by Fey Cole @ColeFey
Christmas is always a time that brings a lot of reflection for me. I’m not one for New Year’s Eve resolutions but I do like to take stock and consider what is on the horizon. As we go into 2020 that feels more important than ever.
2019 saw my confidence take a serious knock and made me realise how much a part of my identity my work is. As I progressed through this year I promised myself I would remain ‘me’ as I went. That’s all well and good until you take a knock back. I felt I’d exposed much of the real me in my work and that I maybe wasn’t good enough. Imposter syndrome was in full force.I came back to work in September with a mask on. People would not see my vulnerability. I’m tough as old boots, all singing and dancing. The evening of day one of the new term I got a text message from a colleague who I don’t work with very often, but who is incredibly intuitive. She had seen straight through the mask and sent the kindest message. I felt both naked and grateful all at once. Another colleague noticed it a month later, she was worried I’d lost my mojo and she got a mumbled ‘I’m ok don’t ask’ reply. Other than that, I was still working at full capacity, masked up and beaming confidence, only confiding in those closest to me. Then I’d get home. Lack of sleep and hours of tossing and turning came each evening. Looking after my mental health is vitally important to me. I know what happens when it’s not cared for. This Christmas Day marked 22 years since my father died from alcohol addiction. A successful, hard working, motivated and loving man who ruined the latter years of his life. I’ve worked bloody hard to ensure I’m strong both inside and out. Hence why I didn’t know what to do when I suddenly felt weak again inside. So I kept plodding forward. Continuing to be ‘me’ and pushing ahead with ideas for change, taking solace in my classroom. If I wasn’t on a new path in my career, I decided I would reflect on my teaching and consider where I could improve. I can safely say my teaching experience in this semester has been one of my favourites. I’ve put my values and principles at the forefront of everything I do and sought out people who will both challenge and support me in my practice. Twitter really has been a fantastic avenue for that. Over the last month I’ve had a number of people talk to me about the ‘ripples’ I’ve created. I didn’t really realise that was my objective but once it was said out loud by others, I realised that had been exactly what I was aiming for. I had succeeded more than I could have hoped for.
Change starts with one person and ripples out.
I’ve pushed some social action projects through, reviewed the power imbalance in the curriculum I teach, challenged perceptions and advocated for the students I work with, ensuring that they lead us and feel on an even keel. As I’ve done this, I’ve realised that the reason I felt weak was due to my perception of feeling powerless. It made me reflect on the wider picture of this and critically review how well I was doing to ensure that those in a minority were given real equality. My loss of power was nothing in comparison. This changed everything for me this year and I found myself surprised, but reassured, when others started to ask for my guidance on how to do better in this area.They had noticed my work and it was starting that ripple. I thought I’d been quiet. It turned out that hadn’t been the case.Change really can come from one person’s actions. Just look at the smile. If a person greets you with one we tend to mirror them and respond with warmth. In June I was told by a good friend (and someone I hold in very high regard in her career) that everything happens for a reason. Although this was advice I’ve readily given, I couldn’t see it in that moment. Now I realise that it removed any restrictions I had on continuing to be ‘me’ and allowed me the power to build on all of the #WomenEd core values in what I do.
After a seriously demanding, but productive day last month, I found an old diary from 22 years ago. I very rarely look back but in that moment felt it was important. ‘My God, you’ve done alright for yourself’ were my thoughts.
I had a choice then, go into a bit of self destruction or be a fighter. I chose the latter.
My fighter mentality has changed somewhat since then. I’ve channeled that energy into paying it forward and fighting with kindness. As 2020 unfolds I’ll continue to connect with others and challenge when I see power imbalance in play. I’ve started that ripple of widening our college community and that will be a priority for me to strengthen and build on that through collaboration and having confidence in my own ability.
I may not have got what I set out to achieve in 2019 but in the end I got so much more. I have a good life, three confident children and I received an invitation in December to be a guest lecturer in Hong Kong come early summer. The young girl's diary I read was one like many of the students I work with on a daily basis; vulnerable, scared and a bit lost in direction. In 2020 as I teach both at home and abroad, I’ll hope to role model to those young women (and young men) that change can come and they can achieve much more than they could dare to imagine. We very rarely know others' full story and that’s why it is so vitally important to champion everyone.
There is an amazing beauty within each of us, I am me and for that, I am proud.