Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

September 13, 2012

Harter: Who you are, what you do, and the world's opinion of you

Greensburg — When you're very young, who you are in the world and what you do is relatively simple.

Little of it is a problem. You go day-by-day with a fairly unified image in your head, so that it all makes sense. You might be puzzled briefly now and then, but your core identity is tightly embedded in a familiar world.

Adolescence starts to crack the unified image. This happens to different people at different times and in different ways, but there starts to open up a breach among three things: Who you are, what you do, and what the world thinks about you. Each of these three influences the other two, of course, but now the relationship among them becomes troubling or downright confusing.

You start to worry what other people think about you. Or you wonder what to do with yourself: What is your favorite class? Which sport should you play? What kind of girl or boy do you like? In other words, you become self-conscious. Soon, the world will expect you to figure it out and make long-term choices: Do you enlist in the military, look for a job, apply to college? What will your major be?

And you start to experiment with tactics to get people to like you. Are you just one of the guys? Do you struggle to get killer abs? Are you really into money? You see a variety of lives out there, in your extended family, at school, on TV. Which one suits you?

Well, guess what: In our culture we tend to entrust this process largely to our schools, which is sad, because schools are not really instituted to provide rites of passage. (Not that the media is any better.)  Why is it that an academic place bears so much weight in the lives of our kids? I met girls in school. I played ball for the school team. I took my cue mostly from who I was while at school. And believe me, grades were largely tangential to all of this -- although in my particular case I decided that good grades would become part of my identity, which just made sense.

As it happens, most of you know where this is going. The problem doesn't go away just because you graduate. You will frequently have to revisit the relationship among those three things: Who you are, what you do, and how the world perceives you. It takes a strong adult (or a very sad one) to live a life in which these three things do not align.

In my case, I think of myself as a scholar, I teach at the university, and the world thus far has kept me employed and rewarded me with promotion. It all seems to fit. That's great. But to a great extent, I've adapted to the world's expectations of a university professor, even buying a bow tie, if you can believe that. (Now that's inauthentic.)

Periodically, it repays to go back and inventory what you believe about yourself and your trajectory. How are you spending your time? Is that helping create the person you think you ought to be? And is it possible the world sees something in you that merits investigating? Ever have a friend comment that you're really good at something? Take a hint!

Ultimately, a man or woman who gets to do work that they'd do anyway, for fun, and that serves some genuine purpose in the world is most blessed. Self-image returns to a unified whole. Ambition becomes wed to need. Everything makes sense again. The world prospers because of you, and you thrive. It might sound like a fantasy, a childish desire, but that's because you return to childhood's mode of being who you are and doing what you do. Such a life is devoutly to be wished.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • opn-gb042414 Column Armerding headshot Taylor Armerding: Warren's populist pitch on student loans is off key College graduates with a debt hangover could definitely use an advocate. The average graduate will leave college next month owing $30,000, and enter a still-mediocre job market. But that advocate is not superstar freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren from M

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • opn-gb042414 Wolfsie Column headshot Dick Wolfsie: In a perpetual comma I misplace a lot of things: Keys wallet gloves the dog's leash. Recently I misplaced something that may not seem very important unless you read that last sentence carefully. Then you will realize that believe it or not I can't find my comma. Yes it's

    April 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • nei-gb042314 Spaulding Column headshot Jack Spaulding: Spring turkey hunting season off and running Indiana's 45th annual statewide spring turkey hunting began last Wednesday, April 23, and DNR wildlife research biologist Steve Backs is expecting harvest results similar to last year. Hunters may kill one male or bearded turkey in the spring season,

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • nei-gb042314-linda kennett column jpg Linda Hamer Kennett: Crate art Paper labels from 1880 to 1930, collectively referred to as "Crate Art," are a unique form of American Folk Art. Originally designed to be glued to the ends of wooden crates to identify produce during shipping, the graphically attractive labels are

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • nei-gb042314-pat smith column headshot Pat Smith: Pat's potpourri This is a Pat's Potpourri day. Sometimes bits and pieces of things that don't quite make a whole column, but are still interesting to readers and me, become a column. Roger Welage told me not long ago that he spent the first 25 years of his life on S

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • nei-gb042314-homemakers logo Eileen Fisse: Garden time nears First a reminder: Club dues are due May 1 to our county treasurer, and now is the time to register for the Home and Family Conference which is held in June. Also, a reminder to sign up to work at the fair. I want to thank those who already signed up

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Maureen Hayden: Judge Richard Young described as “careful and thoughtful in his decisions" When U.S. District Judge Richard Young recently ruled in favor of a lesbian couple seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage, opponents of same-sex unions called him an activist judge who was unilaterally trampling the law. The label didn't

    April 22, 2014

  • Brian Howey: Doctors Brown and Bucshon become seekers Seated across the table from me at Cafe Patachou were Drs. Tim Brown and Larry Bucshon. Dr. Bucshon was a heart surgeon from Newburgh. Dr. Brown is an emergency room physician from Crawfordsville. What made this breakfast meeting extraordinary is tha

    April 22, 2014

  • Thanks, Max

    Max Dickson has given the historical society a gift that many will enjoy for years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Lee H. Hamilon: Government As Innovator? You Bet! Five years ago, the federal government spent $169 billion to fund basic research and development. This fiscal year, it's down to $134 billion. People who believe in public belt-tightening applaud drops like that. I understand why: There are many reas

    April 17, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
US Proposes Pay-for-priority Internet Standards Wife Mourns Chicago Doctor Killed in Afghanistan FDA Proposes Regulations on E-cigarettes Kerry Warns Russia of Expensive New Sanctions Mideast Peace Talks Stall on Hamas Deal Cody Walker Remembers His Late Brother Paul Grieving South Korea Puts Up Yellow Ribbons Raw: Kerry Brings His Dog to Work Raw: Girls Survive Car Crash Into Their Bedroom Three U.S. Doctors Killed by Afghan Security Yankees' Pineda Suspended 10 Games for Pine Tar Colleagues Mourn Death of Doctors in Afghanistan Ukraine Launches Operation Against Insurgents Obama Reassures Japan on China Raw: Car Crashes Into San Antonio Pool Time Magazine Announces Top Influencers List Raw: Angry Relatives Confront SKorea Officials Bigger Riders Means Bigger Horses Out West Yankees Pineda Ejected for Pine Tar Deadly Fungus Killing Bats, Spreading in US
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.