As a college student with my own successful business, stacked schedule and established community network, I am most often asked by my peers, “How did you find your passion for wanting to do these things?” For many years, I struggled when answering this question.
As a child, I was raised with the mentality that I was the best at what I did, consistently promoted by my parents to embrace competition that produced tangible rewards. Competition, or being the best at what I did, became my focus in school, in extracurriculars, and even in social affairs. Being a quite heavy child, I became accustomed to brushing off the parts of me that certainly were not comparable to others, such as my body, my reading ability or even my public speaking skills. Instead, I focused on what made me unique, successful, and simply better than everyone else: math. I even remember being in the 5th grade, having just recently set the record in Math Olympics (no joke) at the annual competition, and actually writing and publishing stories about math characters to my classmates. I, of course, characterized them based on who I liked most and least and begged my teachers to read/edit my scripts. I wanted to propel my math successes forward; I didn’t want what I had accomplished to go forgotten or unnoticed, even if that meant I had to write to make that happen.
This momentous time in my life can be easily juxtaposed to my math-filled writing endeavors. I hate writing. Always have. Yet, I write because I am passionate about what I do, what I say and who I meet. Sometimes to get to the places I want to be or to reach the milestones that are of necessity to my long-term success, I have to do things that require more…attention-span…or that are not always within my innate abilities. I overcome my boredom, limited abilities, and mere desire to be doing something more thrilling by assigning purpose to said activity. In practice, this may be as easy as illustrating to high school students that if they don’t go to college, their chances for earning a decent salary or escaping the cycle of poverty is little to none. Although, this task may be as difficult as trying to convince someone with public speaking anxiety that forgoing these drama skills will be a serious handicap for their future career prospects (also, given the empirical evidence that a majority of the American public is not exactly adept at speaking in front of crowds).
One has to find passion within oneself. Imagine if my response to the earlier question was, “You have passion. It’s in there. Just find it.” Well, that’s not exactly helpful for many college students. Rather I propose that students write out a list of qualities that they like most about themselves. This is a very basic activity that I use in all of my K-12 classes, attempting to inspire the early development and crystallization of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a term used in developmental psychology to describe the extent to which one believes he/she is capable of accomplishing certain goals or specific tasks (Bandura, 1994). While it is important to note that self-efficacy only applies to individual tasks or goals, this concept has shown to lead to an overall increase in self-concept, self-esteem, core self-evaluation. Simply put, one has to determine what one is already good at to affect performance in other domains. For example, I am no longer a fan of math; yet because I liked math and was good at math and knew I was good at math, this allowed me to feel secure in my career prospects. In the 8th grade, I wrote a paper about my aspirations to be an accountant (yuk). I felt academically supported because of my math grades. I felt that my Cs in English couldn’t define me if I had As in math (I shall discuss grades in a future blogpost). This very basic formula is very real for a lot of students, including my own peers at Colorado College.
When we get to college, we often feel like we aren’t as good as everyone else here, whether it’s because we are surrounded by thousands more of us or hundreds of very intelligent, elite students. This leads to the self-applied pressure that we want to fit in with everyone else yet also need something of our own to call special. I just recently interacted with a former intern of mine who claims that he/she would like to start up an organization like Kids Are Dramatic, because starting an organization brought me fame and success- naturally this should apply to him/her. Yet the formula for success is not external; rather it is internal. It is realizing what you personally are fantastic at doing. What makes you special. Better phrased, what you love most about yourself.
This mentality is in fact what allowed me to survive in a low-income, single-parent household, living with my mother, my brother and grandparents for the four years of my high school education. Many of the family members who remarked on my successes in my childhood later became sought to criticize my every action, particularly those who tried to turn my self-efficacy, believing that I am capable of achieving certain milestones, into a stopgap. They claimed, “The bigger you are now, the harder you will fall later.” But by the point of my high school education, I had received nearly 12 years of consistent support for my endeavors, eliminating the possibility for this shift in developmental psychology. College students and grown adults have the skills, the passion and the potential to redesign themselves. It’s already there. Sometimes it takes someone- a teacher, mentor, or even yourself- to illustrate what it is to love about yourself.
…is a little bit of self-efficacy, believing that you are a superhero.