In a conversation with a student about the arts, I talked about playing in my high school’s orchestra. It wasn’t just that I liked (and still like) classical music. My being there was part of a bigger, intentional effort.
When I was applying for high schools, my top choice needed to fit three criteria:
- It needed to be located in Manhattan. I’m from Brooklyn, and up until that point I didn’t know much beyond it. Manhattan was the center of the city, the heart. I hungered to be in a more diverse environment surrounded by diverse perspectives.
- It had to have Japanese as a language option. My interest in Japanese formed and grew in middle school, and I wanted to take classes instead of trying to pick up words on my own.
- It had to have an orchestra. The protagonist of a Japanese drama I really liked, Orange Days, is a deaf woman who is a skilled violinist. I was moved by this and wanted to play the violin.
Reflecting on this with my student, I realized that second and third criterions were not typical at all. What I lacked in self-esteem as a child I made up for with an unflinching drive to just go for what I was interested in. I wanted to be part of Japanese cultural exchange events at school, so I did it. I wanted to be in orchestra, so I requested to be pulled out of band when I was placed there instead.
I knew what my conditions were and I stuck with them. I didn’t concern myself with what “made sense” to others. I wasn’t even aware that this is what I was doing: as far as I was concerned, I was simply doing what I wanted to do. Sometimes we adults can make matters overly complicated for ourselves. It’s useful to revisit moments from when we were younger and take notice.
Now, with not only experience but the vocabulary to process this, I know what my criteria are for different areas of my life. As I grow and change, so do certain criteria, and that’s fine–I would not, for instance, expect to value the same things I did in high school. What is important is that I identify what is important to me in the present moment, own it, and ask for it. This is part of living authentically and can be done respectfully without guilt or judgement. The result? Following my criteria in high school left me with many good memories and experiences, like taking part in a tea ceremony as the guest of honor.
What is your criteria? Identify it, own it, and ask for it.