While drafting this post in my mind, I planned to start by saying that I recently came across a message that really stuck with me. However, while digging through my Facebook to actually find the message, I realized that I found it somewhere back in December 2014, so not exactly recently. Nonetheless, here is what stuck with me:
One of the greatest principles of success:
You become what you think about.
So, what are you thinking about?
I started my career as a classroom teacher. I loved working with young children but opportunities took me out of the classroom and put me into another realm of education. I loved this work, too. I loved it enough to spend close to 13 years doing it. When I first began graduate school I made the assumption that I would eventually end up in higher education. I just assumed that what ever I did would likely lead me down the path of becoming a faculty member at a university. But that didn’t immediately happen. Other opportunities lead me down different and exciting paths that I would have been a fool not to take. Despite loving what I was doing, it was probably around the 10 year mark that I began to grow restless. I was at the top, there was no position above me to reach. I was starting to feel like my career needed a change. I starting thinking of myself as something or someone else. I began thinking of myself as a faculty member.
I started thinking about it a lot. In fact, it was all I could think about. Sometimes when you dream too much, it can affect your daily living. I so badly wanted what was in my dreams that I could hardly stand to live the professional life I had – the real professional life I had. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of identifying your happiness only with what will come. I could hear and feel myself becoming less and less happy in my current professional state feeling like I would only be happy when my life changed. “I can’t wait for to work with the students…” and “I can’t for the academic creativity…” and “I so badly want to live the academic calendar!” Having dreams is important; I might argue it is critical to have dreams but my dream needed limits.
As I sat, facing the dissonance between my dream professional life versus my real professional life I realized I had to take my own advice. I remember not long ago helping a friend in a similar situation. She wanted a change in her life that wasn’t necessarily available to her at the current moment and she was miserable. Whenever we are faced with this, we really only have two choices: 1) make the change happen or 2) find a reason to be happy without the change. So for example, my friend hated living where she was living and really, really wanted to live in Minnesota. She was so unhappy not being in Minnesota is was affecting her life here. I gave her the two options: If you really, really want to live in Minnesota then you need to stop wanting it and make it happen for yourself. You have to start today and begin your move to Minnesota. If that is what you want, then you have to be the one to create it for yourself. However, if for some reason you cannot move to Minnesota right now, then you have to make a change here. You have to find a reason to fall in love with here.
Falling in love with here can be hard when you have your sights set on Minnesota. Nonetheless, I knew I had to take my own advice and fall (back) in love with the professional life I had. The reality is, no one can create a faculty position. It’s one of those positions that very rarely open up and when they do, landing one can be very competitive. I wasn’t about to give up on my dreams but I had to make the best of my current situation. The reality was, Id’ likely be there for a long time.
From that day on, I was fully committed to making the most out of my here. I was going to be the best version of myself and each and every day put my best professional foot forward. I was the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave. I thought only of the positive – great salary and benefits, great work location (about 3 miles from my house!), flexibility, great co-workers, and so on. I worked to keep my dream alive, honestly it was hard some days, but I never forgot about my goal. I kept the pilot light burning but didn’t let it burn down my current life.
It was then that I found myself at another decision point. I’m giving my all to my here and I have found a reason to love it again but I was feeling like my dream was starting to fade. How can I keep them both alive without letting one ruin the other? I realized that being happy in a current situation and yet wanting another situation are not mutually exclusive. These things can certainly co-exist! I wondered, then how in the world am I supposed to keep the dream alive? It’s just like anything else you want in life – you have to ask for it.
As I’ve gotten older I really have grown up. Wow, I know. There was a time when I was afraid to ask for what I wanted, or God forbid, tell people exactly how I felt. Today I live a very different life. Especially with having kids, I ask for things all of the time and I am the first person to admit that I don’t have all of the answers. As a mother I don’t have the luxury of protecting myself from the possibility of looking like a fool. It’s simply part of the job and I am fully committed to do it well. As a mother, I really don’t care what you think of me. Professionally, though, the thought of sharing my feelings and dreams made me very, very nervous.
Vulnerability is a scary proposition for a lot of people. Somewhere along our paths of life we must learn that sharing exactly how we feel or what we want is dangerous. We must learn this because as adults so many of us would rather die than admit to their most honest feelings! We are not born this way. I know for sure because I watch my daughter as she precisely and without abandon expresses her feelings and her desires. I recently helped her though a situation where she was feeling left out. I made the very adult assumption that the resolution for the problem was that we would talk about her feelings and think about how she can make things better in the future. Nope. Her idea for a resolution was to actually tell the person that she was feeling left out and that she wanted to be included. Believe me, I wanted to wave my hands in the air and emphatically help her understand that these things rarely go well…I wanted to wizen her up to the possibility of public humiliation and scandal that would ensue! They might laugh at you! Of course I did nothing of the sort and I merely followed her lead. She made herself so incredibly vulnerable and…and…and…it was the best thing she could have done. She made her feelings known and asked for what she wanted, and received it. All of us together that day were better off for it.
I know my daughter is right and that accurate self expression is the best way to live our lives. But let’s be honest, exposing our underbellies to other people is scary. In a professional setting, with people I only know in a professional capacity is even scarier. What if I tell them my dream and they laugh at me? What if they say something like this, (because I was fairly sure someone that I told would actually say this.) “You want to teach at a university? What do you know about teaching at a university? Hahahahah! Did you hear that, Frank, she wants to teach at a university!” (And of course they would also point and laugh.)
So back to Minnesota. The only way I can make this move is if I ask for it. I need the universe to know my dreams in order for it to help me reach them. Whether or not the prospect of making myself so vulnerable each day is scary, I don’t really have a choice. I refuse to sit back and not at least attempt to make this happen. So the plan at this point is to continue being the best I can be today, here, while at the very same time, telling every single solitary person that comes across my face that I want to find a faculty position. Game plan set.
Several months later I was in New Orleans to present at a conference and the honest truth is that I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be there. Look, my plan had been in place for close a year at this point and there were days that I was tired of holding things up. I wanted what I wanted and I couldn’t help but have days where I wanted to be anywhere else but here. How much longer? What’s really in the plans for me? How many more people do I have to tell? Was telling the bellman really necessary? I had time to kill before my session and I was hungry. Keeping my chin up I went to the hotel lobby for lunch. I was at a table alone, looking at the pictures from our trip to Disney when I heard someone say my name. I looked up and it was one of my professors from when I was working on my doctorate. I invited her to join me and we began to visit, catch up on people we had in common and talk about her current travel plans. Then she asked me the question, “So, how is work?”
I truly believe there are moments in the universe that almost flicker with the energy that exists. I swear I could I feel a current of connectedness with this woman at that very moment. There was a very real reason why I was in New Orleans that day and a very real reason why our paths crossed in that random hotel lobby. I could sense the heaviness in her question and the gravity of how important it was that I answer her with the utmost of honesty.
My plan worked. I guess it is within the realm of possibility that I could have landed the position without ever having to put myself out there. I mean, miracles do happen. More than likely, though I was connected to my fate by working hard to find that connection, saying what I wanted and asking for it. So again, if you become what you think about, I have to ask you, what are YOU thinking about? Don’t stop at thinking, either. Think it, say it, ask for it, tell it, pray it, do it, and most importantly, love it.