As my friend C and I released our built-up stress from the week in our powerful strides in a park on a warm autumn afternoon, I recounted an incident at work that’d left me in tears. I had been told by one of my superiors that it seemed the degree of leadership I actually exuded was significantly lower than my own perceptions of my leadership. I didn’t really know how to respond and before I knew it, I felt myself choking up sobs as tears starting running down my face. You see, as unexpected as that comment was, the actual words also triggered something major from my childhood. Combined with the general stress I was feeling, being reminded of this topic in that moment was just too much I could handle.
“You see,” I explained to C, “somebody in my family would always say to me, ‘some people are leaders, some are followers. You are naturally a follower.’” In response, C immediately asked, “but is that true?” Taken aback by the question, I immediately spat out an impassioned, “fuck no!” just as a mom holding the hand of a young child walked by, giving me a not-too-content glance. After sheepishly apologizing to the mom, I turned back to C, “no, I mean. That’s absolutely not true!” C’s response surprised me, as she stated, “I mean, I’m not saying you are. I just don’t necessarily think being a follower is a bad thing. Society conditions us to believe that everyone has to be the leader and anything less is considered unsuccessful and frowned upon, but when you really think about it, why? Just, why?”
In recent years there has been more dialogue around what effective leadership looks like disrupting the dominant, extrovert-oriented idea. With the study that introverts tend to be more effective leaders than extroverts amongst other findings, more people are building up the merits of introversion and, as I’ve personally observed, proudly owning that they are introverted. While certainly a refreshing step forward, these new dialogues still seem to center around a central idea – that leadership is what represents ultimate success and happiness.
As millenials, we’ve been told since early childhood to be leaders. As we move about in our careers and apply to different positions, we’re advised to emphasize our leadership experience, tweaking resume descriptions to seem more a big deal than they are. But if you zoom out and think mathematically and economically, not everybody in an organization can be “the leader.” Different positions exist for a reason, and each part plays an essential role.
In most other countries, you’d submit a CV rather than a resume when applying to positions. One key difference in a CV is that you literally just sum up what your roles and duties were without buttering up descriptions. In fact, trying to do so would likely send your CV into the trash with the hiring manager shaking their head, believing you to be stuck-up and power-hungry.
Raised in a traditional Chinese family, I was taught to value respecting authority and carrying out duties that are assigned to me. When I taught in France last year, I learned that leadership positions are frowned upon as held only by the arrogant.
Digressions aside, I do have to wonder if our American ideal of striving for leadership in the sense that it’s been defined is truly productive. Given the economic impossibility of having everybody be “the” leader coupled with potential adverse effects of unrealistic expectations, I wonder if perhaps redefining “leadership” as we know would it should be put on the table, or even what eventually scrapping the idea of leadership as the ideal to strive for altogether would do.
I drafted this post awhile back. As I re-read this, I have found that though the details about me relating to Jojo (an affluent white girl) and wanting to get a kitty (because I got one!!) are no longer true, the main point of the message is still more relevant than ever. As I’m in the midst of a season of uncertainty and with Valentine’s Day approaching, this was a good reminder that no matter what, I never need anyone to “complete” me, nor do I want to ever be with anyone who feels “incomplete” without me. One’s happiness and sense of self-worth come from within. Hope you enjoy!
Ok confession: I’ve been secretly addicted to The Bachelor and The Bachelorette for the past few years. But this is the first season where I found myself unable to sit through an episode without feeling triggered. I don’t know this girl, but from watching her and learning about her experiences from last season, I found myself feeling like I could really relate to her. Yet now watching her as the bachelorette, I can’t help but feel, just, sad. Sad that a girl of such character and compassion would internalize (at least on camera) the idea that she MUST be married to feel happy – that the only (implied) source love and happiness MUST come from that of a husband. And the more she spoke that way, the more I began to genuinely worry for all the young girls who potentially are actually watching this and taking the content seriously.
And now with this clip (shouldn’t have clicked on it in my feed, clearly), I can’t help but feel triggered again. I respect those who hold different viewpoints, but here are a few things from this clip that I have huge issues with. First off, the dude narrates, “I wanted to ask her father’s blessing for her hand in marriage, but I included her mother too.” As if “oh look at me, I’m doing this woman who raised this girl a huge favor by including her in this conversation,” as if she ordinarily would not have the right to it. Yet even with the mom there, he addresses only the father in asking for the daughter’s hand. I don’t know about you but I feel that if I’m a grown-ass woman in a mature, adult relationship, and do choose to go down the man proposing to me route, I don’t see a reason why my parents need to give us permission to marry. I respect if the dude wants to do this out of regard for potentially my parents’ values. So be that the case, he will be asking and addressing both my dad AND my mom. They both raised me. I am both their child. It should not be the approval of my father alone.
And then he goes on to say he’ll promise to always love her, make her a priority, etc. which I’ll admit, does seem very sincere and feels beautiful. But the moment he said the words “protect her” and “take care of her,” I got fired up. I can’t help but imagine myself in Jojo’s situation. Obviously, I’m not her and I respect that part of true feminism is being respectful of all women’s choices and desires; if this is something she wants her man to say, I’m no one’s judge. But for myself, if my man were to ever frame wanting to be with me and add on promising to always take care of me and protect me, I’m not sure how much longer we’d last quite frankly. Because I can take care of myself. I do not need somebody else’s protection.
I spent the past few years mostly single. Some would say that at this age, that must be tough. And sure, it can feel tough at times. Yet in the time I was quote-unquote alone, I refused to adopt the mentality that I’m still “waiting” for my life to begin or still “yet” to “figure things out.” Because quite frankly, I spent those years chasing my dreams. I moved out of the country by myself and rather quickly integrated into a completely different lifestyle, language, and culture. I got fired up about and heavily involved in a cause in France. I traveled all over Europe and slightly into the Middle East. Though the time before my departure was a bit uncertain, I was not going to let my fears get in the way of accomplishing what I’d always wanted, and boy am I glad I didn’t because experiences like those don’t just come easily.
And coming back to the states, I continue to operate very much independently. For the first time, I’ve furnished an entire apartment from scratch, carrying box after heavy box, drilling and hammering constantly, all on my own – because I’m a strong, able-bodied adult who is able to make a small unit into a home by myself. I’m about to adopt a kitten or two because I’ve always wanted to and am no longer making excuses not to – because I’m an adult. I’m seriously looking to buy property here in Nashville within the next couple years – because I’m a financially responsible – wait for it – adult.
So back to the whole Bachelorette triggers. What I’m getting to is, I am able to operate on my own quite successfully AND be an advocate for my students and leader in my field AND find time to share my talents to positively impact those around me. I don’t need to be taken care of. I will never marry because I feel I need the person, but rather because I want that person and because I want to enter a fruitful, loving partnership in which we build each other up as equals.
So, Bachelor franchise, until you revamp your formatting of your show to 1. Change the messaging from dependence in dating/marriage to unwavering confidence in oneself and joy in partnership as equals and 2. Feature more people of color (maybe more on this one later), I can no longer watch your shows, not even for superficial entertainment.
I’m having kind of a moment here – in reading back some most recent posts, I realized all of them are very serious in tone and work-oriented, including the one I wrote while on vacation in Berlin. Additionally I’ve found that my posting frequency has significantly gone down. These patterns could be due to many things, most namely the fact that the current place in life I’m in is far less adventure-based, far more career development/stability-based. Also when I woke up the day after Christmas to notice a random surge of followers after my Christmas in Paris post, I felt both honored to have gotten the attention of so many strangers yet a bit insecure about what I’d post moving forward. I mean, I certainly didn’t want to reinvent the wheel by constantly posting generic guides about sites in major cities that could be found easily on any person’s travel blog. Regardless of the situation, my original intent behind this blog was to document travels and showcase all my overseas adventures. And to be completely honest, that same spirit of openness and exploration seems very foreign to me right now.
Yesterday, I skyped with my dear friend Clarice who is currently a language assistant in Spain. Having both started in the same teaching program, we share many of the same interests, values, and professional aspirations. As she is in the midst of figuring out what’s next for her, she asked me if I had ever considered returning to France since coming back. The question kind of caught me off guard – it’s a totally valid question given how invested I was in staying and building a life there. Yet my response today is so opposite of what it was a year ago. “No,” I replied, “I miss it. And my initial reasons for coming back do differ a bit from the reality of my situation here so perhaps logically, I should be making plans to go back. But emotionally, I can’t see myself anywhere else.” Wow, that sure felt weird to lean into and admit!
Yes, I do feel completely committed to staying here now. I have a vision for a center that will flourish and serve our nation’s most deserving children. I am connecting with others almost daily who share my optimism and commitment. I get giddy and hopeful thinking about living here for the next 5-6, maybe even more, years.
Wow, another statement that just seems so…opposite of my history!
I felt inspired by the idea of leadership and was originally going to draft a post proposing an alternative definition of the term, when I realized – dang, this is the nth time in a row I’ve posted stuff on my travel blog about stuff totally unrelated to travel!
When I zoom out and reflect upon what I’d most valued in my daily life a year ago – traveling everywhere, speaking in French nonstop, eating all the food I could fit into myself – vs. now – spending time with my kitten, nurturing professional connections, researching the education landscape – I do question myself a bit. How could it be that within less than a year, I’d choose snuggling with my cat at home over visiting my state’s surrounding historical areas? That while I had sworn to myself I’d continue speaking French daily somehow, I now seem to hardly remember how to even begin a sentence at times? That I swore I’d adopt the French work-life balance because I freaking deserve it (and also because it’s just better for humans) but am now gladly undertaking a long-term project that certainly won’t give me that balance for awhile?
Yet in spite of these questions, I feel completely at peace with where I’m at.
What may be productive to quickly discuss now is: what about the blog? What direction is it to take and would it make sense to just change its name and marketing? Would it make sense to begin blogging on a different platform more focused on spreading entrepreneurial ideas? Or do I keep writing on it with its original domain, name, and focus as a continuous keepsake?
We shall see. Good night and thank you for reading.
I have a confession to make: until Keely reframed the idea that great love should never feel confined to a romantic relationship, love songs annoyed me. Since her powerful words, my mind has been able to appreciate love songs in a different light.
As an example, I recently re-heard Jason Mraz’s song “I Won’t Give Up,” and noticed my mind reframing the lyrics in the context of my students.
The lyrics took me back to my very first job out of college, how it’s shaped my trajectory so far, and most importantly, how my love for my students IS a love that I really, truly, am NOT going to give up on.
What particularly moved me was the line “I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not and who I am,” which so describes all the work it took for my love to grow but was fully worth it.
That line perfectly captures how I broke down my post-college naïve ego and began seeking to understand who my students are as people. As I progressed in my career, the line captures my learning what true grace means and expressing it more and more intentionally with my kids.
Most recently, this line captures my realization that I am not cut out to be a teacher. In the end, I feel I’ve grown to really not like it nor be great at it. Now before you start comforting me and convincing me otherwise, I want to be transparent in my awareness of my true teaching capabilities. After a couple years, I was certainly able to become proficient, even borderline-strong. I’m at a place where I certainly know what I want to see in my classroom and have a toolbelt of strategies to use. I’d even push it further to say I’ve had pretty solid experiences of using this toolbelt to mentor brand new teachers. However, I firmly believe that while I may be considered a borderline-strong teacher, I’ve had trouble pushing past that and becoming a truly excellent teacher for a couple years now. Because I love my students so much, I have decided to serve them in a role that better aligns with my strengths. Because I love my students so much, I have decided that my journey as a classroom teacher ends here.
So, as difficult as it was, and as surprising as it may be to some, I have decided to leave my job. Let me just say again, it was difficult. There were so many factors to consider, not least of which included the fact that this was in the f*cking middle of the year! Luckily, somebody else on staff who’s a very strong teacher and loves my kids had space to teach my classes. Luckily, my school team is incredibly supportive of this decision.
So what’s next? While my past perfectionist self refused to spill any news until things were confirmed, I now firmly believe that the more you say something aloud, the more truth it becomes, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of my big-picture goals.
Some of you may know I taught at a Montessori school briefly while I was an au pair. That was the first time I was exposed to this type of education and wow, was I blown away. In a nutshell, Montessori schools use an extensive pedagogical approach founded on the belief that children naturally want to learn and that learning will take place with a child’s psychological spontaneity. That means that rather than having one teacher stand at the front of the room and lecture, the Montessori teacher actually sits amongst the children and serves as an aid helping children teach themselves through their own exploration.
In the school I worked in, I saw children fully explore their imaginations. I saw them enthusiastically direct their own course of learning and engage in enriching activities. I saw them light up as they independently make connections and discoveries. And most of all, I saw a group of kids who truly embodied confidence in every sense.
Then, I felt anger. Intense, unrelenting anger as I asked myself: why were my own kids not given this same opportunity? What if they were also given this same level of respect and autonomy in the classroom from the beginning? What if they were always empowered to direct their own course of learning and supported along the way? Would they still be three to four grade levels behind their wealthier counterparts? Would they still be college-bound at 1/8 the rate of those living in a different zip code?
Since then, I’d had the idea to start a public Montessori school specifically serving low-income communities in the back of my mind. While there are a ton of private Montessori schools that cost a ton, so few in the states are actually public, and I’d like to aim to change that.
This time is scary, yet I know I made the right choice. Had I stayed in my position, I’d easily become stuck in a position I’m discontent with and even worse, shortchange my students who deserve the absolute best educators. As I take this time to develop some professional skills necessary to start a new school, I ask for your prayers and encouragement. But even more importantly, I ask for your celebration as you share this journey with me.
As always, thanks a billion for reading!
Those who’ve kept up with my adventures may be surprised to hear I’ve decided to come back to the US of A. Although I loved living in France, operating daily in French, integrating in the lives of some dear French friends, working with some adorable kiddos, and traveling all over, I ultimately wanted something/somewhere sustainable. As a Non-EU citizen, easiest jobs for me to get were all very low-paying and temporary (i.e. au pair, English language assistant, free-lance tourism stuff, etc). And though these periods of adventure and immersion were all I’d ever dreamed of and more, I was also financially planning around all I did on a tight string (this was in addition to taking on additional tutoring clients on the side). I missed being constantly developed professionally at a rigorous speed. I’d come home and look around my apartment, longing to adopt pets and buy my own furniture. I’d hear news of my former classmates getting into PhD programs and going to law school, and found my Silicon-Valley competitive rearing kick into full gear as I sat back in envy.
I had, all petty complaints aside, convinced myself that if I worked hard enough, I could sustain myself there with a fulfilling career. And I got close – made it to the final rounds of interviews with an international school in Lille, ultimately to hear that they couldn’t get back to me about available positions for me within my timeline (real talk – I was literally running out of money and thus, close to accepting job offers in the states). I had been in contact with Teach For France, a new branch of Teach For All, and felt things were going well – I was going to travel to Paris and be on the panel of some events for newly accepted corps members in France. But ultimately, because they’re still in their very beginning stages, they couldn’t pay people yet and biggest turnoff (I know, I’m about to sound very first-world whiney here) is that they’re based in Paris which is, by far, NOT one of my favorite cities.
I know if I had stuck it out longer, something could have come into place. Yet I had to ask myself – did I really, truly, see myself integrating there long-term? I spent my last month doing the whole shebang – pros and cons list, long walks with philosophical questions flying in my brain, talking this over with the people I trusted most there, networking the hell out of myself (which, I’m proud to say, was done all in French and did result in quite a few solid connections!), getting away on trips last-minute for additional time to escape/reflect, etc. And out of all this, I saw more clearly that long-term, I felt I’d belong far more and more easily create the life I truly wanted in the states.
Leaving was not easy. I first stopped by London to spend some time with a childhood friend. That weekend, I went to Scotland, but my mind was just not present. As breathtaking as the highland scenery was, as chill of a vibe Glasgow was, as friendly as the people I crossed paths with were, I was just not into it. My childhood friend S saw that something wasn’t quite right and challenged me to process all this, which, truth be told, I just didn’t want to do.
Luckily, I had already secured a summer position in the states earlier that winter (original reason was in case I did get hired full-time by someone in France and needed to go back to the states anyway to change my visa status, so might as well work while I’m there). But my first week at this job, I had a hard time truly feeling present and invested. To make matters more difficult, my roommate for the summer was about to be an English language assistant in Spain and I couldn’t help but feel envious. When I finally decided I needed to do some serious reconsidering of my decision to be there, it also happened to be the weekend of my first year freshmen’s high school graduation. Of course, I was not going to miss that.
I’m not gonna lie though, that entire four hours back to East Central Arkansas was incredibly stressful, because amidst trying to speed down two-lane highways while constantly checking for cops, my mind was racing with “why am I back? Is this truly the right choice? If it is, why does it feel so unsettling?”
As I parked in my old high school parking lot and walked into the auditorium, I forced myself to gather my anxieties and toss them aside as I settled into a seat and watched my babies, most of whom were now probably a foot taller than I remembered, proudly walk across that stage.
In that moment, something overtook me that I don’t feel I could fully put into words. Essentially, all these questions about “why am I here” were answered. This moment and all moments leading up to this, this was why. To see how far my scholars had come – humans who had started so small, with significant academic and socio-emotional gaps now as poised young adults with true resilience and grace about to go to college – made all my decisions worthwhile.
I’m more convinced now than ever that what I had started in the states professionally is truly a calling and I’m so thrilled to continue supporting the most deserving, promising scholars of this country in beating the odds and proving the rest of the world wrong in what they can do.
Oh, and all that stuff about longing for longevity lifestyle-wise, I’m proud to say that I’ve moved into and fully furnished an adorable apartment all on my own for the very first time!
So although you may be seeing a change in content on this blog, I’ll still post stuff I (and hopefully you) find meaningful and include as much travel/cultural insight as possible as I invest my whole heart in exploring my new awesome city while taking smaller trips on the side when I have time.
Thanks to French public education, I find myself, once again, en vacances. Since I’m in a place where I honestly don’t know how much longer I’ll have here, I’ve got to profiter from these couple weeks! So naturally, I’ve booked travel again…this time, I’m hitting up Berlin, Prague, and Vienna!
As much as I’d love this blog post to be about everything I’m seeing and all my adventures, I’m afraid it’s gonna have to be dry and boring.
So back to my not knowing how much longer I have left – we have the right to work at our schools until the end of April. The visa lady at my appointment in San Francisco extended my validity to stay til end of June, in case I’d like to fit in tourism and whatnot (so nice of her!).
As far as this job goes, I can renew once but after that, there is no hope of taking this job again. Given that we have less than three months left, my heart and head are in a million different places trying to figure out the next best step.
I decided pretty early on that I would not renew my contract. I am paid only for 12 hours of work a week, and though my colleagues embrace my ideas and techniques so open-heartedly, I know that as a foreigner, I ultimately have little chance of really, TRULY influencing the educational landscape here in France. With a combination of visa complications for non-EU citizens and the very specific pre-requisites needed to be hired full-time by l’education nationale (or any other professional job really), I had to seriously ask myself if I was okay a. working another year at a job that pays so little and provides no direct opportunities for advancement and/or b. staying longer and going through the steps to break into education administration and policy at the sacrifice of more visa nightmares and years of courses and exams. As much as I wish I had the stamina to stick it out a little longer, I also long, more than anything, to establish roots and advance in my career.
So where am I off to next, then? Well, that’s a big question for me as well.
While I’ve been spending my days wandering the streets of Berlin and taking up all its interesting history, I’ve been spending my late afternoons and evenings cooped up somewhere applying to full-time professional positions everywhere – the US as well as international/American organizations in France and other European countries.
Our next two-week break is in April, right before our contract ends. Based on my prior experiences of applying to US schools, I’m most likely going to have to travel back to the states for interviews when I have time, which would be during that break. As bummed as I am about not reserving European travel plans for these two weeks, I also know that I’m taking responsible ownership of my future. After all, I have to come back to France for our last week of school anyway. And after that, I’ll still have a bit of validity left on my visa. Although timing of everything may not be necessarily on my terms, I have to remember how lucky I am to be here and to be able to travel as I have.
Ok, I promise my next post will be more cultural/adventurous. Until then, I’m going to resume hard-core job applying/soul searching.