“But I don’t know how to roller skate!”: On when you have to lead/parent/adult beyond your own experience

My dear daughter got invited to go roller skating a few months back. I was excited for her; it was a chance for her to catch up with school mates during the holiday break, so I readily accepted the invitation on her behalf. Furthermore, I had fond memories of my own childhood, going to parties at the wonderful (and now unfortunately closed) Skateline.

Or…at least they were wonderful memories, at first glance. In any case, we arrived at the rink, and gathered skates for her. As I laced them up, she asked me: “What now?”

“We skate!”

“How do you skate?”

Me: ……I don’t really know, actually. “You put one foot in front of the other, and push!”

So we enter the rink. Arcadia quickly falls over. And over. She holds on to the side rail as I told her to, and we begin shuffling around the room. She looks at me and says “This is HARD!!!”

“Yeah, honey. It is”.

“How do I do it better?”

“……..”

I didn’t know what to say. I had NOTHING. In that moment, absolutely nothing. My dear daughter was clasping onto the side rail, wobbly on her skates, looking for help, for tips, for confidence – for me to say “My dear, THIS is how you roller-skate. This is how you succeed!” But I didn’t know how to.

The reality rushed at me: I was horrible at roller-skating, as a kid and now. I never got better or improved my confidence. I still refuse to put skates on now with the fear of falling on my ass time and again.

I had nothing in my experience that could help her. It was beyond me.

How do you live/lead/parent/pastor/work beyond your own experience? 

We look to our own present and historic experience as a measure of what is true and what is right. In many circumstances, this model is incredibly helpful; this has worked in the past, so it will work in the future. Repeated Experience = truth. But this approach falls flat when we are confronted with a question, or moment that does not sit within our reality or experience.

How can I teach you to roller skate when I’m terrified of skating myself? 

– Me

A character in a book I read recently had his father die when he was just 18. Not only was this a tragic event, with significant consequences of growing up without a father, but his father’s early death at 38 also prompted an assumption and limitation that the protagonist couldn’t and wouldn’t live past the same age. How could he parent beyond his own father? How could he “adult” beyond that which was modelled to him? 

You may have asked yourself questions like

How can I have a good marriage when I wasn’t modelled one as a kid? 

How can I be a good parent when my own childhood was traumatic and less than ideal?

How can I ‘adult’ when I can’t-or haven’t- been trusted with responsibility?

Of course, this is basically the tenant of growing up: you will – we all will come across situations you haven’t dealt with – it is the essence of learning: We incorporate new information into our psyche and make adjustments accordingly.

But the annoying thing about adulting and responsibility, is that you have to do it – with an audience. Unlike the ‘wonderful’* exploration time of adolescence and youth, there are significant consequences or dependent people that will experience the result of your choices. This is the essence of responsibility: other people are in your care.

This is awesome (at times). But it is equally hard (at times). Growing up can be hard.

When I started high school, I remember looking at the year 12s thinking how old and grand they were; they were the leaders of the school and the ones we aspired to be. But 5 short years later, when I was one of those year 12s, I didn’t seem that big, or that old, or anyone to aspire to

“This is it?”

Senior year me, to year 7 me.

Unfortunately, that question still rears its head. When will the promised land of surety, all-encompassing wisdom come? That golden promised land of adulthood where I can eat all the snacks and know exactly what I’m meant to be doing?

Of course, we all have these fears. And of course, we don’t know everything – we never will. It is a fallacy and unhelpful ideal that we will suddenly turn on a dime and be all knowing and all powerful. But the question does remain – when we are those adults, and we are in a place of responsibility, how are we supposed to handle challenging experiences? When people are looking towards us for guidance and wisdom, protection, when our kids look at us and ask: HELP ME? – and we don’t know how? What happens when our personal experience is not a resource – in fact, there is trauma, regret or shame that screams louder than any helpful response?

— What happens when we don’t have an answer?

There is a leadership adage that states you can’t teach what you don’t know. I looked it up and apparently Batman said it. In any case, the thought of only leading where you’ve been – is that helpful? The myth of personal experience would tell you so. You can only be an authority from your own experience. But the reality is that you will constantly be faced with situations – as a leader, and especially as a parent, where you haven’t been, and you have nothing to draw upon for reference.

Back in the roller rink, I had NOTHING. In that moment, like, absolutely nothing. I had nothing in my experience that could help her. It was beyond me.

But I desperately wanted her to learn – despite me. So I did the only thing I could do: I walked with her. Slowly. Around the rink. I helped pick her up as she fell. We slowly made the circuit, watching as her mates got faster and increased confidence. We had rests when she got tired and upset, and I encouraged her that she was getting better and better. (Was she? I hoped so).

I think about that afternoon all the time. Because it speaks to me about the true and human desire to lead well, to parent well, to be people that can role model truth and wisdom and knowledge to the people in our care. But it also speaks to me about the real – and often unhelpful – IDOL that we make of past experience being the core source of authority in our lives.

If I don’t feel it, it mustn’t be true.

if I haven’t known it, it mustn’t exist.

When it is good, personal experience is a beautiful and seductive thing. We ‘feel it’ in our gut, and we make future decisions about relationships, careers, faith, money, based on our past encounters. Why shouldn’t we? It makes sense – I did this in the past, and this good thing happened, or this felt good, and so this is how we should repeat it in the future.

In championing personal experience as our sole litmus test, when we encounter new information, we make judgements accordingly. We dismiss what sits outside of that experience and put boundaries on that truth or reality.

Now this works – until it doesn’t.

Not only can it predispose you from dismissing truth outside your own scope or story (and consequently reduce the opportunity to change your mind despite new – and possibly correct- information), but what if your personal experience or history was terrible? What if, in many moments, “I’ve got nothing”.

Does this mean that you are unable to make good choices or be in a position of responsibility?
Of course not.

Truth as only experience is unhelpful – or dare I say it, even destructive, when we are vulnerable, depressed, exhausted, in pain, or hopeless. It accuses us and ‘others’ people who ‘have it better’ – or worse than us. It is not always a helpful litmus test.

My dear father grew up in a home that was far from rosy. There was significant depression, anger, resentment, and alcoholism. My dear mother grew up feeling misunderstood and ignored by her parents. And so they both determined that the family they built would be the opposite; they would tell their kids they loved them. They would feel appreciated and cherished every day. And so, largely, that is what they did. I am grateful for growing up in a home that was the result of people endeavouring to choose the opposite of the own personal experience.

Many of you have successfully done the same.

But I look to my daughter now growing up, and there will be increasingly more moments where I don’t know the answer. With both parents gone by the time I was thirty, I don’t have an example of being parented as an adult for when my own children become adults. How do I parent beyond my own parenting experience?

How do we live – and lead – beyond the limits we experience?

The most helpful thing to do first is recognise that we often don’t know. If appropriate, we can share this fact and look for the answers with those looking to you for guidance. Or we draw upon our village to stand in the gap for you where your own knowledge/wisdom/skill doesn’t speak. That’s the beauty of growing up and living in relationship and community – indeed – that is the point.

The point of community is that we all have stuff,
and we all don’t have other stuff.
Our stuff supports the stuff that other people don’t have.

Macaitis, 2022. Feel free to quote me on this.

The second harder – but equally important task, is to say that it’s ok that you feel anger, frustration, jealousy, or shame about your own experience, and how you wish it was different (at times). It doesn’t make you a bad person. And it doesn’t make you unworthy of that responsibility. The championing of personal experience above all else is a cultural trend of individualism which is awesome – until it isn’t. And hear me – it is not the only way to see the world.

We can learn from others. We can borrow the strength, knowledge and experience of our culture, faith, family, history and community. We embrace our vulnerability, and then we act in GOOD FAITH for the future. That’s the best – and only – thing that we can do.

Your own ‘lack’ of experience in that specific context does not disqualify you from being a person of guidance, peace, support and safety for others.

Experience as King may in fact be a really big lie.

Maybe we can lead and adult past our experience. It just requires humility, presence, community, and maybe a little bit of faith.

Back to the roller skating: While I was wallowing in my own perceived inadequacies, trying to comfort both of my young and adult selves, my dear girl delighted me that day. Because –

She kept getting up, and tried again. And after our third excruciatingly slow circuit, she said to me: “It’s ok mum, you go sit down. I’ve got this.”

I was stunned. Her confidence, and her fortitude was glorious to see. I cheered her on and never felt prouder of her.

We went roller skating again a couple weeks later, and her persistence continues. She’s currently working to earn roller skates of her own.

Maybe her experience can teach me too. x

*please note: this is not to say that choices in youth don’t have consequences. but you get the point i’m trying to make here.

“Why haven’t I learned this lesson by now!?” On when we seemingly struggle with the same things again – and again – and again.

One of the best things that I’ve done in my life is see a therapist. She has been instrumental in helping me navigate significant trauma and unhelpful – even destructive – learned responses in my life, giving me tools of reflection, honesty and growth to navigate conflict and challenges.

Nevertheless, as much as this process has been helpful for me, I’ve been putting off making a renewed appointment with her for over two years now, largely because of the shame of what I would be seeking wisdom in – or to be more specific, because of what I would bring to the sessions – once more.

“Aren’t you done with this yet?” I taunt myself in my therapist’s voice.

“Haven’t you learned that lesson by now?”

Fake, Mean Therapist

The shame is real, friends. Surely at nearly 40 I am not struggling with the same things that I was when I was 15, 20, or 30?

In so many ways, of course, I am not. I have grown, I have matured. The challenges, dilemmas and anxieties at 15 are not those of 38, nor will they be of 45 or 60. But what is real, are common threads of how I respond to those evolving challenges.

What may be common, and same, is the specific triggers that bring anger, shame, jealousy, bitterness, resentment and shut down.

For example, I have written before of my wonderful excruciating journey of wanting to be capable. I don’t like trying new things because failing them would be the worst possible experience of life. So I don’t “put myself out there”, initiate, or assume responsibility because “If I don’t try, I can’t fail”.

It’s annoying. and painful. And I wish I was better. But here I am at almost 40 and I apparently haven’t solved the ‘problems’ of me yet!

Indeed, I have kept journals off and on most of my life. Looking back on them, many entries and prayers contain the frustration;

“Why, God, haven’t I learned this by now? WHY am I praying this same prayer? Why aren’t I ‘better’?”

My historical read of these entries is one of embarrassment and shame, tallying the lack of progress, the proof of my failure, the justification of critique of my personal, professional, and spiritual growth.

A weird thought occurred to me today though.

Instead of being embarrassed, what would a kind response to my repeated ‘failings’ look like?

What if I often struggle with these things not because I’m broken, but because I’m wired a certain way?

What if those failings – and identical failings are simply aspects of my humanity?

Please hear me, this is not a justification for ‘staying the same’. This is not me saying that my failings/errors/mistakes are “just me”. It is not your “boys will be boys-esq”, Kirsten will be Kirsten” excuse for ‘bad’ behaviour or for the absence of growth or effort.

Nor is it the denial that people can change and grow, that we can conquer certain traits that are destructive or unhelpful.

Rather, the truth is that I am human, and I will probably definitely need help navigating challenges in my life.

For example, in my own life, the truth is that I need help navigating fears of inadequacy and comparison.

The truth is that I need support to step back from anger and brittleness in the face of unfair responsibility.

The very sobering truth is that I may always need help to do so.

And the surprising question is – is that a bad thing?

Maybe the need to need help is just the reality of being a human.

I’ll say that again.

Maybe the need to need help is just the reality of being a human.

The way that I am wired, what I have experienced, and the various contexts that feed into my life have resulted in certain responses, triggers, failings and faults. And for the first time in my life I am considering the possibility that not only do I probably need help to counteract and breathe life into those spaces,

but maybe it is ok that I will need help – and continual, life-long help, to do so.

I can be empowered if I have a sober and measured understanding of myself. Because I can see what I am triggered by. I can see what my learned responses have been. I can notice if those responses are life giving or destructive. And amazingly, I can recognise when I need help – and I can seek it. That help may look and be different in different seasons of life. But I shouldn’t be ashamed to seek it.

I’ve been thinking of how people who live with alcoholism view their sobriety. Rather than being ‘cured’, alcoholism is seen as a condition that sufferers will negotiate their whole lives. In a journey of sobriety, an individual recognises situations that are more dangerous for them. They recognise what steps they need to protect themselves. The victors in this space aren’t ones who do it ‘on their own’, but are those who receive support to do so – usually for the rest of their lives.

Likewise, the process of naming or personifying a problem is used as a tool within narrative therapy to externalise and create some space between the person and the problem, which enables the person to begin to revise their relationship with the problem (Russell & Carey, 2004). Having the opportunity to revise the relationship we have with ourselves and our ‘issues’ may be one of the most powerful tools we can access.

If we take this journey of a sober understanding of ourselves into the world of spirituality, one of the fundamental premises of the Christian framework is that:

  1. We are human – and fallible.
  2. God is God.
  3. We need God.
  4. God is happy to help. And does so.

Those who profess faith are encouraged and exhorted to bring yourself to God. Expose yourself to him and he will bring it to light. There will be welcome. And shelter. And hospitality. And nourishment. And respite. And comfort. And courage. So we/I/many do.

The prodigal son is welcomed. The prostitute is given mercy. The weak are healed. The tax collector is forgiven. The annoying persistent appellant is granted justice. The denier is given a new name. The laughing and disbelieving – and old – father of none is given innumerous descendants. The prophet who runs away from responsibility – and is swallowed by a fish – is spat out and given grace.

There are countless stories of a God who meets our humanity with Grace, and is generous with it.

Likewise, there is a strong narrative in our culture that those who seek help can find it. Those who want better for themselves can receive it.

This is awesome. Until it’s not.

At its best, the narrative here is that when you seek help, you will receive it. We can claim victory over our past and engage in a new future.

At its worst, however, the narrative is that when you seek help, you can receive it – and “you WILL be better“. Translation: progress always [should] occur.

At its worst, this narrative argues that not only will you be “better”, but we tell ourselves – or judge others, that there is a limit to the help that we can ask for, and a minimum expectation of progress to be met when we do so.

We wonder if the prodigal son will still be accepted if he went out and spent the inheritance all over again. We wonder if the prostitute continued to ‘sin’, would she still find acceptance? We wonder if we are met with an eye roll and a sigh of exasperation when work up the courage to ask for support.

Here we suffer from a pathologising linear way of seeing the world. Regardless of a faith or secular framework, a danger of the western mindset is to assume a very strong relationship between Experience and Wisdom, between lessons learned and progress. 1 of X = 1 of Y:

…But what if it’s not?

What if 1 of experience does not equal 1 of ‘progress’?

We do not have much grace for others – or ourselves – when we ‘haven’t learned the lesson yet’ – or more important, not yet – again.

I have to say, I don’t really like that model anymore. Again – I’m not rejecting the premise of growth or learning in and of itself. We cannot justify bad behaviour or selfishness with a shallow dismissal of our faults. Nor am I arguing that people cannot change or transform for the better.

But maybe there’s a more helpful – and healthier – way of engaging with our supposed failings. It is a circular model of growth, a circular model of seeking help.

Returning to a premise of seeking help from a faith perspective, let us revisit & add to our steps:

  1. We are human – and thus fallible.
  2. God is God.
  3. We need God.
  4. God is happy to help. And does so.
    Here, however are the often-forgotten aspects:
  5. We will always need God – because we are human.
  6. God is always happy to help. And does so.

We read in the scriptures a God who is not only happy to help, but does not tire of doing so.

read that again.

We read in the scriptures a God who is not only happy to help, but does not tire of doing so.

We read in the scriptures the invitation to expose ourselves to God -and find welcome and grace and mercy in that moment. Part of that welcome may also include an invitation to choose better and be wise – but the help will always be there to do so.

Never is that invitation rescinded. Not if you ask once, twice, or 1000 times.

The glorious picture of a feast that is told and offered in scripture is one of welcome, hospitality and sustenance; “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost”…

When I read this verse I like to picture the table that is set at the end of the world in C.S Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader – a sumptuous table, renewed daily, covered in dishes a plenty. There is welcome and respite for all.

May I suggest a caveat here. Perhaps not only is there a spot at the table for everyone, but the sustenance/respite/grace may look or manifest a little differently for those of us around the table. The help we need – the ‘food’ that is required’ may differ from person to person. If you’re old enough to know Sizzler, have that smorgasbord in mind. All the food’s good – but some people need a heck of a lot of steak, others, need those veggies, but others are filled by the parmesan bread alone.

I’ll stop with the analogies here.

But the truth remains.

Some people need to hear more reassurance at times. Others need to hear more forgiveness. Others need courage. Others need to hear approval. Still others need to feel respite. Some might need all of it.

And that’s ok.

It is unhelpful to berate ourselves for being human.

It is unhelpful to pile guilt and shame on ourselves for having tendencies or triggers.

We may and do always require help with our limitations and humanity. And that may actually be ok.

Whatever stops us from seeking help is a bad thing. Even if it is ourselves.

I had a wonderful conversation with a friend about this issue and the journey we have of healing and growth; she had this to say:

Like anyone I’m a weird mix of personality traits, life experience, & frankly, the luck of the draw in terms of the era I was born into & the opportunities I have. I’ll always have big emotions that one could attach labels to. But why?? Why pathologise me? I’ll always have some things which are, to speak the language, trauma triggers. And that’s ok. That’s just part of my humanity.
And frankly, it’s part of my redemption too.

There is a great deal of power we receive in a sober recognition of what we often need help in. As much as it is painful, I can be proactive in those moments and reach for help early. I can offer grace to myself that these responses are deeply ingrained and they sometimes require lots of unpicking. I can remind myself of the help that is available, of the promises of welcome and acceptance on offer; and I can model that hospitality to others so that other people can experience that welcome too.

Maybe my humanity can be part of my redemption, too. x

better with pockets: A welcome or 10 year kind of celebration

It’s been over 10 years since I began this blog, this little space where I write a bit and some of you are gracious to read a bit too.

Many times over the past years I have cringed at the title, and contemplated changing its name simply to Kirsten Macaitis – pockets being a juvenile, unimportant aspect of life, right? But rather than embarrassment, I’ve now come around to a re-love of the title and concept. My first post ever featured pockets and how things are so much better with them. But I’m even more convinced that we as people are all better for having them. Indulge me here:

We find refuge & respite in pockets: pockets are places to hide, places to put our hands when we feel awkward and unsure; pockets of shade from the harsh sun, or pockets of sunshine that break out from clouds or grey, all provide spaces where we can rest a little while.

We can put and find resource in pockets: tools, aid and skills that assist us in our journeys.

Bilbo Baggins would vouch for the power of something put in his pocket (Tolkien Reference alert). Don’t even get me started on the long history of patriarchal prejudice that is demonstrated through the deliberate lack of pockets in women’s clothing – that might be for another blog.

So let me say again -or even for the first time- this space is to provide pockets of refuge, respite, and reflection – where we can find safety in the collective acknowledgement that
“It’s not just me – maybe it’s you too!”,
where we can see parts of ourselves that we are proud of, that we need to work on, aspects which have been hard won, reluctantly inherited, or much earned.

Here are opportunities for us to acknowledge pain and fear – and the most important part – to learn what it is to be kind with ourselves and each other in that confession.

me. feat coat. feat pockets.

Thanks for coming along the ride with me, friends. I’m grateful that you stopped by.

Fake it till you make it: How do we stop feeling like imposters in our own lives?

In 2012 I received my doctorate in Sociology. In the 10 years since, when people discover the Dr. part of my name, I quickly establish that “I’m not a real Doctor mind you, I can’t help you or anything”. Even though no one accused me of being a fake one.

Although I’ve been working in academia for over 15 years now; as a tutor, lecturer, researcher, director and program coordinator, despite being employed consistently over that time, despite being published, presenting, and finding success in my work, I’m still find myself terrified of the fact that ‘they’re going to find me out’ – that I’m an imposter.

Sound familiar? “Fake it till you make it?” While you flounder in self doubt, the other people around you are the winners, the successful ones, the more sure, the more established, the clearer voice, the sharper image. These, my friends, are the hallmarks of imposter syndrome. You may have met this beast on your travels.

I have read many articles and participated in many PD sessions in my time on how to counteract imposter syndrome. It’s a disease that we definitely need to rid ourselves of. We don’t need people not backing themselves, wondering when the facade will crumble. Indeed, I’ve pondered [and dreamed of] that day when I’ll feel like a ‘real boy’ instead of someone pretending to be an Academic:

“Someday, I’m going to be a real boy!” – Pinocchio

But here’s the thing we should also be critical of. Even as we know it today, imposter syndrome usually puts the blame on individuals – and labels those with imposter syndrome as sufferers – without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in particular populations.

The answer is not – and cannot – be merely to tell people to “BE MORE CONFIDENT!”

It doesn’t work that way.

If we are to apply a sociological lens on this space, we aim to make private troubles into public issues. At first glance, we are tempted to pathologise ourselves into ‘low self esteem’ and inferiority complexes – but why is it that so many people feel like we’re going to be discovered at any second to be a fake? Indeed, research studies have found that up to 82% of individuals experience this phenomenon (Bravata et al, 2020). This reminds us that we’re not the only ones – most everyone feels it at some point in their lives. But more importantly, It is useful to ask ourselves, what is it about the system of work across so many labour markets and fields, that creates contexts in which it is common, usual, and expected for people to feel this way? We need to move from fixing people into fixing places and contexts that people occupy.

In other words,

If we’re all feeling it, it can’t all just be us who are the problem.

There are insights – and things of importance – in the fact that people of colour, of diverse ability, of an (often non-male) gender are far more likely to experience imposter syndrome than people who reflect characteristics and identities of a normative, hegemonic, successful person (Yue, 2021).

Discrimination and systematic bias towards women, towards race, towards [dis]abilities are responsible for implicitly championing one way of ‘being’ in a professional, public space over others. The further you are from that normative understanding of what it means to be a professional, a ‘grown’ up in your field of practice, the greater is your chance of feeling like a fraud. And this is despite your intelligence, despite your capability, despite your often proven track record of achievement. Indeed, even if you are successful, wins are often interpreted as further signs that you need to keep up the pretence and persona of [insert successful person here], working even harder to sure-up your reputation. As Breeze (2018) writes, “imposter syndrome implies underlying feelings of inadequacy and deficiency, but also conveys a particular felt-as inauthentic or fraudulent relationship to indicators of belonging and achievement”.

Even when you’re good, you don’t let yourself believe it.

So we must ask, we must challenge, we must unpack harmful, normative narratives that dictate what a ‘successful’ employee, professional, creator or worker – heck, even human, looks in particular contexts.

Here’s Breeze again:

We cannot understand feelings of imposterism as an individual problem or private issue, isolated from the social contexts in which they are felt

Breeze, 2018

A sociological response to imposter syndrome involves a collective and cultural shift away from stories and discourse that create fear in response to difference. Many people have begun the work here – I encourage you to engage in Maddie Breeze’s excellent work as one example. Breeze points not only to the sociological forces that shape contexts – and create environments that necessitate the need to ‘fake it till you make it’, but goes further to suggest that these points of friction can act as a resource for response, for collective change – that success might look like:

“Failing to meet (some of the) established – and patriarchal, colonial, classed – definitions of [academic – but insert your own vocational pursuit here] excellence. Failing (inevitability) to live up to standards that are impossible to meet and doing so strategically, collectively, and publicly, offers one way of critiquing, and rejecting, institutional conditions of competitive audit cultures and compulsory self-promotion.

Breeze, 2018

There is an alternative to keeping up with the Jones’, or the Kardashians, or [insert the person in your field that you are envious of look up to]*. The social context we operate in has a significant impact on the story of success – that you weave.

But again – perhaps there is an additional help or framing we can add to the mix.

Howard Sercombe’s article “Ethical foundations of youth work as an international profession” (2018), spends time exploring what the definition of a professional actually is. In doing so, he offers an incredible tool to help free those of us ‘sufferers’ of the imposter syndrome – without a single hint of “being more confident” as a solution.

Sercombe asks the reader what are the identifying characteristics of a profession: Is it training, a professional association, or recognition in law? He proposes that this question is problematic because we are defining it by an attribute or external factor, rather than the central core or internal logic of a profession. Sercombe then argues the answer is in the name:

A professional is someone who professes
who makes a profession of some kind

Sercombe, 2018

In other words, professionals are those who profess a vow, a pledge, a commitment to serve some sort of constituency, typically people in some state of vulnerability. Professionals have a particular focus on service. Thus a profession is essentially a moral position, with an ethical commitment to serve.

What is the ramification of this vow?

A profession is defined not be a set of practices, but by a relationship.

“A professional is not a state or a status. It is a relational term, like a parent or partner. As a parent must have a child, so there must also be, for a professional, a client” (Sercombe 2018).

So. An alternative is to define success as a professional – success in our chosen vocation – as the healthy relationship between us and those that we serve; our students, our clients, our patients, our children.

If we continue to view success – or our own status – as a static, fixed entity – this is where we feel like inadequate imposters. We can idolise and pedastolise – not a word but i’m going with it – our job – and ourselves in that job/status/role- when we’re missing the whole point.

Let me draw upon Matthew Jacoby’s work here on the integral aspect of relationships to help make sense of this.

I have said that desire was made for relationship. It is therefore of such a nature as to never be satisfied with any static goal…If, however, we detach ourselves from our relationships, if we disconnect from God and begin to objectify other people, we will lack this sense of renewal and will inevitably try to create this sense of newness by renewing the externals of our lives.

Jacoby, 2013

Jacoby here is referring to the superstition of materialism, how we look to external factors and objects to fulfil what is in essence, a relational lack in our lives. His point about the failing of a relationship remains relevant here; the dangers of detaching ourselves from relationships, and here is the kicker, the danger of objectifying other people [and ourselves], has significant consequences.

So my question is, when we feel like imposters, perhaps what we’re actually doing is objectifying ourselves in the roles that we occupy.

Perhaps most of our problems lie in the way that we objectify – that is, make into an object – or in other words,
Box in, stagnate, sign off, fix into place,

things that are ONLY life giving in a relational, living, breathing framework.

One that contains growth, nuance, grace, joy, pain and hospitably.

for example –

our job
our friends
our wealth worth
our children
our bodies
our faith
our “place in the world”.

In our need to feel like a ‘real boy’, amongst the pain and fear of imposter syndrome, perhaps what we are doing is assuming that success is a fixed entity, separate from the actual reality – which is that we all work in (and can’t escape from) a relationship to those that we serve.

So. What would it look like to recognise – and champion

a relationship with and in these things rather than reduce them to outcomes achieved – or perhaps more importantly, not achieved?

A relational framework takes the focus off whether i’m measuring up to a ‘real’ [insert role here], but then asks better questions about the quality of relationship that you have with those you foster while in that context. Is there meaning? Is there appreciation? Is there shared ideas? Creativity? Generosity? Grace? Peace? Time? Forgiveness? Growth? Joy?

A relational framework of my work/contribution reminds me that a relationship [with my own role/self] is dynamic and imperfect- allowing space for doubt, hesitation and vulnerability, residing alongside all the shiny parts of our identity.

A relational framework also gives us freedom to ask – and change – the sociological forces and contexts where those relationship qualities are lacking or indeed, squashed.

You’re not weak if you feel like an imposter.
It’s a cry for authenticity and relationship.
Lean in. Question. Be curious. Let me know what you find out.


*or in my case, Roger Federer. I’m the farthest thing away from a tennis player, but I’ve always been intimidated by the fact that someone my age is so successful, so seemingly nice, and somehow has two sets of girl and boy twins? I mean, come on. But I digress.

  • Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine35(4), 1252–1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1
  • Breeze, E. (2018). Imposter Syndrome as a Public Feeling. In Yvette Taylor & Kinneret Lahad (eds) Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal UniversityFeminist Flights, Fights and Failures (pp.191-219). Palgrave, Switzerland.
  • Jacoby, M. (2013). Deeper Places: Experiencing God in the Psalms. Grand Rapids, Baker Books.
  • Sercombe, H. (2018). The Ethical Foundations of Youth Work as an International Profession. In Pam Alldred, Fin Cullen, Kathy Edwards, Dana Fusco (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Youth Work Practice (pp. 470-483). SAGE Publications Ltd. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526416438
  • Yue, Zhang (2021). A Sociological Take on Imposter Syndrome. NUS Sociology Society. Retrieved November 8 from https://www.nussocisoc.org/post/a-sociological-take-on-imposter-syndrome

the want for a want for righteousness

What a comforting thought, God.

That the want for righteousness is seen – is recognised – and is granted sustenance.

I say this because we can look at the righteous – the ‘good’ people in this world, the ones who have ‘arrived’ at a state of righteousness – and think they are the [only] ones who are recognised.

But it says those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled – which is wonderful. Because it means that “those who are pursuing righteousness” – those that have a cause or active path of righteousness – “we’re not there yet, but we’re on our way” are seen here.

You are seen in your attempt and pursuit of the righteous things in this life.

Imperfect offerings are the things of God

But what if you don’t have a “cause”?

I would argue that you’re still part of the team.

The want for righteousness is seen here – but more so, maybe the want for a want for righteousness is seen too. If you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, intimidated, hurt, fearful, lacking in confidence or energy to do anything but survive- the hunger and thirst for things to be righteous – are still the things of God. Likewise, then, so is the compassion and recognition that we receive in the want – and in the want for a want.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Indeed. Cheers, Jesus.

When “You’re so strong!” hits a little wrong – Or, the shadow side of resilience.

“You’re so strong!”

“You’re so resilient!”

Have you ever been the recipient of these tidings? Or been the one who utters them?

“No one else could deal with what you’ve been through!”

In so many ways, to tell someone they’re strong is one of the highest compliments we can give –

“Hey you – congratulations on navigating
[this often crappy] life so well!”

– people

It’s a symbol of recognition and admiration – you’ve come out and through the other side of something challenging and difficult to navigate. So we celebrate and see you for that achievement. It’s a compliment unhindered by age, gender, class, race – an aspect of humanity that we champion and commend.

But the thing is – as much as the compliment is so lovingly uttered – and in most cases – lovingly received, the ‘silence’ of this statement – and the reason why we give the compliment in the first place – is because someone’s life has been awful. There has been a significant, long term, debilitating challenge that they have had to be strong for – and for many people, it is multiple somethings.

So sometimes – as much as the statement is meant to be heard at its best as “I love you! I see you in this moment!” – what I have heard is “Look how crap your life is – and well done on being strong despite that” – to which my response is usually “I kinda had to”.

I was chatting to a girlfriend today about this exact thing. She and her husband have navigated significant challenges for their family, many of which us “lucky ones” will never have to contemplate – and they’ve done it with grace and good humour – it has been a sight to see, to be honest. My hat goes off to them. I’ve often told her (or at least I hope I have) how amazing/strong/resilient she is.

But does she actually need to hear that so often? Is it helpful?

I myself have been through a number of significant traumas in my life and people have told me many times at how strong I am. I love them for it in so many ways – I do feel seen. And there is a fair amount of pride in me that I can and do show resilience in the face of trial.

But if I’m brutally honest, friends –

sometimes

I’d prefer not to be.

I’d like it if I didn’t need to be strong.

I’d like it if the muscles of resilience and ‘coping’ weren’t so exercised.

It’s pretty tiring, hey.

It can make you be cynical about things to come when you expect to have to cope with “what’s next”,

it can make you unreasonably triggered in situations/emotions/contexts that feel similar- or adjacent – to situations you’ve experienced,

and the ‘strength’ can also come with a side of anger, trauma, scars, distrust, anxiety, depression, jealousy and exhaustion (just to name a few).

I’d much prefer my life to be awesome and struggle-free.

Obviously good counselling, therapy, medical care and healthy relationships all have a vital place for those of us who have been through ‘stuff’, and I am of course grateful for the lessons i’ve learned about myself along the way – mostly I’m grateful for the solidarity I can offer when people are stuck in the mire.

But again – if I could trade those character lessons and not have to have lost what I have? – not even a thought.

I would exchange it in a heartbeat. Happy to return the goods to sender.

I would rather not have to be so resilient.

The loss of what was, the grief of what could have been: it’s a long term, heavy price to pay for that bit of character development.

This is an exercise in honesty rather than criticism – I hope I’m not coming across as hypersensitive or censorious –

But I wanted to offer the solidarity for those in the mire – or those who remember the mire like it was yesterday – perhaps the option to not only feel complemented that you’re strong – but instead the freedom to also recognise the grief and trauma that leaves it mark.

The two things can be true at once.

So Friends – if this is you –

I’m sorry that you’ve had to be strong.

I’m sorry that your resilience was so hard fought.

I’m sorry that your wisdom came at such a high price.

I’m sorry that you didn’t have a choice in the matter.

and finally – It’s ok if you don’t feel strong sometimes.

We can be grateful for the lessons but also sad that they were so hard to learn.

Perhaps the gift we can give ourselves and each other is to permission – and practice – space for both sides of the story to exist.

x

hello darkness, my old friend: on greeting our ick

I don’t like admitting my anxiety. But I feel anxious sometimes.
I don’t like feeling ashamed. But that’s a frequent guest in my house too.
My frustrations and anger are likewise good at exposing themselves in inopportune moments.

So in light of this: here’s my greeting: I spent the beginning of the year feeling guilty. Guilty about putting my one year old into childcare – and not one, but two days a week. He’s also with my in-laws another day per week which gives me 3 whole days a week where I’m being a terrible mother guys. I’m not home with him (enough) thus I’m making a bad choice and also setting a bad foundation for his early start. Anyone want to judge me? Go ahead. I deserve it. That has been my ick.

OF course I can understand from a logical standpoint that this isn’t the case, of course. This post is not about debating the merits and strengths of being a working or stay at home mum. Both are valid and necessary for different people and in different contexts.

But I still feel guilty. It’s uncomfortable. And the worst thing is I can’t do anything to alleviate or solve the problem. because the situation is probably not going to change any time soon. I hate it.

Anyone with me? I hate it when I can’t solve a problem straight away. No thankyou.

But here’s the rub.

Even if I could solve the problem,

solving the problem doesn’t solve the problem….

…of how I feel about myself.

Our attempts at alleviating the issues we deal with is perhaps not the thing we need to do first.

There will always be things to feel angry, anxious, fearful, apathetic, guilty, ashamed of. And likewise, there may be many different ways to change our situation. But they’re probably not quick fixes.

One of the most important – perhaps the most important things we need to do with our

anger
anxiety
fear
apathy
guilt
shame
ick,

all of it,

is to greet it.

Speak its name.

It is as simple, and as hard, as that.

Our ick doesn’t get more powerful in the acknowledgement: rather, the opposite occurs. When we greet our ick, it materialises in a more helpful form, as we as people can appreciate its limits, its core, of what it is, and what it is not.

There’s a scene in one of the Harry Potter books where students are taught a spell to hold off a powerful enemy who feeds off their fear: Students were asked to acknowledge what they feared the most, and through it, were given the power to make that fear ridiculous, dispelling its might.

The power of saying
“I feel this” – and not leaping away from that acknowledgement – is the most powerful action we can take in knowing ourselves. We can then ask questions of the fear/anxiety/ anger – & ourselves – to unpack and distil it.

Research is growing around the real impact that naming emotions can have. Not only can it help in down-regulating emotions (Kircanski, Lieberman& Craske, 2012), but it has a consistent and positive effect on health and psychological states (Frattaroli, 2006). In children, emotion regulation is a major asset in helping them navigate inevitable stressors (see great article here by Chowdhury, 2021 on definitions and strategies on emotion regulation in children and adults). These studies affirm what I have seen in my own life: when we have language and a framework – and we are given opportunities to use them – it not only enables us to grasp our present realties with greater clarity, but it gives us the power to imagine the what-is-next.

The challenge, thus is twofold. In the ick, greet it. This is helpful and healthy and NEEDED and entirely valid.

The second part is perhaps even harder: allowing the ick to be witnessed. This can be a terrifying prospect. We feel stupid and vulnerable and weak in the acknowledgement. But not only does it increase the opportunity of someone sharing your pain, but the opportunity for solidarity with others can be one of the greatest gifts we ever receive – or give.

Thus lastly, If you are have the privilege of witnessing someone’s ick, our first impulse cannot be to fix it – if we are in the mire, a front-forward solution approach can actually feel like a dismissal or a smothering – despite the good intentions of you as friend/parent/sibling/spouse. This is not to say that there is never the time to move towards solution, but this cannot be our first impulse. It is unhelpful. Timing is everything. Instead, I would invite you to first, give someone the gift and space of a quiet witness.

Greet the ick, friends. The honesty may grant a – even brief – respite in return.

xx

On Maslow’s Hammer: Or maybe you are more* than you think you are

*this is not your average pep talk. believe me. please read on.

a couple of months ago I came downstairs after settling my son for his morning nap, to find that there was a whole heap of blonde hair sitting on our dining room table.

My daughter was suspiciously out of sight. and quiet.

I stop. I stare. I say to my friend, recently arrived

“Why is there and enormous pile of hair on the table??!!!!”

“Maybe it’s doll’s hair?” she replies.

I suspect that it is in fact, not doll hair.

I proceed to leg it upstairs into my daughter’s bedroom, where I find my darling daughter has chopped off all some so, so, much of her beautiful hair.

so so much – hair which she had been growing so that she ‘could look like Elsa”. Not any more, it seems.

After staring, dumbfounded at her for a long time, I say through clenched teeth “Sweetheart, we were booked to go to the hairdresser TODAY“, upon which she replied “But we don’t have to go now!”

Yep. Also when asked if she’d looked in the mirror to see how much damage she had done, her reply was “Yep! and I love it!

I was so angry.

and so so sad.

so so sad.

I was so angry that I couldn’t laugh at it. I was so embarrassed for her.

but in that – in the hours/days that followed,

I had to ask myself

is this her stuff, or is it my stuff?

Was my reaction completely about a parent so so sad about her daughter cutting her own hair –

or was it four year old me, the little girl who so desperately didn’t want to look like a boy, who wanted to be pretty and accepted, projecting that same fear onto my now close-cropped daughter? (rewind to four year old Kirsten whose mother told the hairdresser to give her a crew cut and didn’t ask me how I felt about it- PTSD, people)

Kirsten and Crew cut 1987. feat most excellent tshirt ever

We carry many things from our childhood. Our taste in food. Our expectation of how to spend holidays. Our understanding of ‘normalcy’ in relationships. Our acceptance of the status quo. But perhaps more than anything, we carry the stories of how people treat us, the stories of what’s possible for us, the language that is repeated so often that it lives just under our skin.

“You’re so smart!”

“You’re the sporty one!”

“You’re so beautiful!”

“You’re so funny!”

“You’re so creative!”

“You’re so good at problem solving!”

How many of us had these statements repeated to us throughout our formative years? In so many ways, these affirmations are amazing. They give us courage and reinforce our fledging skills. They help build our identity and knowledge about what makes me “me”.

…but how many times do those same “good” statements put a boundary around who you are?

How many times do those “You’re always, you’re so…you…statements feel like they’re saying you can be these things – but only these things. Statements that are reinforced so strongly can also invisibly be statements of “you’re this, but you’re not THAT”

The sporty boy can’t be creative

The clever girl can’t be pretty

The highlighting of one aspect – can put limitations on possibility..and this is the damage that can occur through well meaning comments – let alone language that is intended to hurt, demean, belittle and exclude.

Here’s the thing. I was told my whole life that I was smart.

I hear it now: “Oh woe is me, Kirsten, you were lovingly encouraged as a child in your academic pursuit”.

Clearly this is not a major tragedy. My parents were great. They saw skill in me. and encouraged it. But the problem is, that’s basically the story I created in my mind of who I was. Because I was ‘the smart one’, other stories, narratives, possibilities, weren’t explored or reinforced. Because I was ‘the smart one’, I was intimidated in heaps of other areas. I wasn’t the cool one, or the pretty one, to name a few. And that labelling had actual consequences for me in my choices – throughout childhood, youth and adulthood.

because I wasn’t pretty i couldn’t be a girl that pierced her ears

because I wasn’t cool I wasn’t cool enough to listen to interesting/alternative music.

“because I’m not…” made me stop trying a lot of new things…because I believed that it ‘wasn’t for me’.

These are obviously lame and small examples. But the point is that the FRAMING of something has a SOCIAL REALITY. And these realities can be explicit and large, but also implicit and insidious.

This framing gives our soul hints of what we’re allowed or ‘supposed’ to do in life – that others will judge us if we move outside of those boundaries of self. we say things like “I could never”, “That’s not for me”.

This framing can also give ourselves a template or recipe of how we respond and behave in circumstances.

Abraham Maslow (yes of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs fame) once said “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” He is referring to what is called Maslow’s Hammer or The Law of Instrument, which is a Cognitive Bias that gives an over-reliance on a certain tool

If we think that we’re hammers, to solve problems, we hit things. Even if there isn’t a nail in sight.

Maybe, to stretch the analogy, it also works when we react to our loved one’s problems: our own framing (or our own trauma) puts a lens or bias on other people’s situations.

If we never thought we were pretty, we rush to help our loved ones to avoid that feeling of ugliness.

If we never thought we were cool enough, we do anything to make our loved ones to feel part of the crowd.

Obviously this analogy can be applied only so far. But it is perhaps a helpful question to ask ourselves, especially when we have a very strong reaction to someone else’s situation/trauma/pain/choices:

Is my reaction about them or am I reliving my own experience?

Am I being a hammer, seeing everything as a nail?

Is this their stuff, or is it my stuff?

In doing so, we might be able to have pause and perspective – for them and us – in the moment, and respond with an appropriate and helpful reaction, rather than one that is triggered by trauma or fear.

You’re more than you think you are. x

On Recognition: When we see ourselves in others – and when we simply see them.

Photo by JESSICA TICOZZELLI on Pexels.com

the recognition of the other
often tells us more about ourselves
than the person we see.

perhaps in the other we see strength –

  • strength to endure, to produce, to protest, to protect, to reach.
  • strength that we once had but lost
  • strength that seems to evade us
  • strength that is actually a good friend – but is also one that other people don’t seem to know you have
  • strength that we would love to be introduced to, but is far too popular to meet us.

perhaps in the other we see weakness – perceived or present

  • weakness that we too are friends with
  • weakness that we try to obscure, camouflage or deflect away – faults that we cannot seem to shake, no matter the lessons we endure

perhaps in the other we see greatness

  • greatness that is fed by a passion and cause
  • greatness that inspires relationship, gathers prosperity, influence and change
  • greatness that is the peace of wisdom, birthed of experience and consideration
  • greatness that sounds so sweet – but is overwhelming in its lack of a user manual or a sign that says “start here”

In strength, weakness, greatness

– in these and in all parts of us, in recognising these in the other, perhaps what we are simply doing in recognition is seeing this divine people project for what it is –

humanity.

we have the privilege of being the same as and the different to – the other.


Thus if you are given the gift of recognising yourself in the other – even if it is more of what you lack than in surplus – cherish the gift of insight.

be encouraged

be chastened

be inspired

be critiqued.

we owe it to the world to be reflective.

ie why are you [inspired? encouraged? scared? hurt? offended?] by this meeting, this person, this aspect of you?

this is where the work is done, and the good fruit is produced.

likewise, if you are given the gift of recognising moments, encouragement, insight, strength, comfort, in the other,

speak it.

practice the art of encouragement – to give courage –

even if it feels awkward

even if you feel vulnerable and stupid.

we often can see things in the other that are obscured in our own reflection – and that we need the other to voice back to us.

celebrate recognition, friends.

being seen is one of the greatest gifts & unsung needs of life.

ON GENEROUS, EMPATHETIC JOY: OR, WHEN OTHER PEOPLE DO/HAVE GREAT THINGS (and you don’t)

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com

In 2012 Shannon and I had the great privilege of travelling around the world (pre-covid days. Obviously). I remember several conversations in the months leading up to our trip, where select people, upon hearing our plans, responded with the following:

“I’m so jealous!”

-them (and sometimes me)

Of course, this is a lighthearted statement. We don’t actually mean harm in it: It is a response intended to show your conversation partner how good their news is: “Your news is so good I wish it was true for me”.

We hope that they hear the virtue of this statement – “Your news is so good!!” But as I often did – the statement more often falls flat, because what the person actually hears louder than its goodness, – is “I wish it were true for me”. It is really a backhanded compliment because you’re really saying “I haven’t been as lucky as you”. When we make statements like this, we steal the moment, making someone else’s joy about us.

“….thankyou?”

– me (after being made the subject of jealousy)

The thing is, sometimes it’s hard not to see beyond that space. Sometimes people’s lives just seem SO MUCH EASIER than ours. “How come things seem to turn out for those guys?” “How come they get what they want?” “When will it be my turn???”

I have been the author of many of these statements. It is really hard when you seem to get passed over, time and time again, for the good things in life.

This post is not about comparison and stopping it – I mean comparison isn’t healthy, nor fulfilling – and nor is it even based in reality – we NEVER know the full story of someone’s context, or what it cost for them to get where they’re at.

yet – sometimes it’s hard not to compare – I mean, we’re human, right?

sometimes it goes beyond your run of the mill jealous comparison to full blown rage. Someone’s joy (especially when it is seemingly easily won) feels like a personal attack – how DARE they get a boyfriend/get married/fall pregnant/get a job/lose weight/get ripped/find their calling/start a successful podcast – when they KNOW how much I’ve been struggling with it??!!!!!

The rage can be real. So can the pain.

BUT. BUT. BUT, dear friends –

when we extend empathetic joy – when we are generous in our support, even, especially when, we’re not in the same place as our friend/acqaintence/stranger – oh the gift of grace we offer in that moment? priceless.

To say to someone – THIS moment – THIS joy – right now? This is yours. I echo it. I celebrate you – I think it’s one of the truer marks of maturity. And it’s something to aspire to. I guarantee the gift of sharing in someone’s happiness is actually far more healing than if you withdrawal out of envy or spite.

Yes friends, sometimes it is about us. Our griefs and longings are completely real. Sometimes we need to rant and rave about what isn’t happening in our own plan. But we don’t always have to bring it up in this moment, or to this person. It is the art – and gift – of responding well.

This can be really hard when/if we’re struggling ourselves.

But more than one thing can be true at once –

we can grieve, but at the same time, champion our neighbours.

Even if someone’s life seems to be easier/more attractive than yours, it doesn’t demean your story in the slightest.

It can feel lonely – but this is the work of generous grace, friends. And in this you are in fine company indeed.

x

ps – as a standing invitation – if you ever are in the need for some empathetic joy in your lives – Hit me up. Tell me your news.

I’m here for it.