There was a time when, if I were to be petty at work, a colleague might affectionately ask me, “Does Princess need a cookie?” Now, I do not have the luxury of being petty at work. I am the new person.
For the past thirteen years, working as an English professor, department chair, conference organizer, and center director at a small New England university, I have benefited from my colleagues’ generous and perhaps faulty memories and assumptions about me, the power of which I’m only just now coming to recognize.
I got very used to my colleagues knowing I am a hard worker, believing my intentions to be benevolent, and assuming my actions had integrity. Now– working in a new role, in a new state, at a new institution– I find myself operating without this safety net. It’s hard.
Rather than my slip-ups being generously read as a momentary lapse in an otherwise long and distinguished career of “getting it right,” I feel like my slip-ups now are magnified as potentially pattern-setting character deficits. They have the power to define me to colleagues I have only just met. And, being new, I slip-up. Often.
I gotta say: I got used to people thinking I’m awesome.
Or, at least treating me like they do.
This move has been great in a lot of ways. But once in a while I find myself struggling with identity issues and homesickness. It’s times like these I am grateful I have a practice that requires me to pause, reflect, digest.
After contemplative practice, I am reminded that one of the reasons I left my cozy, tenured New England paradise was that I had wanted to be stretched and challenged. I knew I had been resting on my laurels and suspected I was getting… less awesome. And, after practice, I feel inspired to embrace this stretch and challenge.
But also, while people had treated me like I was awesome, some part of me knew I wasn’t actually being awesome. I wasn’t working as hard as I could. I wasn’t as sharp as I could have been. Don’t get me wrong: I have no interest in over-working or self-flagellation. And I did a good job. More precisely, I was comfortable but I wasn’t flourishing.
I recognize the ridiculous amount of privilege I have to even write such words. Ouch.
And so, this new environment, while challenging, is … well… challenging! And that is awesome. I am re-learning humility as I watch myself screw up this and that little detail. I also have a chance to examine my enaction of integrity and devotion– two key words for me in my practice. I also get to feel fear arise as I now, without tenure, vulnerable to budget cuts and the vacillations of administrative whims, navigate new dangers.
All of this is to say: I miss my peeps. I am excited by this challenge. I am fearful of being inadequate. I am human. I am feeling. I am privileged. I am struggling. I am grateful.