This story comes to us from REALITY, a Schusterman initiative and a values-based leadership program that invests in young professionals, empowering them to enact positive social change in their communities. REALITY participants recently gathered in Dallas, Texas for Recharge, a weekend of professional and personal development.
Alexa Kutler joined REALITY in 2013. Alexa works as an Admissions Officer for Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
After a freezing winter in Philadelphia, the familiar warmth of Dallas, my hometown, was refreshing. It allowed me to settle into myself, shifting my posture from one that was clenched and guarded from the cold and snow, to one that was open and welcoming.
This seemed to be the motion of the weekend for me, as similarly, many of the exercises and workshops I attended at REALITY Recharge helped me to shift from a place of quietness to openness.
Coming from a relatively different occupational background than many REALITY members (I work in college admissions, I am not a Teach for America alumna like many of the others), I found myself feeling hesitant, at first, to engage with those I did not know at the event.
Despite this, bright and early on Saturday morning, a lightening-style networking exercise provided me with the opportunity to engage one-on-one with individuals whom I had never met and allowed me to ease into an unfamiliar space with a sense of excitement and curiosity.
While I approached this exercise with hesitation (what do you talk about for five to ten minutes with someone you’ve never met?!) I found myself inspired and challenged by the individuals with whom I spoke, and interestingly enough, various pieces from many of these conversations actually acted as catalysts for some of the themes and questions that would be of great value to me throughout the rest of the weekend.
Here are two snippets—a set of questions and a theme that caught on for me:
1. Questions: What sort of expectations do I hold for myself? Why? Where do my expectations come from? In what ways do they serve my mission or me, and in what ways do they hinder my growth?
When I asked my networking partner how her years teaching had been, she mentioned that the first year was incredibly rough. She noted, "I just didn’t feel like I was changing lives, or initiating transformation in my classroom on a daily basis." Wow! I thought to myself, that is quite the daily aspiration.
Not having been a teacher myself, I feel in awe of the work that teachers do. When I think of my teacher friends, I am amazed by their persistence, creativity and grit. I do not think of them in terms of whether they are "changing lives," although I know they are.
To me, the language my partner used to describe her expectations was fascinating. I thought about places where I might also apply this language of grand-expectation in my own life.
After discussing further, my partner and I started brainstorming...from where had this aspiration come? Was it reasonable? Was she being unkind to herself, setting such incredible standards? I processed this a bit more once our conversation had concluded.
Of course it is necessary for teachers to believe that the classroom can be a space for transformation and growth, but is there a way for each of us to set these aspirations without feeling like failures when we don’t see them manifest in the everyday or feel their impact right away?
Expectations of greatness are valuable and to believe that change is possible is essential. However, by reflecting at Recharge, I was reminded that no matter what, whether I am in or out of line with my expectations on a given day, I must greet myself with warmth and compassion for where I am.
2. A Theme: Collaboration: Through the networking exercise, I was paired with a variety of individuals, some of whom shared strengths with me, while others had strengths that I’ve only dreamed of having. Being surrounded by activists and change makers, as I noted before, I am often curious about my place among them.
Speaking with such a diverse group of people through this exercise brought to light the way each of us brings a poignant and purposeful voice to the work we do. Each of us has the potential to crack open a new dimension of understanding for one another.
Where one of my partners could speak eloquently about finance and statistics in education (a language I know nothing about), I discovered that they were equally as interested to hear me discuss my experiences studying and applying Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to work environments.
When it came to discussing education specifically, it was fascinating to see the way each of us could push each other, through dialogue, to understand an issue in a different way than we may naturally see it on our own.
The presence of this diversity of thought is, to me, one of the most valuable aspects of REALITY. I am lucky to have been reminded of this, for I believe it does extended into the world at large.
After Recharge, I returned to Philadelphia with more questions and more thoughts. I left feeling re-invigorated and inspired—ready to greet the cold and the everyday not with a clenched body and closed mind, but with openness and warmth.
The Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.