Recently, I posted a picture of myself on Instagram, and to my surprise, I received likes from folks I have not seen in quite a while. One of them, a young lady who attended the middle and high school after-school program I managed five years ago, commented on the picture by saying, “Hi Miss Tiaaaana.” She shared photos of her daughter with me, and in one of our messages, told me that some other girls who attended 20 West wanted to reunite to catch up. Hearing that my old students wanted to link back up warmed my heart and ignited sweet memories of teaching the girls’ mentoring program.
Out of all the activities I facilitated with our program’s youth, I loved the girls’ mentoring program the most. These timid and boisterous teen girls shared very intimate stories of disappointment, insecurity, achievement, and inadequacies so naturally with the staff and me. Before class, the girls would ask, “What we are talking about today, Miss T?” We would form a circle and talk about annoying teachers, relentless boys, and overbearing parents. Within a couple of months of starting the program, I knew the staff and I had created a safe space for the girls to be vulnerable and curious about their feelings, aspirations, and day-to-day experiences.
During one of the sessions, one of my students shared her sad feelings of feeling inadequate from having been bullied because of her dark skin. And as a result of the bullying, she now suffered from low self-esteem. I also remember a young lady sharing about becoming sexually active at 11 and how engaging in sex at so early an age has shaped her view of dating and boys. Our staff listened without judgment and supported these girls with sound advice and care. After many laughs, tears, and shared experiences, I slowly felt us bonding, and I knew that the work we were doing with the girls affected their lives positively, and in turn, their lives have affected me. I felt a sense of gratification and purpose, and at that time in my life, I knew my work mattered.
But now I am grappling with being a program director. Learning that the work’s nature is rooted in business and after five years of working as a director, I am unsure if a business career will satisfy me in the long term. This emotion is scary because now I am not sure what profession best fits me. Currently, I am in graduate school studying organizational leadership. I chose to study administration because, as an after-school program director, I thought the course work would increase my administrative skills and abilities. Lately, I’ve felt like I am in a dead zone. Working remotely and spending little time directly with the staff has me questioning my purpose and figuring out the next steps in my career.
I know I am a leader, but I wonder where do my leadership skills genuinely lie? I know it is not creating schedules, sitting in meetings, or making sure staff paychecks are correct. These responsibilities are all essential to managing programs, but still, the work feels dry and dull.
To keep it real, I believe we must devote our time and energy to work that connects our talents and gifts to people who need us the most.
Unfortunately, I feel disappointed with being a director because my staff is not getting the best of what I have to offer. I know this because I lack the enthusiasm and drive to improve my skills and become the best director I can be.
Being a director does not fill me with joy the way I felt when I worked with youth. I was full of zeal and passion when I worked with children.
Although I have felt a void of an emotional connection to my work for some time now, I understand that emotions do not pay the rent. I am grateful to be able to work. And whether I like what I am doing or not, I know that I am learning new skills and abilities to connect to my next venture in my professional career. However, my old student calling me “Miss Tiannnnnna” made me feel connected to that time in my life when I knew for sure what I had to offer to the world was valuable. The small exchange of words and pictures with my old student felt like a call to action to find my way back to what makes me feel purposeful and valuable.
For breakfast, I had sausage and eggs.