“Our connection to others can only be as deep as our connection to ourselves. If I don’t know and understand who I am and what I need, want, and believe, I can’t share myself with you.” – Brene Brown, Atlas of the Heart
This book is really kicking wearing me out. In a good way. It feels nearly impossible to read a book like Atlas of the Heart and not see yourself more clearly. But if I had to choose something that I’m really rumbling with right now, it’s the quote I shared above about our connection to others and how our connection to others can only be as deep as our connection to ourselves.
I am a self-identified compartmentalizer. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s gotten me through some really hard stuff. Showing up for my daily routine has given me an albeit false sense of control and grounding in the worst of times. It’s a strategy that I learned as early as 1st grade when I lost my dad to Leukemia.
However, there is a limit to compartmentalization and always a price to pay. As look back at what has been one of the hardest years many of us have every had professionally, we will wonder how we made it through. I think many of us will realize we made it through by seeming OK but not actually being OK. Because it felt like there wasn’t much choice but to just keep pushing through.
After recently sitting and listening to a group of teenagers talk about what they need from schools the resounding answer was a strong relationship with their teachers. When we inquired further to learn more about what they meant by a strong relationship, they described a teacher’s ability to talk with them as human beings about a variety of topics not just their academics. It makes sense that they want and need this. So much of our teen years are spent trying to make sense of the world around us, where we fit in, and the impact we hope to make on others. I’m wondering if our young people are picking up on that wall that so many adults have put up in order to survive, and they really want to understand how adults are navigating these difficult times.
I’m certainly not saying that we as professionals need to share about all aspects of our lives and how we are coping with students. Professional boundaries are appropriate and necessary. This does, however, make me wonder what it would look like to allow students to hear a bit more how we struggle, how we are making mistakes and learning from them, and how we feel and respond to our feelings. In short, I’m curious what it would look like if we were to practice being a bit more human in front of our students.
If we don’t talk about our struggles, have we made our profession and educational leadership something that only super human people do? Something that is beyond others who make mistakes and don’t have all the answers? I’m curious about this because I actually think that what we currently need is the very opposite of that. We currently need people who are self-aware and mindful. We need people who are comfortable being uncomfortable. We need people who can read their own emotions and the emotions of others and who respond in a restorative manner. We need people who are willing to get deeply curious about things that feel difficult and complicated and messy; we need people who are willing to sit with others in the struggle amidst a complex landscape.
The most important work is the work we do on ourselves. As human beings. Everything else is secondary. At the end of the day, our self-work is really the only thing we can “control.” How we respond to the world around us in the now has the potential to shape the future in a good way. Feeling big feelings doesn’t mean we are failing, it means we are awake. It means we are noticing our own pain and the pain around us. It also means that we have the capacity to feel the good emotions in a big way too. And some days, we will just need to push through. That happens. That’s ok. Sometimes. Just not all the time.
So, the next time you are enjoying your drive home, walking the dog, or doing something that is seemingly mindless, check in with yourself like you would someone you care about deeply. Without judgement and without agenda or a desire to fix, just make some space for yourself.
Perhaps in making space for yourself, you will have an expanded capacity to make space for others. Perhaps you will have an expanded capacity to be a bit more human with others too.
This the work. Make space and take care.