I’ve been teaching adolescents for over a decade and throughout the years they’ve inquired about their strengths in various ways; they probe for answers with subtle gestures and attentiveness and direct questioning like “what do you think I’m good at… what should I be in the future?” As a teacher, I serve as a model of strength and my students look to me for guidance and reassurance, some believe I have this definitive map to their future when all I have are my own personal experiences and knowledge to condition and craft their vision. This leads me to wonder about what it means to be strong, what does it mean to have a vision and follow it without settling your hopes & dreams by the bedside or upon the vision of others.
This question also leads me down memory lane. As a child, I was very headstrong in my convictions, as I recall. I believed in the possibility of “I can” without seeing the probable loses of “I can’t.” This was the nature of my mind for quite some time until I began attending school. There, I was molded by different hands, ones that began to silence my voice, “children should be seen and not heard” were the echoes that framed the institution of education and my art was altered to the beauty they saw, “don’t color this way, it isn’t pretty, color like hers…”
I do believe that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection can be applied here. Natural selection is defined as ” the process by which plants and animals that can adapt to change in their environment are able to survive and reproduce while those that cannot, adapt, do not survive.” In this new world, I began to adapt and condition my thoughts and beliefs to fit within a new box. I was adapting to survive within the cultural norms of my society, like many of you. As a species, by design, we are born with strengths to self-believe, to ground our strengths in self-trust and to see it to fruition through self-love. But when our beliefs do not mirror societal views and trends then conflict arises. We have the ability to not only reproduce genetically but intelligible thoughts that are innovative and authentic, influencing generations to come. But many of us forfeit our dreams by the bedside and abandon ship at the sight of defeat. We all struggle with fear and doubt; they feed our inhibitions and serve as deterrents keeping us from reaching our goals. We fail to foresee that doubt and fear are illusions that we are taught to have and they will only sow roots in our mind if we believe in them. In my life, I’ve chosen to become vulnerable to my experiences. I believe this is the only way for introspection to serve as a guide to reinforcing my inner strengths.
I am proud to say that I am not perfect, perfection lives within the confines of constraint in standards set by other individuals. But, I am free and unique just like every individual that occupies this planet. Therefore, please do not follow the standards to achieve perfection for they are only there to create clones not encourage individuality. Set the standards to achieve innovation because we are all unique and our existence has purpose. My purpose lies in the elements of my rise from each and every fall. What strengthens me is not anything outside of me. Granted, the people in my life may have motivated and inspired me but let’s stop for a minute and ponder, how could a flower bloom without a seed? I am the the flower and my strength is the seed, and all that surrounds me are the elements to aid in my growth. I was conditioned, just like most people are, to believe less in my inner strength and more in the dependency on the world to make me whole. But what would have happened if the world forgot me, like the flower that loses sunlight and water, I, too, would have died if I depended on others to strengthen me. During times of adversity, I had no place to look but inside of me and there I found my seed of strength, lying in dormancy, awaiting my arrival.
There is a poem in my 2nd book, In the Strength to Find my Soul I Lost the Eyes of Scrutiny,” titled Purpose and it states this:
I see the light of tomorrow
upon the image of my creator
it lives in me…
it lives in you
Birthed with purpose & gifted with the breath of life
I was crippled by the whips of destructive tongues
stifled by the hands of humanity
misguided by the distractions & learned excuses
But upon my falls I knelt upon the pavement to feel life pull me to rise
“I will never succumb to the taste of failure,” I yelped
Resurrect and fulfill my potential
For I am the seed of Greatness
As you are!
What strengthens me is my faith in me and this is the lesson I share.