The Origin of My Discontent…and How I’m Saying Goodbye

I’ve been grappling to name a state that I’ve been in for some time.

I finally realized very recently that the state I’m experiencing is appropriately categorized as discontent. 

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discontent

Most days my discontent is centered in the second of the two Merriam Webster definitions above – i.e., I feel a deep sense of “restless aspiration for improvement.”

This restless yearning that I feel for improvement is not just about personal improvement – although I’ll always strive for improving myself. I need – desperately long for – collective and structural improvement for the communities and spaces in which I am imbedded. And as a person who aspires to reciprocity and generosity, I want that same improvement for communities and spaces at large – whether I reside therein or not.

I think I struggled to name my state of discontent because in some ways it’s been a state of productive discontent, whereas generally discontent is disruptive for me.

I’ve been experiencing productive discontent in that – perhaps largely unknowingly – I’ve spent a lot of time in self-reflection to get out of this state because I’m unsettled, unmoored, maybe even agitated.

There is a lot to be agitated about in the world at large, as well as in my professional world of higher education. There are so many tragedies and deaths of Black women in higher education to name – recently Dr. JoAnne A. Epps, Dr. Orinthia T. Montague, Dr. Claudine Gay, Dr. Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, and many more deserving of being named and remembered (For recent commentaries see – Asare, Branch, George; Mitchell, Njoku and Marshall, et al.). And yet, agitation or discontent without appropriate understanding of its origin or cause, as well as its productive purpose or means of dissipation, is problematic for me.

So how am I coming to understand the origin of my discontent and how am/will I dissipate it? Through deep and intentional self-reflection and intentional action.

Self-reflection is often a productive state for me because I grapple with needing to understand, name, and settle in on my feelings, my motivations, my actions. Frequently, I process and understand myself and the world through writing. So, I’ve written profusely in this period – perhaps hoping to write myself out of discontentment. Again, I am centering getting out of the state of discontent understood as “restless aspiration for improvement” and moving away from aspiration and towards a means of intentionally and actively calling into being and contributing to the desired improvement. 

While I haven’t fully achieved that, I have written myself into the knowledge and naming of my state and have also written myself into naming and laying out a path towards reclamation of a state NOT centered in discontent.

I’ve been laser-focused during this period of self-reflection because I’m a steady person. One of the people who knows me best describes me as “solid, settled, spirited.” Sometimes the spirited portion seems at odds with the solid and settled to others – but not at all to me.

So, I’m deeply reorienting myself, my direction, and path to reestablish my steady state of solid, settled, and spirited. This necessarily means unseating myself from some spaces and places, as well as leaving some paths to follow the one that returns me to my settled self. 

The current reseating and redirecting of paths are leading me where I need to be even as my shifts and moves will perhaps have less than desired reverberations on those with whom I was seated and with whom I was traversing a common path. 

Yet, as always, I’ve given myself the freedom to treasure and say farewell to the time and space that led to growth, even as discontent is signaling that “a change is coming.”

I am genuinely excited about the present and coming change…I am authentically motivated to reestablish my preferred state of “solid, settled, spirited.”

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

Unpacking…thoughts more so than boxes

I’m about 3 weeks into my professional transition from more than two decades researching, teaching, and leading at research-intensive institutions to a new post at a small liberal arts college.

I must say that I’ve been diligently unpacking, but I’d be less than honest if I said that the diligence was focused on unpacking boxes. I’m focused on unpacking my transition and reflecting on new opportunities.

As a part of this unpacking focus, I’ve been finding and getting accustomed to new rivers and lakes so that I can stick to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to…if you know you know…for periods of reflection and writing.

Left: A picture with grass, trees, sky, and a lake ; Right: A picture containing sky, grass, and an arched bridge over a river.

I’m enjoying all I’m learning about a new community and institution, as well as about new colleagues and neighbors.

I’m also thrilled to have selectively spent time unpacking and setting up my new writing studio. While the other unpacking can wait, I’m re-establishing my writing practice after moving-related (and anticipated and planned for) gaps in my regular writing process.

I’m finding new “pre-writing” contemplation walking trails and paths.

I’m forgoing new place-based writing rituals and routines

I’m settling in at work, home, and play…and focused on possibilities.

Even as I walk by unpacked and/or tucked away boxes, I’m thrilled to be unpacking new thoughts and plans for opportunities in writing, leading, contributing in new spaces and places.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM…even when I should be unpacking!!

Welcome back, Beronda

I’ve resumed traveling in fits and starts…but am consistently masked and following what I hope are strict safety protocols as the pandemic continues on.

In March, I returned to the last site outside of the U.S. that I had visited before the pandemic grounded me two years earlier.

I visited Puerto Rico to do some mentoring interventions, the same work that took me there in March 2020. Two years earlier I sat in the liminal space of trying to figure out how to live on the planet without the physical presence of my Dad who had passed away in October of 2019.

In March of 2020, I sat in San Juan staring at palm trees and the ocean trying to redefine what it meant to a “dad’s girl” without him.

Balcony overlooking area with palm trees and clouds at dusk overhead. Location: San Juan, PR. (March 2022, Photo credit: Beronda L. Montgomery)

The pandemic ultimately forced me to traverse this space of redefinition sitting in physical isolation with myself while staying safe at home throughout many months of the early pandemic. Fortunately, I had virtual connections with friends and family, as well as an expanded set of personal interactions due to the final editing and launch of Lessons from Plants (Harvard University Press, 2021).

Out of an abundance of caution, I was slow to resume travels and in-person engagements, but ultimately vaxxed and boosted I slowly began to emerge and reengage.

I wrote throughout the period of isolation. I first used this blogging space to reflect on “meaning” of work in a pandemic, the role of leadership and trust in uncertain times, to process changes in my writing in isolation, and more. I also publicly grappled with national issues such as racism and elections through writing here.

As I braved coming out of isolation, I continued to write frequently although not in blog posts. As the pandemic raged on and my first book came out, I spent less time here writing based on my personal reflections and to engage shared community. I instead wrote many short pieces for magazines and public venues inspired by Lessons from Plants. I wrote on lessons from trees on seasonal adaptations and healing. I explored lessons from plants on community and mentoring.

I returned to the blog from time to time to share insights on big events, including a pending career transition.

Being back in Puerto Rico in March of 2022, I was again in a liminal space of emerging from the pandemic—or so I thought. I sat again contemplating how to be on the planet differently. Because though there was a rush to get “back to normal” among many, I knew I had to emerge from the pandemic understanding how to be together again differently.

As I began to reengage more fully in the “in-person” world, I would experience individuals citing work of mine and reflecting back to me words that they had engaged in this blog space—working “from affirmation“, stopping in moments to “process and proceed“, and “the limits of institutional imagination.”

During the Q&A after a recent talk, an assistant professor in their first few years on the tenure-track came to the microphone. While anticipating a question, I was instead given a most gracious thank you for the writing that I have shared through blog posts. They shared that specific posts had been critical to their persistence and advancement. That the writing I share here had been—and is—needed for them. I was nearly speechless—a rare occurrence indeed!

I thanked them for sharing and acknowledged the and is needed. I indicated that I received this as invitation to return to this space. I know the invitation is first for me, because most all of the writing I’ve done here starts as an answer to my own need for self-reflection and growth. I then lean into the concept of public sharing as rec0gnizing “knowledge as communal” which stems from my own upbringing and familial beliefs.

So, here I am to say—Welcome back, Beronda.

While, I’m not sure what fully lies ahead for my writing in this space, I’ve accepted the invitation back (thanks again to the brave soul who shared the importance of the space to them and their work). I am now eagerly looking to the horizon for new insights, new reflections, new inspirations…for me, and hopefully for those still here with me.

Oceanside looking towards the horizon with waves crashing on large rocks in the forefront. Location: San Juan, PR.
(March 2022, Photo credit: Beronda L. Montgomery)

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, you can find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

End note: I wrote and edited this post for sharing prior to the deeply tragic shooting of elementary students in Uvalde, TX. Before what was indeed a tragic week of shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, NY and a church in Laguna Woods, CA before Uvalde. I have few words of consequence to share in this heavy moment. I debated whether I should even still share this post. The content of the post does not reflect my current conflicted state but is here for you now, if helpful, or in the future when you are ready to engage.