I’m not much of a ‘joiner’. Sometimes ‘going big’ is harder than ‘going home’ for me; I’d much rather watch the news go by from the quiet of my home than have to walk up and say ‘hi’.
I’ve always been introverted like that.
It used to be painful – physically and emotionally tormenting – for me to initiate contact with another human being.
I’m slightly better at it now, but it’s taken nearly a half-century to be able to breathe, thrust out my hand, smile and introduce myself. And to be honest, I avoid these situations as much as I possibly can. For me, being an introvert and living in an extroverted world is absolutely exhausting.
I immediately realized that was exactly the situation I faced in New York City as I walked into the hotel for the BlogHer15 conference last week. I seriously questioned my decision to spend hours on a red eye flying across the country, lug my suitcases for blocks through the streets of Manhattan (did you know in NYC no one pays attention to the traffic signals? Pedestrians just step into the street, avoiding eye contact with drivers, and make their way across!), and share a room with three complete strangers. Would it really make a difference in my little teaching, parenting and writing world?
The synchronicity started upon hearing Melinda Gates personally answer my question on the power of harnessing the stories of our children, and how as a teacher I can encourage them to speak – and be heard. Imagine my shock at my question being the only one selected for her to answer: here’s a short clip of her answer – I was so surprised it took me a minute to regroup and get the camera rolling!
After that, I started thinking about the power of women’s voices, and how I might use my own life and experiences to share stories of what I think is important – a perfect frame of mind to hear Friday’s keynote speaker, Soledad O’Brien. I’m sure you recognize her name – she’s an award-winning journalist affiliated with HBO, CNN, Al Jazeera America and Latina Magazine, and is the originator of the “Black in America” and “Latino in America” documentary franchises. She was named one of Newsweek Magazines “10 People who Make America Great”. And she’s almost exactly my age. Most impressive to me, though, is that she’s a wife and a mom and after Hurricane Katrina, she started the Starfish Foundation as a way to mentor young women and help them attend/afford college.
You’ve heard the Starfish story by Loren Eisley, right?
This isn’t a new story for most educators – it encapsulates so much of how we keep trudging on every day in our overloaded classes. After teaching middle school for decades, I know that I may not reach every child in my class, despite my endless attempts to show them how much I care. At this point in my teaching journey, I hope that every year I make a difference to at least one, even if I’ll never directly know it.
Soledad took a different spin on the story with her Starfish Foundation. In her words, she believes that “mentoring isn’t hard. You give time, emotional support and connection. You don’t need a lot of money – it’s about finding out how you can help. It’s time served.”
I leaned forward in my chair. Here’s a most accomplished woman, a person spending her Thursday afternoon speaking to me -to so many women like me, who write and tell stories and share their hopes and dreams and vision for the future. Who, maybe like me, is living her life in search of ways to connect and make the world just a little kinder and fairer for kids?
My brain was spinning. This woman, this storyteller, was speaking my language. On behalf of kids and women and education. Her words fascinated me, sending me deep in thought – one of the best qualities of being an introvert. Am I really doing what I’m meant to? Am I using my ‘platform’ to connect with kids and become someone who can make a difference? What stories can I share about teens and education and the world that will have an impact?
All the noise of NYC disappeared as I wrapped myself in her ideas and the simplicity with which she embodied her message. The crowd cheered as she walked off the stage, and as I clapped along with them, I realized this is why I was there – to stretch, to push myself and my thoughts into action.
To think deeply about myself as a woman and a mom and an educator.
To live life as an extrovert for a weekend, and then go back and teach audaciously and make a difference.
Thanks, Soledad. You made a difference to this starfish, even if you’ll never know it.