Monday Notes: A Confession on My 25th Year of Teaching

Twenty-five years ago, I began my career in education as an English teacher. However, I didn’t enter the profession out of a profound sense of passion. Here’s what happened:

I began undergrad as a business major: business management, to be exact. However, there was an assessment everyone took to test out of remedial math (Math 109). I took and failed the test during orientation. Then, I took it again and failed at the beginning of Math 109. The university offered it again mid-semester. Failed. And again shortly after, which is when I passed.

That’s when I figured I needed to change my focus. How was I going to be a business major if I couldn’t do basic math?

I sought advice from one of my aunts, who suggested I become an English major. When I talked to the advisor, she said English education was a better option.

Fast forward twenty-five years, a masters, and doctorate degree later, and I’m still teaching.

I’ve thought about if this one choice was a “mistake.” I mean, clearly, I have a passion for reading and writing, but did I need to become an educator? Maybe I could’ve been an investigative journalist, as my blogging buddy Dr. D. recently observed. Or perhaps I could’ve just begun a writing career twenty years earlier.

I don’t know. Falling into an abyss of what ifs is not good. I do not recommend it.

Here’s what I’ve decided.

There are no mistakes. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we’re always making choices. But our choices are tied to who we are, our level of awareness at the time, and our self-imposed limitations.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we’re always making choices.

At the time, I didn’t have a home to return to in Chicago, and I damn sure wasn’t going back to live with my grandparents. I just wanted to do whatever would afford me a salary and a ticket toward independence. An education degree did that.

However, I also didn’t know any writers. I’d only seen so-called safe and secure jobs: pharmacy technician, accountant, social worker. I couldn’t conceive of a career in writing, much less pursue a degree that may lead to one. My choices seemed limited.

I know what you may be thinking…why get more advanced degrees in the field? My answer is the same: lack of awareness and self-imposed limitations.

I had no idea I could’ve easily switched to an MFA or even a PhD in English, so I continued the same path I’d begun in 1991: Education.

So, here I am.

I don’t have regrets, though. No. That’s not what this is about. I’m writing this to encourage anyone out there who believes he, she, or they only have one path. Not to sound cliché, but there are infinite paths for living life. Infinite. Think about what you want to do. Research your options. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do. Then, make up your own way based on your informed decision.

If what you want to do isn’t reflected in your family or environment, then don’t be afraid to create a life based on what you want. Guess what? That’s what I’ve done over the past seven years.

Today, I own a successful business, with no business degree. I’m a successful writer, without having an English degree.

I’m convinced each of us can do what we want. All we have to do is first believe it is possible.



Behind the Kwote: Self-love

At the risk of sounding totally nutz, I’m sharing with you a letter I wrote to myself in 2014. I’d forgotten about it. And as I re-read the words, the whole experience seems surreal, almost as if someone else really did write this to me. This, along with many other things is what helped me make different choices about who I wanted to be in this world.

Dear Kathy,

First, love yourself more. Self-love is very important. You’ve even quoted Whitney Houston on Valentine’s Day, “The greatest love of all is learning to love yourself.” Self-love is the most important thing that you can learn on this earth. The sooner you believe you deserve love from yourself, the sooner all other forms of love will shine and make sense. Loving yourself will help you feel more confident. Loving yourself will help you open up to the love of others, some of whom have been trying to love you with their whole hearts most of their lives.

Second, you are not perfect. No one is. Sure, you’re perfectly made the way that you are, but you are human, which means that you have flaws. Do not beat yourself up for these human ways. Everyone is born with something that is bound to make them feel bad or serve as a life lesson. You are not the only one with these imperfections. Accepting them will help you complete the first task, love yourself.

self_love_goal_kegarlandThe third, and final thing I want to tell you dear heart is to listen to your instinct. Your inner-being knows what is best. You have feelings that alert you to when something doesn’t feel right. Listen to those feelings from now on. Ignoring them only makes for a more challenging time. And life here on earth is not intended to be that challenging. Remember, you create your experiences by the choices that you make. Make conscious and healthy choices for you, whether it be for relationships or for professional standing.

With love,

~kg

Happy Valentine’s Day! What would you advise your former or future self?

Behind the Kwote: Today’s Choices

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Kwoted. ©2015. K E Garland All Rights Reserved.

A friend of mine, who is more like a little sister, found herself pregnant with someone who she probably wouldn’t have consciously chosen to father her child. Her mom didn’t understand how it happened. She questioned how her daughter could have gotten pregnant, especially considering all of the twenty-something years of sage advice she’d provided. Her friends were disappointed; many of them had planned out their lives, as some of us do when we’re younger. They’d determined this wasn’t the path hers should take. I listened to each judgment and tried my best not to add my own. While everyone attempted to figure out how this happened, the answer seemed so simple to me: today’s choices determine tomorrow’s experiences.

It wasn’t just true for my friend’s unplanned pregnancy; it was part of my story as well. I was trying to figure out how I ended up with a road trip sized commute to work. The answer was the same. Reaping what you sow isn’t a new concept. But it seems every now and then we wake up wondering how did I get here, in this space, with this experience? The reality is whatever you’re focused on today will build future benefits or future challenges. So, it’s best to get in tune with who you are and what you really want so that you’ll be able to make conscious decisions with which you can live.

Behind the Kwote: Your Own Biggest Fan

This was one of the first kwotes I created. Many friends and family call, text or inbox me for advice and encouragement. Listening to someone with my whole heart and then offering what I think will inspire them is inherent for me. In fact, a former student asked if I was a high school cheerleader because of how much I stand behind and uplift others.

biggest_fan_2Well, there came a time during my 360-mile commute that I felt I had no one to reassure me. Even a cheerleader needs encouraging, I posted to FB. I couldn’t think of one person who I could turn to that would offer words of motivation. If I called my grandmother, then she’d remind me of how dumb I was to have taken the job in the first place. If I talked with my husband, then he would remind me that this was a choice I made, regardless of his early warnings. If I spoke to anyone else, then they would try to solve the problem for me and that wasn’t what I wanted or needed at the time. I wanted someone to tell me, “Hey! You can do it! You’ve done more challenging things in your life. This is no different.” I found that the only person that was going to tell me that was, ME. Consequently, this kwote was born.  Cause, guess what? Every now and then, we all have to dig deep and find that inner strength. Trust me; it’s there.

Behind the Kwote: Your Journey

journey_zero_explanationThis kwote popped into my mind after I’d announced to several people that I was leaving my tenure-track position at Florida State University. There was no visible job prospect in April 2015, but my intuition had spoken and I was listening. Even though my instinct was clear to me it wasn’t to others.

My cousin’s response, “Are you crazy?” Mind you he’d asked me the same question when I announced the commute.

My best friend at the time replied, “What??? Now I can’t say my best friend is a professor at FSU!”

My daughter’s reaction, “Are we gonna be poor?”

My aunt’s email, “So what if you’re the only Black person? Since when did that become a big deal?”

My friend and university’s alum, “What? Why?”

This is just a small number of people and their opinions. But in my mind, there were far too many and I didn’t feel as if I owed anyone an explanation for decisions about my life. With the exception of my daughter, none of these people would be affected by how I generated income. This kwote helped me to see the truth.

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Oftentimes, this time of year prompts reflection and a sense of renewal. But sometimes we neglect to follow our hearts and inner voice because we’re worried about what family and friends will think about our new paths. Let me tell you something. They’ll be just fine! Now, let me ask this question. If you don’t follow your intuition, will you?

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Behind the Kwote: Gratitude is a Way of Life

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Here in the States, we pause and give thanks on the third Thursday in November, typically with our families. My family, immediate and extended are no different. You can find any one of us sitting around a table of food, perhaps holding hands and thoughtfully announcing what we’re thankful for. But remove the holiday, and I’m not convinced the sentiment remains.

Take my cousins for example. No matter what birthday or Christmas gift I sent, they never used to call to say, “Thank you,” or even text an appreciative message.

Similarly, my brother and sister-in-law rarely thanked me for the birthday or Christmas gifts I’d send to their four children. Even if presents blatantly came from me, without Dwight’s knowledge, my brother-in-law would call or text my husband, unless he heard these words: That came from Kathy, man. Then, he would reach out and thank me.

I wasted hours, days, weeks fixated on solving this “dilemma.” If I held the door open for a stranger, more than likely the person would mutter, “Thank you.” If I gave a coworker a going away card, then the colleague would probably say, “Thanks!” But some family members? Nope.

I was hurt.

I was hurt, until I began keeping a gratitude journal. Here is where I began writing five things I was thankful for each day. I was hurt, until I completed a gratitude meditation. Here is where I learned to be grateful. I was hurt, until I spent 30 days expressing gratitude to friends and family who’d positively influenced my life. Here is where I learned to stop seeking external gratitude.

It took about five years, but now, I live a life of gratitude. Consequently, Thanksgiving is meaningless to me in terms of giving thanks. I give to whomever I can, as often as I can, with no expectation of verbal reward.

What about you? Are you more thankful on Thanksgiving? Is it important to hear the words thank you? Does it matter?

Behind the Kwote: *Flawed

flawedI’ve spent the majority of my life in shame. I was ashamed of being adopted. I was ashamed that my mother had a terminal illness. Then, I was ashamed that my dad gave up his parental rights. I was ashamed that I had to move to a small town my senior year and graduate with 25 people I didn’t really know. I had developed eighteen years of shame.

Once I began undergrad, I unconsciously created my own shameful experiences. Lovers and sexual indiscretions piled up. At that point, the shame covered me. But I kept it hidden.

So there I was, carrying and hiding decades of shame. I doubted that others had similar challenges. Everyone looked so perfect to me, with two loving parents and crystal clear paths paved with luck and fortune. Around 2004, I attracted more authentic conversations. Former students, friends, family, and coworkers opened up to me about their pasts and presents.

Boy, was I wrong.

Everyone else felt just as crappy as I did. They hid it, like me. Consequently, I began to reflect not only on my own, but also other people’s experiences. Rarely do friends and family want to share their innermost feelings for fear of being judged. For fear of being shamed. What is this cycle we’ve created? We live in shame and don’t talk about it because we don’t want to be shamed.

Once I figured this out, I wrote this kwote as a reminder: Don’t worry; the person next to you is flawed too!

*Disclaimer: Typically “flaws” refer to outward appearances, but I use it here to discuss so-called inward flaws.

Black in America

It’s a great time to be African American. Just check your television listings. It’s like this:

I mean really. We have a well-rounded array of representation:

Black-ish

Luke Cage

Scandal

How to Get Away with Murder

The Get Down

Queen Sugar

Empire

Atlanta

A friend of mine called it a “renaissance of black culture.” I agreed. It sounds nice. Poetic. Artsy.  A “renaissance of black culture” makes me feel good, until the next unarmed black man is gunned down by police. I can laugh at the upper-middle class woes of the Johnsons, until the next #BlackLivesMatter call to action. I’m considering buying a bullet-hole hoodie like the Luke Cage characters. The satire hasn’t escaped me. I watch Annalise, her students and her clients get away with murder, just like the police in my country. I admire how Duvernay wove BMike’s art and his message about police brutality in the last Queen Sugar episode. And even though I loathe Empire, I’m glad there are actors who look like us on television to serve as entertainment, until someone chokes, shoots or hangs another person who looks like me in real life.

Yep. It’s a great time to be African American, as long as you’re on television.

 

Behind the Kwote: Be You

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My sister-in-law and I have different personalities. Our one commonality is being married into the same family. The last phone conversation we had stemmed from a final attempt at building a long-distance relationship, so that family events wouldn’t feel like two strangers meeting for the first time. This is how it went.

SIL:     Kathy, you’ve always been rude and mean to me.

Me:      Really? How was I rude and mean to you the last time we saw each other?

SIL:     You didn’t say anything to me and you didn’t want to listen to my advice about Kesi’s hair.

Me:      You’re right. I didn’t say anything because whenever I do, then you call me rude and mean and when I don’t say anything, you still call me rude and mean. But, it’s funny cause you always tell me to be myself.

SIL:     <sigh> Well, I’m not going to tolerate rude behavior.

And she shouldn’t. But after lots of overthinking, it seemed that my SIL wanted me to be myself in ways that pleased her. The 2011 visit we’d discussed is when I tried something different and said very little. I thought it would keep conversations peaceful.

However, it backfired because in essence, for me to speak few words is not me…at…all.

Our phone conversation revealed how I’d stopped being myself to appease her for no reason. Her perception of me remained. From that day forward, I’ve learned to be myself, regardless of others’ positive or negative opinions.

Behind the Kwote: Least Miserable Situation

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This kwote is in a section called “Konscious Life Perspectives.” As the subtitle suggests, it’s all about making conscious decisions appropriate for your life.

The thought came to me while talking to one of my favorite cousins. He was going through life-changing events. The way he saw it, he had two choices. On the one hand, he could pursue his dream career, but it required him to live several states away from his wife and young daughter. On the other hand, he could continue working two part-time, “dead-end” jobs, and that would preserve his marriage and relationship with his daughter.

During our conversation, I asked him what he really wanted to do. I encouraged him to pursue his true intentions because after all life is not about choosing the least miserable situation. Subsequently, he pursued and attained his dream job. But the move was more challenging than he’d anticipated. It didn’t work out as planned and he is currently back home living with his wife and child.

I’m never sure how my messages resonate, so I’ll add this for anyone reading. Oftentimes you may find yourself faced with what you see as a limited decision. However, there are infinite paths; your vision may be too myopic to see them. If you take the time to assess your desires and then vibe out from there, then the appropriate course for your life will appear. In that vein, I hope you never feel as if you’re choosing between least miserable situations.