Something happened a few years ago. Ok, about 25 give or take a decade, but the thing was that my mom raised us to be independent. Cue Destiny’s Child here….
After 30+ years on the planet, I wake up and know less than I did the day before and I have even more questions that I could spend the rest of my life working on. But of all the life I have lived, I know a few things and this is one: I’m pretty self-reliant. Independent. Don’t “need” a man to take out my garbage. I’m not talking about the arrogant “I got this far all by myself” talk because that is NOT the case at all, but the case that I do what I want, I have figured out how to function as an individual, independent unit. In the best way possible.
Every once in a while I am reminded that while I don’t have a person, it is nice to have folks in my life I can count on. A friend in real life moved to my town recently to start grad school (I recruited him) and he really is a “real life friend,” and not merely a “person I know” in the ether. I’m fortunate to have good people in my life and eternally grateful for them, but not everyone can be counted on for all things. Some of the people on my squad are for professional purposes, others personal, many are multi-purpose. This friend is multi-purpose and very reliable.
I sent myself home from campus last week after getting sick twice in my office. I had excused myself from the department meeting after feeling nauseous, dizzy, and then realized I was going to be sick. After laying on the couch and moving to my bedroom, and getting sick several more times I realized I was not going back to work. And I needed ginger ale. I texted my friend for some back-up and requested some of the good stuff. While he was in class until early evening, it was ok with me because I was still getting sick and couldn’t keep anything down anyway.
Like the moon rising, he showed up about 30 minutes after class with two giant bottles of ginger ale, checked to see if I needed anything else, and went about his evening. I appreciated him on so many levels that day. Not only for caring, but for acknowledging that while he was busy, he could certainly make time to swing through the grocery store for some ginger ale and bring it by my house. While I was in no shape to verbalize it that evening, we got together later in the week when I was feeling better and I shared my gratitude with him.
It forced me to reflect on why I had become and how I had become so self-reliant in the first place. A long time ago, someone who was in my life used to throw me “under the bus” every chance he got and I didn’t realize it for a long time. I know it strained my relationship with others because they had false information and a poor opinion of me without my knowledge and I learned the hard way that I needed to represent myself. Fast forward to today and while I still consider myself independent and self-reliant, I make sure I’m aware when someone does give me a little boost.
How does this translate to the academy? In many ways both obvious and subtle. Self-preservation is important to me and letting my guard down doesn’t come easy. Being vulnerable, sick, and asking for mercy and ginger ale was a good reminder that I need to do the same at work. Sometimes I feel like a research robot, going through the motions to push out the work and I need to remind myself that I’m not doing it just to get it over with, but there’s always vulnerability involved. I work on this with my undergraduate researchers in particular to not only teach the methods but instill the qualities of being vulnerable to ask questions but independent enough to think critically. I need to remember that I can and should ask for help. My students ask me for help all of the time, but I rarely ask others in return. I burden myself with extra work in the name of perfection instead of delegating and being happy with what comes in.
Being self-reliant is not a bad trait to posess by any stretch of the word, in fact it’s usually something I’m quite proud of, but the stomach bug reminded me that no matter how bad ass I think I am, a virus can bring me to my knees and force me to ask for help and I shouldn’t be afraid to do the same at work either.