This past week, I'll admit that I didn't do a ton of reading to develop myself as a leader. I did a good amount of writing on the computer, for which I credit starting last week with a blog, but not so much in the reading department. A few days ago, I started wondering about what exactly I would write for next post and feeling internal pressure to make time to read one of the ~3 leadership books I'm working on right now so I had something to write.
SPOILER: I edited next week's podcast and celebrated a friend's big grant win. Reading was not had.
But I made this public commitment to writing this blog. And there may in fact be 1.2 people that read the blog (if you count me as one person), but what matters is that I made a commitment to learn and share the struggles of said leveling up.
And motivation is one of them.
One of the books I'm reading is Show Your Work, in which the author talks about being an amateur and being willing to contribute something rather than nothing. So here I am, being transparent about the fact that this week wasn't an ideal one for the commitment I made to pushing forward on this project. But I still showed up for myself and the gig. Seth Godin's The Practice talks about that, too. Showing up for what Godin refers to as the practice of creating (and then shipping), regardless of the circumstances because that's the work of a creative in the broadest, most generous definition of the term.
You make things because that's what you do, you create. Even when you feel like the well is dry or you haven't gassed up the tank enough, you show up, you do the thing, and you keep the streak going.
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, management, and leveling up. I’ve been feeling lately like I’m on the precipice of the next big phase of my career and I’m finding myself feeling unprepared.
What got you here won’t get you to there.
I wanted to say surprisingly unprepared, but the truth of the matter is that it’s not so surprising. The things I find myself wanting to do professionally I haven’t done before, so how could I reasonably know how to do them?
Hence this series that I’m calling my leadership development series.
I’ve compiled a series of books (and a few YouTube channels) to get me started down this journey of learning what to do next, how to level up professionally, and figuring out what my biggest areas of growth are in terms of getting to the next level.
The plan is to write about it on an approximately weekly basis, specifically Monday mornings, after my morning pages and Daily Stoic) to summarize what I’ve been learning or struggling with over the past year.
Let’s call that the first lesson - the importance of specificity in trying to establish a new routine. Thanks, Atomic Habits, for helping me realize that it’s not enough to say I want to do it Monday mornings. I need to drill down to exactly when and in what order I’ll do the thing so that I have the queue. Luckily, I’ve been working on refining my morning routine for a few years now and have an order of operations into which I can easily fit a small writing session. Plus, maybe someone else will find some of the lessons or resources useful.
Maybe this will help with that regular writing routine I can’t seem to make happen…
Our school recently edited a program's "diversity" admissions prompt (you know the one) to explicitly ask about antiracism. It took a lot of discussion (and much hesitation from white faculty and staff), but it was approved by the steering committee. Now, there's a department that wants to give applicants the option of answering the antiracism/diversity question or one about climate change.
Brace yourself for a rant.
This move on the part of the department says more about the white faculty discomfort with the topic than it does applicants. Rather, faculty seem to be seeking confirmation (let me introduce you to our old friend, confirmation bias) in applicants that may even remotely resemble having trouble, or choosing to sidestep, a direct question about antiracism. It says we are looking to prioritize white comfort over doing the more difficult work of being actively antiracist.
In so staunchly defending status quo, one whose foundation is built on white supremacy, we are employing inaction as a racist tactic - which by definition is one that maintains systems of oppression aka backpedaling now is an actively racist action. Talking about climate change does not get at the heart of systems of oppression. You can't continue to treat the area around an infected wound and expect the wound to heal.
To shy away from (and doing something about) racism is to cast a vote for the maintenance of existing racist structures. To say that an applicant's refusal to answer a question about antiracism (a racist deployment of silence as protective of oppression) is permissible/not a deal breaker is tantamount to saying that you are more interested is protecting the façade of racial ignorance than in having a difficult conversation. When silence becomes an effective exist strategy to avoid the pressure point of naming and discussing racism, the entire enterprise of cultural and systems change toward equity is weakened. Yes, when you put equity against longstanding systems of oppression, equity is fragile enough that your refusal to engage in conversation about it can't stand up to the staunch refusal of some academics to change.
So stop it. Deal with the fact that talking about racism is just a thing now. And let us live.
This semester, I'm teaching a couple sections in a large multi-section required course. In conversation yesterday, I realized that I am sometimes in a position where I'm teaching students at the same time that I'm teaching instructors how to teach students about topics like racism, intervening on systems of oppression, facilitating difficult conversations in a classroom, etc.
And this week I added the extra layer of what would it be like to simultaneously embed a trap door in the curriculum to allow the more advanced equity students to learn something other than patience or how to critique a curriculum? This pedagogical technique, if it works, would also benefit my leadership students when we get to that module. I'm thinking of it as a calibrate-the-curriculum strategy and would be super excited if it worked.
But talk about metacognition to have to think about a lesson plan at like 4 different levels at once...
In the kind of serendipity that makes me think it might not be an accident, I'll be covering a class for a colleague tomorrow. These students specialize in equity and in the last class session's evaluation, made it clear that the lesson plan a colleague and I put together was pretty much trash. As the person that brought in most of the readings they hated, I think I was supposed to be a lot more defensive than I was.
My response when I saw what they had to say - excitement.
Much of my work these days is spent trying to find practical resources for instructors that don't really care much about equity or inclusion outside of needing to not get horrible course evaluations and meeting the new requirements our office has implemented. So I focus on what is practical for the person who doesn't really care. These were the readings that I pulled for this topic about how to do better. Think bell hooks in how she talks about Paulo Freire in Teaching to Transgress:
"Think of the work as water that contains some dirt. Because you are thirsty you are not too proud to extract the dirt and be nourished by the water.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't see the work of Derald Wing Sue even close to being as transformative for me as the work of Freire has been (because I'm with you, bh), but sometimes practical problems require practical solutions, especially in a space where few solutions are offered beyond the ever-present-and-banal "increasing self-awareness".
But these equity students didn't approach it that way; they saw all the things wrong with the language Sue was using and gave quite insightful, critical, and somewhat scathing critiques of the work we offered as readings.
And I loved it.
The second I read it, I saw all the things that they said from the critical lens I had set aside for the sake of offering something to those departments that they could wrap their minds around. More importantly, it let me engage with the content in a way that I've been craving for many moons at this point. And introduced the new challenge of how do we make the class meaningful for students that are well past the just-getting-started phase of their antiracist journey.
So tomorrow, we'll talk about what my approach was, what their insights helped me see, and how to take the content that was designed with the beginner in mind and apply a train-the-trainer approach for the equity students to continue to grow their skills. I'm a little nervous in that excited the night before the first day of school way that I haven't had in some time.
I've been having some conversations lately with some very bright people that got me thinking about permission:
Its got me thinking about all the ways in which we wait for permission from external forces to do a thing or want clearer directions on what we should be doing. We wait for permission to create.
What would it look like if more people just jumped in and started doing the things? What kind of magic and progress would there be if fewer brilliant minds were trained to wait for permission?
I was just on a call with an all-white team trying to stand up equity advocates in their search committees. A points I thought worth sharing:
I was up after entirely too few hours of sleep and I do not approve. The reason? I woke up thinking about work projects. While I marvel at my brain's ability to solve math problems in my dreams and generate a seemingly endless string of ideas, I'd also love to feel this inspired AND get a full, uninterrupted night of sleep so I can make those ideas happen at a more reasonable hour.
Not saying go away forever or anything, just let me sleep more than 6 hours a night.
I was reflecting after a class session recently on this one student who I know pretty well and their tendency to unintentionally dominate conversation. They don't do it out of a staunch desire to be heard or persuade; they just have a tendency to ramble a little as they process externally in a way that you sometimes have to cut them off to get them to stop talking. In a play-nice, female-dominated field like public health that rarely happens, so the result (unless you're willing to cut them off) can be them dominating conversation.
That got me to thinking about external processors vs. internal processors. Most instructors have had that student who has incredibly thoughtful things to say, but rarely speaks up during class discussion. And if you've ever probed further, you may have heard that it takes them a while to formulate ideas about it or the subject has moved on by the time they have figured out what their question or statement is and they end up not saying anything.
So what would it look like if participation weren't just a matter of "you have to speak in class" but rather provided an option: you can either push this discussion forward in the synchronous part of the session or on the blog and your participation grade will be based on both of those things. Currently, I tend to see it as one or the other is the graded part where online classes tend to do forum posts of some kind and residential ones tend to value in-class participation. But as we have more of these hybrid real-time and online component learning situations, how can we use that to advantage different styles of processing information?
I've been on both sides of the participation spectrum, taking turns talking either too much or too little, rarely finding the goldilocks spot of participation. I'm sure I'm not the first to think of this "participation in this course will consist of these specifically delineated things" approach to student engagement with the material, but I might try this out next semester...
I ran away from home earlier this week.
After several days/weeks/months (fuck 2020) of feeling more and more frustrated by the lack of social interaction and freedom of movement, I got up after a largely sleepless night and, after my morning pages, booked an Airbnb for the night at my closest beach. I briefly explained to my partner what I was doing, and packed a lot more than one day's worth of clothes and hit the road.
The Airbnb was not my fave (it's hard to relax when there's construction on the other side of the small parking lot), but my fear about being out in the world was worse. I didn't realize how scared I'd gotten about something as simple as walking down a downtown block. But there I was, scared of changing my professional priorities, scared of not changing them, scared of being somewhere new, scared of not going anywhere new, just plain annoyed with myself and scared about the world.
Luckily, my sister (who had COVID early into the pandemic hitting this continent, saw 60% of her coworkers get hospitalized and one of them die, giving her more justifiable reason than anyone to be scared) was able to talk me down a bit and even get me to laugh and joke and more importantly breathe. I even slept decently.
Then in the morning, I went to the beach.
And it was glorious.
It was a great reminder that this too shall pass and that nature's history and knowledge is far greater than humanity's. I reconnected with the earth in myself in all the woo-woo ways that this actually sounds.
Then I ran off because too many people were getting to the beach and I had to check out of the Airbnb. Not so woo-woo that I forgot about the pandemic, now.
But we did book several days at a place on the beach. And I'm counting down to going back.