Wednesday, February 07, 2024

A Deep Sense of Who You Are

As a 17-year-old considering college, I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. As a preschooler, I didn't give it much thought. I was too busy being a cowboy or Batman or a secret agent to concern myself with my future self. 

As a younger teen, I'd discovered oil painting and was certain I was going to be an artist, or, alternatively, a baseball player, both of which were things I was already being. The caring adults in my life, however, fretted, on my behalf, about how incredibly difficult and unlikely it would be for me to "succeed" in those fields, hinting that it might be more practical to consider a less competitive profession.

By the time I was filling out university applications, I was considering architecture. It seemed both creative and practical. I was still tempted by the fine arts, but at the end of the day, I put a check-mark by Pre-Journalism mainly because there was only one required course until my junior year and I liked the idea that I could make a decision without really committing myself for two years. I wound up with that degree. I've never held a job that required that degree.

By the time our daughter was born, I was a 33-year-old man who had a work history that an HR executive would likely see as "spotty." I'd done some sales. I'd been in public relations. I'd coached a baseball team. And I'd been a freelance writer, which was the closest I ever came to making use of my degree. We enrolled in a cooperative preschool, which meant that I, as a parent, was required to spend at least one day a week working in the classroom as an assistant teacher. After three years of this, when I realized that I wanted to grow up to be a preschool teacher, I was already being one.

I wouldn't trade my path in life for anything. For one thing, had I not followed this specific trajectory, I probably wouldn't have meet my wife of nearly 40 years. Indeed, I see myself as one of the lucky ones: a person who has discovered, in time, what I really want to be when I grow up. And, like I'd done as a preschooler, as I was doing as a young teen, my discovery came not from searching and thinking and planning and credentialing, but rather first by being the thing I wanted to become.

Mister Rogers writes, "You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are." Looking back over my spotty career, I see that it was those times when I was "being" a cowboy or Batman or an artist or a baseball player or a preschool teacher, were the times when I was the closest to the deep sense of who I am, or at least was. The path, as they say, was my footsteps. 

The problem with standard schooling is that it tends to focus on children becoming something other than they are right now, with a special emphasis on areas that "need improvement" as judged by someone other than that child themself. As educators and parents it's in our power to step outside of that model and instead celebrate who the child is, right now. We seek to understand this not because they will continue to be a cowboy or an artist throughout their life, but because they are experiencing, right before our eyes, that deep sense of who they are, be it for an hour, a day, a season, or a lifetime. And that way, when the future arrives and there are choices to be made, our children will have that deep and nourishing well of being from which to draw.


"This inspiring book is essential reading for every family choosing a preschool, every teacher working with young children, and every citizen who wonders how we can raise children who will make the world a better place." ~Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

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