My grandmother is a saint. My father works harder than anyone. My mother pulled herself up by her bootstraps against all odds. My uncle is a brilliant mind who retired at 50, or was it 45? My friend Matt is a fount of knowledge who never forgets anything. My wife is the most organized person I know. I only applied to one school and got in. I had a great GPA, great SATs, never had to take GREs, and wow everyone in interviews. In a few minutes, this paragraph will morph into a plug for The Most Interesting Man in the World.
Recognize that our view of ourselves, even if lofty, is a potential cage for what we could be and how others may see us.
Our personal myths seem innocuous and may even be some of our charm. Some of our friends have a walking joke about our tales. But are they harmless? Hardly. Personal myths develop into beliefs and expectations.
It is believed by some that the personal myth is an extension of the centric view of the world described by Piaget. Children go through a phase where they think that their life is the subject of a film; they are being watched and evaluated. They make faces at walls, ceilings, and other places where people or cameras may be hiding. This comes along with the development of conscience and/or guilt and passes with developmental progress.
Personal myths can overwhelm and cause issues as severe as depression. As we mature, we realize that these truths that we have known do not match the life that we understand. Myths can also be career-threatening as our experiences are inserted into the classroom. In working with pre-service teachers, I regularly stress that we cannot teach our students through the window of our experiences. Our histories have been manipulated in our memory and are unreliable. We have turned our lives into a mythology and we have to frame our remembrances as such. We provide our students with our foggy anecdotes thinking that it provides a level of connection-it may, in fact, cause them to consider that they cannot meet your expectations.
Calibration is key in our lives and our teaching.
A good friend is a successful lawyer who has recently left the city. I remember him most for one thing: When I would tell him something about myself, he would ask, “Do people tell you that, or do you tell people that?” Such an excellent question. Does my view of self come from my own perceptions and experiences or the perceptions and experience of others?
When you tell people something about yourself, do they say, “Oh, really?!” Are they surprised to hear you say that you are a hard worker, an over-achiever, and impeccably neat and orderly? Make a list, mental or otherwise, of descriptors–words that define you. Have a friend do the same with you in mind. Do they match? How do your students view you? Has the view of others been limited by the persona you profess?
Let’s think differently.