August 29, 2013
So tonight I got back from Canada. Which means that tonight officially ends the “oh my goodness, I can’t do this crazy thing called a doctoral degree because everyone will see through my facade and call me a fake” phase of my life and officially begins the “hi, I’m lisa and I’m working on my doctorate” era. One week ago, I met new folks, I made fast friends with them, I presented in an academic setting. The whole week (and especially the presentation) was way way more successful than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. Worthy of an identity shift, you might ask? Yes, indeed.
I want to write about it all because I want to capture this experience in something more concrete than my own leaky memory. This is a massive time in my life and I have a premonition that I’ll look back and my current reality will feel so foreign and so different because I’ll have actualized in ways that I never dreamed possible. And in that actualizing, I’ll forget where I came from and just how it all happened, and minimize the power of grace+transformation.
This writing is really just for me and my own mental catalog but as I’m seeing more and more, my story isn’t just about me and all I’m learning isn’t just for me to ingest. So, it’s my hope that if you’ve stumbled across this through some random search terms or have been following the crazy journey of a self labeled introverted-misfit named Lisa, you’ll be encouraged and dazzled a bit by how the impossible really can happen….and how people can grow into the strong and free creatures who everyone but themselves were able to see. I’m not “arrived” by any means, but I do know in a way that fills my core and radiates to every part of me, that it isn’t just romanticizing to say that I’m different than I was 2 weeks ago…something in me has shifted fundamentally and I will never be the same…and I am not afraid of the change. So here’s the story of the first week of orientation for Athabasca University, Cohort 6.
It all began on Sunday night at the first “official” social meeting. We as a cohort were to meet in a hotel conference room for an evening social. In attendance would also be some key profs and staff from Athabasca. I remember leaving the safe nest of my hotel room and walking down the hallway all alone in my lucky gold dress and thinking that I could turn around…I could go back to my room or out into the Edmonton night and no one would know…no one knew me or would miss me. I could go back to Chicago and tell a quaint story about how it didn’t work out and everyone would hug me and tell me better luck next time and I’d be comfortable in my shell of safety. Or…I could walk into the room like a courageous extrovert with my hand outstretched and my smile engaged and most of all, my heart open to what ever might be next. Needless to say, I did the latter (though not without some serious heart palpitations) and once I stepped over the threshold, I was committed. Going into the week, I thought that the hardest thing would be the presentation on Thursday. Oddly enough, now I think the hardest thing was the walk down to the social on Sunday because that act in and of itself meant that I was committed…it meant that I was “in” and I was known and others also began to trust me with small bits of themselves. Before the social event, I was totally anonymous, without responsibility and without a solid network. After the social, though the ties were slight at most, they were there nonetheless and I was no longer anonymous.
I know I may be making a bigger thing out of one night than it was, but I think in many ways it is the initial jump and risk and opening-like-a-flower before you know the outcome that may be the most courageous and underrated acts in which we engage. And I think it might very well be in these humble moments that our identities change and shift in ways we only comprehend when looking back with a long vantage point.
The night was a blur of handshakes and intros and explanations that yes indeed I had driven in from Chicago. With my parents. And my 6-lb yorkie.
Everyone sat together around tables and awkwardly ate little finger foods and drank wine or water (I instantly regretted not having Canadian money for the cash bar because I can’t remember the last time I did anything this socially risky without a healthy does of fermentation on my side.) I was the trivia leader for our table and my own voice rang out with a surprising amount of authority as I corralled my table mates and marshaled discussion. Who was this new Lisa? I’m still not totally sure, but I can say 100% that I really like her. And then things were wrapping up and I was having an actual conversation about food and travel with a cohort member and it wasn’t scary, rather it was exciting and fun and energizing. As I walked back to the room, I was flushed with excitement and pleasure and pride that I’d done the walk and said yes and opened myself up to not just the experience but the 11 other people I’d committed to for the journey. That night I shifted from isolation to connection as the cohort became a community and the connection was an embrace that melted the thick shell I’d been hiding under.