What if You Came from a Place of Vulnerability?

For a long time, my scholarly mind has been focused on being knowledgeable and achieving excellence in my field and profession (see last week’s post on values). My goal was to be the go-to, recognized expert for something – ultimately, that became Scrum in student collaboration and faculty development. Publishing Agile Faculty was the cherry on top of that quest; I never imagined I’d write a book in the first place.

After that, I felt like I needed to be an expert in everything I was working on, especially with design thinking, innovative program design, and an edited collection on innovative programs in liberal education that came out of that work my co-editors and I had under contract. It took me almost 10 years of research, teaching, facilitating, and observing to write Agile Faculty, so pushing myself to be the best in these new areas was actually really stressful and brought my productivity to a grinding halt for a while.

For example, I knew I needed to write the introductory chapter for our edited collection, but I put it off for months. I’d tell myself or my co-editors I wanted to wait until I saw author drafts, or I needed to do more reading, or I just had to interview some leaders in higher education who were far more informed than I was on the topic.

This was happening in a few of my projects, including a book proposal I’ll talk about soon, Because I’m trying to be more verbal about my struggles like this, I was open to talking about it with my coach, Katie Linder, and others. But Katie said a sentence to be that honestly fundamentally changed the way I was thinking about the work. She said

“What if you could come from a place of vulnerability instead of strength?”

Vulnerability isn’t a word I like, but I’d been on a path to understand myself better for the last year which included reading more Brene Brown vulnerability and shame research than I care to admit. It took me a while to process what Katie meant, but once I realized I didn’t have to be the end-all know-all of liberal education to write the book introduction, it suddenly made much more sense. I wasn’t trying to prove to my audience that I was an expert – I was trying to show that we three co-editors are normal faculty interested in exploring this topic with others. We didn’t have all the answers when we started, and what we put together is a set of interesting case studies from like-minded academics.

Once that switch clicked, I was able to write the intro to the edited collection very quickly by simply writing to my peers. So in this case, trying to be the strong expert was getting in the way of thinking about myself and connecting with my audience. When I cast myself as their peer, the chapter and the book made total sense.

What are your thoughts on the ideas of strength and vulnerability in faculty work?

Published by

RPR

I am a faculty teaching and learning specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning at Georgia Tech and have 17 years of experience teaching professional writing and rhetoric to undergraduates. From a faculty development lens, I care about helping faculty create vital careers through meaningful productivity, powerful teaching, and life-long curiosity. My book, Agile Faculty: Practical Strategies for Managing Research, Service, and Teaching (2017), is available from the University of Chicago Press, and my co-edited collection, Redesigning Liberal Education, will be available from Johns Hopkins University Press July 2020. @RPR_Agile on Twitter

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