Tuesday, February 18, 2014

We Are Not Authentic

The role of vulnerability & insecurity in 1) surviving life and 2) in the realm of interviewing in Higher Education

My typical #SAChat setup.
Last week’s #SAChat topic was authenticity and vulnerability.

I had already started writing this blog post when this topic was announced, so I was excited to get to work on the #SAChat live-tweet forum—however, I ultimately came back to what I had written and deleted everything.

I wasn’t confident in what I had written.

I was trying too hard to say the right things to make myself sound like an “authentic” future student affairs professional—when in reality, I was just saying what I thought I was supposed to be saying.

Intentional this, social justice that; self-care this, engagement that.
I wasn’t being authentic.

Authentic!—there’s the word of the week.

The contradiction I saw throughout the #SAChat conversation last week was that people didn’t seem to understand what it really meant to be “authentic” in the context of vulnerability. Nor did I—until I thought further about it throughout the day, into the weekend, and on my long drive to/from Providence for some rasslin on Sunday.

The answer I arrived at was simply that we are different people in different situations. And that’s okay. We don’t need to be ourselves all of the time. Regardless of how you put it, or if you’re even willing to admit it—we are not truly authentic all of the time.

I will say that one more time:

We. Are not. Truly. Authentic. All of the time.

We hide. We hide a lot of ourselves. Often.
We hide behind fake smiles when we’re having a tough day.
We hide behind social media profile pictures.
We hide our love of professional rasslin because it may make us look like a weirdo.
We hide. Often.

At least I know I do.

And maybe I’m alone in this. Maybe I’m the only one hiding.
If that’s true, then I guess there’s no real need to continue reading this week!

But I’d like to think that this is a common mind game we play with ourselves in student affairs. We can’t truly unleash all of ourselves all of the time—that’d be too much for anyone to handle. That’d be too much for us to handle.

I can be authentic with my friends, with my family, with some colleagues—but in some situations, I am not me. I am generally an extroverted person with a lot of opinions; but in some mixed company, I shrink up, quiet down, and withdraw. I am often an oversharer, but there are situations where I force myself to actually withhold information from someone so that they do not view me in a negative or unappealing light.

It’s fear. And as Charles Bukowski simply stated, “we are afraid.” We are afraid of being ourselves because we are afraid of what others might think.

Even I can have a little bit of a dark side.
Sure, it’s possible for me (and many others in the Higher Ed realm) to be bubbly and positive all the time; but honestly, that takes a lot out of me.  Sometimes I don’t want to be positive. Sometimes I want to vent and find healing in my insecurities.

I don’t think it is a bad thing to be insecure. Our students are insecure—our students also aren’t perfect. We are insecure—and coincidentally, we aren’t perfect, either. And that’s okay—that’s where authenticity thrives!

Authenticity thrives in the vulnerability of recognizing your insecurities can be used to motivate you beyond your fears.

Obviously this isn’t an easy task and it took me learning about my own fears and faults—and through a few bouts of depression and anxiety—to be able to acknowledge this motivation; and now—thanks to the support of friends, family, and a lot of willpower—I can acknowledge that what may make me feel insecure in one moment, will serve as a defining source of strength in the future.

It reminds me of my favorite La Dispute lyric—“if my fear has kept me here, only my fear can set me free.”

I—like many current and potential #SAGrad students—have become quickly inundated with interviewing for summer internships. Interviews are situations where someone is most vulnerable at a time when they are supposed to be their most authentic self.

I find there is a fair amount of compromise of character and authenticity when interviewing. It’s terrifying to think about it like this, but we are selfish in our desire to be accepted into a new position that we desire so dearly that we compromise our values in order to seem like the perfect person for the job.

Now, in many ways I am authentic in interviews because I truly am eager to learn more. I am eager to try out a new position in a new environment—hell, I moved 3,000 miles for my grad school experience. That kinda shows some dedication. And honestly, I do have a lot of fun when I interview because I know that interviewers have to sit through so many candidates that it can probably get a boring or restless—so I try to keep things interesting.

Yet, some of my withdrawal in interviews comes from the fear of saying the wrong thing at the right time.

Does that make sense?

I’ve been on the other side of the equation, where I was interviewing people for a position and they said something that triggered me in just the wrong way at just the wrong time—it might’ve been a single word, a turn of phrase, or simply a tone of voice—regardless, I wasn’t impressed.

Maybe I was being too sensitive at the time, but that’s the fear that is constantly running through my head as I interview—especially as an oversharing extrovert with too much eccentric energy for one phone call or Skype interview to handle.  Interviews are sensitive matters where lots of words are said and many words are left unsaid—so the inner dialogue often takes over more often than not.

Am I being honest? Am I being pretentious?
Did I already say that? Am I being me?
Am I talking too much? Am I talking too little?
What was the question again?

Interviews are a necessary—and yet, frustratingly sensitive and vulnerable—aspect of our field. So the fear of the inner dialogue taking over is justified because our brains want to remind us of all of the things we practiced five minutes before the phone call and that can withdraw from our authenticity because we are not thinking fully about each question.

Instead, we try to answer the questions that weren’t asked.

I hope this post made sense.
I hoped to draw on the ideas of authenticity in a vulnerable way.
Maybe it worked. Let me know your thoughts!

Hope all is well.

- Craig.

Want to continue the conversation?
Find me on Twitter at @CrigBididman

Monday, February 10, 2014

Such Sweet Naivety

My Transition from a Deer in Headlights to a (somewhat) Paraprofessional

Me as the student body president at Oregon State's Convocation in 2010
There I was—or, am, I suppose—ready to take on the entire world and be all that and a bag of chips, you know? My eyes were set on dominating the world of Higher Education as a Student Affairs professional, but first I needed to be accepted into a graduate program.

So over a year ago, I applied. Naturally.

The end of January rolled around…

I received a denial letter. I was devastated.
I frantically looked over my resume, cover letters, and wept.

“What happens if all of the schools deny me?”
“Where will I go?” “What will I do?”

I was afraid of not being accepted.
It was middle school all over again.
It was high school all over again.
It was college…you get the point.

I hardly spoke to anyone who wasn’t my father or my partner.
Three days passed.

I received an acceptance letter. I relaxed.
Then I received another. And another.

Okay—I could breathe.

I visited and interviewed with institutions across the country. I talked a big game and felt confident in everything I had to say—no surprise there. I threw out higher ed/student affairs jargon that I’d picked up along my way through my undergraduate experiences as a student leader and really emphasized my charm.

Over-emphasized my charm.

I had to make up for the fact that I was scared out of my mind for what the future held. What I was most afraid of was that I wasn’t completely prepared to enter this field.

I was so naïve to think that I could just enter this field and understand everything expected of me and immediately hit the ground running with specific higher education topics. But it wasn’t until I later came into my own in graduate school that I would realize that it is okay to be afraid.

When I made my decision to attend UMass.
When I made the decision to attend UMass Amherst, I wasn’t completely sure how my actual development into a higher education professional would transform. All I knew was that this was the route for me. I could feel it.

But, as I said, I genuinely had no idea what it meant to me.

Until now.

One year later, I am changed.

I moved across the country, started a new life, and have made new friends.
I am in a rigorous Higher Education Administration MEd program and I am challenged every day to consider how I can one day change the landscape of higher education. I entered as a deer in headlights with no real understanding of what to expect—talked my big game, watched that fail, and now I and have become humbled by this experience.

I am in meetings with administrators who want my opinions on things.
I am on search committees.
I hold office hours.
I have also had many conversations with cohort colleagues, faculty, and friends about my insecurities and am now comfortable taking a few steps back before I run full speed ahead.

If I don’t have an answer, I ask for help.
I don’t just make one up.

Note: I am also working real hard at not man-terrupting anymore.

I regret ever being a naïve prospective grad student. However, looking back, it was inevitable.

I peruse Twitter and read about students on the #SAGradHunt and their fears are real. I’ve felt those fears. I was there last year.

The lack of sleep.
The inability to know what the future held.
The insecurity of being accepted into a program.

To those students, I repeat a timeless sentiment passed on to me during my grad school hunt:
Don’t stress, trust the process.

[UPDATE: I have since come to despise this phrase because I feel it gives people too much false hopes, while at the same time beleaguering others from moving forward in this field.]

I know I just rambled a bit after claiming to have been changed after one year of life—but that’s the nature of the mind: tangents.

Back to reality, I am changed because I now possess and continue to accumulate the vernacular to discuss and engage topics unlike one year ago when I grasped for straws to cling together two intangible ideas to create one somewhat coherent thought.

Last week.
One year ago I was afraid to competently confront and discuss a wide array of topics—white privilege, class, race, gender, finance, oppression, discrimination, etc… But you wouldn’t have been able to tell because I masked those insecurities with a level head and self-confidence—which I still often hide behind. Or, maybe those around could tell—I have no idea what my tells are anymore since I quit playing poker regularly.

And maybe I'm still a little naive—that's to be expected. I mean, I still have much learning ahead of me in my grad program and in my emergence into the world of being an actual professional in this field. Yet, I am going to continue focusing on learning everyday so that I continue to grow in confidence and experience.

However, I have found a common ground with my fellow #SAGrad colleagues in the reality that this is all a process. We must trust the process. We don’t have all of the answers. We probably won’t for a while, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for help.

We also don’t need to get too far ahead of ourselves, fellow grad students. Enjoy the process, enjoy learning. Be one with our experiences. Worry about the job search when it comes. For now, become the best you. Be authentic. Be you.

I hope some of this made sense.

Be well.