Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Too Radical for Trust? Too Peripheral for Power?

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Remember that you are a work in progress. You are not perfect. You are not expected to be. Do not allow the fear of falling to stop you from jumping. Do not allow the fear of responsibility to stop you from committing. Do not allow the fear of exposure to stop you from shining.

– Najwa Zebian in Mind Platters (emphasis mine)

I’m at a crossroads. And as often happens to me, when I’m at a time in my life where I need to reflect deeply and make decisions… I see signs in different places. I have Najwa Zebian’s book, Mind Platters, but I haven’t finished it (possibly a good Ramadan read besides Quran). But I actually saw that quote on her Instagram account. I actually got (back) on Instagram FOR her, to follow her there. (I still don’t “get” Instagram fully. I keep wanting to ask “how do you retweet something but I know it’s the wrong question to ask).

But anyway. Back to this quote. What does it say to me, I’m wondering. I’m particularly struck by the parts I put in bold. Do not let the fear of falling stop you from jumping.

I’m at a crossroads where I need to decide where to go next and I have realized that I was thinking about my future in terms of what others would lay out for me, rather than what I could potentially lay out for myself. Thinking now this…

That what I wanted was not so much a promotion as much as recognition. And I realized that while I am *appreciated*, very much, I do not feel sufficiently recognized internally as I am externally… And that should be ok. I think many of us who are radical and peripheral suffer from this. Being visionary and having valuable ideas and thoughts and practices is rarely something institutions of higher ed can value in the moment, but possibly in hindsight. Also, that thinking takes loads of persistence AND SPINE to stay the course and use our energy and our everything if needed to actually cause change on the ground rather than in the cloud.

I think what’s affecting me most is that, within my own place, where I’ve been radical for years, proving myself in retrospect for years, delivering a lot (though imperfectly on everything), what I am missing most is trust. I feel that I’ve been too radical to trust, too dissenting for mainstream. I don’t ever wish to be mainstream. But I do feel like by now I should have earned trust. I have a track record that should mean something. Even with my imperfections.

There are several things I never want to give up that I see (some) people in administrative positions give up. I hope I never give up my ideals even if I know they aren’t in line with power. I hope I never stop thinking of people who work with me as individuals and whole people, that I never think of them as positions on an organizational chart. I hope I never have to stop myself from critiquing something that is clearly unjust or wrong. And I truly hope I never have to work with people I don’t love, doing work I don’t love.

So I’m thinking this. If there is no opportunity for me to get everything I want… What are my priorities? Can I jump as high as I want in an area that’s wide open with no prospects? Because the other alternative is to bang my head against the wall, and that’s just… No fun at all. For anyone.

There are many different kinds of power and I’m not getting deep and philosophical about it, but just simply stating that there’s power that comes because someone gave you a position that comes with power. And there’s power that comes from within and shines despite your position and you can’t lose that, because it comes from inside you. Anyone can take away your position, but no one can take away the power that comes from inside you.

We don’t need someone else to give us power to make a difference. We just need to trust in our own power. We do not need someone else to trust our vision if we are resourceful enough to trust our own vision and see it through. I’d rather have vision than position, especially if the position would suppress my vision.

5 Comments

  1. A prophet is never valued in their own homeland… Don’t give up – and look for where you do have trust – where you know you make a difference.

  2. Don’t give up your position of leadership.
    Let others come towards your position.
    Certainly build alliances, be patient.
    More than anything be you.
    Trust in you and have faith.
    Noone else can play your role.

  3. Maha, I appreciate the conundrums you’ve spelled out here as many are familiar to me. This question you pose: “If there is no opportunity for me to get everything I want… What are my priorities? ” gets to the crux. I am reminded of choices I’ve made in light of my own institutional circumstances. Opting for external pursuits to affirm my strengths has proven a useful outlet as well as a means for attracting recognition w/in my school community. You post spurs me to revisit the wins & sacrifices of my approach so far.

    • This, I think, is what many of us who find our community/kindred on Twitter have in common… We’re seeking something we cannot find/reach in our institutions

  4. This was an interesting read, and something I can relate to. I am in in a similar position in that internally at the institution there are limitations. I feel appreciated by my co-workers, but I still feel limited. This is one reason I first joined MOOCs, and why I often lament the demise/hibernation of cMOOCs. Finding a network of like-minded individuals who will stretch your imagination, expand your learning, and provide you with opportunities to give back to the community that help you grow is hard when dealing with institutional realities. At the end of the day if it pays the bills, and it allows me the flexibility to find my fellow co-learners in lands far and wide, I am happy with work. (big asterisk: at least that’s my stance now, things change)

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