This is a blog post I wrote for and shared with the students of MC795 The Health of Adolescents and Emerging Adults (for which I TA’ed this semester):
Dear learners and journeyers of MC795,
It is almost the fifteenth week of our meeting, and I believe we could continue to meet, think and talk for fifteen more and still not have scratched beyond the surface of the conversations we could and wish to have. Alas, we can’t keep you all forever.
Thank you for doing more than taking MC795 this semester; thank you for showing up, participating, and reflecting.
When Julia and I first met to construct the frameworks for MC795, I left our conversation vibrating: To intentionally frame a discussion on adolescent and emerging adult health in racial and social justice frameworks felt revolutionary. And, while these frameworks should be ordinary, we all have admitted that they remain extraordinary.
Then, after chatting about the syllabus- about bringing the classroom together with personal reflection and professional development- I thought, “Oh-my-G-d-this-is-going-to-be-extraordinary!” [I may have actually said that aloud to Julia.] And then I thought, “What if they don’t like it?” [I may also have said that aloud to Julia and to my spouse.] Entwining personal and professional development, academic education and personal reflection, should be ordinary. Unfortunately, after we leave high-school (or undergrad if we’re lucky) we enter this world of arbitrary division in which discussing personal development within the professional environment isn’t the norm. Those discussions remain extraordinary.
And yet, in this class we’ve bridged those divisions and engaged with those frameworks. And I, for one, am grateful we have engaged in extraordinary discussions together.
As we end this class, I want to put myself out on the line a bit. It’s been a privilege reading your journals over the past 15 weeks. Thank you. In return, I offer you a short response; all the wonderful lessons I’ve continued learning from you this semester.
- Daring greatly is a privilege: In going where no person has gone before, or where I have never dared to go, I open myself up to boundless opportunity. Coming from small, town, working-class, under-educated roots, I believe that opportunity is a privilege. Don’t get me wrong. I do NOT believe that opportunity means that we all have “equal opportunity”: that the 99% have as much access as the 1%, that the world is colorblind, and we can all “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” That’s ridiculous. Rather, by opportunity, I mean that I have the capacity to feel out my own boundaries- the sticky places that make me uncomfortable (e.g., conversations about racism and white privilege) and the intimate places that increase my vulnerability (e.g., sharing my identities and stories to educate or advocate). But every time I dare greatly by putting myself in a situation of stickiness or vulnerability, I receive an opportunity to grow. And that, my friends, is priceless. Scary, but priceless.
- Resilience is a practice: As I move through the world, as a professional and in my personal life, I continue to realize that resiliency is fostered. If I am to “dare greatly”, then I am also beholden to practicing resiliency-being ready for slip-ups, right-turns, missed opportunities, and “failures.” Did you notice that I crack jokes when I’m writing +/deltas? Yes, I think I’m a pretty humorous person, but that’s also a coping mechanism, y’all. It’s my way of buoying myself up as I ready for “failure”: a comment that says, “You didn’t do good enough this class”.
- I have to give up “failure”: Failure is a concept beholden to yet another binary construct (fail/achieve, good/bad, Black/White, straight/gay, cisgendered/transgendered). It’s more complicated that than folks. Failure is achievement. [I know, there’s a statement to talk about in therapy.] And, yet, recognizing failure as achievement is a constant process. Every time I stood up to write out those +/delta comments, I felt the fear of failure pulling at my stomach. It wasn’t pretty. But, showing up and receiving feedback helped me remember that constructive criticism isn’t failure to plan or execute. It’s just feedback. And, being a TA in this role allowed me to remember that each of you who commented was also daring greatly and risking “failure” (e.g., a disapproving eye roll, embarrassment, vulnerability, etc.) by giving feedback. It’s amazing – at any one time we may all be daring greatly, risking failure, and being vulnerable. Talk about a ball of yarn.
- The difficult conversations are amazing: It’s risky having the difficult conversations; whether in class, with a partner or friend, or with your Self, but WOW are they worth it. For the folks who talked with me about race and racism, trans* and gender issues, mental health and wellness, stress and change, I thank you. For those who have shared personal stories with me, I thank you. For those who’ve wrestled with their selves in journals, I thank you. For those who’ve received feedback on their work, I thank you. For those who’ve begun to think about what’s “stuck in their teeth”, I thank you. Thank you for letting me be a participant-observer; to witness and join in the course, these conversations, and take them with me into my life. Our class discussions have lived within me, and I will bring them to my work professionally and personally.
- My work impacts youth: Currently, I don’t do much work in the adolescent and emerging adult public health world. But, I have before and I will likely return to working with that population. I do however, have beautiful young children (not yet adolescents) in my life and each day, I get to work with emerging adults. I do my work every day: daring greatly, being vulnerable, fostering resiliency, and having difficult conversations. I do it by showing up and participating at my job, by reflecting through blogging and seeing a therapist, by engaging with folks in my life, and by setting boundaries to support my self-care. I’m doing the work. That work informs who I am personally and professionally. Who I am in my selfhood and practice affects youth because it allows my whole Self to actively contribute to a society that supports adolescents and emerging adults. I’d argue that your work impacts youth too.
- This learning is never gonna end: There’s not much to say on this one, folks. This is a process. A cycle. A road less traveled. Use any phrase that suits you. All I know is that I’m in this work for the long haul. I hope you take it with you too.
Stay in touch y’all.