Kailey Paszko & Ritch Hochstetler | October 8, 2021 

We live in an age where personal identities are made or broken on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. Added to this pressure to live up to a culturally induced social image, kids today are cajoled to make career pathway choices before they even have an inkling of who they are.

This raises some questions that should keep us up at night. What if in all our sophistication and rush to help kids develop, we have sometimes unaware, and sometimes blatantly, embraced a fixed mindset that is hell-bent on nailing down a personal identity that can only be discovered over time? What if, instead, our efforts became infused with a mindset that helped kids ask the question, “Who am I becoming?” rather than “Who am I?”

At UEAD, we are piloting a program called, “The Power of YOU!” that invites youth into a discovery process that works through three stages – Release, Embrace, and Act. The program is experiential, iterative, and highly personal. It is designed to help youth see their authentic self with new eyes, to gain tools for a healthy and empowered life, and to embrace and believe in their potential, even as they walk the often confusing and confounding path of self-discovery

The first stage of the process of discovery is RELEASE. This is centered on the idea that, in order to see your authentic-self, you must identify and discard negative or false attributes, expectations, or socially induced perspectives that have poisoned the well of authenticity.

Social researcher, author, and speaker Brene Brown has said,

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.” – Brene Brown

If this is true, then it begs the question, “What does letting go mean?” Carl Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Letting go is the courageous decision to let go of a self that isn’t defined by the past, but by who you want to be and by who you are called to be. Letting go is releasing the negative self-talk that gets in the way of who you really are. Returning to Brene Brown, she often asks the question, “What’s the story you’re telling yourself about who you are?” In her iconic TED Talk she says that the people who are most healthy and in tune with their authentic self are the people who have the courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart. This can only happen when they let go and have compassion for who they are as imperfect and vulnerable human beings.

The second stage in the process of discovery is EMBRACE. Imagine what you would need in your backpack in order to sustain yourself on a rigorous hike. The list might include; water, CLIFF bar, map, maybe first aid kit? In the same way, there are vital resources we need to embrace as we journey toward self-discovery. These resources may include:

  • Self-awareness – knowing your drives, needs, intentions and values
  • Self-management – acting on your awareness by embracing tools to aid your becoming
  • Self-confidence – seeing yourself through a strength-based lens as a person with skills and abilities that are valuable
  • Self-efficacy – an undying belief that, whatever challenges may come, you will continue to adjust, accept, and advance

The struggle in stage two is just as real and difficult as stage one. It is illustrated well in this story as told by Albert Einstein.

The fish loved the river. It felt blissful swimming around in its clear blue
waters. One day while swimming closer to the river banks it hears a voice
say, “hey, fish, how is the water?”.

The fish raises its head above the water and sees a monkey seated on a
branch of a tree. The fish replies, “The water is nice and warm, thank you”.
The monkey feels jealous of the fish and wants to put it down. It
says, “why don’t you come out of the water and climb this tree. The view
from here is amazing!”

The fish feeling a little sad, replies, “I don’t know how to climb a tree and I
cannot survive without water”.
Hearing this the monkey makes fun of the fish saying, “you are totally
worthless if you cannot climb a tree!”

The fish starts thinking about this remark day and night and becomes
extremely depressed, “yes, the monkey is right”, it would think, “I cannot
even climb a tree, I must be worthless.”

A sea-horse sees the fish feeling all depressed and asks it what the reason
was. Upon knowing the reason, the sea-horse laughs and says, “If the
monkey thinks you are worthless for not being able to climb the tree, then
the monkey is worthless too cause it cannot swim or live under water.”
Upon hearing this the fish suddenly realized how gifted it was; that it had
the ability to survive under water and swim freely which the monkey
never could!

Upon reflecting on the quote and short story, several formative questions emerge that we ask students to struggle with in stage two. They include;

  • Who are you? I mean who are you really?
  • How do you view or see yourself?
  • What unique gifts do you have?
  • How do you define your value and worth? Where do you derive your sense of self from?
  • What defines you? Do you have it all “figured out”?
  • What if instead of asking, “Who am I?” you switched to asking “Who am I becoming?” or “Who do I want to become?” Would this change anything?

These are some pretty big questions; in which we all will have varied responses to. Let’s be honest, discovering who we are can be a taxing journey, one that is never static and never has a “finish line”. But if we are switching from a fixed-mindset to a mindset of discovery that gets curious and spends more time and energy framing the right questions than sledgehammering the right answers, then the questions not only make sense, but act as lamppost to illuminate the path.

The third stage in the process of discovery is ACT. To take a passionate and active role in the discovery process of personal identity formation is to embrace self-leadership. Without action, awareness and tools gained in stage one – RELEASE, and stage two – EMBRACE, will be squandered, diminished, or forgotten. To help youth embrace self-leadership means helping them articulate and live into a role where they can see themselves “taking-charge” of their unique discovery journey. This means taking action and making decisions based on a growing sense of who they are, and what they can do. It’s about helping them have the courage to try out their voice, to communicate who they are, and to discover resilience that comes from practice and doing “the hard thing.”

For individuals to thrive, it’s vital that they find and develop their locus of control and voice. In recognition of this, the Power of YOU! program was born. ULEAD has created this experience to invites participants on a deep and dynamic journey of self-discovery through mindfulness and experiential practices that awaken and renew a healthy sense of self.

Our core belief, supported by research, is that identity is not stagnant. This is why “The Power of YOU!” training recognizes that and celebrates the continual flow of becoming by focusing on three stages of discovery: Release. Embrace. Act.

Participants are invited to release negative self-perspectives through mindfulness and reflection. Embrace new awareness of self as worthy of love, acceptance, respect, and significance. Grow social and emotional skills to make decisions and take actions for the building of a positive self-identity. Along with practicing letting go of all that blocks their pathway to healthy identity and well-being.

Those who participate will be invited to look into the mirror – to see their authentic self with new eyes, and to embrace the power of “YOU!” that is dynamic, generative, and spectacular.

To learn more about our Power of You! programs, click HERE or contact us at experiences@uleadinc.org. We would love to join your group in this experience!

“Identity cannot be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.” -Doug Cooper

Kailey Paszko, Youth Experience Specialist at ULEAD

Ritch Hochstetler, Chief Ideation Trailblazer at ULEAD