A Jingle Among Friends

This is the 1st of a 2-part series on the power embracing your uniqueness. In the workplace, you may find that you’re the only person who looks like you or comes from where you come from. Rather than seeing that as a deficit, embrace it as a super power. Read on to see what we mean. 

By Dr. Courtney Howard 

I learned a long time ago that people tend to govern their lives based on their own perceptions of themselves. Sometimes those perceptions are shaped by what other people say or believe, whether negative, positive, fact, or fiction. And just like a jingle in a commercial, if you hear something over and over, you’ll soon start singing it yourself—even if it annoys you. For that reason, it is important to build a circle of close friends with people who will remind you of your value and potential. I’m talking about people who willingly and regularly let you know that you are young, gifted, and…

Young is not about age; it’s a state of mind. It’s a compliment. To be young is to have the mental energy to grow, develop, and become better. You are young. That means you seek opportunities to challenge your own thinking and understanding. Your desire to learn makes you ready to explore ideas and places. Because you are all about growth, you know there’s a difference between advice from truth-speakers and rhetoric from people-pleasers. Like anyone, you occasionally experience self-doubt, pessimism, or indifference, but then your youthful energy kicks in and heaves you out of that negative pit. To be young is to believe in your potential.

Gifted refers to your special talents or abilities. You have gifts—multiple gifts, in fact. Your unique combination of gifts is part of what makes you special.  We commonly think of artistic, academic, or athletic prowess, but gifts also extend to how you relate to others and how you process information. You may not even recognize those gifts until someone else points them out. It’s great when that happens as an admiring comment, but occasionally it comes disguised as criticism:

Too bossy? Nope, natural born leader. Talk too much? Yes, public speaker in the making.
Too many friends? Maybe, or just good at building relationships. Too angry? I say passionate about justice.
Too skeptical? Thank goodness for the gift of discernment. Too off-topic? Not really, just connecting themes at a deeper level.

Regardless of how you become aware of them, remember that your gifts are intended to be used. To be young and gifted is to pursue your potential.

The great thing about the phrase young, gifted, and… is that you get to define what the … represents.  Even better, it has no limits. It’s the essay you’ve been waiting to write. It’s the podcast you’ve always wanted to record. You can be young, gifted, and a million other qualities, if that’s your desire. It’s how you identify and what you contribute. Nobody else can decide that for you. You don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to hide it. You can even change it as often as you want. It’s who you are, unashamedly and unapologetically. To be young, gifted, and… is to reach your potential.

So, let’s go back to the circle of close friends. The folks you choose (and yes, be selective) should be people who consistently demonstrate that they are also young, gifted, and… They should be people who allow you to be authentic, and who will be authentic too. They should encourage you, but also call you out when you forget you are young (in other words, when you try to “act grown”). They should celebrate when you discover a gift and redirect when you ignore or misuse one. Your friends should be excited about your journey and be on their own journeys as well.  And because a little theme music among friends never hurt, it could be fun to write a jingle as a reminder that you are young, gifted, and…

Courtney A. Howard is Associate Dean of the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance and Director of the Center for Partnerships to Improve Education at the College of Charleston.

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