Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Emperor Wears Clothes

My first foray into the blogging world was in July 2014. Yes, I am a blogger newbie. What is most important about this is not how long I've blogging, but why I began blogging! My desire to share my thoughts and ideas about my life and profession came on the heels of my completion of the ASHA Leadership Development Program.

Truth be told, I didn't even read the email two years ago announcing the application period. My friend, Jen, sent me an email with a link and said, "Let's do this!" I thought, "Why not?" As deadlines loomed I grew anxious. I leaned in and got myself together completing the application and naturally believing I had a snowball's chance in hell. I texted Jen and asked her if she completed the application and she hadn't. Many thoughts whirled in my curly head, but the idea that I was in it and I was in it alone was paramount! Sometime in April, I think, I received an email that I had been accepted. I was shocked and thrilled. I was 51 years old and I had reached a sort of professional dormancy. At the time, little did I know that this experience would be the single most important thing I could I have done to jump start my career and my life.

I zipped out to California on Wednesday for a two-day whirlwind tour as I had to be back in New Hampshire for a wedding that Saturday. I took the red-eye home and was on an LDP high! I reclaimed who I was as a professional. I re-imagined what I could do. I finally found a place in my heart and mind that truly believed, "If I think it, I can do it." What was it that set this in motion? Well, I will say the facilitators were fabulous, inspiring, and smart, but the key for me was the other cohort participants. Our little team met every month virtually and connected and grew and commiserated. We wrought friendships and support. I love these women. I think of them often despite being spread all across the country.

As a result of my LDP experience I am compelled to continue striving for professional opportunities that allow me to step away from the stultifying effects of professional hypocrisy. This means I have reframed my mindset that I should know everything about everything. That I can do everything. How is that even possible? I unabashedly admit, "I have to research that" or happily reach out the the "gurus" in our field when I am stumped. It means divining the truth and recognizing there is a time for work and a time for me.

It also means that I had to take a look at my level of involvement in our state association. So many issues confound the ability of speech language pathologist to execute their jobs effectively. Every day I read about the mounting expectations foisted on those in our field. SLPs broadcast daily their struggles in seas of paperwork and incapacitating caseloads. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s letter written from the Birmingham jail where he wrote, "nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored." The time had arrived for a President-Elect in our state association. So I reached for the next goal and accepted that nomination. By now you may be wondering, "Where's the correlation with the Emperor 's New Clothes?" In Hans Christian Andersen's tale anyone who could not see the magnificent garments tailored for the king were either stupid or unfit for their positions. No one in the king's court, including the king himself would openly admit that. "There are none so blind as those who will not see." I am not one to ignore or deny what is real for me. I refuse to dive headlong into this new position feigning nonchalance and indifference.

I'm nervous. I'm nervous I don't deserve this role. I'm nervous I can't fulfill the obligations of the position. I fear leaving the organization in two years with it no better than when I joined. This is constructive anxiety, anxiety that will sharpen my resolve and drive me to not fall into lethargy and inactivity. It builds on the mantra that began in California, "Do one thing everyday that scares you." This quote from Eleanor Roosevelt has been the driving force behind my choices. It's the reason I decided to run another half marathon and to ride my bike up the Kancamagus Highway this summer. It's the reason I'm joining Crossfit and yes, it's the reason I accepted the nomination from people who believe in me.

I was chatting with my friend Heidi Kay, of PediaStaff fame and our conversation shifted from our love of Dr. Who, Star Trek, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jamberry nails to my anxiety about my new role with NHSLHA. Quick as can be she suggested I blog about it. She is the brains behind this post and no, there is no impostor syndrome for Annie. Thanks Heidi and thanks ASHA LDP!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

You Are Beautiful

Caution: this is in large part, a non speech-language pathology related post. My last post delineated who I want to be as an SLP. This morning I was reflecting more about who I want to be as a human. I once read a quote along these lines, "What if we wore our words? What would the cloaks we wrap ourselves in look like?" My cloak would be garish, unwieldy, and ugly. I've recently started listening to the way I talk about myself. Last post I wrote that I want to be an "affirmer" for my students, I want them to know I value their struggles and their efforts. Why is it so hard for me to do that for myself? When my friends say they want to hike or run with me I get intimidated and say, "No you don't, I'm slow." When told I'm beautiful, I think, "No, I'm not." Yesterday, someone told me I'm brilliant and I couldn't establish eye contact! She noticed and said, "You can look at me when I say that," but I couldn't. My words about myself are less than flattering and if I heard my children, a friend, a student, a colleague speak of themselves that way I would swiftly rebut their statement. When I look in a mirror and cringe spewing unkind descriptions, my beautiful daughter comes to my rescue. I DO NOT want her to have to do that!
I have a sign in my speech room that reads, "People by and large become what they think about themselves." I saw it in an office and after further research discovered it is attributed to a psychologist named William James. So when I refer to myself as fat, slow, old, inept, I reinforce it and become fat, slow, old, and inept. The Annie I talk about is not the Annie I choose to be. I say "choose" because I do have a choice. In order to be loved I must love and that includes loving the person God created in me.
While it can be a challenge to embrace myself, warts and all, if I do, I set an example for my children and my students to accept themselves. How much happier could I be, could we all be if we stopped battering ourselves with unkind words?
On a particularly self-deprecating day, I was leaving work and found a note with a Hershey kiss attached. It was from my young, wise speech assistant. She wrote, "You are beautiful. Just the way God made you." Oh sweet girl your words brought tears to my eyes and helped me realize how I portray myself to the world! Today is the day it stops! So, hello world, it's me beautiful, funny, brilliant, loving, buxom Annie! If you happen across this post I challenge you; say to yourself, your family, students, colleagues, everyone out loud, "I am beautiful! Just the way God made me!"

Friday, January 2, 2015

Bring it on 2015!

January 2, 2015 already! I recall being 15 and calculating how old I'd be in the year 2000 (39, and I thought that was ancient)! Time goes by so fast. Like most people, I've rung in many New Year's Days ticking off my resolutions and like many I've made it to December 31st not meeting them. As a result I decided to stop making resolutions! Instead, I aspire to goals. Naturally, I have a whole list of goals for 2015. 
I plan on tackling that stack of books that keeps increasing verticallyI plan on caring more for this body that keeps increasing horizontally. I plan on continuing to respond to life's stresses in healthy ways, despite what I am feeling inwardly (a.k.a. acting like an adult). To write more, to risk more, to do more. More, more, more! My goals also inspired me to take a closer look at what I want as an SLP. More specifically who I want to be. Who I want my administrators, colleagues, and students to see when they look at me.

I've worn the badge of an SLP for many years. This New Year's Day I reflected on the traits I believe are inherent to my occupation, my vocation, and any occupation for that matter. I narrowed my list of characteristics down to 10, although there are obviously, countless more. These qualities define who I hope I am. Yes, there are days I fall short, days I fail to listen or affirm. Days patience is fleeting. But, God willing, I will be given tomorrow and a new opportunity to do it better. I have a perfect and forgiving model and I can try again. In 2015 and always I strive to be:

An Innovator: As SLPs we are the MacGyvers of intervention techniques and tools. We see a game in a coffee carrier and a snowman in tap lights. Let's see what I can cook up with a stick of gum and some dental floss in 2015!

A Realist: We are a very compassionate and caring lot by nature, but being unrealistic about what I can do in therapy just sets me and my students up for failure. If after a long period of time one of my students isn't progressing, for whatever reason(s), I hope to remember to be realistic without guilt or feelings of failure. As a realist, I understand that not everyone will my accept my interpretations or my help. It is always their choice and doesn't reflect my skill, my knowledge, or me.

Safe Haven: School is hard. It is even harder for many of our students with speech-language difficulties. My speech room has been dubbed "The Vault." It is the place where it is safe to say anything. It is a place where academic pressure is greatly reduced, yet students are still challenged. It is a place where I can provide a safety net in a strategy or technique and all feel secure.

Dogged Diagnostician: I love testing! Well, not testing itself, but the interpretation. This is another place where our craft shines through. I love sorting through test results and digging in test manuals to flesh out an accurate picture of a student's speech-language skills. This is where we put the "pathologist" in "speech-language pathology."

An Acceptor: I mean, I want my and students and their families to know that I accept them for who they are, their foibles and shortcomings and their strengths, without judgment. I don't always like what I see and hear, yet it is not my job to judge.

A Role Model: I have an interesting history, better than some and worse than others. It is my story and it has uniquely prepared me for who I am today. I work and succeed each and every day and I want my students to know what they can achieve, to see what is possible, even when they think it is impossible.

An "Affirmer": I always try to remember to say, "I know this is hard" or "I know you get frustrated. Let's see how we can reframe this." I never want to take for granted how challenging what we ask children to do is and I value their efforts.

A Listener: I've experienced quite a bit in life, but my experiences don't qualify me to counsel. They do qualify me to listen, to affirm, to be understanding. Listening means just that, listening, without offering opinions, judgments, suggestions, or solutions. I don't always have to talk. I certainly appreciate a compassionate ear when troubled. That's a gift I can freely give to those who want it.

An Advocate: There have been and will always be times I need to advocate for a student. That can be an unnerving experience when my professional experience and opinion doesn't jive with that of my team. I will continue to be brave in the face of contentious situations or opposition and advocate for the communication needs of those I represent. It is the least I can do.

A "Laugher": Last, but certainly not least, I really don't want to take myself too seriously. The consummate SLP must have a sense of humor. I will always provide my students and colleagues with a place where silliness abounds.

Bring. It. On 2015! Show me what you've got! I am equipped with the traits for success and more importantly satisfaction and happiness! 

Do I dare try this?