“My heart flutters a bit. This happens every time I am getting ready to share my story. It is even scarier now that I am writing it down as a permanent document – for the world to see.
Is it safe to be this vulnerable? Yet, I know it is the right thing to do. And often, doing the right thing is not easy. I know how critically important it is for students to see their faculty as whole human beings – not just the sage at the front of the classroom – but living, breathing human beings who experience doubt, challenges, and failures. You see, just like our students, the Penn Face is all too real for faculty.
I am the daughter of Caribbean immigrant parents who were undocumented at their time of entry into the United States. I grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Not the gentrified Brooklyn that is, today, ever so hip and popular. No, I lived in a Brooklyn to which cab drivers refused to go. A single father, not educated, raised me. A father who drove a NYC yellow cab until his untimely passing in 2009. I grew up in a neighborhood where most of my neighbors looked like me. Unfortunately, though, people in positions of power did not. And so, the subliminal messages about not being good enough were present early on.
My father’s messages about my strength and ability to conquer the world were, too often, countered by narratives from a world that said I was “not good enough.” Not good enough because I was black…Not good enough because my parents spoke with an accent…Not good enough because my parents were uneducated… Not good enough because I lived in Brooklyn…Not good enough because of my average grades… Not good enough to attend college…Not good enough to be a nurse… Not good enough for graduate school… Not good enough to be a professor… Just not good enough…But somehow my father’s messages were louder and here I am today…college-educated, a nurse, a professor. I am more than good enough!
Yet, sometimes that counter-narrative sneaks in and the voices in my head whisper, “you are not good enough.” The questions that soon follow. Will this be a day that I stand in front of the class and just go blank during my lecture? Will this be a day that my article is rejected and I cannot share crucial information about the lives of black men who are dealing with hypertension? Will this be a day that I just do not have it together, no matter how hard I try? Will this be a day that when asked how am I doing, I put on my Penn Face and respond, “fine” when I know that I am not.
Or, do I say on this day, “go away, counter-narrative; go away Penn Face. You are not welcome here.” You see, we will have days that we are not feeling fine. We will have days where we have not accomplished what we needed to. We will have days where we fail at a task. It is a normal fact of life. And, you know what? We will STILL be good enough. We will be MORE than good enough.
It is so important to counter the “not good enough” and “failure” narratives. For me, it required talking with a therapist for two years. In those two years, I learned that I was absolutely good enough. I gave myself permission to be myself, in my entirety. That meant that I was both good enough and imperfect – not one or the other – both. This was the space I claimed for myself and I rejected others’ narrative of me. Whose narratives do you need to reject?
It is still a struggle to counter the “not good enough” narrative. Good enough and imperfect that I am. In sharing my story, I stand in solidarity with my Penn students. You are not alone. And together, we can eliminate the “not good enough” and Penn Face narrative.”
– Lisa Lewis, PhD, RN, FAAN
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing