Sunday, April 08, 2007

These Are the Times

These are the times that try men’s souls.”
—Thomas Paine

This past school year has been a crucible for me, one that has tested me and pushed me to the utter limits of what I though I could handle in my personal life. It has most definitely been a time that has tried my soul. Academically, things have been fine, it is in the “family front” that I have be challenged. Daily, I have had to reconfirm my commitment to my education and to the process of becoming a Ph.D. Daily, I have had to take up the yoke that has been laid upon my shoulders and push forward, believing, hoping, and trusting that I am doing what it right and what is good for my family.

“ What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods.”

Heaven certainly knows how to price its goods. Fortunately, for those willing to pay the price, the dividends and return on investment are worth far more than one could have imagined. What holds value to me—what is dearest to me? Most certainly my husband and my children—of that there is no question. Certainly the innumerable freedoms I enjoy, purchased by the daily breath of men like my husband. But what about the things that lie outside of those realms? What “proper price” have I had to pay?

My health—I paid the price of having any more children to restore my health. Consequently, I value the children I do have even more so, knowing they are the only ones I will ever have. I value the ability to move freely and without pain because I know the dear price I paid to obtain it. There are moments that I see a new mother with her tiny baby and question the price I have paid, but then I remember how limited I was by the chronic pain in my daily life and my ability to care for my family. Memories of this remind me the price paid for health was worth it.

I value education. The price I have paid for my education is a relationship with my siblings who will not interact with me because I am no longer “one of them.” The further I moved into my schooling, the further the moved away from me. In time, it has become a chasm of difference—I only wish I could convince them that they too can have everything I have, if they are just willing to do the work, pay the price that it takes. They don’t seem to make the connection that education is what has made the difference in my life; it is what has given me options for my future.

I value honesty, integrity, and love in both my personal life and my professional life. The price of honesty was paid for in the crucible of my early home life. Consequently, honesty is one of the things I value most in my colleagues. The price of integrity was exacted in my brief first marriage to a man who had anything but integrity. The price of love—I continue to pay this on a daily basis as a mother, a wife, a citizen of the community and of the world. Professionally, this value is shown by trying to continually show others love by being dependable, reliable, and doing my best work.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
What are my strengths personally, as a professional, and as an educator? Perhaps the most common thread through those three areas is a continual optimism in the face of insurmountable odds. This strength has supported me through excruciatingly difficult moments in my life and has lit the way in the darkest moments. My “find a way, make a way” attitude has led me to accomplish things that no one ever expected or that I even dreamed of.

Organization has always been a natural strength for me. I have a natural proclivity to look at a system, be it in manufacturing, education, or home management, and then quickly indentify processes and areas that would be improved through better organization. Many people jokingly think that I am a highly organized individual because I have some kind of disorder. They are mistaken! In fact, I am as organized as I am because I am lazy at heart. I work very hard at creating an ordered and organized environment because organization (having a “system” in place) means that I have more time to spend doing the things I would rather be doing!

A passion for the process of education and for gaining knowledge is a strength I hope follows me until the end of my life. I hope to be like Theodore Roosevelt who when he passed away, was found to have several books under his pillow. An avid reader across broad disciplines, his passion and thrill in discovering new things never left him. It is my hope that as I continue on my life’s path, my passion and excitement for reading new and interesting things never leaves me and that I can live true to my personal admonition to get all the knowledge I can while I can. This strength is definitely an asset as an educator as my students frequently “borrow” my passion and enthusiasm for the subject until they can discover their own.

The ability to interpret others quickly and accurately is a strength that helps me in both my personal and professional interactions. The skill was learned in my early years by being hyper-vigilant of the behaviors and moods of my parents—it was a matter of survival then and fortunately serves me well in adulthood. This natural ability to “read” others coupled with my organizational skills and the knowledge and wisdom gained in my schooling has provided me the opportunity to serve in various leadership positions.

“However, the fault, if it were one, was all our own; we have none to blame but ourselves. But no great deal is lost yet.”
It is said that our greatest weaknesses can become our greatest strengths and this is certainly true in my case. Most of my strengths have grown and continued to be strengthened by my weaknesses. My organizational skills are fed by my desire to be lazy. My leadership skills are fueled by the reactive process of being hyper-vigilant of other’s mood states. My unfailing optimism is driven by the need to prove that I am someone worthy to be loved. Professionally, my need to order and organize my environment could be perceived as being controlling or meddling in other’s affairs. My hyper-vigilance of other’s states leaves little room for self-disclosure. My optimism can leave me blinded to options that I might not have considered.

Fortunately, as Thomas Paine said over 220 years ago, “no great deal is lost yet.” As long as a person is continually striving to overcome their weaknesses, there is always hope. While I may have messed up in the past by acting imprudently or not quickly enough, there will be many opportunities for me to stretch and grow in the future. Hopefully, with careful consideration for the future I will never have to exclaim that a great deal has been lost.

“Wisdom is not the purchase of a day.”
As I sat down to write this paper and was contemplating a title, the words of the great patriot Thomas Paine immediately came to my mind. There have been many moments over the past eight months when I have seriously doubted my judgment in returning to school. There have been many conversations with my husband about the wisdom and sanity of our lengthy separation. For both of us though, we have concluded "If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace." We have decided that we will be the change that others are seeking. While his work is conducted at the end of a barrel, mine is conducted at the end of a pencil—we both seek to bring peace to our troubled world, affecting this change by different means.

The process of more closely examining my career path, my values, and my goals has provided me an excellent opportunity to assess my intentions for returning to school. It has also afforded me the opportunity to clarify exactly what it is that I am hoping to gain from the process and what I hope to be able to give back to the university and my field of study. These exercises have allowed me to conclude as Thomas Paine did when he exclaimed, “I thank God, that I fear not. I see no real cause for fear. I know [my] situation well, and can see the way...This is [my] situation, and who will may know it. By perseverance and fortitude [I] have the prospect of a glorious issue.”

Paine, T. (1776). The Crisis. Retrieved on April 9, 2007 from

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