For the girl... Who's hung up on what's next

Written by: Breanna Villena

Our society trains us to constantly concern ourselves with the ‘whats’ as we approach the next stage of life, or as one journey comes to an end and we begin to plan for the next. For example, from a very young age people begin to ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And we find that as we get older, our answers to the ‘whats’ are measured and judged. If we respond with, I want to be a doctor, a lawyer, or join the military, our answers are met with different reactions in comparison to answers such as I want to be a model, stay at home mom, or an artist...

We see these ‘what' questions many a time as we transition through life… What are you going to do after high school? What are you going to do with your degree in blah blah blah? What are your career goals? And the lists of ‘whats’ goes on and on. This societal fixation with the ‘whats’ can add much unwanted pressure and can lead us to believe that we should calculate our successes based on our ‘whats’. 

I myself was once a girl who was constantly worried about the ‘what questions’ of the world. What am I going to do after high school? Go to college of course. What am I going to do with my degree? Teach and try to make an impact on the lives of others. What are you going to do now that you are a teacher? Go back to school for another degree I guess… 

The author at her EdD graduation ceremony

The author at her EdD graduation ceremony

These were all things that I thought I absolutely had to accomplish in order for other people to view me as a successful person and sadly, I also felt I needed to accomplish all of these ‘whats’ to feel successful. But as I accomplished all of these feats, I found that feeling of success to be short lived.

It was during my fourth year of teaching high school students when I came to the realization that my perspective of the ‘what’ was all wrong. I was fortunate enough to have either taught or coached a large majority of the graduating senior students for three out of their four years of high school. As it had become a tradition in my classroom, I purchased my own copy of the school’s yearbook and allowed my students to sign it if they so chose to do so. At the end of the first day of passing my yearbook around, it was brought to my attention that there was no where left to sign. At first, my teacher brain quickly jumped to the assumption that one of my not so angelic students had obnoxiously decided to engrave their name in size 72 font in an attempt to be memorable but to my surprise, my students had literally written in every nook and cranny that they could find. As I read over a number of quirky short notes from my underclassmen, I noticed that my senior babies, as I'd grown to call them, were taking up a page at a time as they reminisced on the years they spent in my classes, the memories and most importantly, the impact that our time together had on them. 

The author with her first son, Jace

The author with her first son, Jace

It was at THAT moment I realized that ‘what’ I taught them was not the dazzling focal point of what made their time in my classes important. It was HOW I taught them. The ‘what’ I was hired to teach was English, but how I taught them differed from class to class, from student to student. How I taught them was by getting to know them personally, making connections to their lives and interests. How I reached them was by remaining true to who I am as a person, treating them how I had always wanted a teacher to treat me, like one of their own. Always having high expectations, using my witty humor with each interactive lesson, never using my position as their teacher as a form of ‘power’ to ‘force’ learning upon them.

Once I realized the importance of the ‘hows,’ my outlook on what it means, what it looks like, and what it feels like to be successful in life shifted. I no longer concern myself with ‘what’ I should do, but rather ask myself ‘how’ I want to do it, or ‘how’ I want to be in that moment or process. How do I want to be as a wife, a mother, a sister, a friend, a writer, an educator? I want to be supportive, loving, strong, kind, daring, and impactful. The ‘hows’ are the things that breathe purpose into our life and the lives of those around us, not the ‘whats’.

So for the girls out there that find themselves suffocated by all of the ‘whats’ life so hastily hurls in their direction, I challenge you to learn to let go of the ‘whats’ and instead celebrate the leaps and bounds you have accomplished because of your ‘hows.’