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I Push Buttons

How one woman learned that her ability to ‘push buttons’ would ultimately become her super power.

(This blog piece is written by Cloe Klaus)

I push buttons. I've been told this many times, in many forms over the years.

During college, for example, my program director brought me to her office, had me take up "the chair," and asked why I always had to push buttons. This particular conversation was in regards to my recent lip ring acquired over the holiday break, even though it was against program policy to wear one during clinical hours. Ultimately, due to an infection that slowed healing, I was forced to either miss out on required clinical hours or remove the piercing and watch as it closed up and scarred down. I felt a compromise was appropriate, but was forced to make a choice. Although I couldn't articulate it at the time, even then I had a strong sense of personal agency and expression that I had no desire to dampen. I began to realize that my ability to push buttons would also force others out of their comfort zone and that wouldn’t always be an easy space to navigate.

During this pause in time, thanks to the recent COVID-19 epidemic, I've been able to reflect on a lot of things. What are my priorities in life? How does my work and professional identity fit into the balance? What routines and feelings from the #socialdistancing era do I want to continue and move forward with once the world resumes? How has this time-out shaped my views of both professional and personal environments? I find that I am once again grappling with invisible walls of etiquette and protocol that feel outdated and pointless, when compromise and curiosity would be more appropriate. I'll chalk some of this up to having recently binged the Lost Girl TV series before it was removed from Netflix, but like the ass-kicking, blade-wielding, I'll-do-it-my-way and no-one-can-tell-me-who-to-be heroine of the show, my adrenaline is spiking and I'm preparing for a fight to defend who I am.

If you are ever fortunate enough to meet my Mother, you will likely hear a story or two from my childhood. You will also hear her gush over her three beautiful grandchildren, including the youngest who reminds just about everyone of me, when I was a child. Maybe these are traits given to the youngest in the family, but we both prove stubborn, independent, and a little on the dare devil side. This youngest niece of mine has even iterated her very own version of my favourite line as a kid: "Me do'd it myself." She is bold, outgoing and seems very secure in who she is. She pushes buttons.

I was fortunate to grow up in a family that accepted me for all of who I am. My roles have definitely changed over the years, including athlete, musician, professional, teacher, and tobacco picker (yes, really)...but ever since I came out of the closet as a lesbian, just before my 19th birthday, I have always been true to who I am and what I believe. I am passionate. I am driven. And I have high personal standards. I also believe that no one should be able to put limits on your personal expression so long as you are not causing harm. I absolutely rail at the thought of someone telling another what articles of clothing are acceptable to wear, or how their hair may be worn, based on gender-role ideals and caucasian standards. I believe "falling in line" strips away individual expression and passion, and I would rather promote autonomy, creativity, and flexible teamwork. I am not afraid to challenge the status quo where I see potential for improvement. I push buttons.

Today, I find myself in a career as an athletic trainer and there is so much that I want out of myself in regards to my professional growth. I love this field and I find that the more I know, and the better I get with certain skills (whether that is evaluating an injury, assessing movement, or executing rehabilitation plans), I also realize how much MORE there is to learn. It truly is a profession that requires life long learning, self-exploration, and challenging yourself to improve so that you can do your best for your patients.

Athletic training is also a profession that is only done right collaboratively. We work with several other healthcare professionals, including orthopedic physicians and surgeons, psychiatrists and counselors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, massage therapists...the list goes on! We also work closely with our patients and their support - sometimes that includes coaches, teammates, and administrators, other times that may be spouses, prosthetists, or even drill sergeants. The point is this: we work in teams. If you're lucky, you work with a team of supportive, intelligent individuals, all directed toward the same goal. If you are truly fortunate, you are free to share ideas, passion and excitement, to push each other to be better, and to challenge other's held beliefs and current knowledge, all while changing and growing together for the betterment of all. The best teams can even blur the lines between position, title, and skill sets, to work as one cooperative group. That is how I work best. I get excited about an idea and I share that excitement and my progress with others. I ask for input, and I share input. I like to challenge people when they say "no," or "this is how it’s done," and at times, I'll keep pressing for the change that is needed. And when I see that something is lacking, whether in myself or around me, I take it personally and work to fix it. If you were to suppress my excitement or try to control its direction, you would also threaten those other aspects of personal accountability that make me a good teammate. Teams generally do well when you allow the individual to thrive and be themselves, but do poorly when limiting personal expression or requiring permission to speak. Dampen this one part of my expression and you will affect everything I bring to the table. How can we push buttons to continue to make each other, and our teams, better?

You may have already asked aloud, "what happened with the lip ring?" I chose to remove the piercing and continue my clinical hours without addressing it again. Should something like that happen now, I would push for a review of the policy that forced my choice in hope of positive change. I would not be surprised to learn that most people believe that you have to pick your battles. It's also likely they would not pick the same nor as many battles as I do. So far as a professional, I have: created dialogue with athletes about harmful slurs; apprised coworkers of important intersectionality concerns when they were using off-colour humour; apologized when I snapped at an athlete when I was exhausted; created a safe place for athletes to talk about their sexuality, depression, anxiety, and stress; confronted a senior co-worker on their aggressive communication style when others would not; provided the impetus for student-athlete workshops addressing cultural diversity, gender equity, and inclusion; and created an anonymous feedback tool for patients, which has provided some hard truths that have also allowed for great growth. You see, even I have to work outside my comfort zone and adapt to my buttons being pushed, while continuing to challenge those around me.

Now I write this note, more to myself than others, as a reminder that my passion, drive, and desire for teamwork and inclusivity are paramount to my value as a person and a professional. I believe that the way we talk to and treat each other is one of the most important things to fight for. Learning to do this...well, it never ends. It is messy and humbling, usually full of mistakes and apologies, and requires awareness, adapting knowledge, and compassion. We must create space for our differences and embrace them, even when it’s uncomfortable, because they are worth the fight. We must push buttons.

As we move forward and deal with the effects of the virus, government shutdowns, and social isolation, it's hard to say what the future will hold. I can't imagine things going "back to normal" since we saw such a shift in daily life, but we have also seen how life can still go on. So, what do I want for the future? I want to see my niece stubbornly retain that true sense of who she is with the courage to always express herself. I want to see friends and family recapture a sense of wonder with the world, and rediscover forgotten talents. I would be thrilled to see co-workers bring their outside passions and roles to the workplace, and feel free to be their genuine selves while enriching our shared space and common goals.

Me? I will keep pushing buttons.