Have you ever worn the “wrong thing”?
I remember once proudly wearing a brand new outfit my sister convinced me was “cool” and “hot.” I was in 8th grade, and she claimed all of the cool kids in high school dressed like this. I wore off-white baggy jeans and a button-down rust-colored shirt. Not to a dance or a party, but on a Tuesday. To school. Needless to say, it didn’t go well.
Have you ever said the “wrong thing”?
I ran for student council in 6th grade and decided at the last minute to change my speech to the entire school to be sarcastic and funny, essentially mocking the experience and the role. I didn’t win. I wasn’t the runner-up, either.
Have you ever felt like you weren’t smart enough?
My older sister had a 4.72 GPA in high school and went to a special school for the Gifted and Talented when she was in elementary school. I went to a school for kids with special needs, and my parents were warned not to expect me to attend a university someday. Every teacher I had would ask me, are you as good of a student as your sister?
Have you ever felt like you weren’t socially adept enough?
I was the shy, quiet kid growing up. When I was called on in class (I NEVER raised my hand), my face would turn red, and I would lose track of time and reveal my social anxiety.
I can continue if you want. We can go through a bunch more ways we all have felt insecure, insufficient, or ashamed of. But I think you get the point.
Experts say the primary task of adolescence is identity formation, figuring out who you are. Heck, I’ve said it, too. But for most, they get distracted by their innate quest to find acceptance by others. It’s a survival instinct that, unfortunately, results in trying to fit in, blend in, and get other people to approve of us and be impressed by us.
In other words, we try to prove ourselves.
When it comes to choosing a career path, typically, that manifests in trying to “make something of yourself”—do something spectacular and impressive and gather up trinkets and accolades.
Unfortunately, it’s a fool’s errand. Just ask anyone who’s tried. (I’d suggest asking your parents how it turned out)
The overwhelming research has proven that pursuing extrinsic rewards in your career (think success, money, titles, degrees, income levels, etc.) results in not only less satisfaction but also less achievement. It’s only intrinsic aspirations that ultimately work out. Choosing pursuits that align with your core beliefs, values, personality, and dreams.
So what’s the opposite of trying to prove yourself? Becoming yourself. Owning yourself. Living authentically, regardless of how other people support, understand, or approve of your decisions.
It’s often hard to discern the difference between them, however, especially when the people involved are anxious about the end results. But the conversation is worth having. So, start the conversation:
What are you tempted to do or pursue in your career because you feel like you have to? Or because you feel like it would impress others?
Self-awareness starts with the right questions and the willingness to be honest with yourself.
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).