The Actual You: What A Reader Taught Me

One of my absolute favorite things about my job–that is, if you can call it a “job”–is that I get to become friends with really smart, rockstar girls all over the world. Some have contributed to the website. Others are a part of one of our local chapters. Then some are just girls who shoot me an email or a tweet telling me they believe in what we are doing. I feel like quite the lucky girl getting to learn from them. I was video chatting with a high school girl earlier this week who was talking about how crazy stressful her senior year had been. There seemed to be an insurmountable amount of pressure, between getting into a top tier college, keeping up her impeccable GPA, and maintaining her sacred spot in her class rank.

I remember being there of course. I mean, that’s part of why I started Spire & Co as a senior in high school. High school was a crazy amount of stress and I didn’t want my sister to feel it as badly as I had.

But she said something that really struck me. While explaining everything she had on her plate, she said, “Colleges want you to be the perfect everything. The perfect student. The perfect leader. The perfect volunteer. Everything. And then they want you to have one specific passion. I’m just trying to check off all of these boxes. How do I have time to figure out what I’m passionate about?”

It was a really interesting conundrum. And I thought back to when I was a senior in high school. I thought I was going to go to college to study chemistry and become an orthodontist. (I know it’s specific. I just liked teeth, okay?)

It wasn’t that I didn’t truly know myself in high school. The bigger problem was I felt like I didn’t have time to completely figure it out. There’s all of these qualifications we need to fulfill, whether it is to apply to college, a job, or beyond, and in the process of checking off those boxes, it’s easy to not invest in discovering what you truly want.

There seems to be a bunch of models for a life well lived and we are supposed to fit into one of them at every given step of the way. In high school, you’re supposed to be fitting into the model of the perfect college applicant. In college, you’re either trying to mold into the perfect job applicant or the perfect grad school applicant. And once you have the job, you have to be working towards the promotion. We are always working on fitting into a model that will make the future perceivably better.

As we were talking, I realized I did that throughout most of high school, willing to do whatever it took to get into my dream college. In the end I didn’t get in, but that’s a story for another day. The bottom line was I focused so intensely on fitting perfectly into this model of the perfect applicant that I didn’t take time to figure out what I wanted as just Emily.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do what we have to do to reach the goals that we desire. I’m a big believer in working as hard as anybody who has ever lived to reach your aspirations, but I don’t think it should hinder the road to self discovery in the process.

In Thrive by Arianna Huffington (which I highly suggest reading), she says, “we are not on this earth to accumulate victories, or trophies, or experiences, or even to avoid failures, but to be whittled and sandpapered down until what’s left is who we truly are.”

I think there is something really profound about that. We work so hard to perfectly mold into the model that will get us physically further, but where does that leave us spiritually? We could think of that in a very negative way, but I don’t roll like that and who wants to read a negative blog post? So here we go.

In fitting into whatever model we are aiming for at that given time, we have this really great opportunity to discover more about ourselves by whittling away at the things that we don’t like.

Let’s say you are in high school, like my friend I mentioned earlier. She’s taking AP Calculus and she is not a fan. It’s easy to look at the class as torturous. BUT she can also look at it as an opportunity to get to know her strengths. While she may not be a rockstar when it comes to understanding the concepts initially, maybe she finds that she learns hard material best when she teaches it to someone else.

We can use every opportunity to get to know ourselves at a deeper level. There are always going to be things that we don’t like to do but are just a requirement for life. If you want to go to law school, you have to do well on the LSATS. If you want to get your dream job, you’ll probably have to pay your dues making copies. These are just facts of life.

Nevertheless, everyone has a choice: you can walk through those facts of life feeling as if you were climbing up an impossibly steep mountain or you can capitalize on these opportunities and learn more about yourself.

I think it will always be hard to schedule in time to intentionally get to know yourself. However, we can use each experience to whittle the inauthentic aspects of ourselves away so that through all of those experiences, what is left is who we truly are.

Maybe that seems obvious, but shifting that perspective so that even in moments of something seemingly painful, hopefully we can find out who we are as individuals. Maybe then we won’t have to fit into models because we’ll create our own.

This was a lesson I learned this week thanks to a really smart girl who I know is going to change the game for all of us someday. Who knew something so valuable can come out of complaining about AP Calculus and class rankings, but I guess that’s what it’s all about: shifting your perspective to capitalize on moments for self discovery.

Wishing you a week of discovery…

For more blog posts by Emily, check out the From Emily’s Desk series.