As we step out of the Honduran heat and into the blue-tinted shade of a tarp-covered classroom, a wave of fear and anxiety wash over us. It is palpable. It is also understandable. Our sixteen weeks of talking, planning, organizing, theorizing, assuming and discussing have come to an end. We are here to meet our clients. And, the conditions are cacophonous. Kids are laughing. Dogs are barking. Babies are crying. And, soccer balls are ricocheting all around us. Our personal space is being encroached upon. Multiple people are seeking our attention simultaneously. We are out of our context. We are out of culture. We are out of our comfort zones. But, we have a job to do.
We are here to deliver the services our clients pay for with their time and hard earned lempiras.
It is in Honduras that my students become the experts and I become the observer.
It is in Honduras that they feel the true weight, pressure and responsibility of their work.
Whether they are teaching a class, interviewing a client, executing a loan or orchestrating a meeting, at one time or another, each student will be asked to step forward and act upon her semester’s worth of work. She is called to the center of the Arena. And, her work will be judged, weighed and considered in the unforgiving and remorseless light of reality.
It is a moment of extreme vulnerability. Her work is a reflection of a semester’s worth of choices.
- How often did she seek feedback from her peers and experts in the field?
- How often did she dig deep for a more nuanced understanding?
- How many times did she hit the snooze button?
- How often did she put in overtime?
The Arena pulls this string of former and seemingly innocuous choices forward for judgment.
- Did she stretch herself too thin?
- Did she over-promise?
- Did she put her work on the back burner?
We get answers to all these questions.
There is no hiding the truth.
This is the Arena.
It is not a multiple choice exam where she has a 1 in 4 chance of selecting the right answer at random. It is not a research paper that she can fill up with an all-nighter’s worth of persuasive bullshit. And, it is not a presentation where she can charm us with her humor, oratory charisma, and snazzy graphics.
The Arena is not her friend. It is not party to any I-will-take-it-easy-on-you-if-you-take-it-easy-on-me-during-peer-review-pacts. It will not coddle her, comfort her or tell her that it’s okay. It is indifferent to the set-backs she has endured, the distance she has traveled, or the hurdles she has had to clear to get here. It does not care. And, it does not play fair.
It will upend her time table, disrupt her flow and interrupt her checklist. It will abscond with promised resources, generate obstacles and manufacture unfavorable conditions with a blank-stare.
It is nothing personal.
It does not know who she is, what she is about, or where she comes from. It has no interest in knowing.
It is the Arena.
It pulverizes her work into a powder, pulls out a scale and weighs its relevance. And, it delivers its judgment without delay or discretion.
How could it not? She is standing in the center of the Arena.
I am looking at her. Our clients are looking at her. The rest of the Tribe is looking at her.
The love, thought, and passion she put into her work become obvious. So do the all the flaws, lack of preparation and mediocrity. And, if things start to unravel, then the rest of us will have to step in and rescue her work. Yeah, we’ll be polite about it. But, it does not change the fact that she has let us down, wasted our clients’ time, and sullied our reputation. We all pay the price.
She’d rather be given an “F” than witness these consequences. But, the Arena does not give out letter grades. It’s either thumbs up or thumbs down. Anyway, we are not here for the letter grade. We are here to do the work.
There are no study guides, tutoring services or practice problems to prepare her for this moment of judgment. Forget the flashcards. There is nothing to memorize for a “mind dump.” The only thing she can (and may) regurgitate are her baleadas.
The Arena will have her crying, cursing and calling out for her momma (it does this to us all). She has one job in the midst of this madness. Fight back the tears, dilute the verbal venom building on her vocal cords, and take the lead and deliver.
And, if she’s triumphant, there’s no gold star.
The Arena will be unmoved. It will just point her in the direction of the bigger Arena down the road.
We don’t have a final exams. We have the Arena.
The stage is set for the battle.