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Who am I? – The art of finding yourself

By Jackie Chism, Lighthouse Communications Coord. and Licensed Educator
who-am-iRelax, sit back, and let me tell you a little bedtime story about a girl, a girl who thought she knew who she was.
Her whole life, she had wanted to become a lawyer, and many people thought that career path suited her fairly well. She was smart, detailed, analytical, outspoken, argumentative, and could see the hole in anyone’s twisted logic. She was very involved in school, taking on a couple of different leadership positions, and even involved in helping further community causes. If her classmates had to create a superlative for her, it would have been “Most likely to chain herself to a tree in protest.”
Knowing that she was interested in a law career, she took an opportunity offered to her to shadow a local lawyer for a day. She didn’t get to see much “action,” but after talking with him and spending part of the day in a courtroom, she felt even more sure about a career in law. She even picked colleges based on her future plans. And once she was in college, she unknowingly did a VERY smart thing. She joined groups and clubs that matched her skills and interests. She even found a service group for future lawyers called Phi Alpha Delta. Once in the group, she went to their meetings to learn more about getting into law school, hear significant lawyers speak, and mingle with the people who might be her future classmates. And, that’s when she realized something VERY important – “I don’t fit in here!!!”
While hanging out with people in other groups she had joined, she never had a problem meeting people or finding her niche. But with this group, she felt awkward, felt like the group was cliquey, and overall, felt like she’d be having more fun rearranging her sock drawer than hanging out with these students. It was a clear indicator that maybe law school wasn’t for her. Who wants to spend three whole years with people whose company you don’t feel you can enjoy? But she had wanted to be a lawyer her whole life, so what was she going to do now? That’s where all the other groups and clubs came in!
Besides the pre-law group, this girl had also joined the university debate team, and in trying to narrow in on a single major within the journalism school (there is no pre-law major at many schools), she decided to volunteer for the school radio station and ended up in the news room. She’d never been exposed to journalism in high school, but every day she spent in the news room, the more and more she liked it. She also got along with everyone who worked there and all the students in the Radio/TV classes she began taking. As a result, the minute she knew law school wasn’t for her, she knew exactly what she wanted to do – be a journalist! (And as you can see, this career is very fitting to the personality and skills stated above.)
Luckily, the school she chose for law ended up having one of the best journalism schools in the country. However, not everyone is so lucky when they change career paths. And, if you wait until college to “find yourself,” you may end up there for 5-6 years, or may end up switching schools. I lucked out (Yes, I’m the girl), but you don’t want to count on luck to find your “calling”.
When I started teaching Graphic Design and Video Production, I shared my story with my students many times in order to help them with some tips they could use to find their own career paths BEFORE they choose schools. Here’s what I would tell them:
Explore Multiple Career Fields
One mistake I made was shadowing an attorney for a day and no one else! I should have picked some people in other careers and shadowed them as well. However, since my school’s scant electives didn’t allow for me to be exposed to classes like Journalism, I would have been clueless as to what other careers I should consider. This is where teachers, friends, and family come in. These are people who know you, your skills, and your personality. Ask them what careers they think you would excel in. You might be surprised at some of the answers!
Join Clubs and Groups
There are many clubs and groups at your school that might expose you to opportunities to learn more about yourself and other careers. Besides the typical, like drama or student council, there might be a group that helps the environment, a group that volunteers with people who have disabilities, a group of “future entrepreneurs” who help each other turn ideas into small, student-led business ventures, or a group that’s all about supporting photography, poetry, music, or dance. Look at some of these groups that may expose you to new interests, and pick one to try. Remember that in “trying” a group, you need to give it a fair chance and really expose yourself to the material in order to decide whether or not it’s for you. The secret is to go to at least 5 meetings before you decide. Then, after that, if you still feel like you don’t fit in or don’t enjoy what they do, feel free to try another group.
If I hadn’t tried going to at least few debate team meetings when I was in college, I would have quit after the first one, thinking it was “too hard” for me. However, it was hard because my high school didn’t have a debate team and I’d never been exposed to it before. When everything is new, it can be overwhelming! But, after a few meetings, I started to catch on to how their style of debate worked and I realized my teammates were willing to be understanding of the fact that I was a complete newbie. I’m thankful I stuck it out because doing so resulted in my partner and I coming home from a bi-regional tournament with a trophy for “First Place Novice Duo in the Southeast.” Commit to the trial!
Take a Variety of Electives
The very reason you have different electives in high schools is not because educators want to make your school day fun. Sorry to disappoint. It’s because they want you to have a chance to explore your interests, develop skills within those interests, and figure out what career paths might be for you. Aren’t educators brilliant?!
Therefore, think of your electives in the same way your educators are thinking of them. Pick electives based on exploring things you think YOU might be interested in, not which elective your friends are taking, which one will allow you to take the most cat-naps, which one will be the easiest “A” to boost your GPA, or which one has the “coolest” teacher. Pick an elective that involves something you’ve never done or tried before, but sounds interesting. Pick an elective that involves learning more about something you’re already interested in. Or, pick one that pushes you out of your “comfort zone.” Later in life, you’ll be glad you did!
Get a Job, Ya’ Bum!
For obvious reasons, you need to get a paying job while in high school. If you’re too bogged down with sports or after-school commitments during the school year, work over your summers. But, you need to expose yourself to a real job besides babysitting and lawn-mowing. Sure, you might already know that managing a Chick-Fil-A isn’t what you want to do for the rest of your life. However, watching your managers at work may help you learn something about managing and motivating employees and whether or not you’d like that responsibility in the future.
You’ll also work with students from different schools and work with people much older than you. Getting to know these different people and their life experiences will help you in your exploration. In addition, every job involves rules, procedures, and processes that you have to follow. Learning the particulars of your job will help you become more disciplined in accepting a certain job’s procedures, and teach you how to handle yourself in a professional manner when you don’t like a rule or a process isn’t working. And at the very least, you’ll realize how important finishing college is when you realize that not graduating will leave you fixing five-dollar Frappucio’s for the rest of your days.
Don’t Listen to Your Teachers
“What?! She said…” YES! I said, “Don’t listen to your teachers.” Note, that I don’t mean you should never listen to your teachers, because when you’re in class, you should totally listen to them. However, what I mean by this is that you need to take their comments about your skills and your classwork with a grain of salt – Don’t take them as gospel! Why? Because, sometimes they’re wrong. Your teachers see you for 50 minutes a day, if they’re lucky, and they have anywhere from 100 – 160 students. This does not leave them much time to really get to know you. So, their opinions of your strengths and weaknesses are limited, at best. Sometimes their judgements are spot on, but many times, they’re not.
As a young boy in Jordan, Suleiman Bakhit’s art teacher refunded the money his parents paid for art classes and advised him never to try art again. Sulemain took the money and used it to buy comic books. Years later, in the wake of 9-11, he realized that the “heroes” young Jordanian kids looked up to were terrorists like Osama Bin Ladin. On a quest to give kids more positive heroes, Bakhit took lessons on how to draw comic book characters and started a series of comic books with Jordanian heroes, both men and women, who could serve as positive role models. Since his start, he now has a full-blown comic book company, Anamim Comics, and has artists and designers working on different comics, apps and video games. When he visits schools in Jordan now and asks the kids who their heroes are, all they talk about are Anamim’s comic heroes. He’s been so effective in fighting terrorism with comic books that he’s even been physically attacked by terrorists! Now, imagine if Suleiman would’ve listened to his art teacher and never drawn again? Osama Bin Ladin would probably still be the main hero of Jordanian children everywhere.
(Learn more about Suleiman Bakhit https://oslofreedomforum.com/talks/superheroes-against-extremism)
Remember, EVERYONE is creative. You just have to figure out where you’re creative. I started to find my creativity the minute someone put a video camera in my hand, which didn’t happen until college. And, like Sulemain, I found the rest of it the minute I became intensely passionate about something! Sulemain found his passion – a dislike of terrorists and a desire to give those who will lead his country in the future more positive role models to imitate . Nothing brings out the creative side like a cause! Most of you may not have a “cause” yet, and that’s ok. Just know that finding it won’t happen while you’re sitting at home on the couch. It’ll happen while you’re “living” life, exploring, meeting new people, and being involved. Just like our comic heroes, it’ll happen when you’re confronted with injustice, and instead of escaping it, you decide to whip out your super powers and fight it!
Which brings me to the next point…
Put Down the Device and Step Away from the Screen!!!
According to Pew Research, young people spend almost 8 hours a day in front of a screen. And, their addictions to their smartphones and video game systems are so intense that, not only is it interfering with sleep and causing health problems, but it’s even causing domestic violence and death! (Google it for yourselves!)
What you need to know is this – the more time you spend in front of a screen, the less time you will spend on finding yourself! As an expert in media psychology, I hold workshops that teach young people and parents about how visual media affects and impacts the brain. And, I believe the biggest obstacle blocking young people from figuring out who they are is their obsession with screen-time! The reason is this obsession has taken them away from doing other things that might help them gain other interests or learn things about themselves.
For example, when I was teaching in a classroom, the assignment my students dreaded the most was when I assigned them to refrain from all visual media for 24 hours. In order to make sure they did this, I had them journal about their experience, in detail, the next day. The kids who followed through had plenty to write about, and what they wrote astounded me! I had 6th and 7th-graders tell me that because they had “nothing to do,” they started drawing and realized they liked it. Or, they went into the kitchen to experiment with cooking something, and loved it! Or, they actually went outside to play and invented some new game with their friends. Some even said they hung out with someone on their street whom they’d never hung out with before. And, one girl told me, “I noticed that I was paying more attention to my friends and actually looking at them when they talked to me. They seemed to like that because I noticed them smiling a lot more.” Overall, many of them found new interests, many further developed their current skills and interests by getting more practice, many were more creative and inventive, and almost all of them got way more sleep, spent much more time with their family members, and did much more homework/studying!
(If you’d like to learn more about how eliminating screen time benefits young people, check out the results of the Stanford S.M.A.R.T. study! http://www.takethechallengenow.net/about/)
It’s your life experiences and your relationships that are the most important factors in figuring out who you are! And, the more time you spend sucked into a screen the less time you’ll leave for those things. TV, video games, movies, and youtube might be a great escape from life for 30 minutes when you’re really stressed. But, that’s exactly what they are – an escape. You have to be “in” the world to figure out who you are in it. Therefore, escaping it won’t help you do that. So, buy yourself a timer or use your smartphone to time yourself, pick a limited amount of time for the screen so you can “de-stress,” and then discipline yourself to obey the limits you set for yourself. Otherwise, all you’ll become when you grow up is a slave shackled to a screen, which would really be a waste of all your hidden gifts and talents.
Stand Up to Fear!
I realized something very important not too long ago. I was feeling dissatisfied with where I am in life, because when comparing myself to others, I felt like I’ve accomplished less. (Comparing myself to others – my first mistake.) Being the successful MBA, I felt like my dad was also disappointed when comparing me to his friends’ children. But, in a recent conversation with my dad, I was talking to him about my career decisions, telling him I’d be very unhappy if I wasn’t taking “the road less traveled.” I’ve made all my career decisions based on moving toward doing what I feel I’m “called” to do in life, on figuring out how to make my passion my full-time gig. I know that choosing the “safe” path by permanently choosing a job that I can do well and make decent money doing, would have sentenced me to a life of dissatisfaction and “working for the weekend.” So, I opted to take the harder journey of working toward having a life that I’m excited to wake up to every day, which with my calling, is not an easy journey.
In response to me talking about “living my passion,” my dad said, “I don’t think I ever found mine.” What!? But, he seemed so “successful!” It was then that I realized that my dad had chosen the “safe” route, that having money to do the things he wanted and having stability were more important to him earlier in his life than finding his passion. For the first time, I really felt sorry for my dad. I, the girl who honestly has, pretty much, nothing but myself and my talents, felt sorry for my dad who, according to the world, has so much. I felt sorry for him because I realized he isn’t really passionate about something, and despite being 30 years younger, I am. Suddenly, memories came to my mind of the numerous nights I remember my dad coming home from work to spend the rest of the night zoned out in front of the TV because he was stressed out of his mind and lacked any energy to do anything else, and I now understood why he felt so stressed. I think it IS stressful to get up every day and work hard at something you get absolutely no fulfillment out of, something that doesn’t “move” you!
I think my dad isn’t the exception either; I think most people take the safe route. I’m learning that many of the people I’m comparing myself to have material things, but don’t really know who they are or love what they do. So, what keeps them from really finding themselves? Fear. We fear that if we take the road less traveled, other people might think we’re foolish, our parents might disapprove, we may not earn enough money to support our families, we may not earn enough money to buy/do the things we want, or at worse, we may end up completely broke and homeless.
When writing about vocation, author Frederick Buechner said, “Vocation is where your great gladness meets the world’s greatest need.” Well, I firmly believe that we do get back so much more than we give, and if our vocation is really meeting the needs of people in the world, then we have to trust that we’ll be provided for. Even if we end up broke and homeless, we have to trust that our basic needs will be met and in the end, everything will work out and our lives will be better and more fulfilled because of it. Did you know that J.K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book as a destitute single mom on welfare? And now, she’s the richest author of all time! (Sometimes, it literally is being broke and homeless that will help us to later appreciate having success with our passion.) Can you imagine where she would be now had she not followed her passion and spent that time on welfare job hunting and feeling sorry for herself?! Maybe she’d be employed, but she wouldn’t be the most popular author in the world.
You will never eliminate fear. But, you can overcome it by having a greater amount of passion for your calling, and a greater amount of faith and trust. Steve Harvey, who now calls Chicago home, was homeless for three years before making it big as a comedian, and now has his own media empire! Harvey talks a lot about success and how to achieve it. He says, “Your dream has to be bigger than your fear.” Harvey’s passion for stand-up was bigger than his fear of doing without. But, he also had to have much faith in himself and his talents as a comic. You have to believe that if you’re following your calling, then not only will you be good at it, but what you’re doing is needed and will eventually be valued enough to pay you a salary.
In summary…
The teacher in me definitely heard some of you whine while reading some of these points, especially the one about screen time. Know that the whining is a reaction to you thinking about the short-term, but your life’s happiness isn’t a short-term thing. I mean, would you rather be happy right now, or have a happy life overall? I don’t know about you, but I’d take the latter. And, finding yourself and your calling is a main ingredient in your life’s overall happiness because it will enable you to be satisfied with yourself and to be confident in who you are. Wouldn’t it be great to understand how awesomely gifted and talented you are by finding and developing those gifts and talents? So, whine all you want for a few minutes, and then suck it up, get on that road less traveled, and go find your great gladness and ultimate fulfillment!