Why does it seem like nobody knows who they are anymore?
Books like Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, Max Lucado’s Cure For the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot, and the Strength’s Finder series are but a few of the litany of books that line bookstore shelves, promising to help us figure ourselves out. We take personality tests to find out if we’re ESTJ’s or INFP’s. We go to conferences to determine if we are otters or lions. We hire career or life coaches to mine our psyches for clues as to what we are supposed to be doing with our lives. We pray for insight…surely we were born for something more than whatever it is we’re doing right now.
Perhaps because our own parents weren’t, my husband and I are passionate about helping our children find their ‘sweet spots.’ We want to help them figure out who they are, what they love, and what they were put on this earth to do.
Supporting their natural talents, however, has produced an unexpected side effect. I call it ‘side checking.’ Maybe you’ll recognize it.
Imagine the following: You’re an seventeen-year-old aspiring film maker. You own and know how to operate the latest and greatest in film making software. You own the most up-do-date cameras. You read books. You follow amateur film makers on YouTube and scrounge their sites for helpful tips. You spend your weekends in the local forest shooting videos starring your little brother, the only one in the house who will agree to show his face in the film you will undoubtedly have uploaded to your YouTube channel by Sunday night.
Then it happens. You read on Facebook that another young kid, just like you, is now making movies. Cringing, you look him up and, sure enough, his stuff is good. And–get this–he’s a year younger than you are.
Enter side checking. Suddenly your mojo disappears faster than you can say ‘the next Stephen Spielberg.’ Your ideas, which moments before had appeared fabulous, now seem like the limp offshoot of a Veggie Tale movie. You sink into depression. You start to avoid YouTube. You certainly avoid this other kid’s site. Before long, you decide maybe you don’t want to go into film after all. What on earth has happened to you?
You started side checking.
It happens all the time at our house. My singing daughters get discouraged when young singers like Jackie Evancho or Connie Talbot make it big. My 3D artist son is going gangbusters until he hears about another gamer who is making top of the line weapons and has more followers on Steam than he does. Another son, whose life dream is to be a Navy Seal, is punched in the gut (not literally, of course) when he meets another kid who also wants to be a Seal. The problem? This kid is a Young Marine, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, and the quarterback of his school’s football team where my boy has ‘only’ an Eagle Scout badge and a fierce desire to conquer the world to recommend him.
Side checking can sabotage any of us. It makes me wonder: If Michelangelo had been on YouTube, how many budding artists would have given up, knowing they never could attain his level of artistic genius? How many aspiring composers would have quit when faced with the cocky, ‘bite-me Salieri’ prodigy, Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart? And, where would the world be if either of these men had looked at one of their peer’s work and decided to scrap their own?
Knowing all too well how easy it is to fall into side checking, I’m not sure I’m the best counselor when it happens to my children. I wish I could crawl inside their brains and turn the side checking switch off, but I can’t. All I can do is to keep reminding them, day after day, to stay focused on the talents God has given them. To be faithful to that call. To put blinders on when side checking keeps them from doing and being just exactly what they were created to do and be.
Theologian, Frederick Buechner, wrote that where we should be “…is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Perhaps there’s a clue. The fear of being behind, of not being as good as someone else, of being compared to another pales when placed next to the world’s needs. Our talents weren’t given so we could bury them in the ground simply because we’re too afraid of failure to use them. The world needs what you–and I–have to offer.
Whatever talent/ability/skill that is, the question is, will we stop side checking long enough to give it?