It wasn't the first time I've been a guest speaker at the school. I've gone back often over the past year or so to share my story and to motivate the students to push past the obstacles that they may face and succeed. I shared my experience as a popular student who became a teen mother, and was told by a teacher that I was doomed to be on welfare for the rest of my life. I explained how that experience was one of the best things that happened to me. I saw the surprise on their faces when I made that statement. But it's true. Her condemnation fueled my determination to succeed. Had I not been subjected to the stares and whispers of my fellow students, teachers, and neighbors, I may not have been motivated to prove them all wrong. That pivotal moment in my life spurred me toward living up to my greatest potential so that I could prove the naysayers wrong.
But, I wasn't just there today to discuss my story. Instead, I wanted to give the students an assignment as it pertains to their story. I had a couple of questions for them to answer; questions that would begin to set them on the path toward living their own lives to the fullest potential. I started out by reminding them that the four years in high school are pivotal. It's during those years that they transform from children into young adults. And, it is during those four years that they must set their minds on discovering where their passion lies so that they can be fulfilled in the careers that they choose. The questions I asked them would help them differentiate between choosing a career that they love and settling for a job that simply pays the bills.
On the surface, the answers to this question may seem simple. I used myself as an example. I am Tracy Brown. I am a black female. But once we get past the obvious answers, we start to go deeper into truly answering the question. I am a writer. I am a poet. I am a talker...
I challenged the students to write down the question and to list ten answers to the question. Some balked at the idea of listing TEN answers. But I insisted that within the ten answers to that question, they would discover where their passions lie. Perhaps, in writing down: "I am an artist", or "I am a boss" or "I am a leader", or maybe even "I am a bully", they will begin to discover some truths about themselves. It's not too often that we step outside of ourselves to give an honest assessment of who we are and what we're all about. Maybe in answering the question "Who are you?" they can uncover some aspects of their lives that they wish to change. But one thing is certain: they will discover the things that make them happy, that make them feel fulfilled. And in discovering those things, a first major step will be taken toward determining what career will bring them the most success.
What is your role in YOUR story?
As a writer, I am often approached by people who feel that they have an amazing story to tell. The truth is, every single one of us has a unique story. Some are horror stories, some are love stories, some are stories of triumph and some are stories of defeat. The question we have to answer is: what role am I playing in my story? Am I the victim? Am I the hero/heroine? Am I the protagonist? The villain? The narrator? A sub-character or the main character? By defining who we are and what role we play in our own story, we make a decision about whether we take control of our lives or instead just react to the plot twists that inevitably come. Again, using myself as an example, I pointed out that I could have easily gotten comfortable in the victim role in my own story. I was a young, abandoned teen mother in the projects who was being talked about and condemned. I could have accepted my teacher's assertion that I would be on welfare for the rest of my life. I could have accepted the stereotype that many labeled me as, and just given up. But, instead I chose to turn my seemingly tragic story into one of triumph. When I set out to "write the story of my life", I cast myself in the role of victor as opposed to victim. I challenged the students to decide what their own roles would be in their story.
As a kind of "homework assignment", I asked the students to visit this blog and to post the answers to the questions that I posed to them today. I'm hopeful that in the comments below, they will list their responses and demonstrate their views on who they are and what roles they have decided to play in the stories of their lives. I can hardly wait to read their responses!
One of the best things about my career as a writer is that I get the chance to talk to young people and, hopefully, to motivate them to greatness. But it's not just the youth who can benefit from the exercises I demonstrated in those classrooms today. We should all be asking ourselves who we are and what roles we have cast ourselves in. It's never too late to change. I invite you all to list your answers below, or at the very least to list them in your own personal notebook so that you can see where your passions lie and how you can redefine your role in this wonderful thing called life.
*Students who do not wish to list their answers publicly can email their responses to me at TracyBrownWrites@aol.com