This past Thursday and Friday I participated in a conference for youth in our church.
All of the messages delivered to the youth over the two-day conference were designed to prepare these youth for the future and give them direction and guidance.
The presenters at the conference were carefully selected to teach valuable lessons to the youth that hopefully would give them clarity and direction. It reminded me of the times I participated in similar conferences as a youth and some of the other experiences I went through at that time in my life.
Being an adolescent is hard. I rarely look back on my teen years with anything but thanks that those years are over and I don’t have to revisit them.
Adolescence is when you experience the flutter of a first crush, the boundless pursuit of the newest form of fun, the gut-punch of your first breakup, the endless cycle of acceptance-seeking and quest to find out who you really are and where you fit in this world.
I think that therein lays a major problem for young people – trying too hard to fit in. When we try to fit in we are essentially saying, “I am not good enough to be me.” We are relying on the opinions of others to try to find out who we are. A bad recipe if I ever saw one.
Too often youth feel it’s a terrible thing to not be included with others. It can feel like fitting in is a never-ending battle that can never be won. Being different and choosing your own way in the world is a God-given privilege; embrace it. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you really want to do and who you really want to be; step away from others who pressure you to fit in. Fitting in is easier than you think but also less satisfying than you think.
If you want to fit in with people who drink and swear all the time all you have to do is drink and swear. But once you have done the things to fit in, you will find that it isn’t really what you wanted and it leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Dare to be different. Dare to be you.
When I reflect on the challenges of identity facing young people, I think of the words of Thomas Jefferson when he said, “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask, ACT!
Action will delineate and define you.” Essentially the conundrum of youth is our joint conundrum – who are we? Who do we want to be? In order to find that out we have to act. It is our actions that define us.
So how do we know what actions will get us where we want to be? A couple of times now I have written of my wise high school English teacher and the list of life lessons that she tried to teach us. One of the lessons on her list was to, “Act as if…and then you will become.” So, the question we should be focusing on is not, “How can I fit in?”, but rather, “What type of person do I want to become?”
We need to take some time by ourselves to decide who we really want to be. Then, armed with the knowledge won from introspection, the way to become who we want to be is to act. Act as if and then you will become. If you want to be kind, then act like kind people do and you will become kind.
Decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to be patient, strong, smart, or wealthy? Do you want to be successful, confident, or positive? Then act like patient, smart or successful people act and sure enough you will become those things too.
It may take some time and discipline but anything worth having or being always does.
The things you choose to bring into your lives will shape who you become. Act the way you want to become. If you don’t choose who you want to be then others will be glad to do it for you. You don’t have to be like everyone else.
You can stand out as you. No one else in the world is exactly like you so why try to be like them? Choose for yourself – act for yourself – be yourself.