I attended a wonderful symposium not that long ago, called ‘teaching while black’. This was an excellent opportunity for me, as an Aboriginal woman who studies, researches, and teaches in the area of Indigenous history/education/perspectives and policy, to connect with other higher education teachers in a similar position. Though I have only been working in higher education for two years, it was no surprise to me that during the Q&A an audience member asked the speakers ‘what sustains you?’
The reality of ongoing violence against us as the First Nations people of this land is exhausting, attempting to bring this reality to light in a way that not only allows students and colleagues to see it, understand it, and acknowledge it, is next level difficult. It means your days are often filled with micro aggressions, macro aggressions, and a hyper awareness of the ongoing verbal, physical, and systematic violence which your people are resisting against. It can be difficult to seek positive change, and see pathways forward, when the task at hand and the lives experience is at times overwhelming and brutal.
One of the speakers at the symposium highlighted the need for self care, in order to sustain yourself and your purpose within this environment. Self care is an interesting concept, but something I have found online to generally be paired with the sale of something (yoga class, PT, essential oils, take out food etc). So looking beyond the sales pitch, what is self care? And what does this mean in action, for me?
I’ve been considering this since the symposium. To care for yourself, you need to know who you are, deeply and intimately. Self discovery is an ongoing journey IMO. I learnt during the births of each of my children, that we are all very different in what comforts, and grows us. All the prenatal classes I had attended while pregnant were about the deep silence and quiet of birth, of going inward. So that’s what I initially was aiming for, when I first went into labour I initially tried to mimic in the birth environment what I had been sold in those classes and DVDs. BUT anyone who knows me personally will know how bizarre it was for me to be trying to be all zen and quiet – I’m just not a be-quiet-and-chill type of person. Silence and calm, quiet inward reflection in isolation doesn’t help me refresh and regenerate, I like to process information verbally, I am a pretty high energy person and I rarely sit still for long. And when it came to the marathon and journey of birthing babies I learnt that embracing my true self, and listening to my body meant not being isolated and quiet. That meant throwing out the hypnosis CD and instead playing hip hop LOUDLY, while connecting and talking with my amazing birth team. That’s what works for ME. I could never have learnt that from a standard DVD, the dvds and classes were merely tools which I had equipped myself with, and then in the end were not right for the task at hand.
But these things are not always apparent, we need to learn ourselves in order to care for ourselves. Then once we have an awareness of what works for us, it is important to seek out the appropriate support and resources, to ensure they are there beside us. Because wherever you are, there you will be.
Whether you’re in the board room, the kitchen, the birthing suite, or a classroom. Where you are, there you will be. I can sit still for meetings, but I’m not trying to relax in a workplace meeting. I can restrain my opinion when teaching, but I have ample opportunity for self expression. The outworking of our selves varies for different environments, but ultimately we are who we are
Visiting my old primary school recently, I was amazed at how little it has changed in the 19 years since I graduated year 6. But when I thought about it, much of who I was back then, in terms of what I got excited about, where my passion and goals were, is pretty similar to who I am now. I’ve been passionate about Indigenous education for as long as I can remember, joining ASSPA in year seven (the equivalent now is the Jnr AECG), and now as an adult I’m a member of the AECG. I’ve always enjoyed academic achievement, and have learned best when in positive relationship with my teachers
Relationship, respect, and reciprocity have always been central to my wellbeing and positive growth and learning. When I was creating the PhD scholarship thread blog a few months ago, I inadvertently came across a really great job opportunity. Though I wasn’t looking to leave my role with the wonderful team in the TTRC, this job appeared to be the exact role I anticipated would be created in maybe five years. It was my five year work goal, but created and advertised now.
I was excited but apprehensive. So I spoke with my employer, my PhD supervisor, my Grandfather, my partner, and a couple of senior academics who I trust. Everyone agreed it was an opportunity worth pursuing. I decided to apply, and then after sitting a panel interview and having met with the team at Macquarie University, I was very fortunate to be offered the role and invited to join them. I’m really excited to now be an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Human Sciences.
Suddenly moving to a new environment, leaving a space which was quietly familiar (I am UoN alumni so even the campus is familiar and comfortable to me) was a little bit anxiety inducing. But being willing to step in to uncomfortable positions is part of how I’ve managed to achieve what I have so far, remembering that is part of my self care.
A senior academic recalling an experience of her own, shared with myself and a group this week that when she moved universities someone said gently to her “this is your home now”. That is sitting with me at the moment. After my years as student and staff with UoN, my ‘home’ has shifted. My work is not just a job to me, it’s part of who I am, it means a lot to me. I’ve brought my plants in and begun to decorate my office. I’m getting excited about the programs I’m now involved in, and the people I have the privilege of learning with. It’s now been a few weeks, and I am starting to see the ways in which this place, this space, and this team will become home for me. And that’s important for my own self care. The reality of what I do, and what we resist against in a broader sense continues regardless of where I work, but I can actively seek and contribute to relationship, respect, and reciprocity. I don’t feel good at the idea of being a ‘lone wolf’ and each person you meet knows something you don’t, so getting to know each of the students and staff my path will cross with in this new direction, is an adventure I’m embracing. Changing higher education institutions doesn’t make me a new person, wherever I am, there I will be. But it does open up new opportunities for growth, without diminishing the connections I’ve already made.
Im writing from home today, and acknowledging the fortune and privilege which these new opportunities are is part of my self care. Remembering where I am, and who I am, as well as the purpose with which I travel is part of my own self care. Oils, and yummy food are wonderful, but for me it’s all about time outside and knowing I’m going in a good direction with the three Rs.
I hope that you are able to take care of you, and have similar joy and opportunity in your own careers and lives.