opening up that deep well and looking in is not kiddie-work. It’s hard-won badassery. It’s exhausting.
And when you crossover and navigate through, which you somehow always do, there is sort of a simple, deep peace. You feel like you have run a marathon over 3 hours without lifting a finger, and then the next thing that you do, the next conversation you have, is imbued with such laughingly deep joy that it seems ridiculous. I guess that is the extremes of joy and grief.
I can also see that it is impossible to do this sort of reflection during a school term; there is no way that you can process so many thoughts and events without it burning a hole in your energy levels, not to mention the concentration and love required, to keep up with the daily demands of teaching.
But this time, this blessed time. I’ve HATED some days of it, not gonna lie! But this oasis of time I have received, where I’ve read + soothed, talked and reflected, loved and embedded myself in, cleaned and cooked, and then read some more…thank you.
What do I know to be true? Morning scribblings and conversations, in the middle of the holidays, on a still morning with a plunger of coffee. Total, unexpected oasis.
That you cannot shame anyone into changing their behaviour or actions. For there to be lasting change, people have to want it deeply. I read it from Brené Brown, and fought it all through my university years. What I would say to that 17-year-old hopeful, heartful, impressionable, intensely dedicated girl if I could have my time over, I now say to all my students with a great deal of warmth and humour: “You all have excellent crap detectors on your head. Use them. Trust you teachers and mentors, but above all, trust yourself. When the intent is right, you will know that you are entirely safe, in well-being, mind, and heart. And that is the only way to learn.”
You cannot protect and cocoon yourself up forever. Sometimes, you don’t even know that you are doing it. You’ll be happy enough, but is that really what you want? Life is always going to have ebbs and flows, moments of grace and moments of intensity. You have everything you need to ride those waves. For God’s sake, do something and have something to say. Thoughtful, considered, and entirely yours. You need to lean into life in order to really engage and live.
You will absolutely NOT be happier when things are “done”. Sometimes in the haste to wrap up and finish, and get to the happy pontoon at the end, you miss the amazing moments of industry. The really interesting bits that frustrate and challenge you. Again, it’s not going to be comfortable. It’s going to be downright annoying sometimes. But you are absolutely alive. You’re not when you’re safely passed out on a couch, in relative terms.
Push yourself to be industrious, but also to be human. Believe it or not, you will be most happiest when you are filled with purpose, when there are things to do. Complain or joyfully proclaim to the world how busy you are, it’s never going to be a perfect balance. But you will feel the muscles of agency building, and the inevitable and wonderful hum that comes from creating and being.
You’re here to live, not to be static or just appear. Ask questions, be all-in, find things out, push up against boundaries, reset them, carve out time, then swim into each minute. Be unique, be controversial, be gracious, be generous. But above all, BE.
Find your moral compass. My God, you’ll need this. Being deeply committed and indebted to yourself is a daily, and sometimes hourly, struggle. Hold yourself accountable, even if the rest of the world gives you a free pass. Don’t for yourself, if it doesn’t line up with your values.
Stand your own sacred ground. Whatever you are doing, whether you are in battle, in struggle, in glory, in joy, in grace, in pain, in love, in play, in life. You matter, my darling, so much. For me, most days are joyful, industrious, or rewarding. I like the ordinary, it makes the little special moments explode with the spark of “extraordinary”. But on the days that I’m unsettled, I’m going to lean in. That’s some serious arse-kicking courage right there for an introvert who would love nothing better than just to cocoon up. Take down one puzzle piece, and begin, and you take down fear breath by breath.
I am on a bit of a Brené Brown bender and re-reading her first book, I Thought It Was Just Me. You can really hear her voice develop over the course of her four books, and I am astounded at how her writing, her research, and she herself, have grown so amazingly and astonishingly in clarity and authenticity of voice. There’s an “authentic sass” about her, with total and ballsy humour, which I LOOOOOVE!
For me, this first book is a personal favourite. I’ll read anything Brené Brown writes, including shopping lists on napkins, because it’s all so good. This book is the most “researchy”, but I also find it the most nerve-wrackingly, exquisitely confronting and reassuring to read.
The stories resonate with me as a teacher; personally and for my students. Each time I feel myself “crusting over” from the events of life, reading or listening to her work opens the doors again, and makes me think. Also, when I re-read such powerful work, even after a few months of living + doing me, the words hit me so differently. Sometimes I read paragraphs that I’ve read three or four times before, and they didn’t have weight until now. And other times, there are things that are circled and underlined that I read again and wonder how they cut so deeply and resonated so much. I take comfort that I must have learned some sort of important lesson from these words.
Today, I re-read the opening credits, and they left me breathless. The moment in class which has chartered the course of Brené’s life work:
One day during a staff meeting, the clinical director, who oversees the therapeutic work done with the children, spoke to us about helping the kids make better choices. He said, “I know you want to help these kids, but you must understand this: You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviours.”
He went on to explain that, regardless of our intentions, we can’t force people to make positive changes by putting them down, threatening them with rejection, humiliating them in front of others or belittling them. From the moment the words were spoken, I was absolutely overwhelmed by this idea.”
So am I.
It is said that we’re all a little bit fluent in flight, fight, or fanciful pleasing. I have fire in the belly that manifests itself as acerbic and arch responses that can cut, and I have a stare-down that could melt snow. I’m 5 foot nothing, but I’ve been told I grow in times of battle. I can also rush to wipe clean my slate of any wrong-doing, going completely and ridiculously overboard to show how invaluable and essentially good I am. I could give a whole nation diabetes with my over-dosing sweetness.
But my go-to, my modus operandi of all MO’s, is F L I G H T. I’m an introvert at heart, so that comes as no surprise. I do the intimidating stare-down, I say my piece with icy force (or what I think is quiet compassion, but really it’s just resting bitch-face), and then I get the hell out. I cocoon and pad myself up with time, space, and quiet like pro. I protect and insulate like no other. When I am under serious threat, I am unbelievably Telfon-coated. Iodised. What was that?! I can’t hear you through all the protective layers.
And it’s served me well over the years as it gives me time to process and think. I am not so juvenile as to stay there forever, just long enough to figure out how to stand my ground in the “real” world. While in the cocoon, I ask my inner circle advice; the people who love me when I’m vulnerable and in pieces. I am proud of how I always venture back out with a recalibrated moral compass, ready to interact with life again.
But in having quiet to reflect these holidays, I realise that I don’t give myself enough credit. I think that I am not strong enough to withstand adversity; that I have to protect myself through dozens of layers to escape pain. But the thing is, it doesn’t make it go away. You have to walk through it anyway, and by cocooning myself I give myself time + space, but not necessarily an easier ride.
I realise I can have faith in myself; that I am stronger and more grounded than I give think. During 2017, I saw myself weather more storms than I knew was possible and every time, I had no idea what I was walking into until I was right in the middle of it all. There was no time to duck and cover, I had to stand and stretch, bend and move, with the intense storms around me.
I am more supple than I realise.
So let me have faith, than I can inch forward, with quiet, intensely unmistakable confidence, whatever hurricanes are around me, and bend in adversity far more capably than I think.
At a time of year where we are both joyful and tired in spirit and soul, let us love gently, passionately, and love well.
There is only love. Even when there is divide, there is love in the way we communicate and relate to each other.
Are you happy with how this year has gone? I both love and am turned upside-down emotionally by this time of year as it’s a time of deep reflection. Have I done all I can, been the best I can be, loved where I am able?
And as I journal, and the words thread themselves into heartfelt sentences on the page, I remember that I am utterly human, that I will fail, but that there is always a second change.
Take those chances, love, reach out, be courageous…life is only tiny little steps of daring, captured in fleeting moments of joy.
Oh, LEAN into those. With every ounce of courage and vulnerability that you can.