3. On Knowing when to take the next step

prelude to a pregnant pandemic job search

January-March 2020

Something about the start of a new year makes me extra pensive. The last few months have been so jam-packed with novelty that I have not given myself space and time to reflect on it all. I haven’t had the time to process through writing, but I have had a lot of time to think and to work through what’s being born in me. I no longer feel burdened to push the rocks uphill. I feel as if I have been refined by blood fire and water. I need to search for a new pseudonym or perhaps keeping the original one will remind me of where I have been and what fueled me to start writing in the first place.

When I was four months pregnant my husband and I and shared the news with family and friends. I was giddy with excitement in my personal life, but my in professional life every day was like the one before it. As my baby took root inside me I thought often about the kind of example I would set for them and if I would want my offspring to find themselves in my position. I found myself going through the motions because my current position was “good enough” and I felt a deep sense of loyalty to my alma mater and then employer. But, I knew that I was not doing what I really felt called to do — to go back to school, to get the PhD, to lean more fully into equity and inclusion work. What message would I send to myself and to my kid by playing it safe and not trying at all?

This internal stuggle hadn’t started this winter but had been brewing for months even before I found out about the baby. I was afraid of rejection — that if I started looking into programs I would not be found worthy enough of admission. I was afraid of instability — if I started looking for other jobs folks would find out and judge me for thinking of leaving the institution while I was pregnant. I was afraid of seeming flaky and unreliable — as a woman of my word I like to finish the things I start and everything felt up in the air (my master’s thesis, the projects I had been assigned to at work, my ability to advocate for institution-wide change). I have a good job with benefits but I was miserable. More than once I found myself crying at my desk. I wondered was it the hormones from the baby or the sense of dread I felt every time I stepped into the office. Likely both.

Brene Brown taught me in one of her books (I’ve skimmed a few so they have all blurred together at this point) or a TED Talk that once you start surveying and asking others for feedback over and over again its a tell that you are looking for approval rather than acting on what you know is right. Its a method of procrastination. And don’t I LOVE to procrastinate. I spoke to my therapist about it. For weeks. I called the people closest to me who had left their jobs recently and asked them to share wisdom on knowing when it is time to go. I reached out to a few professors and graduate students in the field of higher education. I meditated every day.

Eventually I wrote down what it was that I was looking for in my environment and how it is that I wanted to feel. I revisited old journal entries where I already penned my dreams in the present tense and saw areas of my life that were moving toward my goals and areas where I could focus my energy for growth.

Once it was out of my head and on the paper I couldn’t take it back because I knew it was time to go. I wasn’t sure what going could look like or feel like so I put my eggs in many baskets: 1. I wrote to my supervisor about my vision for institutional change towards more equitable working and learning conditions. 2. I reached out to my mentorship network for letters of recommendation for the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers. (This was my first big definitive step towards applying for a terminal degree. The IRT offers tons of support for folks in the application process — I didn’t have this the first time around and knew that I would need it more than every while expecting my first child) 3. I looked at the job market for other positions at the Director’s level that had express responsibilities for equity and inclusion.

I hoped that something would stick. Either my current position would shift to include more of the things that set my heart on fire, I would have a plan to start a graduate program in 2021 with a one-year-old child, and/or I would find a position that was more in alignment with my interests.

A colleague quoted the NCFDD insinuating that I take on problems that are bigger than me and I’m trying to save an institution that ist trying to save me. She suggested that I push my suggestions through folks who have tenure rather than pose them myself. That really stuck with me.

I never feel like I dont question things that will not improve my own workplace culture. I try to move in the direction that I see myself in rather than where I am expected to be. I can’t decide if this is solid advice that I might be overstepping my bounds, or if I’m getting advice from someone who has never been where I would like to go. I want to take advice in a way that will help me to grow, but I am not sure what to do with advice from another woman of color. Am I being like Icarus and flying too close to the sun? Am I ruffling too many of the wrong feathers and putting my job at risk by asking my institution to change itself?

There won’t be support for something that is not an express priority and goal for the institution but I want there to be. I realize now that I cant ask for someone to give what they don’t have (and I keep relearning this lesson) and that I need to be the change that I hope to see in a way that is true to who I am.

On a completely unrelated note, Baby likes to hangout on the right side of my tummy right below my belly button. Sometimes I can feel them rolling around and it makes me feel slightly sea sick. they don’t kick very often but I love it when they do. They get active when Im sitting hunched over at the desk at work. Also when I drink warm beverages or eat food. I really am so excited to meet this person.

I’m still hopeful. I’m still dreaming.

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