How often do we tell our students to come to us when they have questions or concerns or remind them that we are not mind readers? From my recollection, I tell my students this on what seems like a weekly basis. We remind them to give us feedback because we can’t fix what we don’t know, and we want to be better. However, there can be a barrier when we have issues, and we can start to doubt whether it is worth it to say anything or even doubt whether or not WE are worth it.
I have tried to live my life by the following prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to Change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference
I must admit that I have had moderate success so far following this prayer as I am pretty courageous, limitedly serene, and gaining wisdom daily. Ask me to cook a dinner for 60 people, present at a conference, have awkward conversations with students or fight tooth and nail for my family and friends—done. I will probably even handle it with my own flair involving heels and red nails.
Nonetheless, I seemed to forget the “courageous” part when it came to my supervisors. Instead, self-doubt ruled my professional life. Questions like, why do I have the right to confront my supervisors, who do I think I am, and do I deserve to say anything, would rule my thoughts. I never felt as though I was good enough or had earned the right to challenge my supervisors.
In November, I had the opportunity to ask myself those questions once again. It is not important to know what occurred, what was said, or how it happened. All you need to know is that after an interaction with my supervisor I was pissed, livid, infuriated, and scared beyond belief because I knew I had come to a crossroad in my professional journey—to say something or not to say something. The choice was mine and it would change me forever either way.
I believe I talked with everyone I could on what I should do: my fiancé, mom, sister, best friends, and my dad because as it goes my dad is one of the best encouragers in the world for his children and he offers random stories involving rabbis, secret agents, and his book collection which clearly explain (in a roundabout way) the importance of being your own hero. Because I was still filled with doubt, I sat down with one of the wisest women I know, my mentor, and the conversation went like this:
Candace, I am upset with the interaction that happened, and I think I should talk with him about it.
Do it, talk to him. It’ll suck. You’ll be scared out of your mind, but you should speak your mind anyway. Supervise Up.
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN!?!?!…. Do you really think I can do it?
The conversation was filled with the passing and sharing of wisdom. She helped me find my courage and I left the office ready to fight. Not just a normal fight but like a Rocky climbing up the stairs/Jersey Shore fist pumping sort of ready to fight. With less than twelve hours to do it, this carefrontation was happening at my next meeting with my supervisor.
Needless to say, the courage didn’t last very long, and the by the next morning I was freaked out, ready to back out, and let it all go. Mid-shower, I was battling it out with myself in hopes of find the best way to challenge, apologize for it, and then leave without throwing up on my boss, knowing all along that I am not doing anything wrong and I really don’t need to apologize for choosing to stand up for myself. When I do something wrong, I am the first to apologize, but the apology felt wrong in this moment. Here is what else I got out of my mental mini battle while shampooing, rinsing, repeating, and conditioning:
1. It’s ok for me to be upset at what happened because I am a human being with emotions and feelings, and I will recognize my feelings and not ignore them. As my mom Sal says, “Emotions aren’t wrong or right they just are, so own and deal with them”
2. I would not allow myself to feel ungrateful because I had not been given my job—I earned it. I went to class, wrote my resume, interviewed (which I rocked out), and accepted the job. My boss did not do that for me, I did that for me.
3. I will challenge because something was not right, and I don’t have to be ok with feeling “meh” when I can work to do something about it.
The reality is that my mind, body, and spirit had been telling me that everything was not ok, but I didn’t have the wisdom to listen to me because I was too busy trying to be good enough for everyone else. I know this because I sure as heck was not feeling the serenity that should go along with letting go of the things I can’t change.
It was about time for the meeting to start, and for me to talk to my supervisor. It was not just that I figured out who I am; it is that I found value in who I am and what I do. I walked through that door and self-doubt tried to knock me down, but I deflected with a little ‘I am worth it mantra’, but just because I am worth it didn’t make it easy.
The outside observer might have looked at the conversation, and shook their head in shame—it was not pretty. My voice cracked and tears welled in my eyes before I could even get the entire “I would like to talk with you about yesterday” sentence out of my mouth. I spent most of the conversation looking quickly at my supervisor and then to the side to avoid tears spilling out, along with the coupling of swallowing down that over saliva/vomit feeling—I was a mess, BUT—I did it. Because we are who we are, I also was able to get down to the real issue—“I don’t feel like you trust me anymore, and I would like to know what I did wrong”. I had said it so fast I wasn’t sure he heard me, but he looked at me, shook his head no with a smile, said he trusted me, and we talked through the incident and the year to have a better understand of each other.
As I sit back and think about the experience, it really wasn’t about the challenging or confrontation. The experience was about learning to believe in me and loving myself enough to be my own champion. As much as it sucked, I would do it again in a heartbeat because I am worth it. Remember, in the immortal words of RuPaul—If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? And might I add trust, respect, and value. If you can’t give yourself these things, you shouldn’t expect those in return, and truly appreciate what it means or signifies.
So remember the advice you give your students. Challenge because your supervisors aren’t mind readers and there is always room for growth on each side. I know will challenge again and surely be challenged. My hope is to always learn, grow, and remember I am worth it, and that the one taking the time to challenge me is worth it, too.