My son is 8. And he’s a lot of things. Over the course of the average day he saves the world from all sorts of bad guys, he rescues damsels in distress, and he designs and builds a variety of mostly flying vehicles for the aforementioned missions. He can also switch to being a dancer in a split second if the music and mood are right. He plays a mean air guitar. He sings while he works. He’s studying martial arts. And of course he’s also a student with a significant course load for one so young.
And what is so very cool about any this is he hasn’t drawn any lines around himself stating what he isn’t. He is whatever he wants to be for as long he wants to be it. And then he’s on to the next thing. (Admittedly, often without cleaning up. We’re still working on that…)
Soon friends, acquaintances, society will begin to ask him to make decisions about who he is. Probably before he’s given it much thought. The question in the less serious form has, of course, already occurred. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But there’s so many things wrong with that question it makes me grimace, although his answers on any given day can be amusing.
I think the decisions about who we are *not* are complicated. Do you remember when you realized that you’re not an athlete? Were you picked last for any organized sports? Did it take any of the fun out of running or jumping? Riding or swimming? Should it have? Should you have thought “I’m not good at…” just because by whatever measure someone else seemed better? Is it good thing that “I’m not good at…” becomes “I’m not a…”? Is it helpful at steering us? Or is it the first real challenge we face—to not let anyone else define who we are and put off the decisions about what we are not for as long as possible.
It might be more important to figure out who we’re not (do you want to be *that* guy?) but we should do it on our own terms, and as late in life as possible. By then we have the information that allows us to to be reasonably certain about our “nothood”.
For years I’ve taught student of all types that most important thing you can do to get better is to concentrate on the things at which you are not good, because it’s easy to chase the I-do-that-well stream of endorphins. Want to be a great person? Work on everything you’re *not* good at. Want to be a good baker? Bake every day. When you realize you’re good at pie but not bread…bake bread every day. Etc. And if I can get The Kid™ to work on the skills he’s not good at, I’ll never have to be concerned about someone else defining who he is or is not, merely where he needs to apply himself.