Welcome back to Term 4, and a special welcome to the new families who have joined us over the break.
While many were on holidays over the past fortnight there were also a number of girls, staff and parents involved across a range of events. These included the Interschools National Competition; Combined Independent Schools Athletics; All Schools Athletic Championships and the Round Square International Conference in South Africa. The generosity and dedication of parents and staff, to organise and lead these events should never be taken for granted and I am grateful for the efforts of so many people.
Term 3 finished in the most wonderful way for our Year 12 2017 cohort. The Valedictory celebrations were poignant and simply beautiful. The Formal was a fitting end to an emotionally charged week. As the girls and their partners were presented to me, I saw the young women they had become and was suitably proud of the class and polish they exuded. Congratulations to Year 12 and to your wonderful parents.
As the HSC began yesterday, the girls looked ready to finish their thirteen years of education with purpose and conviction. Our thoughts are with them all for the next three weeks.
School terms are something akin to the seasons of the weather and each is distinctively different. This final Term is the shortest of the year so many things are compressed into a tighter timeline. Whilst we all know that “pressure creates diamonds” it can also create anxiety so organisation, balance and placing things in order of importance is key. Not the least of these are the fundamentals of learning and being fully engaged in schoolwork and academic endeavours. It is timely to remind our girls of the importance of this priority during all that lies ahead.
Finally, the recent tragic events in Las Vegas and Somalia are almost beyond belief. They unfortunately highlight the violent and random world in which we live. As parents and educators we can help our children and young people to be individuals of hope whose actions are counter to this world view. As is often mentioned to the girls, we can only control our own actions and we can influence our immediate sphere by being people of peace and compassion.
I have attached for your reference the Valedictory Address delivered by Ms Amy Currant, a NEGS Old Girl. Ms Currant talks about balance; knowing yourself and being brave. It is enlightening and well worth the read.
Year 12 Valedictorian Address – Thursday 21 September 2017
Delivered by Amy Currant
Welcome to the class of 2017, your families, friends and the broader NEGS community……..
Just walking up here now, I am reflecting that the distance between that chair and this stage is a lifetime. It was a little under 30 years ago that I was sitting where you all are today and for many of you about to embark on the next chapter of your life. That it was so long ago and still feels like it was only yesterday, is slightly horrifying.
With that in mind I was considering what may have been useful for me to have known, leaving the safety and predictability of the school environment and transitioning into this new phase.
That said, I would like to spend as little time as possible telling you about what I have “done” since leaving here (what I refer to as Ego Story) and more about what I have learnt (my Soul Story). My hope is you walk away today feeling like you got something.
This is the most exciting time of your life with endless possibilities lying before you AND the world you are now stepping into is infinitely more complicated, interconnected, uncertain and continuously changing.
I imagine right now and probably for some time, the question that keeps being asked of you is:
What are you going to do? What’s your plan?
It’s an important question and certainly requires consideration but life plans can limit you because of the unimaginable opportunities yet to be invented. It is only part of the whole picture and maybe we believe it’s the only thing, or at least I did.
I think Margaret Young says is best:
Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse.
You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.
I am proud of my achievements. I don’t want to dismiss the importance of them or the recognition I received. I worked very hard for them. I didn’t get to where I am today and doing what I do now without those successes. The work I now do holds me accountable in every aspect of my life. It keeps me in integrity. How can I suppose to sit with and support CEO’s of organisations or Nobel Peace Prize recipients or my family or indeed anyone, if I don’t keep doing my own work – the ongoing and never ending enquiry of understanding one’s self.
It takes courage, discipline and practice. And it doesn’t generally live in the world of fun, quick fixes and thrill seeking. There are often no tangible results.
However, we don’t get to grow as human beings and realise our full potential unless we get uncomfortable and are prepared to go into and meet all the parts of ourselves, particularly the ones we don’t like. I am starting to really believe that this life is a journey towards wholeness – integrating and accepting all the bits of us. While the road gets rough, we get lost and take a wrong turn at times, the reward is great.
So I would like to use this opportunity (hopefully without being too self indulgent), to share with you some of my own lessons and reflections around real self acceptance, belonging and living an authentic life. What I now know and recognise is that the relationship I have with myself is the most important one I will ever have.
For most of my school and adult life my limiting self belief has been:
“ I am not enough”.
While outwardly confident, I have always been plagued by self doubt. To feel like I belonged somewhere and to derive a sense ofworthiness, I got hooked into striving, looking good, being perfect, highly driven and seeking approval. I wish I had spent more time learning and understanding myself rather than trying to create a persona that I “thought” would be acceptable and admired.
As a side note, I frequently reflect on the way we communicate now and the distorted version of reality created via social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. It can be a minefield of “comparisonitis”, an insidious and toxic condition where we validate ourselves against manufactured and photo-shopped images. Lives defined by how many likes we get. What it actually does, I believe, is undermines our authenticity and produces more anxiety that we are not enough as we are …… I don’t dispute there are good aspects to it, and I am an active participant but the information and images should peak our curiosity, inspire us and fire our imaginations.
Real belonging is not changing yourself to fit in with the group. True belonging demands we be who we are, otherwise we betray ourselves and that’s not sustainable.
I realised this much later in life when by all accounts I had been highly “successful” but I felt like an imposter and had lost myself along the way. There was nothing actually wrong and yet it felt wrong? Why wasn’t it enough? Shouldn’t I be happy? I must be selfish to feel this way and so further reinforcing the belief of not being enough.
It was only when I experienced the real cost of my habitual thinking (the anxiety/stress/constant worry), that I made the choice to change and to start a journey of conscious self discovery – an exploration into the way I thought and my core beliefs that were no longer useful. And that ultimately led me to the work I do today.
It isn’t all about what you do – although it is necessary to do something as long as it is aligned with who you ARE. Maybe a better quality question is not WHAT do you want to do but WHO are you committed to being in the world? What makes your heart sing?
What connects you to something bigger than yourself?
You won’t always know and you don’t need to know how or what that may look like, because if you generate your life from the place of your authentic self and the qualities/values/beliefs that support that, the “WHAT” will come. It can’t not. Put your energy and focus into being the very best version of you and trust your inner guidance system.
It doesn’t mean we don’t take side steps and detours along the way. This is not a linear journey. It’s necessary to develop flexibility, adaptability and resilience. They are necessary qualities to navigate the complexities and changing landscapes. It’s important to not be so rigid and closed to others perspectives and willing to challenge your own, but not to do so at the cost of your intention to stay true to who you are.
So how did I move forward and what did I learn that might be useful to you?
I started to get curious about who I really was and discovered that we just make it all up. Just as I had created the limiting belief that I was not enough, I could also create something else. So I started to embrace the values of gratitude, generosity and contribution – not just to others, but also to myself.
I now feel the best about myself when I am making a contribution that completely aligns with who I am committed to being. That, in my view, is mastering true self worth.
I learnt (and am still learning) to be gentle and forgiving of myself when I don’t get it “right” because you won’t always get it right – we are human – imperfect, infallible humans.
Embrace those bits of yourself that are “icky” and you don’t quite like, that make mistakes and mucks up …..all of them….. and love them as you would your best friend or someone you deeply care for.
We all know how to be a good friend and I wonder, would you speak to your friend or give them a hard time when they fall over, the way you speak to yourself? I suspect not. You would give them words of encouragement, remind them of all their good qualities and lift their spirits.
So why do we think its acceptable to speak to ourselves in hurtful and damaging ways? Be a friend to yourself and give yourself the gifts of compassion and loving kindness that you give to others. I believe the quality of our internal self talk determines our reality and the latest neuroscience is starting to support this.
It’s not to say that we don’t pause for self reflection and look at how we might do things differently next time. The key here is mess up, own up, clean up and learn. There is infinite power in apologising quickly and sincerely. But most importantly it’s to check in with yourself, forgive yourself and recommit to what actually matters.
And finally, cultivating connection in our relationships with others. We can’t do this in isolation. While we may have a story (let’s be frank – it was my story) that you have to be independent and should know how to do all this, reach out and lean into being vulnerable when it’s hard. And most importantly surround yourself with a community of people who see you and love you for all that you are and all that you are not. Take the friendships that serve you well from this place and those you are yet to create, to build networks and systems of people who will hold you to account – those who are willing to witness your messiness and humanness and not judge you because of it. To call you out on your stuff and support you to keep taking responsibility for your own life.
Today, sitting in the audience I still have one such friendship, which I made here at NEGS, Kate McCamley. Although we may not have stayed in touch as much as we would have liked, she has always been there and I know that when I pick up the phone it was just like yesterday. I believe and hope you do too, that our friendship has endured because each of us believes in the other more than we do in ourselves and our job is to keep reminding one another when we may have forgotten.
And finally to close I would like to borrow the words of one of my favourite social researchers and teachers, Brene Brown:
“The truth is that meaningful change is a process. It can be uncomfortable and is often risky, especially when we are talking about embracing our imperfections, cultivating authenticity, and looking the world in the eye and saying ‘I am enough’. However afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this: What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think or letting go of how I feel, what I believe and who I am?
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It’s about cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
Go well Class of 2017. Step boldly into your future willing to share yourself fully and all the lives you touch with your unique magnificence.