Well, I think we can all agree that the past year has changed a lot of things. From relationships, to jobs, to sanity and everything in between. Amidst the quarantining, I somehow managed to adapt to full-time online teaching, reschedule a wedding twice, start a small online training business, move between 4 different homes, finally close escrow on a new home, and support a husband entering into the police academy. But perhaps the hardest part of the past 12 months has been losing my grandpa who fought against Covid for 18 days in the hospital.
It is still numbing to think about how this virus seemingly came a long out of nowhere and managed to cause so much global and personal turmoil. It almost feels as if we are living in a science fiction book of some kind – just waiting for the next chapter to be read. Except, now I feel like a warrior entering into whatever the rest of the book brings.
Because with the sadness and confusion Covid brought, it also prompted some new strengths and resolutions in my own heart. I thought it would be nice to share about 3 of these new strengths as I set out to post more regularly on this wonderful website of mine; both about science and animal related projects as well as my own journey. So here it goes….
At the onset of Covid, my job as a professor took on a whole new workload and level of stress. One that stemmed from taking on additional courses that I had never taught – all while trying to finish curriculum creation for the coming semester – coupled with the transition to a completely online learning environment. Basically, it felt like being asked to teach Spanish when I had barely yet figured out how to speak English – all while juggling three bowling balls over your head in front of a crowd who are all waiting for you to tell them what to do. (If that feels like a run on sentence to you – imagine how my thoughts have felt!)
I remember one day just completely breaking. (And dropping all the imaginary bowling balls on my toes.) I felt totally inadequate and frustrated that subjects I once felt so passionate about now felt like high pressure obligations with expectations attached to them that I knew I never could reach. And if you know me, you know I don’t like to let anyone down – including myself. I have been really good at maintaining the I can do it attitude my whole life. But for the first time I faced the simple truth that I just couldn’t – and not only that, but I didn’t want to anymore. And I knew if I continued in such a state, I risked punching through the walls of whatever house I was living in at the time.
Desperate, I scheduled a zoom with one of my favorite mentors and professors that I had at Chapman. I don’t like to cry in front of people, but just seeing his face and hearing some words of affirmation were enough to crack the Brittnei dam. Thankfully, I didn’t have to explain too much of what I was going through because he too was navigating the same new pressures. However, the advice that he gave me is some of the most valuable and different that I have ever been told:
Amidst tears he said to me, “Brittnei, sometimes you just have to be okay with giving your 70%. Because although it seems foreign to you – your 70% is many others 100%”.
This simple statement at first frustrated me. Give my 70%?! Since when was this an option?! But the more that I thought about it (and the fact that this advice came from someone who I greatly respect) the more I found my mind considering a new cushion of rhetoric peace. I had to decide: Did I want to regain my enjoyment in my new job as a professor, or did I want to allow my pride to erode my being into tiny pieces until there was no professor left to teach.
And then I realized something else simple yet profound. Or rather, accepted that I AM HUMAN. I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I can only do the best I can with the abilities I have. And this knowledge, I believe, is where true strength and progress can begin – as well as the opportunity to remain an effective teacher.
Because working in education and loving the sciences has had a way of revealing to me the infinite possibilities and resources that exist within the world around us. But that does not mean that I have the ability to infinitely give. I am not the world and I am not a master of everything. This realization has further affirmed my belief that each of us are designed with unique strengths that fit a purpose – not that fit every purpose. When we can focus on these – we then can become unstoppable.
Since this learning experience, I have been able to more effectively strategize my time and also prioritize what is worth giving my 70% or 100% to in life. And sometimes, when you’re able to think creatively and remain adaptable within challenging circumstances – you find new ways of giving your 100% through different methods. That 100% may not look like last years, but it doesn’t make it any less valuable than what it now is. Because if we never adapt, we never grow. And if we never grow, we risk extinction.
I am grateful that I am now able to recognize the wisdom necessary in choosing to give your 70% when you must, so that you don’t end up losing 100% of who you are becoming.
I also realized that I just needed to be affirmed and encouraged by someone who I look up to. So, never underestimate the power your words can have to lift a friend, a student, a professor, a colleague, or yourself out of a tough situation.
Taking time off and to yourself is actually life giving. 2020 taught me to become more deliberate and intentional about taking care of myself, noticing how I am feeling, giving myself grace, and taking necessary steps to heal and set boundaries. Just as sometimes we can’t give our 100%, we aren’t always able to feel 100%. I didn’t realize there were a few areas of my life (or feelings I had been having) that I was sweeping under the rug in an effort to “just keep going”. But what I also didn’t realize were that these very areas were also like little holes in my gas tank. As much progress as I would make – sometimes it felt like I wasn’t gaining as much ground as I could. (Or I would spew out toxic fumes of anger in moments of misunderstood frustration.)
Again, I realized – I AM HUMAN. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize some of the past hurt and “little/big traumas” as my therapist calls them for what they were; little life sucking leaches poisoning me with unbelief in myself and painting others in colors they never asked for.
When I first started therapy and realized many of these things – it felt heavy. I felt like I had robbed myself of meaningful opportunities for life and growth in my 20’s based on my personal inability to understand my own thinking.
But I have since found peace that this is simply my life story and as my husband reminds me, “Now I can take what I have learned and make the most of who I am in the years ahead”.
I have realized that making peace with who you are, where you are at, and remembering we are all loved by a God for who we are – not what we do – allows me to find a whole lot more joy in each day. I still struggle with recognizing this gut reactions to try and “prove” something to myself or to someone. But I am working through these feelings and learning to direct them into intentional and meaningful action. Ones that aren’t self sabotaging, that me happy, and that I am fully aware of choosing.
If you have something you want to do – just start doing it. My grandpa’s passing reminded me that no matter how much we try to succeed and advance in life, we all end up in the same grave. As morbid as that may sound, it somehow made me want to just start doing more of what I love. Part of the frustration I have been struggling with stems from not holding myself accountable and taking even little steps towards bigger projects. And that is my own fault – not any fault of my circumstances. I have realized it’s time to stop the pity part, focus on myself, have some focused fun, and see where it takes me.
However, what I have also struggled with is that sometimes what we love isn’t necessarily what we are able to devote all of our time to. We aren’t always able to give 100% of ourselves to pursuing what brings us that indescribable joy. But, in accordance to Strengths 1 and 2, I am also learning there is a way to integrate that “indescribable love” into jobs or obligations that might not be our first choice. How? By simply being yourself, leading with your strengths, believing in what you bring to the table, and knowing there is more to come.
Because when we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves – ones that we are supposed to be somewhere else doing something “big” – we simultaneously rob ourselves of where we are at and what we are capable of right now. And perhaps, where we are at has exactly the ingredients to take us to where we dream of one day being. (But you can’t make the cake if you don’t see how integral each of the ingredients are to the overall recipe.)
Also, don’t try to just quickly blend all the ingredients together for the sake of making a cake. Pause long enough to think about what kind of cake you want to create. What does it look like? What flavor is it? Does it have nuts? What temperature do you need to cook it at? What platter do you want to serve it on? All important questions that we should be asking ourselves within each opportunity that we have in life.
Because meaningfulness can be found when we apply our own strengths, interests, and creativity to even the most seemingly mundane jobs. I believe this is how we find our best selves, how we inspire others, and how we bring who we are – not just who we want to be – into the now.
Overall, I think this past year has allowed me to let go of a lot of chains that use to hold me back, as well as to pick up some new and improved strengths that affirm where I am going. I have decided to just start doing more things that I love when I feel like doing them. Without thinking so much about how it might or might not turn out. And in doing so, I have already found new strengths, opportunities, and self-belief.
There is freedom and direction in accepting your humanness, recognizing your feelings, leading with your strengths in all areas of your life, and in choosing meaningful actions that bring you growth.
And above all else, I know that my grandpa would tell me that to do anything else – or to be anyone else but ourselves – would be a complete waste of our time. That it’s time to saddle up and get it done.
So, stay tuned – because I will be sharing and updating a whole lot more about myself, about others doing amazing thing for this planet, and about my continued endeavor to help others know why they should care.
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