Throughout every stage of my life, from elementary school to living in the suburbs in my forties, I’ve had a reputation and a persona. It’s changed over the years, from the quiet one to the sarcastic one, the serious one, the ambitious one, the religious one, or the irreverent one. My persona is often distinctly different depending on which setting I find myself in, too.
I remember experiencing some whiplash a few years ago during a season when I was working in a Christian non-profit and frequently labeled as the “conservative one” because I liked to talk about business with my colleagues. The very next day, at a meeting for a Presbyterian church committee I was on, I was referred to as the “liberal one” because I valued caring for the poor. How can someone be on two sides of a spectrum at once?
Everyone has a mold that they’ve either been given or chosen. Sometimes, we’re given a label or a role from the people around us. Fair or unfair, people are prone to falling into line based on the expectations other people have for them. Sometimes, we willingly take the role on ourselves.
Regardless, mold stinks (pun absolutely intended), and it’s easy to get stuck.
Too many people spend too much time living in someone else’s script for their lives. It’s hard to break the mold. The courage it takes to declare ourselves different is something few people have; it’s easier said than done. It’s simpler sometimes to just move away and start over.
I don’t think any of us want that. We yearn for kids to feel free to be their authentic selves. We don’t want them to run away and resent the people who shaped their molds.
That’s why it’s important to understand this dynamic about ourselves and the kids in our lives. As well-intentioned as parents, teachers, and coaches are, and as accurate as our observations might be, every kid still deserves the opportunity to break the mold that they live in as they transition into adulthood. It’s almost like we should formalize mold-breaking as an essential step on the journey to growing up.
We need to learn to say, “This is who you’ve been, but now you have the opportunity to rewrite your story. This is how we’ve known you, but now you get to re-introduce yourself to us and the world. Who are you, really? What have we been missing? What have you been hesitant to reveal?”
In the pursuit of figuring out who you really are, falling into roles, personas, and labels that don’t do you justice is probably inevitable. But reflecting on them and naming them can actually become useful bits and pieces to use for you to understand who you really are. Here’s what it looks like:
People see me as _________, but I’m actually _________.
I know I’ve expressed myself as __________, but I’m realizing I’m actually more __________.
For years we’ve been studying what a young person needs in order to transition into a healthy, thriving adulthood.
They're uncommon sense ideas, really.
Download this checklist and use it with your students (or kids).