So you know that thing I repost from time to time? It goes like this:
Be the person you needed when you were young.
Here’s the thing about that. You don’t have to have your shit together to do it.
Let me say it again.
You don’t have to have your shit together to do it.
When I was fourteen I encountered two of the most influential teachers that would ever cross my path.
One taught me to think critically, to examine both sides of every story, to understand that when people tell a story, they always tell it from their own perspective and if you really want to understand history, and, by extension, people, you need to learn to decode that.
The other was the first adult I’d ever encountered (apart from my parents who didn’t count, because I was fourteen and an idiot) who I really believed saw my actual potential, and who made me think that just maybe I had some shit going on in my head that was worth putting out into the world.
They hated each other. And when I look back on them with adult eyes I can see that they 100% did NOT have their shit together. But it didn’t matter. I needed the lessons they taught me. I learned them just as well. And I became a better adult as a result.
You don’t have to have it all figured out to be a good influence on someone who looks up to you. All you really have to do is support them, encourage the things they’re good at, and nourish the good in them. That’s it. You don’t have to be wise, or smart, or even have it all figured out. You just have to give a shit, and accept them for who they are.
You have no idea the impact you could have.
When I was about 24 and stuck in a country I really didn’t like that much, and fading away for lack of creative things to do, I made a small theatre group for little kids. And I watched one child absolutely flourish on a stage. That kid grew up into a frikkin’ incredible teen who plays Maureen on stage and pursued that dream all the way to theatre school. The last time I spoke to her mother (with whom I am friends on facebook), she still remembered me. When my kid was born, she sent him gifts.
When I was at camp, there was a kid who was out of control, behaviour problems out the wazoo. Until we put him on stage. Where he blossomed. So I gave him the lead. And he took that responsibility, and flew. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know that, for that summer, he learned that there were ways to get positive attention, and they were way better than the negative attention seeking shit he’d been pulling up to then.
When I was running after school programs and I was so depressed and fucked up I could barely hold my shit together, and my life was collapsing around my ears, there was a kid who was Trouble with a capital T. He’d get into trouble because of his temper, and just escalate in that way some kids do where they’re like, well I’m in trouble now, so fuck it. And over the months I was there, I developed enough of a relationship with that kid that we went from flying off the handle aggressive temper tantrums to him being able to sit down with me and go, “Yeah, I shouldn’t have reacted that way.” I refused to treat him like “the bad kid”. I treated him like a person. And it helped. And I was a fucking mess, you guys.
Not every kid who has crossed my path will remember me. I may not have helped them all. But for a few of them, I think I was That Adult. And every time, without exception, my own life was… not perfect. I did not have my shit together. I just had the right thing for that kid at that time.
Not everyone works with kids. But most people know some. Your own, or nieces and nephews, or a neighbour kid who comes and hangs out with you when you garden. Or whatever. Just, you know, be what you needed. What we all need. Someone to see us for who we are and go, yo, dude. *fistbump* You’re pretty cool at that thing you’re doing.
This shit makes a difference. It changes lives. Trust me.
Do it. Be the person you needed when you were young. And don’t wait till you have your shit together. Be it now. We need you. They need you. Now.