In every single one of the courses that I’ve taught in many years of teaching, I have begun and ended with this particular quote from the most resonant book in my life, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.:
The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.
Through the very act of pointing, we choose what deserves attention, we clarify what it is and we place it on a hierarchy of what’s important, what we deem to have the greatest value. Within this life path, at every given point, I have recognized this process of identification and valuation as the framework within which decisions are made … within which actions are taken.
In looking at my life path thus far, it has been clear to me that my immigration experience is the defining thread of my life path. Immigration is one of the most transformative changes that any person can ever experience. It is no short of an upheaval, from the way you speak, the way you present yourself to the outside world, the way you relate and connect with others, to the way you form the values that will ultimately define paths taken, paths bypassed and paths to be traversed. Immigration is a life event requiring a substantive amount of preparation … some take half a lifetime to make this move. In my case, it took all of two months between my parent’s announcement that we are moving to the U.S. and actually setting my feet on Los Angeles, California. Was I ready to make this move?
When do you know that you are ready? Are you ever ready for anything? What does it mean to be ready? I have long realized that, ultimately, readiness refers to an aspirational frame of heart and mind, within which we align our decisions, preparations and actions, in order to perform well. This frame both have internal and external components – our expectations of ourselves based on our assessment of our own capacities and our expectations of what is required of us in any given situation. In the paper “The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness from the Inside Out,” the following three core skills promoting social and emotional awareness are deemed necessary to the state of readiness, within both the projected future realms of work and personal spaces: emotional regulation, deep self-knowledge and empathy and perspective-taking. Looking back at what I consider pivotal points along my life path, I have kept these skills in mind when assessing my state of readiness before any “big jump.”
Culture change readiness: emotional regulation in turbulence
Upon hearing from my parents that we were about to join them in Los Angeles, we asked, with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, what can we do to prepare ourselves for this imminent big move. They told us to work on not mixing our “f’s” and “p’s” (so we can’t be tripped up to utter “I want to flay in the pountain.”) and get a good winter jacket made, so that we can stylishly drape it on our arms as we ascend onto the Pan Am aircraft (all images of immigration I was exposed to up to that point contains this indelible image).
What my parents didn’t warn us about was that the move to the U.S. would require a keen intuition for functionality and a determined sense for survival and resilience. Los Angeles is a tough place for a person at any age; for a sensitive and impressionable young man, it is both brutal and endlessly fascinating. Emotional regulation allowed me the stability to focus on goals beyond the turbulent teenage years.
College readiness: self-knowledge as a foundation of resilience
Having successfully navigated an American high school experience, I set my sights to go to college in a prestigious institution far away from home and family. I wanted to be one of the best prepared students of my class, taking as many AP courses as I could and aiming to out-organize all my peers by acquiring the thickest Day Planner I could get my hands on. I felt both competent and ready, but I hadn’t planned on the condescending looks and statements from the privileged prep-school kids in my freshmen seminar class. They constantly made me feel that my comments and contributions were not as sophisticated or valuable as their polished affectations. This is where I realized that deep self-knowledge can provide the foundation for resilience. Knowing my cultural roots, having strong family support and establishing a validation network of friends outside the class helped me to withstand the subtle but significantly damaging attacks. I came out of that seminar knowing full well that I deserved to be in that place just as much as anyone else.
Career readiness: vulnerability as a path to meaningful connections
Embarking on a corporate career right after my undergraduate studies proved to be a different kind of challenge and opportunity. While going through my engineering program, I went on a co-op manufacturing internship to gain the necessary skills and experience in preparation for a demanding corporate position. I aspired to be “business-like” in both conduct and function – streamlined, effective, efficient. But what I didn’t prepare for was the oppressively conformist corporate culture that greeted me, along with the feeling of isolation that an unfamiliar and distant city brought.
I soon realized that the feelings of oppression and isolation were ushered in by the very things that I thought prepared me for this life. In trying to be “business-like,” I shielded myself from making significant connections with the people around me, from being deeply involved in the community within which I found myself. To change my experience into a more positive one, I strived to see people as human beings with complex lives and perspectives, not just mere corporate cogs and functional creatures with defined roles. This opening up, allowing for a space of vulnerability, allowed me to connect meaningfully with others, both in the work and community spheres.
After making the switch to corporate America, I spent more than 20 years in tertiary education as a university professor. My current career shift into K-12 education reform was both serendipitous and unnerving. Landing back in Cincinnati after over 25 years as a performance analytics fellow with StrivePartnership felt both good and right.
I am no longer aware of decisions I make about readiness; I feel ready for whatever life brings. Hindsight has given me the comfort of knowing that all decisions, preparations and actions seem to mean very little within life’s surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant ones. Be it in life-threatening situations, or within the minutiae of the everyday, instincts and character seem to play a much bigger role than any preconceived state of readiness. I can only hope that I face every exciting and challenging twist and turn with an attitude of love, commensurate grace and ample sense of gratitude.