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Well then. One serve of courage, please!
All teachers will know this to be true:
There’s a “head-down-eyes-down-make-a-beeline-for-nearest-exit” walk-run that ALL teachers do at the end of Student Parent Teacher interviews.
Leave the laptop behind, we ain’t doing any work tonight. Don’t worry about the lunchbox, there’s heaps of spare Tupperware at home.
This morning, I finished re-reading the extraordinary book, The Courage to Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi + Fumitake Koga. It shakes me to the core every time with its conversation and ideas, asking me to consider so much. You need a lifetime of thinking to process some of the concepts, and with each re-read (I have re-read it 3 times now), you pick up something different, and the understanding changes to fit where you are in life, and what issues and points of development have your attention.
For me, it got me thinking about self-love; how I care for myself, how I love myself, and how I hold myself in loving tenderness.
It was extraordinary to me how many times I have let myself slip in self-love, and how many times I failed to be tender to myself. No-one else would see it, but I am considering them now.
More than ordinary: Why do we all want to be extraordinary and different for the sake of being those things? We equate living a “good” life with living a “dull + ordinary” life. And “dull + ordinary” very dangerously become synonymous with “worthless”. It isn’t our job to strive to stand out from the crowd as our first priority; it’s our job to just live a good life. When we do this, a certain momentum and energy comes off us, and we become extraordinary and different, because we are animated, fully-engaged, and alive from doing our life’s work. Striving for acclaim and ultimately love and acceptance as our first course of action is a deeply unloving way to ask yourself to work, and to live life.
Just be: When we go into work, we are often measured by what we can give or do. We are only as valuable as our skills, success-rate, and productivity. Sadly, when we engage with family members, friends, and colleagues, in the same way we sometimes measure them through what they can give us. Is it that they make us feel good about themselves? They have a skill we want? They have scintillating and witty conversation? They are socially acceptable to be around? They have money and accolades? The do not ask questions which offend us? While all of these aspects are important and we should choose to be with people who are positive influences in our lives, shouldn’t the very first requirement be that they are just themselves? When we think of others as comrades and equals, rather than useful commodities – and it is a very subtle change of mindset – everything changes. Something shifts, and people are more willing to engage with you and willingly offer of themselves and their talents.
Therefore, it stands to reason that we each of us need to just be, safe in our worthiness.
Momentum, direction, and agency: When you are working from a base value of strong self-worth, then what you create, do, produce, say, achieve, is a bonus. It gives your life purpose and meaning. The fact that I teach, compose, and conduct choirs is a value added on top of my value as a person. Yet, too often, I have brandished those defining factors in front of new acquaintances as a definition of who I am, of all that I am. And I have looked for those defining factors in others as a reason to either keep or discard a connection. This also applies to students I teach as well; does the student who is on track and produces high quality work automatically get more value than a student who is a little turd? Theoretically, no. In practice, we all try not to. But how often have we said, even internally, “Oh, that student? They give me absolutely nothing. They’re a waste of space.” Shouldn’t the absolute bottom requirement be that they are there? Am I not the teacher and adult in the room?
When I scroll + scroll + scroll: You all know those days. It’s been a shitfest since 7:15am in the morning, and every lesson has progressively sucked from the word go. Get home, and you don’t want to engage. I numb by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook + Youtube. And when I cannot break that cycle and I tell myself that I deserve the chance to mentally check-out because I’ve had a shit day, I am not loving myself. When I stay in a holding pattern rather than taking those first, challenging steps toward moving through what I need to, reaching out and telling my story, nourishing my body through good food or exercise, or nourishing my brain through words, music, or journalling, I am feeding myself emotional junk-food and not doing myself any good. And the effects are just as shallow and ineffective. Start the work, care for myself.
I will see what I want to see in the world: People are imperfect, and they will let you down and hurt you. That’s a fact. However, if I set out to see how many times someone has let me down, I will always find evidence of this. If I look for evidence on how challenging a student is being, or how hopeless their situation, I will always succeed in finding it. I will always be able to verify whatever I want to see. So, it is my challenge to change the course of my thinking; how can I change my immediate response? How do I see something different, and look for clues otherwise in a situation, even if the hard work and course of action ahead is exactly the same?
I will see what I want to see in myself: Oh yes, there are several ways I can beat myself up. I don’t buy in for the “mindlessly Pollyanna” way of thinking either, because that’s just lip-service. But I will also see in myself what I look for. If I am looking for evidence of times I have let myself down, or failed, or how much I sucked at something, or how thoughtless, or when I have made a fool of myself, I will no doubt find it. And I can think of so many days when I have come home from school fixated on one interaction which has overtaken any of the other positives in my day, and how hard I have to try to change that course of thinking. Let me train myself to see things differently. Let me celebrate all that I have done well, first and foremost.
When I avoid: When I am avoiding something, I am telling myself I do not matter. Why? We avoid things when we are afraid. We are instinctively saying, “I don’t think I have what it takes to step into that arena, and say my piece, without being torn apart. I don’t think I have what it takes to own my truth. I don’t think I have what it takes to get up from the rubble if I get shot down.” So we avoid. Let me love myself a little more insistently, that the trust in my great strength is there. And yes, it will hurt. But I will be authentic and loving to myself, and not avoid any of truths about me.
The hard questions: As a follow-on from above, I have sometimes tied myself up in knots about a family gathering or a friendly catch-up because I know I will get the questions I dread; Why am I not married, raising a family, or have children? I have used every freakin’ verbal karate move under the sun to navigate these conversations. I have avoided, come out fighting, used humour, used the Zen-like approach, responded, not responded, avoided the most hurtful and nosey people, come at them like a bat out of hell and annihilated them for even daring to ask such a stupid question. What I have to realise is this; for most people asking, they are asking on such a different wavelength to me; they are simply asking a question, and I am looking at an emotional crater of sadness and grief, which I stand on the edge of daily. Humour cheapens it, fighting doesn’t acknowledge it properly. For other people asking, they are asking out of love. So avoiding hard questions is not the answer; it’s practising and preparing my answers. It’s knowing where I stand on these things, and knowing how much they mean to me, that I know exactly what I need to say to get my story across. Take the time to tell my truth and educate others. THAT is TRULY LOVING myself. My darling girl, I will never let you down again in not owning all that you are, I promise. Love all that you are, even the uncomfortable truths. That is your whole self.
Change: Sometimes, I resist change because I don’t think the people and world around me would cope if I changed something. What a ridiculous thing to think! Am I so adaptable that I will just go on being the person other people want me to be? If I need to grow and change, it is only for myself. Again, help educate others I love and care for about the change, speak with them without apology and let them know why I am considering a different direction, or a new way of approaching things. I owe no-one any explantations, by the way! Embrace all that I am, sink into it, deeply and wholly. I am a truly beautiful woman of grace, colour, vibrancy and fire. Let’s rock it.
Owning it: And finally, every time that I step into a room and do not take the floor when given the opportunity. I am not talking about being an attention-seeker. I am once again talking about those times where I have been a happy little fringe-dweller and played small, dimming my light so that other’s around me don’t feel uncomfortable. Step up, girl. Own it. Use your words. Shine your light. Share you extraordinary ideas + opinions. Change the momentum of the air around you.
You deserve all the love.
Let me break down report writing:
Depending on the term, it’s writing a 5000 to 10000 word essay under EXTREME pressure, when you are completely and utterly exhausted from the term of teaching and are hating life anyway.
You have a critical audience of approximately 250 students and (even more alarmingly) 500-ish parents who are all deeply interested in DIFFERENT 200-300 word increments of said academic essay. So you can’t even throw in a random half-page quote to haze your audience. You have to write at absolute premium quality for the WHOLE DAMN ESSAY.
If you don’t utilise that thesaurus of “student-focused + encouraging” words, you can be damn sure you’ll be fielding a phone call from an irate parent as to why you described their precious darling as “conscientious” rather than “dedicated”.
YOU CAN’T EVEN WRITE WHAT YOU WANT. You have to spend your time scrupulously veiling your true thoughts into positively-bent, passive-aggressive pointers of “forward-thinking encouragement”.
The final report is like white bread: refined as all hell with all the good stuff processed out, leaving only the fluffy white stuff.
Happy report writing!
Darling Girl, who aches with hope, here is what I say to you:
Fill the room with ALL of you. Not pretentiously, but without apology.
Speak with every ounce of who you are.
Succeed. Oh, succeed because it is your life’s path.
Speak. Because you have so much to say that is innate and bursting forth. Speak all of your words, not just the ones that are curated.
Live, not clinically, not withholding, but FULLY. Messily, Completely. Utterly. Totally. Fully.
Don’t make space for a job, a misguided hope, a cultural implication, a relationship, a child, or anything else that is not there. Darling Girl, your heart, soul, and life will stretch to accommodate those if and when they arrives. Because that’s how life works!
If you live like this, in the ghosting of a hope, then you are living in deficit, and on misplaced reality. My beautiful, sweet, strong, gritty one, you live NOW, not for a time in the past or in the future, and certainly not on something that is grounded in only “what ifs”.
Travel. My God, travel and see all that you can, because you have the freedom and license to right now. You are only you at present, and it is absolutely right and true without being selfish. Travel and step into the world, as it fully embraces you as you are. Not as a wife, a mother, a partner, but as all of you.
Travel because it is embedded in the human spirit, that very curiosity that inspires and fires all of the imagination and softens us to humanity, whilst setting us alight. The need to be free, even when you have your own place in the world, is as real as breathing.
Feel. With every ounce of you heart, not just the spare corners, and certainly not just the safe ones. Whilst you get to pick how your mind responds, you cannot tap human emotion. The heart yearns for what it yearns for, to be connected. Do not hold back because you don’t feel you’ve earned the right because you are NOT something.
You are allowed to fall in love with children and be a mother even if you are not a mother. You love with intensity even if you are not in a relationship. You are borne of love, and it is yours to live. You are a woman of the world, and you affect it, and interact with it, any way you choose.
Life will keep moving and you will need to be a part of the change, fleeting, slow, circular, sudden, it is all impermanent.
You can cry, and laugh, and shriek, and run, and dance without any fear that you need to be a little more quiet; you do not need to earn the right to be human.
You already have. Completely. Humanity is a birthright.
Do not let that gloriously beating, beautiful heart stop or harden.
Cry your tears.
Feel your grief.
Celebrate your joy.
Share your love.
Walk through it with integrity and authenticity.
Grief never leaves our cells, we just learn to carry it better. We are all grieving something, either graciously or not. But nor will the absolute, unquenchable desire to live ever leave us either.
Which will you respond to? The fear of being hurt, or the fear of not fully living?
Make new meaning every day.
Change is in the minute, on every breath. Hold too tight, and you will only find pain.
Darling Girl, I love you more than you will ever know.
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.
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.
And this one.
Things will move and change.
“Don’t hurry, but don’t stop.”