Special guest blogger: Neal Mayerson, PhD, VIA Institute Chairman
There will be many times in your life when you are in a “tug-of-war” between personal self-expression and living out the expectations and wishes of others.
In these moments, which occur repeatedly, you resolve the tension in one of two ways
1) Be authentic and express yourself genuinely to others. This comes with the risk of sacrificing your positive relationships with others.
2) Conform to the expectations of others. This might mean to suppress who you are and follow the wishes of your parents, friends, teachers, and employer, each of whose acceptance and admiration probably matter to you. This comes with the risk of sacrificing your authenticity.
For those of us who are fortunate, we are not confronted often with such dilemmas. For too many others, however, their life experience is largely and often one which values conformity to others’ expectations over the authentic unfolding of one’s Self. For these people, their inner voice retreats into the distance and becomes nothing more than a faint whisper. They lose their inner compass for navigating life. Their “success” in life becomes wholly dependent on others’ opinions, and values lose their influence. Life becomes a stormy, uneven experience and successes do not bring a deep sense of fulfillment. The positive potential of life becomes squandered.
These concepts are important for all of us, but perhaps most critical is the role many of us play with young people. As a parent, teacher, coach, or mentor, you can have a substantial impact on the life trajectories of your students.
You can nurture and support authentic self-expression.
You can take an interest in who each of your students are – their individuality.
You can help each of them become more keenly aware of themselves and create home, classroom, work, or school cultures where the emphasis is on what’s strong as opposed to what’s wrong.
You can help each student become an expert in using their unique profile of strengths to achieve personally meaningful and fulfilling success.
In so doing, you will send them out into the world with a value-based compass that they can use forever as they navigate the journey of life. And, as you do this, you will be modelling a positive and nurturing approach to parents as well.
I recall a conversation with a 14 year old student at a school that had implemented a VIA character strengths program. When I asked about the impact of the program he said, “The way I see myself and others has changed forever.” His teachers gave him the gift of a set of lenses through which he could see the goodness and positive qualities that reside in him and in others. It was a gift that will never stop giving.
You can give that gift to your students and change the course of their lives for the better! And that gift will ripple through each of your students’ lives creating a tsunami of positive impact in the world.
- VIA Institute on Character
- Free VIA Survey of character strengths
- VIA Classification of character strengths and virtues