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.

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Reflections of a Commuter

img_508946,080. That’s how many miles I commuted from Orange Park to Gainesville, where I completed graduate studies at the University of Florida. These miles accumulated over a six-year period.

The drive was do-able back then because it was a little under three hours round trip; I was 31; and I knew it would end. You see, I’ve always believed that you can do anything…temporarily. So, in my mind driving back and forth to complete a degree was definitely a short-term situation. Eventually, I’d graduate.

August 7, 2010, I walked across the stage, and the very next day the girls and I moved to middle-Georgia. I’d obtained a job at a liberal arts college, which was located in Milledgeville. My classes were at a regional center in Macon. However, we lived in Houston County. This county was the best of the surrounding areas. The others were full of failing schools and lacked diversity. My children already had to adjust to a new type of southern culture. I wasn’t about to sacrifice their education as well. But, this meant another two years’ commute.

I-75-interstate-75-highway6,720. That’s how many miles I drove to and from Houston County to the Macon Center and occasionally round trip to Milledgeville for department and program meetings. Because Dwight lived in Jacksonville, there was the bi-weekly commute back there to visit. For my part, that added an extra 9,800 miles.

As ridiculous as this sounds, commuting in this way continued to be manageable because it was my first full-time academic job, so excitement floated me up and down I-75. I was just happy to be making money doing something I’d trained for and loved.

But living away from my husband wasn’t sustainable. So, I attained a job in Florida. Only this time, the commute was 360 miles round trip, door-to-door. I figured my family could stay put, while I drove up and down I-10.

57,600. That’s how many miles I commuted to and from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for three years. This time it was do-able because I was working in my niche with likeminded colleagues. But the physical and mental stress of getting there wasn’t worth it. When the Spring 2015 semester ended, I knew I was done. My soul spoke to me and made it quite clear that day in May was the last drive I’d make to campus.

A June offer at another institution in Gainesville confirmed my intuition. I figured I could do it because the commute was familiar and included fewer miles, 180 compared to 360. Plus, for the first two years, I taught at regional centers, which weren’t very far, and on top of that, the majority of my course load was online. But course loads are unpredictable, and if necessary, I have to be prepared to commute to main campus in Gainesville. That’s what happened this academic year, thus prompting my motivation to finally reflect.

12,160. That’s how many miles I’ve commuted in two and a half years to teach classes. I haven’t added additional miles required for attending bi-weekly and monthly meetings held on three separate days.

My thirteenth year as a commuter feels less enjoyable and more like a hamster wheel. I’m tired y’all. I’m tired of leaving two hours early just so I can arrive on time. I’m tired of buying new tires every 6-8 months because of wear and tear. I’m tired of the additional gas money. Plus, the older I get, the more driving up and down the highway for hours to work seems like a colossal waste of time.

img_5101Sometimes change begins with reflection. That’s what this is. I don’t have an answer right now, but I do know that I won’t be spending my remaining career on the road. Life’s too short and time is fleeting*.

Do you or have you had to commute? What was it like?

*Had to borrow from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

Monday Notes: 3 Ways I Function that Counter Society’s Rules

Everybody isn’t like you Kathy I’ve heard this sentence a million times. It usually follows my telling them how I live and interact with people. Over the years, I’ve learned what they say is true: everybody isn’t like me. I think a little different. Here are three of those differences:

I don’t function out of obligation. I mean I used to. I used to feel as if I had to do something or go somewhere just because of who the person was. If my “boss” was having a shindig, then I felt obligated to attend. When my grandmother purchased my first car (and I had to make car payments to her), I in turn felt required to do pretty much whatever she said. But I turned a new page around 2011. Around 93% of my life is spent doing what I desire. Period. If I’m at your soiree, then please believe I want to be there. I don’ feel obligated to show because you’re my cousin or co-worker; I’m there because I want to be and have made myself available in that way. Making this decision has created a sense of liberation, not only on my part, but also on others’ as well. I don’t expect for people to do things for me just because of who they perceive me to be.

img_5195I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. Around mid-2015, I posted something like this to FB: I’m no longer proving I’m a good friend, family member, or co-worker. I meant that with my whole heart. Perhaps this can be part two of the obligation section. For a long time, I wanted people to know they could count on me. There’s nothing wrong with that, except I’d begun doing things that were not aligned with my character. Consequently, I didn’t say no to a lot. For example, my then best friend used to visit the States every other year. Because I wanted her to know I was her friend, I agreed for her to stay with my family and me for 2-4 weeks at a time. Through this process, I discovered that three days is really my maximum for visitation. Therefore, 14-28 days was overload to my soul. But I agreed because of some unwritten social contract: this is what best friends do. The proving myself days are over, both professionally and personally. You’re either cool with me and how I engage, or you’re not.

img_5196I recognize patterns and then step out of them. I’ve become reflective as a way to take ownership for who I am and the choices I make. Because of this, I’ve gotten adept at discovering my own patterns of behavior, looking for root causes, and then choosing different paths. For example, I recently realized that finding a job I like is challenging. There’s always something I absolutely hate. Consequently, I’ve had to think deeply about why that is because quitting and getting jobs every 2-3 years is exhausting. I’ll likely follow this up with a longer post, but my point is, enough is enough of this cycle. I have to figure out what’s going on inside so I can step out of this behavior pattern.

Are there ways that you think or act differently than what society tells you to do? Do either of these resonate? Let me know what you’re thinking.

Monday Notes: Faking It ’til you Make it!

Growing up I’d always been told that I had to be twice as good as white people to be seen as just as good at what they do. This was the rule, simply because I was a black girl. Being raised in Chicago and attending a diverse elementary and high school for gifted students, this never proved true. We seemed to each be held by our own merits. We were all smart, and if we applied ourselves accordingly, then we achieved greatness, accordingly.

As I ventured through undergrad at Western Michigan University, I still didn’t see it. I mean I worked hard, but my own productivity and those around me seemed to equal the work we put into it. Working hard equaled success like As and Bs. Doing less proved attaining less, such as probation for poor grades. Seemed simple.

This trend continued with graduate work and ultimately with my doctorate. I really had begun to believe that the rule I’d been given about working twice as hard was false. Everyone around me seemed to be working just as hard and we were on equal footing.

But the truth was unveiled in one of the most unlikely places, academia.

I remember these events like they happened yesterday. I’d applied for a tenure-track position at the same institution…three times. Even though I was more qualified because I’d been in an academic position for two years, and even though he didn’t have the specific type of degree they’d asked for, they hired him instead. The following year, they hired me as visiting prof. This not only meant that he ranked higher, but that he also made about $12,000 more than I did.

He was a charismatic, white male, whose six-foot stature commanded attention every time he entered the room. He was a talker. You know the kind who has a story for every situation? The guy who’s like, “Yeah that reminds me of the time that…”

He was perfect in every way, except he didn’t know what he was doing. And as it turns out, he had a story for that as well.

He fondly remembered a time during his graduate career when he had no idea what the professor was talking about. He recounted this story to the program coordinator and me. She sat in her comfortable chair, glancing every so often at her Mac, then up at him, and back to me, where she offered an eye roll.

“So, the professor kept talking about some theory that he thought I should know. And, you know. I had no idea what he was talking about. I just nodded along and you know…I was just faking it ‘til I made it. You know? That’s how I got through.”

I didn’t know.

Remember, I’d spent twelve years working hard to attain everything thus far. I had no idea what he meant when he said he faked it ‘til he made it. Did he mean he faked it to here, where we stood…side-by-side? Surely that couldn’t be true.

img_5125It wasn’t until the following year when he had to teach a methodology course that the curtain of my naiveté was removed.

He knocked on my door.

“Got a minute?” he asked.

“Sure.”

He pulled up a chair. The difference in our stature was obvious, even while sitting. We faced one another, feigning a position of equality.

“How do you teach this?” he asked.

Jesus Christ, I thought. He really had no idea, and he wanted me to teach him how to do his job. He had a PhD, just like me. But he needed me to demonstrate how to teach the class because he lacked background knowledge and experience.

So, I explained it to him.

I seethed with resentment for several months. But once I calmed down, I learned something valuable. Systemic racism exists and structural inequality is real. White privilege is not just a theory or hashtag and the patriarchy is alive.

But what can any of us do?

I believe a first step is to be transparent about our experiences and situations. Maybe speaking candidly will open a space for change to occur among those of us who care about such issues. Because one thing’s for sure…raising another generation who’s taught to work harder than them to make it where they are seems like a disservice to everyone.

Thoughts are always welcomed.

 

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.