On being a becomer, not a seeker

A quick note…

Today marked the end of the first (hopefully annual) VCU ALTLab ALTfest.  ALTfest was a 3 day festival (intentionally not a conference) that celebrated learning transformation, an opportunity to tinker, play, explore, and learn through festive fun.

As usual, I learned a lot but not necessarily through the content of the sessions; rather, I learned around the sessions: in the hallways, on the backchannels, and in the car shuttling people around.

But here, on my blog and in this moment, I have one burning thing to say.

There was a lovely festival-goer (he really is quite lovely) who sought me out so that we might share a moment.  I knew him a little from Twitter – we share some friends and colleagues. He was seeking me out for the specific purpose of hearing my life story.  I had no idea (and still don’t, for that matter) why he wanted me to tell him my life story.

Quite frankly, it was an oddly framed request, but we know that I, too, am prone and drawn to odd requests (they are the most fun) and I was curious…not only about his intentions, but also because I never know how my story is going to turn out.  I haven’t figured my own story out, so it tends to sound different every time I try to tell it.

Anyhow, after telling him my story, he told me I sounded like someone actively seeking to know who I am.  It wasn’t an insult.  It might even have been a compliment.  And I certainly couldn’t deny the conclusion as being reasonable, legitimate, and maybe even accurate.

But it still made me feel deficient somehow, that after 39 years, two children, multiple decades of schooling, a handful of business ventures, and occasional forays into landlording, I still appeared to a stranger to be “not there yet.”

Damn it.

But after dwelling in my own damnation for a time, it hit me that his conclusion wasn’t accurate.  I am not and never have been a woman without goals, nor am I a woman who does not know who she is.  I even have occasional glimpses of what I can do.

Years ago I found myself in a position of “knowing who I was,” and it was horrible.  I kept asking myself, “Is this it?”  Seriously. I was 33 years old and ridiculously (professionally) successful. I even had a fan club and even now, I’m told my fan club still exists all these years later.  I had reached the endpoint, the goal, the “X” over the treasure.  It was done. And it was so final, so boring, so “is this it?” that I felt like I might as well die.

And so, I turned away from the endpoint and started out again.  It wasn’t over again, because there was no need to repeat any step, but out again, across Bayne’s desert, into Deleuze’s smooth space.

I am not seeking who I am.  It is more accurate to say that I am a becomer.  I am learning to dwell in an uncertainty.  And let me tell you, this is hard work.  It does, however, allow me to learn differently, connect things differently, interact with people differently, engage in interesting adventures…differently.

I’m a lot of difficult and challenging things, but I am also different and becoming more differentiated everyday.  Unfortunately, we in academia (and in other high-end professions, for that matter) are so used to asking people about their goals, their endpoints, their aspirations…and expecting to get well-thought out, solid, “together” answers…that sometimes we discount the very thing that we tell students we want them to be – if you are looking for divergence and learning and hopefulness and joy and faith and “not-yetness” and “becoming,” here I am. This is what it looks like.  This is what I look like.

It’s about being a becomer and not necessarily a seeker.

Just a quick thought on ALTFest.

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. Maha Bali says:

    Love it! Couldn't agree more. Becoming. Staying open to continue to become. Why would we ever stop?

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  2. Laura Gogia says:

    Thanks Maha. For some reason, I wanted you to read this – no idea why, but there it is 🙂

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  3. Laura Gogia says:

    A postscript –

    As I lie in bed (having written this several hours ago), something became so clear I had to get up, stumble to my very dark living room, and use the last 10% on my computer battery to add this note….

    I have read recently that those who are “becoming” challenge established categories. They cut down the middle rather than fitting within, and by doing so they challenge everyone and everything around them.

    There are mentors…brilliant, established, kind people that I respect and honor…who ask me what I want to do when I grow up (not exactly in those words but you know it). They ask so that they can understand quickly – in a heuristic – who I am and what I'm thinking. Many ask also because they care and they want to help me – they want to make that phone call or recommend that book or help me get that internship. But that's the thing – I will not (maybe cannot at this point) provide them with the pat answer and sometimes that seems to disappoint or frustrate them a bit.

    “I want to be provost” or “I want to be a faculty member” is not in me anymore. I will not limit myself to a category. Rather I will walk down the center of all of them and when I do, the more opportunities emerge. Think about that the next time you ask someone what they want to do and they can't answer – they may not be lost at all 🙂

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  4. Angela B says:

    I went to a local Tedx conference, which was future tech/science and run by a team in the Faculty I work in. I usually don't go conferences for some reason. It was actually my day off work, but related to my professional work in ed design, but I went – for fun. So, I didn't attend as my ed designer self, I went as a mother who had paid for her own ticket, and having no professional context on that day. I think I saw and learned more than ever before without having that feeling of pressure to professional network.. I observed beautiful moments like some children from a science club running around excitedly before their presentation, getting autographs from all the real scientists in the house. . It was beautiful to watch, and when they came up to me I said “Oh, I'm not actually a scientist, today I'm actually a mum” and they still asked me to sign. 😉 I then went and spoke to the kids at lunchtime, and it was refreshing, to be there without a context, to not be asked what I do, where I do it. Just to talk cool stuff about the future of science ed and about the future of a bunch of kids with a passion.. I spoke to some international students about their studies and the cultural differences of science in different lands. Even though I knew the organisers in my professional context, I just stepped back out of that and in doing so saw something so different. I heard an academic say once, that if we all introduced ourselves with our passions, instead of our qualifications, we would all be richer and I loved that thought. You've put it beautifully…becoming. We should all try to be uncategorised more. 🙂

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  5. Maha says:

    Love it “if we all introduced ourselves with our passions, instead of our qualifications, we would all be richer

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  6. francesbell says:

    Thanks for a lovely post Laura, and almost lovelier postscript. For me, they sparked a thought (that has not yet become). I wondered about your change of direction, and the people who want you achieve what they see as your potential. I wondered if our veering away from becoming in one track of our life is about veering towards becoming in another track. And we do that every day and all the time – connecting, disconnecting, juggling, caring, hurting, enjoying, surviving, focusing, daydreaming. As I say a thought that has not yet become but inspired by much of our recent conversation.

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  7. Laura Gogia says:

    I love it as well…”if we all introduced ourselves with our passions instead of our qualifications, we would be richer.” :). It reminds me of Bonnie Stewart's newest article on Alt-metrics for Twitter…in academe, people are more interested in your holistic-ness (your hobbies, your other identities) than where you work. Give them your interests, what you plan to tweet on…but don't dwell on your titles :).

    Your comment also reminds me of a conference I attended just after I quit medicine – it was a nonprofit community conference. Whenever anyone asked where I worked or what I did (because that does seem to be what we lead with in physical spaces, doesn't it?), I couldn't answer it. I had to tell them what I did in the past, because I had no professional or vocational identity, really, in the present. Invariably, they would look right through me and speak only to my friend with whom I was attending; She had a much more interesting and relevant answer to the question than I. I really don't know what to do with that story in relation to your thoughtful and inspiring comment. But it does give me something to reflect upon and to see where I am now as compared to where I was then. Thanks 🙂

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  8. Laura Gogia says:

    That is interesting Frances. Right now I'm reading an Edwards article (which I have seemed to have left on my desk, but once I get it I will be adding it to the dropbox) which suggests we should discuss “flux” rather than “flow” because the former suggests tension, back-and-forth, a lack of linearity and trajectory. I am connecting it to an idea I found in a current popular men's magazine, that possibly we should avoid the common assumption that we are always improving, moving in a single direction…maybe we should consider the alternative folk wisdom that “nothing ever changes.” In other words, maybe we are all in flux, not actually going anywhere in a direction. lol, another not-yet-become idea :). I think connected learning is inherently related to cutting across tracks. I don't want to “become” as an educational administrator anymore than I wanted to “become” as a country doctor. I want to become across categories, go where the interesting tasks are. I need to read more of the geography literature. 😉 See you soon

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