The COVID-19 continues to demand that we change, and it can be unnerving at times. Can be? Strike that. It is definitely unnerving.
Are you familiar with the trending definition of disruptive? Something that’s disruptive forces an issue and demands change. It makes people shift their thinking to either reconsider the present reality or wake up to something new. No question, the COVID has become a disruptive force.
One of the uncomfortable ways the COVID is disrupting is by keeping us off balance. There’s beauty in that though because it’s making many people more sensitive to others.
Sensitivity to others? That’s a silver lining that can result in significant change, and it’s brought longstanding injustices front and center.
As an optimist who since childhood has cringed at injustice and tried to do my part to rectify it, I’m discovering that I wasn’t as 100% aware as I’d thought. I know I’m not alone and personally speaking, I’m hopeful the disruption has only just begun.
We are all – everyone, of any color – being given the opportunity to see that many of our beliefs are incomplete or just plain wrong, and as difficult as this can feel it can do us good on a very grand scale. Why? It can help heal our nation’s divisiveness, the “us against them” mentality that’s permeating our society, most evident in today’s politics.
As a nation, we’ve grown increasingly incapable of considering any side other than our own, and that has resulted in a lack of civil discourse and a righteous divisiveness. There’s a distinct rigidity, an inability to consider that “my” way might not always be the “right” way. Rigidity makes people unable to consider anyone other than themselves.
How can COVID possibly change that? It’s already started:
The Unnerving Disruption
We are no longer sure what the “new normal” might look like or even what it could conceivably be, and this can be unnerving and disrupting because at least some of our security has been built on our “normal”.
Again, what’s the silver lining here?
As securities begin to fray, we can start to see life a little differently. We can begin to consider others in a new light and take the time to consider how our actions – or lack of them – might be affecting other people. We can look at how things are and ask, “Why?”
We can think about some of our nation’s glaring, festering problems that we hadn’t quite brought into focus before, and if we’re smart we’ll begin to see how those problems affect us all, not just those who are so obviously impacted.
Equality and Justice … for All?
Do we choose whose lives matter? We do, by our actions or inaction.
Can we stand together against injustice to confirm that people who have been denied equality for centuries, who still struggle under inequality and institutional racism, matter? We’d better do that if we have any hope of healing the divisiveness and injustice so prevalent today.
There are glimmers of hope that we’re beginning to get the picture:
Let’s face it: African Americans have been stigmatized and oppressed in the U.S. since slavery. We can’t just wish that away.
How Can We Seize the Moment?
While many of us have suffered from our country’s injustice, others have simply been aware of it and known it was very, very wrong. Truth be told, it takes a groundswell of many to effect any significant national change.
It took the stark visibility of that injustice (and our heightened sensitivity as a nation, thanks to COVID) to magnify the racial injustice through the Black Lives Matter movement and provide a platform to bring us together.
Diverse people are beginning to find a voice. Former mayor of Minneapolis Betsy Hodges wrote a compelling and beautifully honest NY Times Opinion Piece about the White privilege that’s resulted in policies that maintain a status quo of inequity and result in police brutality.
A sustainable transformation of policing will require that white people of means disinvest in the comfort of our status quo.
It will require support of policy changes that cities led by white liberals are currently using the blunt instrument of policing to address. It will mean organizing for structural changes that wealthy and middle-class whites have long feared — like creating school systems that truly give all children a chance, providing health care for everyone that isn’t tied to employment, reconfiguring police unions and instituting public safety protocols that don’t simply prioritize protecting white property and lives.
Mayor Hodges’ post makes it evident that that our country needs fairer representation of all races in the policy-making sphere. It is also a wake-up call to White liberals, exposing hypocrisy that no one wants to see in themselves.
I think it’s fair to say that we all – no matter what color our skin – can grow with this.
Why Educational Equality Could Help Mitigate Racism
What can we do to make change real and lasting? Education is one obvious place we can begin to address the glaring and entrenched injustice against people of color. But let’s back up a bit first.
I don’t think it’s farfetched to take our conversation on education all the way back to slavery. It’s not a comfortable conversation to have, but slavery left our nation with festering wounds that won’t begin to heal until we address it to the very best of our ability.
This lithograph from History.com sums up the essence of slavery. Like I said, it’s a difficult conversation.
I won’t dwell on this, as I think we all need to consider slavery in our own, personal way. But when you consider the life experience of thousands of human beings forced into slavery for generations -- and their lives on through to Jim Crow and into today’s racism – you can see that we as a nation need to do something significant.
Have some strides been made? Of course. But are they enough? What do you think? If you agree that they are not, consider that education is an excellent place to start.
Are you Aware of the Inequalities of our Public Educational System?
Simply put, due to unequal funding the public schools with a high percentage of students of color typically have inferior facilities, equipment, and books.
This is obviously a complicated question with many dynamics, but let’s simplify this by saying that People of Color rarely receive the same educational opportunities as Caucasians.
If you believe in equal opportunity for all, this would be an excellent place to begin to implement change.
How Complicated Do We Need to Make This?
We’ve grappled with educational inequality as a nation for a very long time and have tried some controversial approaches. Busing was a largely failed experiment which resulted in marginal success with many students of color dropping out of school. Simply put, being bused across town for an hour (each way) proved not to be a fair or even practical solution.
The Essential Question of Fairness
One of the most admirable and beautiful qualities that many Americans share is a pervasive desire for fairness. We try for this with our laws, our courts, our political system, and our accepted rules of conduct. The extreme divisiveness of today is disagreeable to many of us, so perhaps it’s time to consider our issues from a common ground – in this case, the common ground of fairness.
Why? Because if you raise the question of fairness you do away with a lot of the dynamics involved in a complicated issue. You take it down to nubs and try to do what’s truly best for everyone.
Recently, my friend E. Darlene Rogers (Executive Director of the nonprofit STEM Educational Fund) offered a simple solution that doesn’t include busing or any other experiments that might put children at risk. She suggested distributing tax dollars equally between schools.
An Almost Revolutionary Solution
That’s such a simple solution that it sounds almost revolutionary, but I think America may have come far enough as a country to accept it on the common ground of fairness.
Darlene’s thinking was informed by her childhood experience during the busing era:
“I understand that the premise for busing was to ensure that kids were getting equal education and having the same opportunities,” she said, “but I attended a school where kids were being bused in from lower income, disadvantaged areas and that wasn’t fair to them.”
Fairness. Wait a minute. Busing isn’t fair to students? That’s so obvious and yet very rarely acknowledged. Can you imagine having to ride a bus across town to go to school in a radically different neighborhood than yours?
She went on to explain:
“Busing impacted their daily lives. They spent two hours on buses going to and from school, which meant they had less time to relax or play after homework. They were also no longer getting their schooling in their neighborhood and familiar surroundings. They were pretty much picked up and dropped into another environment.
On the other hand, I lived 15 minutes to home, so I had time to go home, do homework, and go outside to play. I didn’t commute for two hours a day to get an education.”
Darlene went on to say that public transportation costs the same across all neighborhoods, as do utilities and other public commodities. Public money is, she pointed out, public money. She also reminded me that tax rates don’t change according to your zip code. Why shouldn’t all schools receive the same funding and support?
Darlene had obviously done a lot of thinking about this, and her reasonable, fair solution got me thinking too. Couldn’t this simple solution make it possible for children everywhere, regardless of their challenges and circumstances, to receive a good education?
Fair’s fair, as we Americans like to say. Fair is simple. Fair is true. We’re not talking about an individual’s tax dollars anymore; we’re talking about kids who aren’t being treated fairly and we’re talking about public money. Public money belongs to all of us.
Many of those who have “hoarded privilege” will continue to resist change, so we all need to step up to this if it’s to happen. People of all races and backgrounds coming together can expose the truth, just as Gandhi and Dr. King’s movements did.
We can loudly assert that privilege – always taken at the expense of others – is not a God-given right and it is not fair. It’s time for America to live up to its motto “Freedom and Justice for All”, so let’s get to work.
We can assert that Black Lives Matter by invoking the truism that Fair is Fair. Then we can begin to move America towards a more equitable and sustainable way of life for everyone.
When you were little and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what did you answer?
Doctor, veterinarian, firefighter, teacher, athlete?
Those are among the handful of choices that children typically mention, a mere drop in the bucket of opportunities that actually await them.
Which raises a question: with thousands of career possibilities, why do you think you made the choice you did, and why was it pretty much the same as other children?
Did you guess it? Your choices were limited because you could only have chosen from professions you’d been exposed to; most likely your idea would have come from the people and professions you knew.
It’s interesting that your choice wouldn’t have been determined much by your generation. Fatherly conducted a survey of 1,000 kids and found that choices have pretty much remained the same for decades.
How can this be? I recently had a great conversation with E. Darlene Rogers (founder of STEM Educational Fund) and we agreed that your choice would typically depend on what you know – in other words, what kinds of jobs you’d learned about during your short life.
While there are likely some jobs you’d be aware of but wouldn’t choose – jobs involving stinky garbage in summer, for example – it really boils down to one point: you can’t consider doing something you’ve never even heard about.
Really, How Important is Exposure??
So back to my conversation with Darlene, which turned a bit philosophical. We agreed that we all possess unique natures containing strengths and abilities that can, if nurtured, propel us along on a path towards happiness and, dare I say it, even greatness.
The problem is that most of us have never learned to pay attention to ourselves that way. We’ve never learned to explore and see who we really are and think about what would actually make us (as opposed to everyone else we’re following) happy.
This leaves us with little choice but to choose from a tiny list of possibilities, that small sphere of childhood experience.
What Makes You Happy?
Truth be told, our choice is often based on factors that won’t necessarily bring us the happiness we want. Here’s a case in point. Darlene said that when she was a teen and thinking about what she wanted to be, she studied a list of possible careers. Naturally, she checked out the highest salaried ones first. (Who wouldn’t?)
Since Computer Scientist was the top paying job on the list, Darlene decided that she would become a computer scientist. Easy, right? It seemed to be a great choice, since her brother was already on that path and loving it. The problem came when she began studying his introductory books and found them so dull, they almost put her to sleep. Great career for the brother, lousy profession for her!
She eventually chose business management, pursuing that in college and then founding and running (and enjoying) her own company. But notice the word eventually. It wasn’t a straight path, and it definitely wasn’t a look-at-a-list- slam-dunk. What’s more, she says that she might never have gone in that direction if her father hadn’t been an entrepreneur. Exposure!
And yet this story isn’t over, because as we talked, we agreed that we often find ourselves saying “gosh, I could have done that!” This isn’t uncommon as people mature, but how much better if we all could have serious exposure to a variety of professions, with time to try them out and see what fit. We might have found that special career, the one that we were uniquely suited to do in which we could develop our special talents and abilities.
How about you? Do you relate to the idea that if your unique nature were given the lead (and you had the exposure), you could eventually find great happiness in what you do? It probably wouldn’t be your sister’s path or Uncle Harry’s – because it would be uniquely yours.
To connect the dots on that thought: many of our unique talents and abilities are just waiting for the opportunity to come alive, grow, and flourish. When you think of it like that, you might see that this is a journey that's worth taking.
It's Our Destiny -- Will We Take It or Leave It?
I have always been drawn to the ocean. One of my favorite childhood pastimes was building sand castles, and I learned to swim, sail, and scuba dive all because I wanted to be in or around it. The energy of the ocean, the weather, the roaring surf, the fish, the coral, and all that unknown!
But when it was time to choose a college and major, what did I do? I defaulted. My mother had been an English Major and I loved to read, so I defaulted to English Major. Ho-hum.
How did I do? My average was a boring, middle-of-the-road C because I wasn’t on fire about English literature. Looking back, I think it was pure luck I even got a C! But when I felt the excitement of diving, for example, of discovering the unknown deep below the waves while spending weeks on board a boat, well. That left me speechless.
What are You Drawn To?
If you're doing exactly what you’re meant to do, you are one lucky person and I have to ask – when and how were you exposed to it and how did you know it was just the thing for you? Please leave your answer in the comments below. You are one of the few!
But if your current profession isn’t your dream job, can you create a mental and sensory picture of what you really love doing? If you can, I have another question for you. What career allows you to do that?
Where's Your Rub?
Ah, but there's so often a rub in that dream career -- something negative you perceived about it that may have kept you from it. Do you see a rub in something you might love doing? If I’d even known about Oceanography as a child, Science itself would have been the rub because Science, to me, was the sum of my experience with dissecting frogs. Yuck! See? It all goes back to exposure.
In fact, while researching for this post I was very surprised to discover that some people actually like dissecting frogs … and not just willful, pulling-legs-off-spiders kinds of people, either.
According to Mental Floss:
There are many surgeons who say that they first discovered their life’s passion standing over a dissected frog in a middle or high school biology class.
So okay, being a doctor wouldn’t have been my thing. But it never occurred to me that dissecting frogs wasn’t an integral part of all Science, just a piece of the bigger picture called Science. In fact, I was never exposed to the bigger picture, so I wasn’t able to make the connection to that ocean I loved so much.
So let me ask that question again: what, in general, are you drawn to? What would you like to spend your time doing? What would it smell like, feel like, look like?
Your Bold New Career
Like most of us, what you see as your bold new career might only be your next step. You might get close and say, “but gee, this isn’t exactly what I imagined.” No problem! In fact, that’s to be expected, and that reaction will result in a bit of a turn towards another direction. Then you can take your next step.
And with each step, you’ll be getting closer.
Your ‘next step’ is always the most important step and the truth is that you will not get to where you want to go if you don’t take it. Each step will help you test your choice and refine it, so the next step after that takes you even closer to your prize. Reminds me of the truism that the journey is what’s important, not the destination. (Boy, is that a hard one to learn!)
Of course living like that requires vulnerability. But as anyone who's done it will tell you, the rewards are well worth the vulnerability. In fact, living vulnerably can become a very happy state of being.
Going Back to 9, 8, or even 5 Years Old
Educator and author Erin Twamley cites that when 5-year-olds are asked to draw a scientist, both boys and girls will draw men and women equally but by age 8 a whopping 70% of both will draw a man. So what does that statistic mean for you?
It means that when you were 8 years old, you most likely would have drawn a scientist as a man -- or put another way, you would have believed that only boys could grow up to be scientists.
No big deal if you’re male, right? But if you’re female, oh my, you would have crossed that possibility off your list without even realizing it, just like I did because I thought dissecting frogs was gross.
So if you’re not in your dream job now doing just what you want to do, what can you do? Since we can’t go backwards (and might not want to even if we could), perhaps you could rethink some of your beliefs, those ideas on which we base so many of our actions.
Let's Get Deep!
What if you unknowingly ruled out science because you were a girl – or because you thought dissecting frogs was gross? If you consider that some of the beliefs and opinions you hold today were formed based on things like lack of exposure or subconscious stereotypes, doesn’t it make sense to revisit them?
That’s a tall order, I realize. But if you do that, you’ll be able to begin to discover other professions that might be a great fit for you. Once you open your mind in new ways, you’ll be taking your next step on your path to happiness and possibly even greatness.
What can you do with your new ideas? Since this is written during COVID, you may be aware of emerging opportunities for new directions. A sort of "nothing is normal, so now what?"
For one, you could volunteer in a career space that holds new promise. As we emerge from our home-caves, we'll see a lot of people in need. This will provide many ways you could step out.
In the process you’ll make up for any previous lack of exposure, giving yourself what you never received. What an empowering opportunity.
Who Will You Become?
Many people today see the pandemic as an opportunity for a sort of Phoenix experience -- for our world and for us as individuals.
When I picture the Phoenix I see a powerful creature emerging from the ashes of "what might have been" and "if only I had". I see it as an opportunity that always - every moment of every day - awaits each and every one of us.
Unlikely? Just think about the many unlikely transformations in this existence!
Why this Post, Why Now?
The premise for this post came out of my conversation with Darlene; her afterschool program served as the backdrop. Darlene’s program affords young minority girls the opportunity of exposure, knowledge, and growth while they’re still young. It levels the playing field for girls in challenging situations such as homelessness by exposing them to STEM careers and empowering them to choose and excel in a satisfying profession.
So, if you choose to begin your own personal exploration, you can enjoy knowing that others – children with so many years ahead of them – are doing the same. It’s a new take on “We’re all in this together!”
We’ll continue exploring positive possibilities and career options in the months to come – we hope you’ll join us.