I like signing up for things. I like the feeling of anticipation when I commit to doing something new. I love making new goals. When I was in college, my favorite time of year was signing up for classes. I would pour over the course catalog for days, looking at every possible new course offering, thinking this might be the semester to try international relations, or economics, or political science.
I like signing up for things. But follow through is hard.
This is something I am thinking about with some regularity as I start my new job. It’s been awhile since I’ve changed jobs, and an even longer while since I’ve worked in a job that isn’t teaching. There’s something incredibly satisfying and exciting about being part of new. But even in the first three days of the job I am already aware that what isn’t new is me. I’m still me. I can wear business clothing, put on makeup, do my hair, recreate an image, but the core of who I am is not changed. Which means that despite my new beginning and all the possibilities it holds for change and growth, I still stand face to face with my strengths and weaknesses. I still have to do the hard work of becoming a better me.
One of my big challenges is that I give up before I try.
When I walked into school on Tuesday for my first day of reporting to work, I saw a quote written on the wall that made me stop, backtrack, and stand and stare. In script it read, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” (Bill Cosby)
There was literal writing on the wall. For me. Okay, not just for me. But I internalized it as a sign from above.
About a month ago my friend Lenora and I were talking, and I was crying to her about how hard it was to leave my job, how scary it was to accept a role of leadership, how hurt I have been by past bosses, and how easy it would be to hold back, to stay in stasis, to allow the circumstances of my life to happen to me instead of being the agent of change in my situation. Maybe what I have right now is good enough. Maybe my dreams and visions are foolish. After a lot of talk Lenora said, “I’ve had to face the fact that sometimes my biggest enemy is me.”
I’m so scared to fail. What if my bosses don’t like me? What if the teachers I work with don’t like me? What if I can’t stay organized? What if I am revealed to be the faker I am, making things up as I go? What if I can’t make friends?
In other words, what if I fail?
A week before my last day at my charter school I went with the fifth and sixth graders to a team building nature center. Of the activities we did, the one that the students were most excited to participate in was the climbing wall. We did this activity last, and the students, most of whom had been my students two years earlier, were understandably eager to know if I was going to be climbing.
I think we’re all aware of my feelings about my body lately. The group leader came up to me privately to see if I was going to climb, and I told her that I would just let the kids climb. I made a comment about how I wanted to make sure they all had time to climb. I said something about not being sure if the harness would fit. I said a few other nonsense, pathetic reasons why I wouldn’t be able to climb the wall. The leader didn’t push me, but simply said, “Well, if you change your mind, I need you to fill out this waiver.”
I stood there as I watched my students climb. A few made it to the top. Others stopped half way. Then Sonya got up. Sonya has a physical disability that makes it very challenging for her to do gross and fine motor activities. But she marched up to that wall with the confidence of an olympic athlete. In a moment that makes me cry to just remember, she grabbed the hand holds and started to climb. She made it up one hand hold, pushing her feet a foot off the ground, and then fell down.
We cheered. There wasn’t a person there that didn’t see what an incredible accomplishment this was for Sonya. Her classmates gave her high fives as she made her way back to the group, smile a mile wide, screaming, “Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?”
In that moment I decided that regardless of the size of my butt hanging out of the harness for all my students to see, regardless of whether or not I could get myself off the ground, regardless of the million reasons why I “can’t”, I was going to climb. And I did. And I made it to the top. Not such a failure after all.
I have a dream. I want to become a principal. I want to open a school and I want to change a community. I want to change the lives of hundreds of children. Becoming a teacher coach is one step in the direction of achieving that dream. And it scares the snot out of me. It scares me to even type it.
It scares me to let you see that part of me. I am not like Sonya, I do not want you to see me. Because that makes failing so much more humiliating. Because that sets me apart from others. Because that makes it so much harder to take back if everything comes crashing down around me. Because I don’t always believe I deserve to succeed.
I may fail. I may never become a principal, or I may become a principal and totally suck at it. And as I go farther down the road toward this dream, each role becomes a little more public and a little more open to ridicule. As I climb toward this dream, the fall gets more and more treacherous. And my fear cave is never far, giving me the reasons why it won’t work.
But what if it does?
My friend posted on Facebook recently, “The dream is free, the hustle is sold separately.”
This is the hustle. I have my exciting fresh start, my new beginning. I’ve signed up for the race. I’ve picked my courses. Now comes the hard work. Now comes the battle against the fears and the reasons not to try. And while there may be people along the way who prove difficult, I think the biggest battle will be with myself, giving myself permission to fail, but also giving myself permission to succeed.
I’m grabbing the first hand hold, and I’m pulling myself up on the wall. And I’m praying for the courage of Sonya, to do my very best, to give it my all, no matter the risk.
“Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you see me?”