Reflections on Year One

As I reflect on my first year on the tenure track last year, I realize that many of the connections I formed with colleagues across the university resulted from my involvement in events offered by the Pew Faculty and Teaching Learning Center (FTLC) and attending two Faculty/Staff Writing Retreats offered by the Fred Meijer Center for Writing & Michigan Authors. Given that it’s late August 2015 and convocation is tomorrow, I guess that this post is better late than never. We’re already rounding the corner to the beginning of year two!

The two FTLC programs that were the most impactful were The Inaugural Winter Teaching Life Retreat: Applying the Wisdom of Remarkable Women Leaders (December 2014) and the Strengths Based Leadership Teaching Circle (Winter 2015). The retreat and teaching circle encourage introspection. In many ways the self-reflection was fueled by two books, which centered our discussion, How Remarkable Women Lead: The Breakthrough Model for Work and Life by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston and Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. Being in this community also encouraged me to read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown as this is the book women who participated in an earlier program had read the previous year.

The writing retreats allowed me to focus on book manuscript revisions. Sitting with other faculty members in relative silence allowed me to center my attention on writing. This retreat complemented the weekly, online writing group that I am in with a colleague. There is a definite value in working in conjunction with one another for accountability purposes as well as in a group where you workshop one another’s work.

This post centers on three takeaways I found after reading above-mentioned books. While I believe in the value of writing groups and writing retreats, I leave you with the words from the authors of articles in Chronicle Vitae and Inside Higher Ed:

Takeaway #1: Flexibility and Adaptability

Academia is not always predictable. While we may know the major milestones in one’s career that we ought to meet, how we get there is not necessarily a linear path. There is no “right” path in the academy. Discussing indirect routes that may lead us to new ideas, Barsh and Cranston note:

Many women set out, traveling down academic and career paths, only to discover meaningful work after more than a few turns in the road. The zigs and zags of their career may seem inefficient (surely a straight shot to your goal would seem a better choice). Things are not always what they seem. In most cases, women leaders recall that these zigs taught self-awareness and those zags led them down the path to skills and experiences that opened a door. It was not time wasted. It was their time for discovering what they loved and learning new capabilities (23).

Each academic year, I set goals for myself related to teaching, research, and service. I recalibrate these goals each semester and over the summer. This process of recalibration allows me to evaluate whether I will meet these goals and reflect on where I may need to adapt in the face of an unexpected event. Barsh and Cranston encourage the evaluation and re-evaluation of one’s ambitions and priorities, writing:

From time to time, consciously reframe: Think about your goals and whether you should change them. The formula that worked for you in the past may no longer fit the circumstances. And when you see (or feel) the signs that you are locking in, take a deep breath and head for the balcony. We don’t want you to ever change being open to change (112).

Similarly, Rath and Conchie focus on creating weekly, monthly and annual goals to ensure success. Where do you want to end up? Consider your strengths and how they will help move you from point A to point B. Clearly communicate and perhaps even over-communicate what you’re doing and why. Well-defined plans articulate your motivations to faculty, staff, and students that you work with in various capacities.

Anticipate the fact new and unexpected, yet exciting opportunities are always on the horizon. Taking advantage of these possibilities opens new doors and facilitates deeper connections within colleagues and students, for example. This does not mean I say yes to every prospect that comes knocking on my door. Rather, I consider how these various openings relate to my larger goals. In my post on the Association for Asian American Studies’ East of California Junior Faculty retreat I discussed the benefits of creating a coherent narrative that links your teaching, research, and service. How does saying yes relate to your broader goals?

Takeaway #2: Know Your Passion

Find your passion and what drives you to do the work that you do. What gives you meaning? Barsh and Cranston note: “Meaning is the motivation in your life. It’s finding what engages you, what makes your heart beat faster, what gives you energy and creates passion. Meaning enables you to push yourself to the limit of your capabilities – and beyond” (22). Figure out what sustains you in the academy.

For me, it’s supporting students of color and other marginalized communities. This is particularly salient given my location in the Midwest where often I am one of the few Asian American faculty students engage with in the Humanities. There are currently no Asian American Studies courses taught on a regular basis. In Fall 2015 I will teach a one-credit course, The Hypersexual Female Asian Body, which explores the racialized and sexualized depictions of women of Asian descent in US popular culture. I also will direct an independent study, “Introduction to Korean Adoption Studies,” with an undergraduate student.

Takeaway #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Dare Greatly

Defining what it means to dare greatly, Brown comments: “Daring greatly means finding our own path and respecting what that search looks like for other folks” (231). Daring greatly means embracing vulnerability and not allowing fear to stop one from achieving their goals. To this end, Brown notes: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual ways, vulnerability is the path” (34). As part of this process, we also need to embrace or at least recognize that imperfection is not a negative. Brown writes: “Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose; it’s the hazardous detour” (128). One of the areas that I find this advice to be particularly helpful is with writing. Learning to share drafts of manuscripts, articles, and chapters early with colleagues is an acquired skill. This is where writing groups and friends/colleagues are helpful. Soliciting feedback on an early, unfinished piece of work may feel daunting, but it is an invaluable process.

Concluding Thoughts

Utilizing the resources offered by my institution to first year faculty allowed me to consciously and deliberately engage my community. I strengthened existing skills and honed new ones through taking advantage of the various workshops. As I embark on year two, I keep the following questions from Barsh and Cranston in mind: “Consider the next milestone in your career. Do you know what you have to do to achieve it? Do you believe that achieving it is in your control? What are you doing to reach that goal (192)?”

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