The phrase came to me as I was making coffee, preparing a typical breakfast of bread and cheese before a busy day. I wasn’t sure what I thought of it at first. “Being who you are?” I asked myself. “How can you not be who you are?”
But then I thought about times when I’ve smiled and agreed or said nothing and felt a little piece of my soul die … because the thing I smiled and agreed with or said nothing about was the opposite of who I am. I thought about swallowing objections and the (very literal) stomach problems that resulted. I thought about the vast chasm there sometimes seems to be between the goals and procedures of the Latin Family, when it’s really functioning as a joyful learning community, and the Larger Institutions that have hosted it.
And as I thought about that, I realized that being who you are is harder than it sounds.
“It must be really hard to be you!” I’ve said to The Dog more than once. One day last week we “just happened” to go out for a walk as a cement mixer was coming down the street on its way to a nearby construction site. Had he seen this appalling intrusion (from his perspective) into the sanctity of his universe, he would have responded with a flurry of running and barking. Being who you are isn’t actually that hard when you’re a dog … but the consequences of being who you are can be difficult. All that barking and running! It’s exhausting. And sometimes, inexplicably, The People don’t appreciate your efforts.
But when you’re one of The People, being who you are (or revealing who you are to a potentially hostile world) is more complex. For us, I suppose, the exhaustion comes from hiding who we are, or from trying to fit who we really are into a slot that’s not quite the right shape. It’s been exciting to read Laura’s accounts of how she’s reshaped her classes to be ever more open and choice-driven and empowering for her students. Describing them on Google+, she said
My classes are more like networks rather than communities… because really, when some students are there under duress, the idea of trying to build an actual community is beyond me. Even though a community is certainly more joyful!!!!!!! 🙂
And of course that’s been true of the Latin Family as well over the years. Sometimes a given class becomes a joyful community; sometimes it’s a learning network; a few have been a painful struggle; some are just sort of there. The greater the feeling of duress and compulsion, the less likely a sense of community is to emerge … because it’s hard to form a community without being who you are, and it’s hard to be who you are when “They” are the primary reason you’re there. Hard, but not impossible; somehow a community formed in That One Class back in 1997, and one formed eventually in That Other Class three years ago.
After my fairly rapid first reading, I’ve been slowly re-reading Simon Sinek’s remarkable book Start with Why for the past few days. I “just happened” to wake up thinking about my why and how and what early this morning … and I realized something important. Your why, as Sinek points out, is very closely related to who you are; it’s a product of your life experiences and your personality and many other, sometimes unknowable factors. “Build joyful learning communities” and “build meaningful things together” are vital elements of my why, but the context in which those communities form is important, too. Being who I am, I prefer smaller organizations to larger ones, “hungry” organizations to complacent ones. Extreme negativity repels me, but so does the kind of starry-eyed optimism that refuses to acknowledge challenges. And while I’m glad to work long hours in pursuit of a goal, I reject long hours for their own sake (or as some twisted badge of honor). If results are important, I believe strongly in freedom of process. If process is more important, that’s fine, too, but results may vary.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know all of that already … and being who I am, I know it, too. But sometimes it helps to put into words what you already know, especially when you’re at a crossroads like the one I described on Friday.
A friend asked about that yesterday, and when I had responded, he said something powerful: “It sounds like you know what to do, and you’re more and more at peace with what you know.” It’s important to be at peace with a decision, to feel as well as know that you’ve made a right choice. Simon Sinek talks about the gut, how it’s more in touch with your why than the part of your brain that uses language and words … and he talks about how important it is for organizations, as they grow, to articulate their why so everyone, not just the founder’s gut, can make decisions in accord with that why. Being who you are, and knowing why you are, you can move forward with confidence even when the road is difficult … and that’s both a comfort and a challenge for me this morning. I’m grateful to the joyful learning community that keeps supporting me on this journey, and I wonder what new insights and discoveries await us all in the days to come.