It’s something that has run through my veins since before I was even born; something that was drilled into my brain enough times where I still remember various conversations down to obscure details. Today it has almost become just about as glorified as being busy, being productive, and a host of other concepts that seem to put us on the road to success. Yet between my own experiences and what I’ve heard from a number of so called experts, I wonder if it’s becoming another washed up buzzword that is used without knowing what it means.
Is it entirely black and white, or is there another way?
For many of us, myself included, the phrase that immediately comes to mind is “tough love.” For those that were raised on it, it can spark a flame, but the fire burns out quickly and easily. It’s a repetitive, it’s powerful, and it’s also a language that’s very difficult to understand if you’re incredibly sensitive. We know that we need to get our act together, that pity parties don’t help, and that we need to change if we want to be liked and appreciated. But why? Why does it matter if our efforts merely result in being torn down by our peers in the form of gossip and name-calling, because apparently we’re trying too hard to fit in?
We try to convince ourselves that every pep talk and every piece of advice is genuine, and that ultimately our elders want what’s best for us. Yet eventually the voices of love become worse than the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons who you can hear but barely understand. They become voices of shame, disappointment, and frustration. We are simultaneously too much and not enough.
What looks like thick skin is actually just shoving everything down until we’re completely alone, even though somewhere someone can hear us. We’re angry and guarded but we don’t really know why. The depression sets in, which leads to venturing to dark places we’d never thought we’d go in order to cope. We age and mature, and we’re opened up to the beauty of being vulnerable, but the patterns are hard to break. We’ve spent years believing that love is conditional, and that somehow we’re responsible for how others perceive us. We keep it together until we can’t, and then apologize profusely for rocking the boat or causing discomfort. Heaven forbid anyone talk about real life because it’s the truth, particularly after you graduate college and should be able to handle it. .
We end up resenting those who mean well, but try to help us in a way that we flat out don’t know how to respond to.
And then slowly we realize that it was all about pleasing other people. We were trying too damn hard, but we did it because it’s what we knew. The anger stemmed from desperately wanting validation and not getting it from either side (peers and parents); we didn’t realize that we needed to be OK with ourselves and didn’t need permission from anyone. We were depressed because we couldn’t be honest, whether it involved our feelings or just being the person we wanted to be. Later on, we bit back against professional expectations because we were beating the crap out of ourselves already and we were scared to death of getting what we wanted, only to have it taken away.
We had the fuel in us, but we were adding it to the wrong fire.
It’s been said that I have a story to tell; one that can encourage people to make something of themselves, regardless of what challenges they face. For a while I’ve hesitated because I didn’t want to make anyone feel as though they were less than or didn’t measure up. And what right do I have telling anyone how to walk when I haven’t walked in their shoes?
It really comes down to one thing: our stories are enough.
For those of us that speak, we can do so and allow the listeners to take whatever they want to take from it. It might make a wave or just a ripple, but we shouldn’t need proof of the effect in order to use our voices for something good.
For those of us that want to mentor on a more personal level, we can do so without looking down on anyone. Rather than make assumptions, we can make the time and effort to ask questions, especially in regards to young people: what are your goals? What are you most afraid of? What do you want out of life?
Imagine what we could do when we make an effort to learn about someone.
Imagine the possibilities of conversation with the intention to learn from them, as opposed to the intention to argue or convince.
Seek to understand as much as you seek to be understood. Strive to see each generation as individuals rather than a clump of stereotypes.
By nature, I am an observer. I started crawling because I wanted to see my newborn baby brother, and I began to walk when he started walking. I experience more drive, passion, and motivation from watching my favorite sports teams than I do listening to a speech or pep talk. I do what I do because I choose to, and not ultimately because I’m demanded to.
The best motivators are the ones that lead by example; who create a space free of judgement, where people can share their deepest dreams and desires. They’re willing to hear stories instead of solve problems. They’re worth admiring because they can be themselves, and in turn they allow others to be human as well.
God needs people to do the small things as much as He needs people to do the big things.
And whatever you do, do it with love. With faith. And knowing that you have something to give, rather than something to prove.