4. Core Challenge #1:
Forming an Identity—Who am I and what is my worth?

 

"It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."
– e. e. cummings

 

Challenge-4-i-am-picture.jpg

“The Personal Challenge” 

The teen years are where we start exploring this “who am I?” question, but it will be a question that can guide us throughout our lives and we often find that the answers change as we grow and have more and more experiences. We must discover who we are—our gifts, our values, what matters to us, what we like about ourselves and what we want to change or develop. 

Answering these questions takes time and attention and experience and sometimes your answers change. The best approach is to relax and be curious—pay attention and talk with others. Asking the questions is the key. The answers will come.
 

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice."
– Steve Jobs; Stanford University commencement speech, 2005
 

There are lots of ways to approach this big challenge. We will use three:

Discovering My Personal Qualities

One key part of the foundation of an identity is the image we have of ourselves. There are always gaps between who we are and our ideal self, but that’s much of what life is about and why we go through multiple heroic journeys. We become increasingly whole, mature and capable—if we are paying attention and keep saying “yes” to personal development. This is true throughout life. 

Because you haven’t lived that long yet there is often the sense that “I’m not really much yet—I’m still mostly a kid.” For the vast majority of teenagers—even though it might feel that way, it just isn’t true.

For example, if you skim the list below and check off the characteristics that you think apply to you, you may be surprised at how much of a self image you have. Please note: You don’t have to be the kindest, toughest or most resilient person in the world to check off those characteristics. Nor do you have to be the best athlete, writer or friend to check those off. 


I am:

Kind
Smart
Thoughtful
Tough
Gentle
Curious
Someone who perseveres—I don’t give up
Resilient—can bounce back
A smart risk taker
A person with a good sense of humor
Someone who sees the good in others
Courageous (little or big ways—overcome fears to act)
A good athlete
A good dancer
A good singer

A good actor
A good artist
A good storyteller
A good joke teller
Helpful
Supportive
Someone who stands up for what’s right
A good writer
Respectful
Responsible
A good listener
A good care-taker
A good friend
A good son/daughter
A good brother/sister
A good student


The challenge is to become aware of and build on your strengths and commit to areas of growth. You may find a bunch of qualities that you want to get good at—that’s part of the journey—there is always more to discover and master.

Danger! A lot of characteristics go into composing an identity. A big danger is allowing one or two characteristics—good or bad—to define your identity. There is a danger in allowing one or two negative characteristics—“I’m overweight” or “I’m awkward in social settings”—to define you. It’s also dangerous to allow one or two positive characteristics—“I’m a star athlete” or “I’m one of the smartest in my class” to define you. We are a tapestry (or maybe a jigsaw puzzle) of characteristics and that is where our depth and resilience comes from.

A Note on Larger Social FactorsWe are focusing on individual characteristics because this is a site about you as an individual on a heroic journey. However, there are some social factors that can have a major impact on identity. This is particularly true if you are part of a racial, ethnic or religious minority. The socio-economic status of your family can also have a significant impact on how you see yourself. 

Discovering My Significance
 

“I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, "aw shit, he's up!”
– Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
 

This is another building block in the foundation of your identity. What is my significance? How do I matter? These questions surface big time during the teen years and the answers are often surprising – but elusive or not obvious. The heroic challenge is in looking at these questions directly and in accepting yourself as a person of significance—as a teenager.

The trap to avoid is thinking that you have to save the world in order to be of significance—to matter. In most cases our significance comes from lots of small actions. Sometimes they add up to big things and sometimes they are just small actions that matter. The problem is not in not doing the big things. The problem is in not doing the little things. 

Look back at the list of characteristics and see how many of them offer the chance to be significant—to make a difference. Some of them can make a really big difference.

Just for example, you matter if you are:

  • Kind
  • Thoughtful
  • Someone who sees the good in others
  • Supportive
  • Respectful
  • Responsible
  • A good friend, brother/sister, son/daughter, neighbor
  • A good performer/athlete/artist

You also matter if you:

  • Pick up litter in your school or neighborhood
  • Smile at people in school
  • Encourage someone who is struggling
  • Shop for a homebound neighbor
  • Volunteer
  • Step in if someone is being bullied or put down
  • Ask someone if they need help if they look confused, scared or hurt
  • Form a club or play a leadership role 

Those are just examples, but they matter. They matter to individuals and they matter to schools and communities. Some may feel natural and some may feel awkward at first.

Note. The really surprising thing is that you can be of significance—you can make a difference—even if you are struggling and simply trying to survive. It’s the little things.

Warning! Beware the “aw shucks” phenomenon. That’s when people say, “Aw shucks, I’m not really significant.” That sounds humble, but it’s really a way for people to avoid taking responsibility for their lives. It’s not bragging to say, “I am significant—I make a difference.” 

Download the I Am Significant Worksheet

Download the Ways to Be More Significant Worksheet

Discovering My Purpose, Beliefs and Values

These are central questions for people that come alive in the teenage years. Like discovering our personal qualities and significance, they are questions that are before us our entire lives. They are a core part of our identity. 

As with significance, answering these questions takes time and attention and experience and sometimes your answers change. The best approach is to relax and be curious—pay attention and talk with others. Asking the questions is the key. The answers will come. 
 

"The purpose of life is to discover your gift.  The meaning of life is to give your gift away."
– David Viscott
 

What is the purpose of my life? This is the big question and the answer may not be clear as a teenager. The question will, however, come alive during the teenage years and the key is to begin exploring what your answer(s) might be. The asking is more important than the answering, so be curious.

The stunning thing about this question is that people’s answers have such variety. If you asked 100 adults, you would probably get at least 95 different answers. My eighteen year old son has a website on the purpose of life and he has discovered this to be true. 
 

“Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.”
– Johann Wolfgang van Goethe
 

What Do I Believe and Value? You will come to your teenage years with beliefs and values, but the natural challenge on the teenage journey is to challenge them given your new mental capabilities and drive to become your own person. This doesn’t mean a wholesale rejection of childhood beliefs and values. We usually keep most of the key beliefs and values, but can add some new ones, and let some go. The critical point is that they become truly your beliefs and values and can then guide you and support you in life.

It may not be a straight path as there is often a lot of experimenting and testing and confusion, which can last for quite a while. Sometimes we reject a belief or value and then later recommit to it. Remember, it’s a journey and the key is to reflect and explore and test. 


Things You Might Value (Add values that are missing):

There is an amazing range of things that you might value. The following list is a little over the top, but it illustrates just how wide that range is—even though some of these terms are close in definition. It does show just how many things we might value about ourselves—or others. One of the worksheets asks you to identify the top 20 things you value, then the top ten and finally the top 5. That can be surprisingly hard, but it does provide an interesting profile.

Acceptance
Accomplishment  
Accountability
Achievement
Acknowledgement
Adaptability
Adroitness
Adventure
Affection
Affluence
Aggressiveness
Agility
Alertness
Altruism
Ambition
Appreciation
Approachability
Assertiveness
Assurance
Attentiveness
Attractiveness
Audacity
Availability
Awareness
Balance
Beauty
Being the Best
Belonging
Benevolence
Boldness
Bravery
Brilliance
Calmness
Camaraderie
Candor
Capability
Care
Carefulness
Celebrity
Certainty
Challenge
Charity
Charm
Chastity
Cheerfulness
Citizenship
Clarity
Cleanliness
Clear-mindedness
Cleverness
Comfort
Commitment
Communication
Community Involvement
Compassion
Competitiveness
Composure
Concentration
Confidence
Conflict
Conflict Resolution
Conformity
Connection
Consciousness
Consistency
Contentment
Contribution
Control
Conviction
Coolness
Cooperation
Courage
Courtesy
Craftiness
Creativity
Cunning
Curiosity
Daring
Decisiveness
Deference
Dependability
Desire
Determination
Devotion
Dignity
Diligence
Directness
Discipline
Discretion
Diversity
Drive
Duty
Dynamism
Eagerness
Education
Effectiveness
Elegance
Empathy
Encouragement
Endurance
 

Energy
Enjoyment
Enthusiasm
Entrepreneurial Approach
Excellence
Excitement
Experience
Expertise
Exploration
Expressiveness
Extroversion
Exuberance
Fairness
Faith
Fame
Family
Fashion
Fearlessness
Fidelity
Fierceness
Fitness
Flexibility
Focus
Forgiveness
Fortitude
Frankness
Freedom
Friendliness
Friendship
Frugality
Fun
Gallantry
Generosity
Giving
Grace
Gratitude
Gregariousness
Growth
Happiness
Hard Work
Harmony
Health
Helpfulness
Heroism
Holiness
Honesty
Honor
Hopefulness
Hospitality
Humility
Humor
Hygiene
Impartiality
Independence
Ingenuity
Inquisitiveness
Insightfulness
Inspiration
Integrity
Intelligence
Intensity Independence
Intimacy
Intrepidness
Introversion
Intuition
Inventiveness
Justice
Kindness
Knowledge
Leadership
Learning
Liberty
Listening
Liveliness
Logic
Looking good
Love
Loyalty
Making a difference
Mastery
Maturity
Mellowness
Meticulousness
Mindfulness
Modesty
Neatness
Nerve
Obedience
Open-mindedness
Optimism
Order
Organization
Originality
Outrageousness
Passion
Patriotism
Peace
Perceptiveness
Perfection
Perkiness

Perseverance
Persistence
Persuasiveness
Philanthropy
Piety
Playfulness
Pleasantness
Pleasure
Poise
Polish
Popularity
Positive Attitude
Power
Practicality
Precision
Privacy
Proactivity
Professionalism
Prosperity
Punctuality
Sacrifice
Security
Self-Actualization
Self-control
Selflessness
Self-reliance
Sensitivity
Sensuality
Serenity
Service
Sharing
Shrewdness
Silliness
Simplicity
Sincerity
Skillfulness
Solidarity
Solitude
Speed
Spirit
Spirituality
Spontaneity
Spunk
Stability
Stealth
Stillness
Strength
Structure
Success
Support
Surprise
Sympathy
Sacredness
Teamwork
Temperance
Thankfulness
Thoroughness
Thoughtfulness
Thrift
Tidiness
Timeliness
Tranquility
Trust
Truth
Realism
Reason
Reasonableness
Recognition
Recreation
Reflection
Relaxation
Reliability
Religiousness
Resilience
Resolve
Resourcefulness
Respect
Reverence
Risk-taking
Ritual
Unflappability
Uniqueness
Unity
Usefulness
Valor
Variety
Vigor
Virtue
Vision
Vitality
Warmth
Wealth
Willfulness
Willingness
Winning
Wisdom
Wittiness
Wonder
Zeal

"Try not to become a (person) of success but rather try to become a (person) of value."
– Albert Einstein
 

Download the My Values Worksheet


A Note on Sexual Identity/Orientation. This is an important part of everyone’s identity, but for teenagers that are wondering if they are gay or lesbian (or know that they are), this can be a central issue. It will play a significant part in the second big challenge on the journey—relationships and connections. It can be accompanied by a bewildering number of emotions—some positive and some negative. 

Two things to keep in mind if you are wondering or finding that you are gay or lesbian. First, while your sexual orientation is a central part of your identity, it is not the only part of your identity, so keep it in context with your other characteristics, your sense of significance and your purpose and values. Second, while it is important for everyone to find companions and helpers and healers on the journey, it can be even more important for you because of all the swirling thoughts and emotions that come with having a minority sexual identity and orientation.
 

“Great minds have purpose, others have wishes. Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them.”
– Washington Irving


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