Greetings everyone! I’m excited to see so many of you here on this beautiful summer’s morning. Today is the day that the Lord has made and truly I will rejoice and be glad in it always. My fellow nannies, Agency Owners, Sue Downey, Seth Greenberg, Tamar Gogibedashvili, Allison Juienne, Tim Hathaway and all of you who have travelled from near and far to be here this day-thank you. If I told you that planning this event was not stressful and that it sometimes caused me to either break out in sweat or fall on my knees to seek the help and the wisdom of my creator, I would not be telling you the truth. Although I had the invaluable help of many others to coordinate this event, if I told you that I never questioned what the heck I was doing hosting such an event in Manhattan, I would be lying to you. But, what I never doubted and what never caused me a sleepless night was how important this event was, how important all of you are, you who have gathered here today to connect with your peers, fellow professionals like yourselves, to find inspiration, to find hope to carry on, and to be able to persevere through the many undoubtedly difficult times that we all face, but also to find love among ourselves and give forth that love freely.
It’s Saturday, and after a full week of work for many of you, I know you have errands to run, kids to take out and a ton of other things to do, so I’m humbled and grateful that you have taken time from your busy schedule to be here. This is a testament of your commitment to your advancement as professionals and to your willingness to learn, engage in effective dialogue and, most importantly, connect with a group of people with similar visions and common beliefs.
This brings me to the point where I would like to reference one of the greatest commencement speeches I’ve ever heard, the David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon speech in 2005. After greeting everyone, he shared this story:
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says “’Morning boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
David Foster Wallace went on to say:
“If you are worried now that I plan to represent myself here as the wise fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I’m not the wise old fish”. Just like David said, I’m not here to convert you either; I’m not the old wise fish. I’m not here to teach you HOW to think about the nanny profession or to force my ideas down your throats. As a matter of fact, if I attempted to do that, many of you would feel insulted.
Many of you have been able to create nurturing and successful relationships with your present and past employers and their children but also recognize that many work situations are still not favorable and are not conducive to personal development or the success of a family. Remember, I’m not here to question your capacity to think, but rather to help you choose WHAT you should think about in order to create sustained and fruitful relationships, better yourselves professionally and thus advance the profession itself.
Remember the guy David Foster Wallace I referenced earlier? He seemed to really like a great story, and so at that same commencement speech in Kenyon he told yet another story….. (and so it’s my turn to tell that story)
“There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was, was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp”
I’m sharing these stories that Wallace told simply to reiterate what he was trying to express to those graduates, “that the exact same experience can mean two different things to two different people, given those people’s different belief templates and different methods of constructing meaning from experience.” Could it be possible that many of you nannies are in similar work situations and that what you achieve or take from that work situation is simply based on how you decide to look at the job; how you viewed the experience or the opportunity that you were presented with, even when the situation was not the best or most favorable; and how you constructed meaning from such an experience?
Let’s explore this further with some relatable examples: A nanny calls and makes an appointment with a Nanny Placement Agency. Awesome! You have done well! She gets to the appointment on time – way to go! As she begins to fill out the form, she convinces herself that the questions being asked are totally ridiculous – yikes. Remember, that’s just what she thinks – her truth only. Instead of doing what the agency asks because that’s their protocol, she challenges the agency’s recruiter about “the ridiculous questions” and then abruptly leaves the office. Two months later, that nanny is still looking for a job.
Nanny 2 walks in and is given the same form, but she actually does what’s required of her by the agency and fills it out. She has mouths to feed and bills to pay so she stays focused as she’s coached and trained by the agency. The agency has detailed information about the nanny and is thus able to put together a compelling portfolio to pass along to potential families. Where is Nanny 2 today? She’s enjoying a fulfilling job somewhere on Manhattan’s Park Avenue.
The two nannies encountered the same situation but walked away with two different outcomes. Is it because of their belief template? Is it possible that Nanny 1 was not willing to learn or even follow basic rules regardless of whether she has decades of experience? Is it possible that she had a previous encounter with an agency that left her feeling defensive and untrusting? Was Nanny 2’s belief template regarding the nanny profession built on a strong awareness of the importance she plays in the lives of children, their families and society, ultimately creating a rewarding opinion of herself as a professional? Or could we ask whether Nanny 1 just saw the nanny profession as yet another weekly paycheck?
I pose these questions to you because many of us nannies work as professional nannies and are oblivious to the nature of the true nanny profession, about our rights and responsibilities, and frankly what it takes for us to forge ahead to meet the ever changing needs of the 21st century nanny. Perhaps because of the views shared by some segments of society, a few of you nannies are even ashamed to acknowledge that this is the job that you do. How is it possible to advance the cause of nannies and the overall profession when we can’t even acknowledge the work that we do and, more importantly, the value of the job that we do as professional nannies?
Perhaps the choice of WHAT to think about as it relates to the nanny profession should include such elements as always displaying professionalism – yes, you are indeed professionals. Perhaps we should be exploring training opportunities to stay up-to-date with new advancements and approaches in childcare. We should begin to understand our rights as workers, how to resolve conflict, and, most importantly, the need to care for ourselves in the same way we care for others. These are fundamentally important considerations when we choose what to think about.
But, I can’t end this speech without telling you that, among your choices of what to think about, one of the most important considerations is the idea that we are each other’s keepers, that I’ll look out for you, especially when I know that perhaps things are not going well. My friends and colleagues, even as we gather here today, some of you are facing homelessness; some of you are in such desperate situations that you find it hard to muster the strength to get up each day. Some of you not only find yourselves in these dire situations, but also have the innocent faces of your children watching and facing the challenges with you. I ask you never to give up, to find someone to speak with, to explore the help that may be available within our different nanny communities, and to be comforted in the knowledge that the storms of your lives that seem to cripple your spirits will pass. Calm winds will blow in your direction and the rays of the sun will shine down on you once more. Dare yourself to take those difficult situations and experiences and recreate new meanings from them.
For the rest of us, let’s live and work with a greater awareness like David Foster Wallace suggested, awareness of what’s real and essential, which is often hidden in plain sight – that you can help another and that you, through love, can give someone hope to carry on.
Thank you for being here today for being part of our community, your circle, my nanny circle and thank you for Connect with me; with our community at Nanny Connect Breakfast Event-Manhattan.