Monday, August 22, 2011

Yes, I Am C.A.T.T.Y. (and proud of it!)

I just got back home from a very energizing evening, so energizing that, even though I would be normally be getting ready for bed at this time, I feel like writing. What did I do this evening that energized me?  I spent the past four hours chatting with a woman, a sociology professor that teaches at the college where I work.  

Last Thursday, I had lunch with another woman who is the President of the Chamber of Commerce in the county where I work.  I'd met her at a luncheon for an alumna of the college, and the following semester she did a workshop on advocacy for the young women's leadership program I coordinate.  Since then, she's been a big supporter of my women's program.  

At church yesterday, a woman that I've known for the past seven years through our small group came and sat next to me.  We hugged and talked during the announcements and offering.  

What were the topics of conversation with these women?  Well, the woman at church and I were talking about the classes we would be taking this semester.  She's a mother of two with a busy husband whom she sells real estate with, while writing for a newspaper and writing lessons for the church small group curriculum, who is also pursuing a Master's degree in Social Work.  I'm not married and I don't have children, but on top of my job, I run a women's leadership program that takes up a lot of my time.  I also take time to go to New York City as often as possible to help care for my elderly mother.  I run my household by myself, try to get to the gym a few times a week, and now I am starting a doctoral program in Higher Education.  I hadn't seen this woman in over two months.  Could we have caught up on church gossip?  I'm sure.  However, we were more interested in talking about how we were planning on balancing our busy lives with the expectations of graduate classes.

The President of the Chamber of Commerce and I talked about fear.  I told her that I would be starting school in about a week, and that I was scared.  She told me that for the past eight years since she's been President, she's woken up scared, telling herself, "I'm going to my new job."  She said, "For eight years, I've been calling this my 'new' job!"  And she told me something that will stay with me for the rest of my life: "If you aren't scared, you're complacent.  It's good to be scared.  People who are scared are people who take risks."

The sociology professor and I had dinner with her son and his friends, then sat down with coffee and talked about pedagogy (a fancy word for "teaching").  We discussed a strategy I'd learned in my master's level counseling program, and talked about ways she could use it with her students.  We brainstormed a few more ideas, then talked about the process of connecting with others, and finally we talked about power and strength.  I told her about my journey toward embracing my power, and how for some people, my power could be intimidating or overwhelming.  Her words: "You are the Presence of Health (or the Divine, or God), and sick people will either be drawn to you because they want to be healed, or they will want to destroy you because you expose their illness."  Deep, right?

While the television networks are showing us images of women fighting each other and exposing either their thongs or their Spanx on so-called "reality shows", REAL women are having REAL conversations.  While society would have us believe that women are catty (as in spiteful or vindictive), I am having conversations with strong, amazing women who are supportive of my strength, as opposed to competing with me to see who's stronger.  

Women and men both say that women are catty.  They say it without thought, as though it is a given.  Every time I hear that comment, I say, "I beg to differ."  I have seen the difference that confidence and support make in my own life as well as the lives of the young women I work with.  I don't see anything catty about the women I encounter.  However, if you still think I'm catty, or that the women you work with, or go to church with, or network with are catty, then I'll agree, as long as you know that we are:

C - Confident and strong
A - Aware of who we are 
T - Tenacious and persistent
T - Tantalizing (We're women, how can we not be?)
Y - Young at heart, in mind, and in spirit

So go ahead, call me C.A.T.T.Y.  I'm proud of who I am, and of the women I know who aren't afraid to be C.A.T.T.Y. too!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Waiting List

In May 2011, the class that entered college when I started my current job graduated.  This class inspired change on our campus; from participating in protests and rallies to becoming student leaders in residence life, student government, and cultural clubs, they literally took over the campus and turned it into a positive, more diverse environment.  However, the beginning of their senior year was fraught with emotion: elation at making it to senior year when some of their cohort didn't, sadness at the thought of leaving the place they'd called home for four years, and worry over what their future held, especially in these tough economic times.  I had grown extremely close to this class over the past four years, so I attempted to help them through the transition from college to "The Real World".

Many of these optimistic "Generation Y"-ers wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world, much as they did in college.  As college students, they raised awareness about issues affecting people around the world, studied abroad learning about healthcare and education disparities, and spent their own money donating to enterprising women in developing countries.  They applied to jobs and internships through various non-profit organizations. Throughout this process, some of them expressed their concern about not finding something right after graduation.  Some of them watched as their peers got accepted into programs or internships or got jobs.  While they attempted to support each other as a group, individually their anxiety was mounting as graduation day grew closer.

A few of these students were placed on the waiting list for positions they had interviewed for.  I received this news from them along with a mixture of hope and disappointment.  My duty as a counselor was to remain positive and tell them that they were great and would be chosen for their coveted positions.  I also attempted to convince them that, in waiting, they could rest and spend time on leisure activities or on personal growth experiences.  Of course, as they waited, I also held my breath in a figurative sense.  These students were such amazing people who brought me joy just by their mere presence and could transform the atmosphere of any room they walked into.  One by one I received emails and text messages saying, "Ms. G, I got in!"  And my response was, "Well of course you did, what did you expect?"

The "waiting list" is one of those concepts that evokes a multitude of conflicting emotions - worry and anxiety, relief and hope.  It can cause self-doubt, have us wondering why we weren't chosen first, even lead to a lowering of our standards and expectations.  The process of waiting can also be an invaluable experience.  In waiting, we can rest, recuperate, and reflect on our past experiences and what we want to take with us as we move forward in our lives.  In waiting, we are growing in the safety of a cocoon that we know, even while that very cocoon might start to become uncomfortable as we grow and transform.

I have been waiting a while for certain things in my life.  At this point, I've been "chosen" to receive some of my desires, but I'm still waiting for some to be fulfilled.  In the process of waiting, I've learned that everything I want might not be what is best for me at this particular moment.  I've learned to let go of expectations that had nothing to do with my personal values and were more learned behavior.  I've learned to accept myself for who I am while holding on to the perseverance and resilience necessary to move forward in life.  Although I still wait for some of my heart's desires, I appreciate the lessons I'm learning in the process of waiting.

Recently, I spent time with someone who I had been dating on and off for a while.  We'd both been divorced and were guarded and cautious about committing to a relationship.  I told him that, despite our strong connection, I knew we were looking for different things out of life, and I shared that I desire marriage and children.  After having time to think, he told me that, although he never considered remarrying, my desire for a family is causing him to rethink his perspective.  Of course, the process of "rethinking" for him translates into a process of waiting for me, if I so choose to.  Much like my students, the idea of waiting brings me anxiety and hope - anxiety that I might be waiting for something that might never happen, and hope that somehow, it will.

Most recently, he and I took a walk on a beautiful pier, and as I felt the breeze and listened to the waves gently rocking against the docked boats, I said to him, "This is the life I want to live."  His response: "You're living it RIGHT NOW."  Those five words put waiting into perspective for me.  I'm actually NOT waiting, I'm LIVING.  And, as all living beings do, I am growing, learning, evolving, and maturing.  So, although I might think I'm on the waiting list, in reality, I'm right where I need to be at this very moment, and I choose to enjoy it.  This moment, RIGHT NOW, was worth the wait.