Patience for the Sake of All.

I sat with Will at the picnic tables in back of Pizza Delicious and told him I loved him but didn’t want to be together “romantically.” This was about chapter 17 of our love story where one of us would break up with the other, only to change our minds a couples weeks later. This was amidst an all around confusing year for me, fresh out of college and living in New Orleans for the first time, having to figure out my purpose and my identity as a teacher in a public charter system that seemed so flawed but was revered by many as being “high achieving” or “amazingly successful.”

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Throughout this first year teaching in 2012 - 2013, I sought out leadership from community members in New Orleans including UTNO (the United Teacher’s Union of New Orleans) as well as the New Teacher’s Roundtable and a program called SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). Thank goodness I was compelled to seek out these groups and people, or else I would have done a lot more harm than good my first year as a teacher. Through the mentorship of these programs, I not only learned how to be a better teacher, but also how to respect and honor a culture different than my own; in that way, I learned to be a better person.

One lesson I kept receiving was to be patient, and realize that my intervention and leadership would not always be useful or necessary. Even people with the best of intentions are capable of causing great harm to the communities they claim to serve, if they execute policies with the absence of patience and reflection.

The charter school system in New Orleans has a complex history. However, a few facts are important to note: before hurricane Katrina, New Orleans consisted of publics schools and a predominantly African American teaching and leadership staff. After Katrina, a large majority of this teaching staff was fired, public schools were shut down, and the power was passed off to privately run charter schools, who hired predominantly transplant, young, white teachers from programs like TFA and TeachNOLA. I was one of these teachers.

While in some instances test scored rose, in others they did not. And more importantly, there was and is an undeniable pattern of disempowerment and disrespect in the methods of implementation. In my three years of experience teaching in four different school settings, I can genuinely say that not one of my principals or leadership teams effectively represented or reflected the student body in terms of race or class. Teaching practices were often insensitive and assumed a lot of negativity about the students and families we “served.” The decision makers at these schools were people who did not have a clear understanding of who our students were and what they needed most from their schooling. Therefore, we shoved down information and policies thought to raise test scores and send kids to college. If our systems didn’t work we tried again. But never in this process did I witness a leadership team step back and exercise patience; the type of patience that observes without judgement; the type of patience that leans in with open ears and accepts responsible when necessary; the type of patience that is open to hearing any solution, including that you yourself are not leader for this particular march.

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Will told me he thought I acted like a frog in boiling water; whenever I was faced with a bit of doubt, I jumped hard. Because of this pattern, I kept jumping because I wasn’t finding closure in my decisions. He was 100% right. It was too uncomfortable for me to sit in the unknown. I had been taught all my life that if there’s a problem you find a solution and fix it. For the first time in my life, in both my personal and my professional life, I was seeing problems and experiencing discomfort that I didn’t know how to fix. The lesson here was that sometimes the solution is a long road of patience and figuring out; taking a small step in one direction and then reevaluating after some reflection.

I am one year into my new career as a SoulCycle teacher and fitness instructor. There is so much about my new life that brings me joy and fulfillment in a way I never experienced working in a failing school system. However, there is a clear knowing in my heart and my gut that part of my purpose on this earth involves fighting against unjust systems. Sometimes I think that might be in the form of educating white students to be more attuned to racism. Other times I think that might come in the form of providing a work training program for formerly incarcerated people to be exposed to the fitness industry as a potential career path. The instinct to be the frog in hot water— to leap from job to job or city to city— still exists within me. But I’ve adopted a new voice of reason that asks me to sit and breathe. This voice tells me to start with a few conversations and a phone call or two, and trust that my connection to this work will become clear, but to prioritize patience. This way, when I am next in the position to implement my work, I am doing so with clarity of purpose and alignment with my truest values. I am listening to the people I am serving to take my cues, and I am not set on putting myself at the forefront of the mission, but open to being a pillar of support for someone else to lead the march.

Lisa

Does anyone write blog posts about their therapy sessions? I don’t know! It seems so cliché but I feel like this one was so good that I have to share….

Every couple of weeks I have a Skype session with my therapist, Lisa, who lives in Massachusetts and who I met through a friend in New Orleans. She is incredibly gifted at creating a space where individuals like myself can feel safe enough to feel their deepest truth, which is also what I hope to create for my clients using a different approach; In this way, she is not only my personal mentor, but also a professional one.

Our sessions start with a short meditation. Then she usually asks if I know what I want to work on. Today I told her I felt distracted, like I had too many thoughts at once. She responded by posing the question that I really did not want to answer, “If you let the distractions go, what is it you would have to feel?”

Our sessions together are journeys. We walk carefully through the brush, taking the time to explore whatever meets us in the path. Feeling the textures, observing the colors and smelling the smells, stopping frequently to consider the roots and the origin of all we are taking in. There are frequent moments of silent pauses, we role play, we ask questions, we cry (both of us do), and sometimes she stops to tell me, “can you feel me here supporting you while you feel your heart?” This time, our journey took us into a juicy discussion about freedom. Why, when I notice myself feeling a deep sense of freedom, is that often followed by tears? Why is it that every time I begin to cry, I muffle my emotions and apologize?  What if allowing ourselves to feel any emotion at any time, and supporting ourselves in feeling that emotion as deeply as we can, is freedom?

<FEELING DEEPLY IS FREEDOM>

Try it on:

THAT right there is my sadness. 

I feel an uneasiness inside my stomach. 

I feel an instant love and connection for this person I just met.

I want to lay down and take a nap because my body feels tired.

I feel anger because I’ve been mistreated by someone I trusted to protect me.

Say it loud, say it clear, stand strong in it. Nobody needs to affirm it but you, and you have nothing you need to explain away. This ability to feel is what makes us human. And our ability to pronounce our feelings from inside of our hearts and mind outwardly into the world—well, that’s freedom.

Choosing a Self

I woke up today remembering the feeling of choosing yes.

4 months and 1 year ago I received a phone call that I was accepted into the SoulCycle instructor training. I walked myself to the beautiful City Park of New Orleans. The park was empty, and I was sitting under a huge Spanish moss trees, looking out at the pond in the middle of the park. Without asking, telling, or checking with anyone else first, I called my boss at the time. His 2 year-old son was crying for his attention at home, and his 27 year-old employee was crying for some reason he didn’t yet know over the phone.

“Sydney, what’s wrong? Are you ok?”

“I got an offer with SoulCycle for the training program in New York City. I think I have to take it.”

“That’s ok. We understand; you have to do what’s right for you.”

Exactly the words I needed to hear.

The training program was especially effective at asking us trainees to face our deepest fears. I was lucky enough to have incredible mentors (namely Melanie Griffith and Janet Fitzgerald) who I had watched from afar since I was a teenager, and now had the privilege of knowing and loving up close. Getting up on a podium, wearing a microphone, and convincing myself it was enough to be ME in front of lots of people was a foreign concept. My feedback was pretty consistent, “let go a little bit, Syd.”

One afternoon after training, I walked along Greenwich towards my parent’s house where I was staying during training. My body ached and my shoulders felt heavy with frustration. When I got home, I locked myself in my little brother’s room at the back of the apartment and opened my computer to all the hundreds of tunes I was collecting for playlists. I blasted Robyn “Dancing on My Own.” First, I stared at my computer and cried. Still crying, I got up and started to bounce and move to the music. Something deep inside me was screaming to get out. I danced and jumped and lured my body to move with every bit of freedom I could grasp. With every gesture and gyration I shook off and pleaded out some piece of resistance. I was flailing around the room crying with hysterics. It was random and odd, but it was a defining moment. SoulCycle had come into my life for a purpose. I was being asked to uncover a piece of me that was always there but somehow muted; I was being asked to have a self. 

It takes a lot of bravery, and a LOT of support, to follow the path that is closest to your heart. Our society is slanted towards a trend of pressure and assimilation. You WILL receive backlash every time you choose to express your deepest truth in any defining way. It's intimidating, especially for those stuck on a path their heart did not choose. But as they say, “if you don’t have haters, what are you even doing?” Do they say that? I hope so…

So here I am, 1 year later. I moved to a city where I didn’t know a soul, to find my soul. I am 28 years old, and for the first time in my life, I feel I am starting to recognize what my deepest happiness feels like.

You. Inspire. Me.

After class yesterday, one of my favorite clients was kind enough to invite me out to dinner with her family. I was talking to her husband about relationships and the challenges I had in my last one. I explained how my key take away was that it takes time and patience to learn what someone else is bringing to the table and understand you both have many  years of experiences, and in many cases traumas, that will impact how you interact and what you need. David said, "That's why you don't honk." I met him with a blank stare...he lost me. "You don't honk because you never have any idea what that person is going through or what situation they may have just escaped from when you met them at that intersection." It was a lesson on empathy. 

Yesterday, I was having trouble uplifting myself. A recent break up has left me a bit disoriented, and in search of some sort of comfort. While I have felt particularly fortunate in the past few weeks to have a job that brings me joy and comfort, it has also been a challenge to be the positive energy and the group leader when my heart feels heavy.

Yesterday, I learned the details of some of clients' realities, and the challenges they are currently working against. I learned that they use my classes as a source of inspiration and comfort. One client wrote me to say, "At a time when nothing is certain, I took a chance in the front. I have been counting on you silently to get me through the week every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Your words remind me that I am strong and i can hold on, no matter what, and i cannot thank you enough for that."   

Every day I get to watch people I have learned to love and people I have never met, show up for themselves. Some of them will IMMEDIATELY open their hearts to the journey, feel supported by their surroundings, and access a deep strength and freedom. Others will come to observe, and hesitantly dip their toe in. Some will come back day after day, and others will drift in different directions. But there is a magic in this process. In this interactive performance, we have the opportunity to hold a stranger's heart in our hands and help it beat stronger. We have the privilege of knowing that our words, strength or cheers can ignite a fire in the person next to us. 

So, thank you Julia and Heather for sharing your stories with me. Thank you Maxie, Kaitlyn, Cam and Laura for trusting me to guide you in your health journeys. Thank you Eryn, Ferry, Alexis and Gabby for being my Monday night squad when I need a few extra hugs and smiles to get me through. Thank you Ellen and Marci for being my family. Thank you universe for me leading me to the exact space I need to be. What a raw, inspiring, human experience. I am in love with the beautiful souls that have walked into my life, and I am in love with the fulfilling and exciting experience we create together in those dark rooms on a daily basis. I am so full.