After two master’s degrees and two bachelor’s degrees, I finally met the very best teacher for me – through Craigslist. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some great teachers (precisely five in high school, two in undergrad, and another two in grad school), but none of them match the expertise I’ve found in A.C. She’s a content expert (English & Spanish) and an expert teacher – a combination that I’ve never experienced before. When I think about how different my pathway could have been if I had had even one or two A.C.s when my mind was a bit more malleable… Well, it’s a bittersweet notion. Recently, we turned the tables, and I tried to teach A.C. to knit – or rather, to help her fingers dredge up those old muscle memories. It wasn’t exactly disastrous, no thanks to me. A.C. figured it out on her own and is humming along beautifully after some trial and error.
And I am reminded again that being good at a thing doesn’t make you a good teacher of a thing. The two different skills may well reside in one person, but it’s rare and wondrous – certainly not something to be taken for granted.
I’ve been learning this lesson the hard way for the last few months, as I transitioned from my role as a Policy Manager at one non-profit to the Executive Director of another. (I have since stepped away from the E.D. position.) I was concerned and cautious about the shift – from doing my beloved work to instead setting up the structures that would support doing my beloved work (or eventually hiring someone else to do it). I’m still discovering new meanings and lessons from those months, and my next steps will be through an obstacle course of questions raised and desires unearthed. I’ve always known that my passion for my work wasn’t predicated on the fact I was focused on transportation, public health, and social justice (though those are three pretty hefty topics that I’m happy to chew on over a beverage any day of the week).
My passion is connecting to people, co-creating and sharing ideas to improve people’s lives and well-being. Transportation, public health, and social justice – each of these fields contains challenges that impact people everyday and opportunities to improve lives and reduce the gaps created through systematic oppression. Each field boasts individuals and groups who are deeply passionate and knowledgable about the past, present, and future of the field and what can be done to make sure we’re on the right course. Each field is connected to several others that share these same characteristics. And I am lucky to know so many of these folks – to know enough of them that I actually have faith (yes, even in the throes of an election season) that we can make things better. Not 100%, not in my lifetime. But real progress nonetheless.
As an E.D., my day-to-day relation to those folks was diminished – it had to be by the nature of the work that needed to get done. That’s not an inherently good or bad thing, just not good for me at this point in time. I relish working side by side with teams of smart, committed folks. I love teaching (just not knitting!) and learning, creating spaces where we can work with our differences and expand our perspectives, and pouring through the stuff of other peoples’ nightmares – those hundreds of pages of policies and procedures – to understand the impacts to our everyday lives. In looking back over these last few months, I know they weren’t a mistake. Taking on the work that wasn’t really mine helped me understand what I’ve been aiming at for the last 15 years. Those two bachelor’s degrees (in English Language & Literature and in Economics) and those two master’s degrees (in Public Health and in Urban & Regional Planning) all finally make sense together. I want to understand and improve how, as a community, we organize ourselves and impact one another, make decisions individually and collectively, and communicate with each other.
So that’s my long-winded answer to the many versions of “what happened?” that have been posed recently. The transition was amiable, and I have no doubt at all that I’ll continue to work with all of my colleagues, just in a different capacity, doing the work I can finally articulate a little more clearly. (And, if you have some interesting projects to pitch, you know where to find me!)