10 Lessons from First Semester

I wish I could come up with a more original metaphor, but my first semester of grad school truly was a whirlwind. So far graduate school has disrupted my artistry, my practice, my thinking, my writing, and my life in all of the best ways. This semester was equal parts terrifying and exciting. I can’t check off the following life lessons like my daily to-do list. They are in progress because I am in progress. Here are the ten big ideas that are rolling around in my brain at the end of first semester:

1. Leap outside of your comfort zone. Teach 11th graders, even if most of your teaching artist practice lives in a pre-k through 6th grade context. Break out. If you’re the first to answer a question or offer a solution in a discussion, see what happens if you speak last. Change up the patterns in your life. Say “yes” to those around you, and see what happens.

2. Take ownership. Of every success, discovery, challenge, mistake and curiosity that you experience. Own it. These things make you, you. Own what you know, and own what you don’t know.

3. Wear that “mantle-of-the-expert.” Sometimes you have to fake it ‘til you make it. Often, the most important person to fool is yourself. Assume the expert knowledge and authority you need in order to trust yourself.

4. If you feel like you’re in a pressure-cooker, you’re in the right place. A wise colleague of mine said to me this semester, “These programs are disruptive by design.” These three-year intensive MFAs are the fastest way to the most growth as an artist. It’s supposed to be hard.

5. You’re not there to prove yourself, but you’re going to try anyway. Acknowledge the truth in both parts of this statement. Trust that you’re supposed to be here. Take comfort in the fact that the impulse to prove oneself makes you a human being. Acknowledge its reality, breathe, and release yourself from self-imposed pressure.

6. Feedback is love. You will be inundated with feedback, questions and things to think about for next time. Write it down, process, and realize that feedback does not mean you screwed up. It doesn’t mean you failed. It means you’re learning.

7. New things don’t mean that the old things go away. I’m borrowing this line from the theatre for the very young piece, Jamie Doesn’t Want to Take a Bath that I was in this semester, written by my friend and colleague, Bethany Corey. I reminded myself of this constantly this semester. Grad school runs on feedback. Everyone wants to help you improve your process, your products and everything in between. It comes from a good place. But in the inundation of feedback, don’t forget about what you already know. Similarly, in this new exciting grad school world, don’t forget about the friends and family who didn’t get to come with you. Call them. They like that.

8. Assume the best in people. You can choose how you listen and receive information from others. Whether you agree with someone or not, assume it’s coming from a good place.

9. Remember: it’s called practice. Take comfort in practice. Accept that there will always be room for improvement, more points to make in a paper, or a different way to structure a lesson. Instead of paralyzing and scaring you, let the fact that your artistry will always be a work in progress comfort and excite you.

10. None of this really ends. Classes wrap up, papers are submitted, email lightens up (if we’re lucky). This is only temporary. Breathe in the accomplishment, celebrate the present moment, then ask, “What’s next?”

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