We’ve all got stories. We have short stories, long stories; stories about fun, folly, freaking out, failing, and finding our ways. It’s probably not too much of a generalization to say that for many of us, there are a select few we carry in our back pockets—they’re stories we’ve polished over many retellings, deliberately meandering in certain details, purposefully vague on others. They venture through the appropriate background context, peak at the right moments, and work through carefully selected words to hit home at the exact right moments.
I know that I have a few stories of that sort of my own, each with its own lesson learned, relearned, or expounded. When the opportunity organically arises to share the story, I’ve found that I—and I believe it to be true for others—access a sense of ownership and pride, even in those stories based almost solely on our misguided decisions of the past or self-deprecation.
Only recently, I realized that I’m in the middle of one of those stories. It’s not yet polished with the perfectly articulated highs and lows—far from it. The story concerns my professional purpose. It’s hard to write all of this without coming off as grandiose or overly dramatic, but through the last six months, I’ve been confirmed on a daily basis not only on what it is that I can contribute to society (locally and internationally), but the entire narrative that has led me here has become clear.
Like most people in their late 20s with a few years of seemingly disjointed work experience—teacher, executive assistant, program designer—and a few odd majors or concentrations under their belt—history and philosophy BA and international relations MA—most of my decisions were made in an almost arbitrary fashion with an eye toward plans that would change the moment they were implemented.
I have been a soccer player for at least 22 of my 27 years. While studying history and philosophy in undergrad, I was drawn to epistemology—the study of knowledge. I tutored or coached sporadically and taught full-time for a year in South Korea. I studied conflict resolution and international security in my masters with the intention of working on US defense policy, only to change trajectories over half way through the two year program.
Yet, in my current role, I draw on my understanding of soccer, honed over 22 years of familiarity, I support the creation of curricula by drawing on my brief time as a coach and educator, some of which is anchored in conflict resolution, all of which requires some acknowledgement of cultural differences, customs, and norms. All of it is nestled in the heady yet relevant questions that continue to propel conversations in the field of epistemology. How do we learn? What can we know? How do we know that we know it? And so on.
Now if you ask someone else who works in similar function, they may draw a completely different set of qualifiers that have made them a qualified designer. Perhaps they grew up in the very community with which they work, or they have coached or mentored in a variety of circumstances, or they possess a certain analytic and detail-oriented focus that allows them to problem solve in a unique fashion.
The point here is not that I have come through an ideal storyline to get to this point. The bigger take home message for me is in the power of ownership over our personal narratives. 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 18 months ago, I had no intention of being where I currently am. When I began to connect the dots, retroactively giving more purpose to each decision, I gained a sense of confidence in my way forward. In line with my fellowship-based mantra that it’s not about me,’ I’ll end by opening the aperture a bit.
The old and perhaps overused adage, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime speaks volumes to the work we do here. Through the lessons incorporated into our curriculum, our coaches provide kids with a take home message. Through the constant engagement and conversation, hopefully, our coaches provide the kids with a new way to see the world; an understanding that lessons aren’t solely found in school settings—they can be found in soccer, in friendships, in work, in decisions.
While we initially play soccer for the purpose of fun, or study philosophy for the purpose of sounding smart at cocktail parties, or teach English abroad for the purpose of travelling, with the correctly developed faculties, we can hold on to that experience and retroactively repurpose it to inform the narrative of our greater goals and purpose in life. If any of the kids at the CTC Ten Safe-Hub can walk away with that skill set—the ability to tell their own story with purpose and ownership—then we will have done something very profound here—not by giving them that ability, but by providing them with the platform on which to realize it within themselves.