Alex Cross: You do what you are Jezzie.
Jezzie: You mean you are what you do.
Alex Cross: No, I mean you do what you are. You’re born with a gift. If not that, then you get good at something along the way. And what you’re good at, you don’t take for granted. You don’t betray it.
Jezzie: What if you do betray your gift?
Alex Cross: Then you betray yourself. That’s a sad thing.
–-Along Came a Spider
As my oldest child prepares to graduate, I sensed she was trying to figure out the right things to say when people asked her, “What are you doing after high school?” I know that she is stressed out about picking the right college and major. Her desire to please her mom and me hindered her ability to make decisions based on what’s right for her. Her struggles made me realize that we needed to have talk about her future and her gifts.
My daughter is talented in many areas. I’m amazed by what she has accomplished in her 17 years of life. But she sometimes discounts her gifts because they aren’t always as evident as the gifts and talents of other people.
As we talked, I let her know that I don’t expect her to become a doctor, an engineer, or rocket scientist if those careers don’t align with her gifts and passions. My only expectation is that she pursues her purpose and lives her life to its fullest potential. I want her to take all the gifts, skills, and enthusiasm that she has been blessed with and use them in a way that honors God and does not betray her potential.
One way that I helped my daughter to better understand her purpose is by teaching her how to be her IDEAL Self. Becoming your IDEAL self involves 5 life applications:
- Figuring out who you are: I AM
- Deciding where you want to go: I DECIDE
- Staying relevant: I EVOLVE
- Honing your edge/skills: I ADVANCE
- Not getting bogged down by a negative past: I LET GO
The first step is to take a self-assessment. Ask yourself, “What am I right now?” Make a list of all the things you love to do, your hobbies, the areas in which people seek your council. These items will give you an understanding of your passions and where you are uniquely talented. If you can’t think of anything to write down, enlist the help of a mentor or close friend. I’ve been able to point out many of daughter’s gifts that she simply could not see because didn’t realize how valuable they were. A gift is much more than just a simple talent. It is how we passionately engage the world.
Before I was able to understand my life’s purpose, I had to go through this assessment. For the longest time, I thought I wanted to be a chef. But after some serious evaluation, I came to realize that it wasn’t the preparation of food that I loved. It was the interaction with people. I love the planning, the preparation, and seeing people enjoying my meal. I thought it was the cooking that I loved, when in truth it was the process that attracted me. Now I am professional event planner and speaker who creates experiences that nurture and help people grow. Cooking is one way of doing that, but there are many other ways for a single gift to manifest itself.
What does your son or daughter do in their spare time? Do they dream up inventions or interior design ideas? A passion for swimming could suggest that you are gifted to be an athlete, a lifeguard, or maybe a marine biologist (does that involve swimming?). A passion for food could lead to a career in nutrition counseling, culinary arts, or competitive eating, you never know. Whether you are a parent helping a child our a mature individual seeking your own purpose, the first step to the IDEAL you is understanding your “I AM.” When you are clear about this, you can chart a path to where you want to go.
As I mentioned earlier, my daughter was having difficulty moving forward because she didn’t want to make a decision about college that would disappoint her parents. So many people fail to make decisions about their lives because they are worried about what other people will think. I had to convince my daughter to trust her own judgment. Our self-assessment exercise gave her the clarity and confidence she needed to decide her next steps. In addition, I let her know that I would be available to counsel and mentor her every step of the way. Knowing that someone is in your corner to support you makes it much easier to step out on faith.
But figuring out who you are and deciding where you want to go are only the beginning. Being your IDEAL self takes commitment. You have to constantly assess yourself, make adjustments, and evolve to remain relevant. Many people who had bright futures have crashed and burned because they refused to hone their skills and improve themselves. The comfort zone is a dangerous place to live.
Many other people fail to move forward because they are bogged down by a negative past. As a youth counselor, I’ve talked to many kids who suffer serious self-esteem issues because of hurtful words uttered by their parents. As parents we have to be careful of how to talk to our children. Words are powerful and can leave deep emotional wounds. We must speak kind, encouraging words into our children’s lives. I’ve been guilty of hurting my children with my words, but I’ve learned to apologize and seek forgiveness. For the sake of our children’s future and emotional well-being, we must swallow our pride and admit our mistakes. This action builds trust, and when our children know they can trust us, it becomes easier for them to let go of negativity.
Deep down I believe we all have a sense of our purpose, but time and circumstance corrupt the creation that we are. That’s why it’s so important to go through the process of discovering your IDEAL Self. Understanding who we really are makes life much more enjoyable and gives us a clear vision of what we need to succeed.