Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thoughts on this old chestnut: “You can be anything you want to be.”

I’ve always had a problem with this well-meaning sentiment of the self-esteem brigade. I consider it to be unhelpful at best; a flat-out lie at worst.

This view has not been formed to stir anyone up, or cause controversy, rather from personal experience.

I’ve been blessed with great parents, yet not once did they tell me growing up that I could be anything I wanted to be. Instead, they gave me every opportunity to follow any path I chose and by process of elimination I found out what I liked and was good at and, conversely, what I didn’t like to do and sucked at.

Armed with this information I made the decision to intentionally live my life focusing on those things that I was good at and loved to do. It just made sense to me.

By the time I hit high school, my areas of weakness were painfully obvious. It also happened that several of those areas formed the core curriculum of Years 7, 8 and 9. Here they are:
* Drawing and painting
* Cooking
* Woodwork
* Dancing
I have never had the desire, inclination or ability to pursue any of these areas. I quickly reconciled with the fact that I would never become a chef, an artist, a builder or a dancer. I was not wired up that way, and I’m perfectly fine with that.

Hypothetically, imagine if my parents had drummed into me as a child that I could “do anything I wanted to do” or “be anything I wanted to be”, then these infernal home reno/cooking/dancing shows came on TV. Fuelled by my desire for 15 minutes of fame and ignoring the fact that I was never any good at any of them, I pursued it, and proceeded to “epically fail” on a national stage. I imagine what would follow would be a life characterized by shame, embarrassment, disappointment, unfulfilment and even resentment, as the reality sets in that there are some things that we are just not good at, and yet I had believed the line that I could be anything I wanted to be.

Fortunately for me that scenario will stay in the realm of imagination, because by concentrating on my areas of strength and ability I have been blessed to live an adult life of significance and purpose, positively impacting many people.

My areas of ability and enjoyment are teaching, music, sport and technology. Everything I do in my adult life revolves around these four areas. I have taught in classrooms and music lessons; played drums, bass and guitar in church and musicals; coached, played and done stats in sports teams. My motivation is that I want God’s glory to shine through who I am and what I do. I know this can be achieved much more effectively than if I tried to carve out a life of struggle in an area of weakness motivated by riches, popularity or fame. Those things won’t last.

So, here’s my alternative to the “You can be anything you want to be” philosophy. In my years of teaching, coaching and sponsorship with Compassion, this is the message I try to imprint in the lives of the children, young people and adults I interact with, whether I tell them explicitly or not:
* You have been created by God for a specific purpose and you are unique.
* You have been given strengths, abilities and talents, not to use for yourself, but to help others.
* Do your best to find out what those are, and spend your life focusing on them.
* Use your gifts, talents and abilities to glorify God and have a positive impact on others

In my personal experience it’s a pretty good way to live. 

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