Culture can make you feel like you are drowning in darkness and yet it has the ability to float you to the surface where there is light. As a creative individual, your culture can enhance and empower like ripples cast by a stone. However, should you find yourself in a toxic culture, the effects can be life altering. When I reflect on my past professional and personal experiences and the impact my culture had on my sense of self and my ability to persevere; I realized my definition of culture had evolved.
My culture changed me both mentally and physically. The abuse of power destroyed my confidence and my career. When I reached out for support, my culture turned cold and unrecognizable. Faced with the decision to leave or remain in a constant hyper vigilant state, I chose to seek an alternative culture. Confused and broken, I withdrew and tried to heal. After years of devotion, I felt unworthy and abandoned by my culture.
I sought solace in nature, colors, words and relationships. They were essential and effective. Determined to understand, I started to piece together what had happened. Confused and at times catatonic, I began surrounding myself with family and friends who reminded me of my potential and guided me with advice. Reclusive and paranoid, I was left with reoccurring thoughts and obsessive habits. Scrolling through Hire Culture and Indeed employment posts at the same speed as a teenager snapping friends.
Lost and grasping for air, I began writing. In an attempt to organize my thoughts and process what I could with my therapist, I created a website. It became evidence for myself. Images that I had captured and experiences that I was proud of. I needed to be optimistic about where I was going and be patient about how long the process was going to take.
I needed to educate myself on what resources I had available to me. Due to the cognitive impairment I struggled to convey my thoughts in a logical way. I was trying to construct my elevator pitch only all I could think about was the music playing in the background.
Volunteering as a photographer allowed me to focus on the awe and serendipitous occurrences that we often overlook. The more I gave of myself the more I felt connected and invigorated by these new non-profit relationships. Creativity and community networking gave me hope. I began searching for an alternative culture that might accept my scars as evidence to inspire others to act.
As anger and resentment would boil up, I had to rely on my family to redirect my negativity. No contact meant I had create habits that were healthy and productive. Growth meant moving on without validation.
Grasping for the stability of employment as the finances were being drained at an unprecedented rate. I no longer lived in fear of losing my job but I now worried about never finding a job. Spiraling through days dizzy and unbalanced.
Unemployment was not an option. I needed to escape the house that I had grown trapped in. I attempted to repair the devastation that I had inflicted on our finances.
In the most unlikely position I found my culture. I thrived on the diversity that it provided, the eclectic mix of individuals from various backgrounds mixed together was refreshing. Each valued for what they brought to the community. Experiences shared in various languages and expressed through food. Comradely and collaboration fueled our culture. Enhanced by the farm mentality it was like dirt therapy. I was accepted and celebrated with genuine kindness. Culture became what I was experiencing in the present sense no longer limited to the past in a historic nostalgic way. By accepting, sharing, laughing and celebrating with me, my culture reshaped how I interacted and allowed me to reinvent my role. In only a matter of months, I felt like the last eight years were a blur. The culture that I had been accustomed to for the first fifteen years of my career, was destroyed by a covert narcissistic administrator who used his position to target my soul. I had learned that my empathetic nature and traumatic childhood had left me vulnerable. Now educated and empowered this farm community became my new culture. My culture gave me clarity and confidence. I had found my people.
My culture had changed me and so I needed to reconnect and reevaluate what I defined as culture. Networking and being visible was invigorating. My experiences gave me strategies to cope with loss, feel grateful and be resourceful. That’s when I knew that I wanted to influence others in the same way that my culture had rescued me. Therefore, I’m advocating for an alternative opportunity for students and educators to counteract the impact of our current school culture.
Culture has the ability to impact our lives by weighing us down or lifting us up. How we value each other ultimately makes us stronger. Please consider the possibilities that can be achieved if we reflect on our own culture. I’m not saying that it will be easy or that change will be welcomed only that the outcomes will outweigh the costs. What could that do to for other communities as well as our own? We have the ability to give communities living models of successful programs and provide opportunities to collaborate. Our optimism will cause a ripple effect that will awaken our senses thereby influencing culture and enhancing lives.