Dear Diary: Happiness is…

Growing up my parents bought me a Peanuts bedsheet set that was filled with “Happiness is…” sayings. How does someone find happiness in a career? A wise person once said “It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.” It’s been a long road figuring out my career purpose, but it has been empowering pursuing my passion for justice.

Three years ago this fall I moved back to California to pursue my dreams. I taught at the University of Texas at Austin for 8 years and was tenured there. It was my first job after completing my doctorate at Stanford. I wasn’t interested in leaving Texas, I appreciated the community at UT and I loved my students.

However, I have had so much more opportunity to work for justice here in the Golden State. I have treasured:

  • Working with an inspiring faculty and students at California State
  • Being involved with community coalitions
  • Working behind the scenes on legislation and policy
  • Leading and advising in the California civil rights community
  • Engaging in many, many conversations, Cambridge-style debates and lectures worldwide
  • Having a voice and role in social media

So right now, California is a safe word for me.

But there have been some hiccups. This past week I presented at the Race, Inequality and Language Conference at Stanford University. It was my first talk at my alma mater so I was a little more nervous than usual. The coding data exercise in my #RILEconference17 presentation dragged more than I wanted- which was disappointing, but I thought overall the 1.5 hour talk went well. I met lots of inspiring graduate students which was uplifting. It was very meaningful to give so many of my former professors hugs. I also want to say it was amazing to see my mentee showing out on his poster session. All of that makes the data exercise hiccup feel better.

After my Stanford talk, I realized that moving to California has allowed me to realize my passion for discovering, innovating and engaging at double the pace that I experienced in Texas. My passion has been empowered as my purpose at California State University Sacramento.

I had dinner with Linda Darling-Hammond, my mentor, last week when she visited to give a keynote at Sacramento State. She asked me, “Julian, are there any negatives to being back in California?” I have been thinking about that question since that day. I revist this question because (although it isn’t common knowledge) I had campus interviews for College of Education Dean positions in several states last year. I suspect that the headhunters call because I currently serve as the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership, one of four chair-level leadership positions in the College of Education. The next natural role in the life of an academic would often be to Dean or Associate Dean. But I am not so sure that is the direction I want to go now. In some ways I really want to emulate Linda and stay engaged in the policy space instead of institution building. I view LDH’s path with the School Redesign Network, then SCOPE, and now the Learning Policy Institute as the ideal. But you know what they say, the sequel is never as good as the original.

In conclusion, I’m always open to good advice. I’d like some next time I see you.

Happiness is… being on the path for justice. (Thanks Snoopy)

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A few travel notes for this week: I’ll be in NYC on Thursday having a conversation about charters schools with the DFER’s Shavar Jefferies. I’ll fly directly from NYC to Oakland for the Network for Public Education conference. Please join us if you are in NYC or Oakland.




  • Julian,
    You inspire many of us, even though we seldom interact with you or have only met you once or twice. Your happiness is what is important; without it, you cannot ‘show up’ in the fullness of who you are. Whatever path you take, listen to the voice inside; it will guide and lead you. Stay connected with your heart and your skills and talents will intersect to continue create spaces for your passion, whatever they are and whatever they may become in the days ahead. You are a light in a sometimes dark space. Thanks for modeling what Brene Brown would say is the “vulnerability” that is a necessary part of “daring greatly.”


  • You have done more than you think. You gave voice to one who thought had no voice. You gave inspiration to one who thought all hope was gone. The day I interviewed for admission into the Doctoral program I knew that hope was alive again. You just have to remember that happiness is found in many places that you did not think to look.


  • Never doubt the impact that you are having. Looking forward to seeing you in Oakland.


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