Because We Are There by Jessica Pettitt

ACPA’s Commission on Student Involvement recently hosted a webinar with me facilitating a conversation about Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Susan Jones’s blog post about the book, and the application to our professional work.

I was honored to bring these pieces together. I was excited to be able to watch Brene Brown’s closing keynote at ACPA’s 2014 Convention live streaming on my lap top before I headed out of town. To Dare Greatly is to not only do our work, but it is doing social justice work.

Brene Brown started her closing speech with the revelation that she is about to send her first child off to college. This feeling is made better, she said, because “we are there.” She was speaking to her people and also shared her fears of sending a child off into our hands. She trusts us to make this a good transition of her child. This rang so true for me as a social justice educator. Because we are there is reason enough to keep doing our work. No matter how imperfect, inadequate, or even foolish our work may feel.

In Daring Greatly, Brown brings together the concepts of authenticity and vulnerability and how we use control, shame, and guilt to hide. Because our authentic self can’t clock out, we bring our personal life to work and our work self home. The more we can brings these two together, the closer we will get to being out SELF. As we work on this balance, we can observe or notice our behavioral patterns. Once we know more about how we show up we can then and only then begin to dare greatly.

We discussed a correlation between our self-confidence and our ability to mentor or relate to our colleagues, students, and supervisors. To help notice your own patterns, reflect on the following questions:

  • When you or someone else is vulnerable?
  • How is this responded to by different players?
  • Does it vary? How?
  • Do you consistently show up in a manner that you value?

What about control? The element of surprise is critical to our lives and our work. No matter how prepared we are, surprise always makes room and it can be negative or positive. I find in my own work, my constant need to “out perform” others was the main factor in limiting my ability to build relationships. Often in social justice work, we are trying to achieve something and that achievement is perceived as a personal reflection rather than doing the work because it is right and using it as an opportunity for self-reflection. One participant tweeted out, “Git ‘er” done became more important than who I am.

Shame and Guilt come up a lot in Brown’s work and in our own. Shame is rooted in “Who I am.” And Guilt is about “ What I do.” When I took this and reflected on my own addiction issues, I found that if I feel guilty about something I have done (or not done), it is significantly more likely that I can change that behavior. However, when a behavior (or lack there of) is fueled by my own shame issues, I tend to turn back to the pattern in question, the habit, the addiction, instead of making a change. This has been a HUGE turning point in my recovery, but also has re-energized my own commitment to social justice work. This is really about daring greatly.

It will take support and tools to keep this kind of vulnerability a common element in our authentic self-reflection. Lists, Google Alerts, reward systems, are all good, but Brown tells a story in the book that is the best tool we having going for us and it is FREE! She talks about trying to consistently “light up with joy” when her own children walk in the room. Instead of noticing wrinkles, stains, problems, and the like, she intentionally brings joy to as many interactions as possible. What if we do this with our students, one on one meetings, phone conversations, and the like. What if we intentionally focus first on “lighting up with joy” with the very people, topics, or situations that seem to suck the joy out of our life. We can bring the joy there first. We, social justice educators, must own our own stuff – when we do this we have ownership over the joy or lack there of we bring to a relationship. The challenge is to dare greatly and uncover the triggers and baggage that make this challenging at times.

Like Brown said in her speech, “There is nothing comfortable about courage.” Our controlling need to armor up at all times prevents us from being able to fully participate and experience joy itself. To be brave is to truly live – right now – uncomfortably without control of the results and individuals variables. As she said, “You do vulnerability or vulnerability does you.” Her Vulnerability excuses:

  • Vulnerability is a sign of weakness
  • I can opt out
  • Let is all hangout
  • Go at it alone

If we focus on contribution and developing a sense of belonging for ourselves and others then we can quiet the need for the critics and those that “fit” or “don’t fit.” Her parting questions for the ACPA audience were:

  • What’s worth doing even if you fail?

And the scariest question for us all to ask ourselves:

  • What if I would have shown up.

It is because you show up to work everyday that she is comforted to watch her child go off to college. It is because you show up to work everyday that I, at times, feel pressured to show up too. Hopefully, it is because I show up, because I am there, that we collectively know we are in the arena together.

Jessica Pettitt is the “diversity educator” your family warned you about. Through teaching, writing, and facilitating tough conversations, she has figured out how to BE the change she wants to BE. Now it is your turn! As she travels around the country, you can catch up with Jessica on:


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