“Let’s be alone together”: On community building, vulnerability, and growing edges

Subject line from Alone Together by Fall Out Boy

I have a confession to make.

Nearly a year ago, I sat with one of the professors in my program and told her, “I’m thinking of leaving the program.” I felt unhappy, disconnected, and seriously questioning if I was getting what I needed to from where I was. The only reason I stayed through the remainder of the semester was because I was working with a classmate in statistics and didn’t want to leave her high and dry. Plus, I was enjoying the class and really was appreciative of the professor.

When I met with this professor, I was up front that I wasn’t sure that this program was for me, highlighting how disconnected I felt with everyone in the department. Wile I appreciated being able to only come onto campus once a week, I also didn’t get to connect with students. I felt conflicted between working full time and being a student full time. (Caveat: I recognize that many of my colleagues and many people do that – I had a really hard terms doing that, feeling pulled in ways that didn’t allow me to give my all in anything that I did.)

She and I talked about what some of my choices might be. Rather than telling me to stick it out, she asked what I wanted, what would help my experience. Connection. Everything in me was screaming for more connection: with classmates, professors, the department as a whole.

In one year’s time, everything has changed. I interview next week to potentially join the PhD program and I just came from lunch with a classmate. I have one-on-one conversations with people, and I feel that it’s beneficial and good for us both.

What changed?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that. And, especially after the conversation I had today over lunch, one word to describe a large chunk of this change is vulnerability. When I became willing (and able) to be more than a student, I was able to begin building a small community here. While my classmates and I don’t agree with each other on everything, and sometimes, I feel really frustrated by my interactions, I also know that having some people I can say, “Let’s have lunch and talk about this” has really helped me feel more connected.

BrenĂ© Brown talks about this as part of vulnerability and shame resilience, ways to be able to be open and honest with people, and still feel connected. That that connection allows us the strength to continue to practice and peel away more of the layers of protection we’ve built up around ourselves.

We’ve built those walls for good reasons… What becomes important to learn is why they are there and is it possible – with some people – to share pieces of ourselves? In what ways can we begin to connect authentically?

This connects with storytelling… It’s part of what I’ve been thinking and leaning into…


2 thoughts on ““Let’s be alone together”: On community building, vulnerability, and growing edges

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