Sunday, April 10, 2016

Self Defining Moment

How do you define yourself? Are you a title? A talent? A skill set? Material possessions? Are you self defining, defined by others or a combination of the two? The ways in which we define ourselves has been marinating in my mind recently. I’ve been wondering what happens when we fall outside of the ways in which we are defined.

I recently finished listening to the audio book, The Year of Yes –How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. It’s the story of how an introverted television writer thrust into the limelight decides to say yes to the things that scare her. It’s a good read. In the book, Rhimes references the Wonder Woman pose. I was a fan of Linda Carter as Wonder Woman because she looked like me. She was curvy and had bigger than average breasts. I tuned in every week to watch her work her magic and fight crime. So, I wanted to learn more about this Wonder Woman Pose.

I looked up the Wonder Woman Pose and discovered that in the world of body language, this is a power pose. This led me to a Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Cuddy says that our non verbal cues determine how we think and feel about ourselves. Cuddy says that she identified as smart. As a child she was labeled gifted. Because she was smart, Cuddy set her sights on attending Ivy League University. 

 At 19, Cuddy was in an accident in which she was thrown from a car and experienced severe head trauma. She had to withdraw from school, and was told that she would never finish college. She was devastated. She said that her core identity—being smart had been taken from her. And she had to work really hard to reclaim that part of herself. Though she went to Princeton, she felt like she was an imposter, and that she didn’t belong there. It was not until Cuddy was working at Harvard that she met a student whose thoughts mirrored her own—the student felt like she was an imposter and was not supposed to be at Harvard. It was in that moment that Cuddy, realized that she had not felt that way in a long time. She didn’t fake it until she made it; she faked it until she became it. And that was the advice that Cuddy gave to her student.

I found this talk so relatable in general, but particularly at this phase of my life. I have been an educator for more than 20 years.  I am considered a good teacher. My evaluations have supported this. But being a super teacher is becoming harder. There are pockets of kryptonite everywhere it seems. In the country. In the district. In my school.  Within myself.  This year has been particularly challenging, and I have felt off kilter more days than I’d like to admit. Every teacher has a year(s) that they wish they could erase or do over. This is one of mine. 
So, this year for the first time in a 20+ career as an educator, my evaluation was average—subpar for me, and even though I know that I have not been my best, it was initially hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of being average.  Unlikely, Cuddy, I didn’t have a devastating injury that took away a big piece of my identity, but my identity s as a teacher was injured and it showed. I was rattled; anxious; withdrawn. My body language registered defeat before the evaluator even walked in the classroom.  I didn’t know how to recover at first. I was standing on the edge ready to jump. But I stepped back away from the edge. I looked at how far I had come, and I remembered how many lives I have touched.  

Being a teacher is a huge part of my identity. I recognize that I am a teacher even when I’m not in the classroom. People seek my advice and respect my counsel. It has not been a stellar year of teaching, but it has been a year of learning. And I am a better teacher for having gone through this year.  I am better than average; I’m a damned good teacher! And I’ve got my super hero cape standing in a power pose to prove it.
Have you had a self defining moment? Tell me about it in the comment   section.


  1. Excellent article *in my power stance*!!!

    1. Thank you for reading. Did you watch the video on Power Posing? The link is in the story, and Power Posing was featured in Essence.

  2. I appreciate your honesty. That was a great article! Thank you.