What Are You Supposed to Be?
I had a pretty interesting meeting a few weeks ago with Dave Hammis
(http://www.griffinhammis.com/) and Tim in Middletown talking about work, and
what works in the world of work. Since then, I’ve been pondering the idea of a “sense of
place.” I’ll admit, Middletown invoked part of the question I am chewing on, mainly
because what Tim and I drove past for the most part were abandoned strip malls, realty
signs, and empty buildings. I don’t pretend to be a history expert on Middletown, but I
do think this “place” has seen better days. How then, does a city in decline recapture the
“sense of place?” I don’t know, but I think the answer begins will reconnecting the
community to the people. Perhaps a conversation at another time.
The bigger question I am struggling with is how people find their “place” both in the
sense of physical location, and in the idea of what one is “supposed to be.” I cease from
using quotation marks around place and supposed to be from here on out!
Let’s start at the beginning. (by the way, check out this song while you read this! I think
it’s appropriate given the topic)
For many of us what we’re supposed to be is directly linked to expectations and
commitments we made for ourselves, expectations placed upon us from our parents,
encouragement from a close group of friends, supportive teachers. For me, I was
supposed to be a teacher. I studied Theology at Xavier University, enjoyed the theories
and the philosophical arguments, loved the thick and muddled readings from history.
Yes, this was supposed to be my future. My career, my dream job, if you will. Three
months into teaching at a Catholic high school, I realized I was obviously wrong. I did
not enjoy the school setting with its imposed limitations, requirements, red tape and
bureaucratic structure. The curious exploration I enjoyed from reading and studying
was squashed to 50 minute periods of lesson plans, curriculum, and grading. Wait, I
thought! This isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing! Is it? Where’s the intellectual
dialogue? Where’s the debate? Where’s the internal churning of ideas?
What then was I supposed to be doing? I read in a C.S. Lewis book a line that I think
applies here. He said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to
another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” How relieved I was to hear a
friend say recently that he was formerly a lawyer. You too?! Now, David is the Director
and founder of Prairie (http://www.prairiecincinnati.com ) a non-profit photography
studio in Northside that is committed to community based art and collaboration. It’s
strange how finding your “sense of place” sometimes comes from failing (in my case) or
from fruitful longing (in David’s).
What we are “supposed” to be doing isn’t necessarily linked to what we planned on
doing. And believe me, I am a planner. I enjoy to do-lists and calendars like nobody’s
business. I get excited when Outlook reminds me of an upcoming meeting. I use post-it
notes religiously, and feel satisfied when I can cross off an item. However, there are
some things we don’t plan for, things we aren’t supposed to be, but wind up doing. For
people like David, and myself who’ve felt a longing for something other than what you’ve
been doing. For me, it was as simple as discovering I really hated being in front of the
classroom, “pouring” my knowledge into the minds of students as Freire would put it.
No, certainly that wasn’t my place. I didn’t ask David what it was for him to make the
jump from law to photography.
What then about people with disabilities? Much of my success and failures come from
being able to choose for myself. Dave Hammis, I was encouraged to hear, echoed this.
He said, we should all be “choosing with, not choosing for someone.” Yes. In doing so,
he continued, there’s a discovery that needs to take place. In the world of people with
disabilities, often this happens through staff, supports, essentially through paid help
who choose what they’re “supposed to be doing.” Dave hit the nail on the head when he
said (with regards to navigating the discovery with someone), “I don’t really know who
you are, and I need to remember that.” Let’s all remember this when working with
everyone. In order to find our place we need to admit, we don’t really know ourselves
half as well as we’d like, and consequently, we don’t know others as much as we’d like,
As I continue to discover what I am “supposed to be doing” I like to stay open to the vast
array of interesting possibilities. Let’s keep the door open, and a seat at the table for
people with disabilities, too, and allow them to choose with, not be chosen for.