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Permission Slips

April 2, 2014

I was on the brink and I think everyone could tell. I silently wished myself away into Zachary’s office to talk to him but he was missing. I needed to plan out my class I was set to teach in two short hours and the curriculum was frustrating me.  So I walked away from it. And there he was in the hallway, I was not sure where he came from nor did I particularly care, I was relieved.  He asked, “Do you need to talk?” I said, “I need to plan” and then followed him for a chat.

HumptyDumpty-1The outcome of our conversation was that I was doing a lot of suppressing and not enough addressing.  I told him I was not happy with my performance as a student this semester but it felt like with all the energy I was spending just trying to keep it together, I didn’t have the space for much else.  This is particularly problematic when you are in the process of finishing your coursework and the big-bad-d-word (dissertation) is staring you square in the face.  He asked me when I was going to come to a place of rest.  I said um, next summer? He gave me a look that I cannot quite put into words. Only when you tell your dissertation committee member that you do not have time to take care of yourself until 15 months from now, you can imagine what that look might be.  He cleanly said, “no, when in the next week do you have time to fall apart?” I mentally searched my calendar for a free moment.  Tuesdays I teach…Wednesdays I have work and Policy class…Thursdays… “I can fall apart Thursday after work?” “Good,” he said, “Thursday it is. And make a time every week for the next 7 weeks to fall apart.”

I put it in my calendar and I told my students about it in our weekly check in.  They laughed curiously as to how one could schedule time to fall apart. I explained it as I understood it:

Many times we tell ourselves that we do not have time to address the things that plague us, make us sad mad angry frustrated or overwhelmed.  We go on about our lives pretending that we are making it through when we are gasping for air, head just barely above water.  So, giving yourself time to fall apart does two things: It creates the space for you to be able to address it in your life and it gives you permission not to have to be strong all the time.  Because we need that, we desperately need to know its okay not to be okay.

One of my students responded saying, “Now that is some serious self-care!” I love them.  As an aside, I believe my honesty with my class both about my state of being and in following my intuition with the lesson paid off. It was by far our best most productive class to date.

I share this story with you all because as a graduate student or even just in life, we often get so focused on the tasks that we do not check in with ourselves. Or, in my case, we check in but we do not create the time because the thought of all those emotions flooding in feels incredibly unappealing.  But the truth of the matter is, we have to give ourselves permission to be hot a** messes.  I have to be able to say to myself, today your socks aren’t going to match. Today your hair is going to be a little bit frizzy. Today your right eye make-up is going to look far superior to your left eye.  Today this assignment is going to be good enough but not your best.  Today you are going to be imperfect.  And that is okay!   

The call to be perfect is one that is too loud in our society and the battle between classmates and cohorts to prove who knows more about which theorist theory or concept can be down right daunting.  I have to make a conscious effort to not let it be the only call I hear, and I think it makes all the difference in being a graduate student who is surviving and being a graduate student who is thriving.  YOU are far more important than an A in a class if you have to kill yourself to get it.  The opportunity cost of grades or academic performance should (and I hate that word but I use it quite intentionally) never (and yes I am also saying never) NEVER be your well-being.  So, today I write myself a permissions slip to fall apart.  Today, my hero is Humpty Dumpty…without broken eggs what would brunch be?

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