Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Potential versus fame, or Be all that you can be versus Be more of a somebody

I just finished listening to Episode #9 of Millennial, entitled "Becoming More of a Somebody" and it's brought up a lot of conflicting emotions. Right at the top of them is that this is the sort of thinking that comes from growing up believing that you can do anything, which seems so much more prevalent today than it was in the 80s. (Which is the broadest of generalisations, I realise. I feel like stereotypes were so strong back then, with real power.) I found myself thinking that Lee, one of the three awarded the much-sought-after Kroc Fellowship, got it because he'd done something else; that NPR didn't want another enthusiastic, but -- in terms of varied walks of life and work -- inexperienced voice on the radio. Lee'd taught. Maybe something in his pitch or his approach was new to them, and they liked it.

The idea that everyone is a somebody is something I live now, every day. Working for a SEN charity, it's a given. What follows from that is helping people reach their potential - another phrase I don't think I really understood before seeing how people can be beaten down, through actions and words, obviously, but also through simple assumptions, to the point where they don't even know what they're really capable of, let alone believing they can achieve it. So you're helping them recognise and reach for that, and, ultimately, hoping they'll find a place in a community, and some happiness.

But it can also be a crippling idea.

For years I didn't have any strong feelings about what I wanted to do. I chose Computer Science as a field in my last year of high school, and accepted the first position I was offered upon graduating. I was earning good money in a stable job before I really had time to worry about it; something that the Millennial podcast has helped me appreciate, in retrospect. But that lack of strong feeling persisted, and then the "Be Somebody!" platform of the Internet arrived. Things like Geocities were almost exclusively soapboxes. And that's the danger I'm referring to. For me -- and Megan Tan obviously, given the title of that episode -- being somebody meant being somebody with something to say, and recognised as such; someone to stand out from the crowd; that there are somebodies and then there are SOMEBODIES, which, while obviously a contradiction, I found insidious.

It's the wanting to have something to say, wanting that creative spark, that put me in such a quandary for so many years. I was taking vocational tests, worrying about the colour of my parachute, searching for my passion, for my 'thing'. (Unfortunately, I didn't actually try anything, like joining clubs or volunteering my time.) I think a big part of why much of that has quieted in recent years is that I've finally come to realise that life isn't just about creating. It's also about doing; about, well, living. (Call it living by example if you want, although that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, like I'm in church again.) For example, just by being there for someone, every day, or even once a week, gets that message across, that they're somebody, in a way that I could never express through essay, poem, short film, etc. And it gets played back to you, of course: I know I'm somebody because I see it in the faces of the people I help, the people I love. I don't know why it took me so long to understand that. Likely, it's that I wasn't doing enough, to get that positive reinforcement.

And it isn't that I'm now free from doubt. After listening to an episode like that, I'm still going down rabbit-holes: "I've experienced so much," "I could bring so much to a radio show," "What should I create?" And then I laugh and hop on my blog.

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