Sunday, August 23, 2009

Curiosity and Managing the Anxiety of a Learner

During individual supervision at my 2nd year field placement, the Healthy Start Program at Bahia Vista Elementary, when my field instructor said she was surprised that I didn’t conduct developmental assessments with my clients, why didn’t I ask, “what’s a developmental assessment?”

When I asked interns on their first day of field, “what are your fears, concerns, questions?” T----, brave and poetic, responded, “I am afraid that I will ask you a question and you will say, ‘you should know that already.' ”

How did our natural curiosity get squashed along the way? The revolutionary in me (re-awakened after watching Che, the movie, Part 1 and 2 - really good by the way) wants to fight to reclaim our birthright to curiosity. That is, asking questions, challenging the status quo and not knowing without shame or embarrassment.

I am afraid that all of those years of talking to interns about the learning curve, about how normal it is to be scared and uncomfortable when learning something new, about how Reevah always said it takes a lot of ego strength to be a learner and to acknowledge our dependency, and about how we all feel more in control and confident when we reach mastery, but that it takes hundreds of trial and error experiences to get there. I am afraid that all those words will come back to bite me. That they will not be sufficient reassurance. That I will need to find other ways to self-soothe - to manage my beginner's anxiety. And that being stoic or ignoring these feelings when they come up will not be acceptable to my body. So as I prepare for this big (overwhelming) new experience, I am open to learning how to attend to all the feelings that come up - and like a good parent to a wailing baby - find ways to respond, accept, comfort and soothe.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Post a Comment

I am still learning how to use this technology, so for those of you who asked me and I couldn't answer at the time, here are the steps: Click on the title of the post that you want to comment on - it is a link to a window where you will be able to type in your own comments. Thank you for participating!

Questions as Motivation

One of the carrot sticks that kept me moving forward in the application process over the last year, despite all doubts and apprehension, was the picture in my head of sitting at a café on campus and feeling the off-shore breeze or sitting in Powell’s marble Library (this visual is thanks to a recommendation by Dr. Agbayani) with a tall stack of journal articles to read.

Reading calms me and helps me to feel like I am standing on the shoulders of giants. When I am feeling lost, confused or overwhelmed about a client or my work it helps to call forth what our predecessors have done. What have others tried and failed or succeeded doing? What works? How do we do that? How can we address the epidemic of depression on our campuses?

It’s a changing climate and a changing world. There are new expectations, demands and opportunities to learn and adapt in order to survive and grow. Accountability and outcome measures – how do we know that what we are doing is working? Always an important question, but in lean years when decision-makers have to prioritize and make difficult choices, the question goes from a whisper to a scream.

How do you build an airplane while in flight? Coming home after work to google “evidence-based practice” and “outcome evaluation” felt inadequate and taxing at the same time. My hope is to create the time and space to learn what this truly means and how to translate it to our work. Don’t our students and families deserve having interventions that work? Don’t we deserve knowing and doing interventions that work? And won’t we all be inspired by the “proof” that it’s working?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Encouraged by Friends and Feedback

My goal is to use this blog as a way to integrate what I am learning and share it. I am getting feeback from family & friends about how my stories and experiences resonate with them too. I am grateful for the support and feel encouraged to keep writing. It's nice to know we have the same questions, fears, hopes. It's nice to know we are not alone on this journey. We are going to UCLA!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Enrolling!

It’s time to register! Why do the simplest things like enrolling online feel so complicated to me right now? I guess the fear has to try to show itself somewhere.

I just registered online (in my pajamas on a Friday morning just before noon). There was some panic after realizing that the third class I needed, and had rearranged my work schedule for, was canceled! Fortunately, after re-reading the Doctoral Handbook, I signed up for a different advanced research class that had been previously closed. This feels like a little game sometimes. How many barriers do I face before I crack? And how many times do I have to overcome barriers before I realize that there are no barriers that can truly keep me down? Barriers, shmarriers – they are all just part of the game of endurance, persistence and faith. How much do I trust in my dream, goals, beliefs? If God is for us then who can be against us? (Romans 8:28-31)

The Story Behind the Story

I have always hoped that I would get a PhD eventually. My sister, Carol, would ask, “Ale, when are you getting your doctorate?” and I would say, “eventually.” I just didn’t know when it would really happen. I am married, raising a beautiful 8-year old daughter, making mortgage payments, working full-time, etc. How could I afford to pay for all my responsibilities? But the universe kept sending me messages in the form of live people, other than my sister, who kept asking me, “when are you getting your PhD?” When Dr. Brown asked me this question and then subsequently wrote me a reference letter, I knew this was going to happen and was meant to be.

I finally decided to apply last summer. I reassured myself, if I don’t get in, I’ll re-apply next year. If I do get in and can’t afford to attend, then I’ll try to defer enrollment and save up some money. I started by requesting a program brochure from one of my professional contacts at UCLA who also offered to introduce me to the director of the doctoral program (who became an ally and supporter in this process). I set about requesting my transcripts from every college/university I had every attended. I started on the application essay and compiling required documents. Things went smoothly and I was grateful for the the summer off to work on it. It felt a lot easier than the application I submitted to Berkeley for the MSW – then again, perceptions may be everything. I am a lot older (40!) and hopefully wiser now than I was then (25!).

Every step felt exciting at first – deciding to apply, working on the application, telling everyone my plans (Oh, no! What if I’m not accepted? Oh well, I’ll just re-apply until I am accepted. It took Arthur Miller three tries to get into grad school). Every step became a confirmation and encouragement to take the next. (Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. --Rev. Dr. M.L. King, Jr.).

Then my first real test of faith came. My part-time work leave request was denied and the UCLA deadline to submit my intent to register was April 15. So at 9 am on Monday, April 13, I completed the UCLA form online and before I pressed the "send" button, I paused and asked myself, even though my part-time leave request was denied and I don’t know how I will pay for school or replace my salary, I am still going, right? I did my part and God will figure out the next part, the how, right? The answer rang through my whole body and I pressed "send." This time I couldn’t see the next step but took it anyway and hoped it would be there when I set my foot down. At 11 am that same morning, my administrator called to tell me that my part-time leave request was being granted after all. My foot firmly landed on the next step, just in time. I almost cried right on the phone while sitting at my desk. It was a Thank You, Yesus moment – this is what my mom taught us to say whenever standing in the middle of a blessing.

I know people who consult readers and once a mentor kindly gave me a gift certificate to consult a reader. Only when I tried to fashion some questions for my reading, I kept getting stuck because it seemed that all my questions sounded like fear talking. Will I go back to school? What will happen? How will I pay for it all? I realized those questions are answered by faith. I don’t worry about the how, I choose to let God show me how.

Classes start September 24th. I am looking forward to the whole experience. It reminds me of the feeling I had when I began dating Chris, my husband, 18 years ago. Natural. Just right. No fear, no worries, no need for strategizing. This is going to happen. It’s only natural (like the Crowded House song that was popular then). Wow, this is really happening.

I received a fellowship that will pay for tuition and a quarterly stipend. I am working part-time – two days a week in the first quarter. After anxiously crunching numbers, comparing income and expenses (thank goodness for the expenses of a low-maintenance lifestyle) it looks like we are going to be ok. That is what I call a miracle, Thank you, Yesus and good night.

Why a Blog?

I begin a PhD program in Social Welfare at UCLA in the fall of 2009 and want to blog about what I am studying as a way to share this experience with others who may be interested in the information I am learning about, but not interested in quitting their day job or writing a dissertation or paying the tuition. My hope is that through this forum for reflection, we stumble upon insights that are useful for personal or professional purposes.