(NNPA)—Self-affirmation requires getting in touch with your personal history. Is it of critical importance to know what happened to you along the way and to figure out what you must do to take full advantage of all that you have to offer. Can you identify ways that other people, early in your life got in the way of your coming to an understanding and acceptance of yourself?
In the first years of schooling, teachers seem to make a systematic effort to discourage children’s explorations into self. A child draws a house. The teacher says, “That is not how a house looks.” The child draws the house again, this time the way the teacher thinks it should look. The house is a “good” house, but it not the child’s house. It would not be fair to say that children are never given a chance to draw their own house. Sometimes they are allowed to try. But, in time they will draw the “right” (adult approved) house.
It’s not just in forcing compliance that the real damage is done. Somehow there always seem to be restrictions whenever a hint of freedom exists. For example, teachers appear to have little appreciation for play. They insist in structuring play into games–rules supposedly provide the order needed to avoid what some would consider being chaos. In all this structure the child forgets how to “play” and then later in adult life, can only recall remnants of the joy, the abandon, of the natural, free play he or she experienced in times past. In the process of stealing away play, teachers have instilled a lifetime message: “Everything must have identifiable outcome. Nothing should be done just for the doing of it.” The consequence of taking this message seriously (and the child has little choice in the matter) is that the self becomes consistently constrained and restricted at a critical time in his development. And, as the child grows older, the opportunity of discovery and creating new and different rules becomes increasingly more difficult to resurrect.
It should be pointed out that when we talk about play we are not necessarily referring to the activities of the playground. Playing is a state of abandon—part and parcel of the invitation we have to ourselves. Doodling is an example. Children “doodle.” They don’t intend to draw a picture; rather they are anxious to see where their scribbling takes them.
It is an experience the self needs if, in later years, it is going to be integrated and free to express itself with assurance and confidence. At some point doodling shouldn’t be necessary. We see, however, that it still remains an activity of many “grown ups.”
The majority of young people are simply forced into accommodations, adjustments, and compromises that fall far short of providing the basis for a sense of personal accomplishment, either in the present or in later life.
The public educational system holds a hard line in maintaining the status quo. To challenge the system is to incite the wrath of all. This state of affairs is what ultimately brings us to the incredible reluctance to allow ourselves, our family members, our friends to take chances on where the ‘freed self” might take us. If fact, almost anything that allows the expansion of personal prerogatives seems to be threatening to a great many people.
Long before 1997, the year I started a teen-oriented food company, I was always in the kitchen making a mess, trying to concoct something tasty for my family to eat. I didn’t always succeed but that never stopped me from trying.
Listen and accept positive reinforcement. Don’t listen to the negative. There are those that will say that you “can’t”. Ask them why not. You’ll find that more often than not the reason will be “because no one else has done it” or it “doesn’t fit the conformed norm.” That’s not a dead-end; that’s a challenge. Don’t let negative people drag you down.
Great ventures start with small ideas. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep your eyes open, your mind working, and your body ready for work. You don’t have to hit a home run the first time, but you’ll never hit a home run if you don’t learn to swing.
Dedicate your “free” time to what you know. That is how my life in the kitchen turned into a million dollar idea aimed at other people just like me.
(Dr. Farrah Gray is chairman of the Farrah Gray Foundation. Dr. Gray can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)