I don’t usually find myself sitting on the floor in a dark corner with a lady fifteen years my senior. When I did find myself in that situation, I didn’t know the social protocol of what to say. What came out of my mouth was, “So, got any secrets?”
But seriously – it felt like junior high where my girlfriends and I would crawl into the dark crawlspace above the laundry room and confess who we liked, as if these secrets were of utmost concern and to be guarded as closely as matters of national defense. If I’d had the opportunity, I’m sure I would have stashed a little piece of paper that said “Hazel loves Marcus” in D.C. right next to the files that contained codes on how to launch nuclear missiles. That was a long time ago; those files are all digitized now, I’m sure.
Actually, that brings me back to my main story. At my school, we have a consultant come in once a month to help us with technology issues and advancements for our school. I’m the lead teacher for technology here (HA! – I’m pretty sure I only got this job because I’m under thirty and therefore must be “up on all of the new-fangled contraptions”). On the day that the consultant comes, I get a sub for my normal classes and take the day to hold meetings, address issues that teachers may be having, etc. She and I hang out and do teacher tech stuff all day. It’s kind of fun.
Back in the early fall, my life was crumbling. I didn’t have much time/energy to create stellar plans or even pretend that I knew what I was doing. I forgot our October meeting entirely, so she showed up and I was completely unprepared. I didn’t try to cover for myself – when she came in I immediately said, “I am so sorry – I completely forgot you were coming today. Don’t worry; I’ll get together a schedule and we’ll still get a lot done. Just give me ten minutes.” And, because improvising is a strength of mine, I did. And, because kindness is a strength of hers, when my boss asked how things went at the end of that day, she said, “Great! Hazel always keeps me on my toes. We got a lot done.”
I could have hugged her.
With that kind of early impression, there was really no rebounding. Obviously every meeting day since then I’ve been ready, had a sub, had plans, etc., but when things didn’t go according to plan or a new plan sounded better halfway through the day, I just quickly switched things around and rolled with whatever. I joke around with this consultant and have fun because – come on – I lost all sense of professionalism back in October. No reason to pretend I’ve got my shit together. She knows I don’t. It was actually kind of freeing. Pretending gets really tiring.
Last week the consultant was here again. We had a lockdown drill in the middle of one of our meetings, so I had to lock my door, pull the shades, turn off the lights, and then we had to go sit on the floor in the corner. It was, as I said, kind of awkward. That’s why I came out with “Got any secrets?” I explained how my friends and I used to tell secrets in the dark, and she thought that was funny. Then she surprised me and said, “Yes, I actually do have one.”
She went on to say, “This is totally unprofessional so please don’t tell anyone…but your school is my favorite of all the ones I consult.” Really? I told her no way, that she probably says that to every school. She continued, “No, seriously. I go to other schools, and people are so stuffy. They have these perfect schedules that we stick to down to the minute. They’re overly organized, and they’re stuck-up like they completely know what they’re doing all the time. You are fun, funny, and we get a ton done, but I never feel nervous when I’m here. You’re super relaxed and just roll with whatever comes up.” I laughed and responded, “You don’t know how badly I wish I could be like those people!!” Which is absolutely true. If I could be stuffy and organized and totally prepared for everything, trust me, I would be.
Trust me, I have been.
I won the award for “most organized” at my school last year. I was promoted to head of my department after only one year of employment at my last school. I’m the teacher who generally “has it all together.” My principal has sent in other teachers to observe me. The truth is, my technology consultant let me in on quite the secret last week. It’s just not the one that she thought she was telling me. Here’s the secret:
People like authentic.
People like real people.
People don’t like perfect people, because perfect people aren’t real.
I was authentically me only when I lost the ability to be anyone else. When I was so down that I literally couldn’t perform my usual “A-game,” that’s when I became likable. My consultant had never met pre-apocalyptic Hazel.
Apocalypse summer 2015 was when my life completely exploded. Full nuclear. Nothing was left of what it was before except for my cockroach-like husband (cockroach-like because he would stick with me through any sort of life explosion and destruction, like how a cockroach is supposed to survive a nuclear bomb. Other than that, my husband has nothing in common with a cockroach. Just to be clear).
Anyway, because the consultant didn’t know pre-apocalyptic Hazel, she didn’t know that I was supposed to be organized. She didn’t know I was supposed to have it all together like the stuffy people she can’t stand. She just knew that I was relatable and fun and that I don’t try to pretend to be someone I’m not. Truly, I feel like most days I am trying to get back to my super-teacher A-game. When I really think about it, though, that’s silly. Why do people spend so much time and energy trying to impress people they don’t even like? What if we could get our jobs done, still be very effective, but be okay with mistakes and shake the feeling that everything has to be perfect? What if we could be honest and confident about our strengths and weaknesses and just let the chips fall where they may? Confidence isn’t saying, “Everyone is going to love me.” It’s saying, “I don’t care if they do or not – I’m going to be me, and I’m going to be okay with whatever comes with that.”
That, my friends, is a way more important secret than the ones I told above my laundry room.
But seriously – if you run into Marcus, don’t tell him I liked him in seventh grade. Whoa. Embarrassing.