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.

The power of reflection…and “what” returns

My throat went on vacation…and brought me along for the ride…well that’s my description for the laryngitis I’ve been experiencing.

This state of existence has led me to expand my periods of silence—to give regular periods of rest to my vocal chords over the past days. While these rest periods could have just been stretches of mindless silence, I’ve taken these as periods for intentional reflection.

I’m big on self-reflection. It’s been critical for my personal and professional growth. Prior to the current coronavirus-associated pandemic & a disruption to my travel, I had regular retreats that included reflection time as a core tenet—or in some cases the entire agenda.

These times of intense self-reflection allow me to pause and ask myself—How are you? How did you arrive at this place and time (literally and figuratively)? What will you leave behind when you move forward and what will you purposefully take with you? All critically important interrogations for myself, the last question in particular is about what returns from the period of reflection when I emerge to move forward.

The impact of stopping to reflect—a critically important practice that we too often fail to engage as we exist in cycles of endless busyness—is amplified by the ACTION of intentionally shedding some things that are not serving me well to increase time, as well as mental and physical capacity, to move forward with other things.

While my current ability to sit in silence and spend some intense time in reflection has arisen due to a physical challenge rather than a planned pause, I fully embrace the opportunity. It reminds of the need to plan for such periods with intention and anticipation rather than waiting on a “forced” period of pause. The importance of anticipating change and preparing for it is a lesson that I usually draw from plants in the season of autumn that is rapidly coming to a close. A period when deciduous trees degrade their green chlorophyll and drop their leaves in an active period of preparation for rest during winter.

Many of us resist planning for and fully embracing intentional quiet, pause, engaged reflection. As I have stated before, it “goes against all the incessant action that too many of us value – i.e., the illusion of busyness as evidence of commitment and productivity.”

Yet, I recognize that to embrace the ability to reflect and ask “where am I now and how and with what (and sometimes the pertinent question is with whom?) do I move forward?” is needed for sustained commitment, impact and productivity.

So while I didn’t (this time) plan for the current periods of reflection and invitation to deeper self-awareness, I welcome them…and I will certainly move forward with purposeful commitment to plan for the next period to understand, engage and support myself—so that I can also understand, engage and support others.

If you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM

The “radical” thing I did in higher education

I cultivate and guard my affirmation as radical self-care.

One of the most radical things I have done as a Black woman in higher education from the time I was a graduate student and with increasing, steadfast commitment as a faculty member is to show up affirmed and function from this space of affirmation.

I cultivate and guard my affirmation as radical self-care.

I’ve written before about the importance of showing up to my work in academia from a place of affirmation rather than in a search for affirmation. This is indeed one of the “secrets” to my success.

So why is this radical in the context of higher education? Because one part of the unspoken curriculum of higher education is the way in which the academy wields an individual’s need for “affirmation” as a powerful tool for compliance, conformity, and acculturation. The latter is particularly true as it relates to individuals from marginalized and minoritized groups.

So what’s the violence of demanding acculturation? Isn’t learning the culture and “fitting in” a good thing, you may ask? Well no, not by default, especially when “fitting in” is a required process of shedding parts of yourself to take on characteristics deemed “professional” and “civil”. Indeed many of these “demanded” characteristics have little to do with the “contracted” work, but are wielded as appropriate evidence that one “belongs” or “fits in”⁠—or at least is committed to doing so.

As Dr. Django Paris describes, the engagement of formal ‘diversity and inclusion’ initiatives “has always been understood in a one-way assimilate or fail model filtered through the White gaze” (Paris, 2019, p. 219).

Very early on, I recognized that many colleagues, supervisors, and leaders were attempting to offer me “affirmation” as currency. That is, offering me “affirmation” if⁠—and only if⁠—I were to “perform” success through recognized words, paths, production modes, and full-sale buy-in to their conceptualizations of how success and collegiality looked, felt, and presented as to the “majority” in the academy.

I learned that I couldn’t show up needing their affirmation, because the cost of gaining it⁠—and especially realizing that the extension is generally a “short-term loan” and new requests for compliance to “retain” it were just around the corner⁠—is higher than any cost I ever intend to pay. I’m just not built that way.

As I’ve explained before in “How I Work and Thrive in Academia – From Affirmation, Not for Affirmation”, the academy tries to “train” all of us to depend upon, crave, and require their affirmation as one of the key gates along the entryway to and progress along the path of success. Admittedly the course or curriculum has more “lessons” for those of us from marginalized and minoritized communities.

Quote from Montgomery, B.L. 2019. How I Work and Thrive in Academia.

So the most radical thing I’ve ever done in the academy is to completely and irrevocably hold on to my power of defining who holds sway to affirm me, and more importantly who does not.

This is not to say that a need for affirmation is not a core human need; yet, it’s a danger to walk through the world or the halls of the academy in desperate need for it. There are those⁠—including in leadership positions and other positions of power or influence⁠—who are like a lion on a hunt for prey in the ways that they stand ready to offer affirmation to fulfill your need for it that requires you to cosign your own undervaluing, if not your oppression.

This stance I’ve taken is radical because those who understand what has been taken from them will often feel unmoored. They will feel unsettled⁠—if not completely disarmed⁠—when they must engage with you not through offering you the reward of their “affirmation” but through authentically recognizing your already affirmed self and a need to reward your intellect and contributions, rather than demanding your gratitude for the promise of temporary affirmation.

So I’m perceived as radical because my “affirmation bank” is ever full, and I require deposits into my banks of authentic “respect” and genuine “scholarly recognition”, which too frequently run at a deficit in the academy.

References:

Montgomery, BL (2019). How I Work and Thrive in Academia – From Affirmation, Not for Affirmation. Being Lazy and Slowing Down, https://lazyslowdown.com/how-i-work-and-thrive-in-academia-from-affirmation-not-for-affirmation/

Paris, D. (2019). Naming beyond the white settler colonial gaze in educational research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(3), 217-224.

If you have comments on this post, as always find me on Twitter—@BerondaM.