Last night I was telling a bunch of teenager to just be themselves. They have so many expectations thrown at them, most of which would fundamentally change who they are.
Their hairs are numbered. They’re made the way they are on purpose. And the best way they can live life to the fullest is just to be who they are and not try to be someone else. It frustrates me so much because it sounds so cliched. Just be yourself. What is it that makes it so hard to sink in? It’s something I still struggle with as I approach 30!
Sometimes youthworkers are compared to disneyland staff. You just expect to see enthusiasm and energy, right? I remember, back when I was training to be a youth worker, one of my line managers at county council told me that I need to find my niche to ‘connect’ with young people. We worked together doing some detached work and he’d just swagger over to a group of young people and…trump! He’d get a laugh or a girly fake-disgust and he’d suddenly he became the jokey/confident youth worker. I held my wind in and got a stomach ache.
Studying youth and community studies was no mean feat for me. Walking into a lecture/seminar felt like walking into the lions den each day. The course was full of ‘out-there’ people and, well, it was never dull. I would have hid under the table if I thought I would have gotten away with it.
At the end of the three years, everyone was awarded a certificate. Mine was “the shyest youth worker”. Cringe.
The things is I’m not actually that shy. I was just putting myself up against these massive personalities and expectations of a youth worker and decided that I didn’t match up to it, so took a step back. It shook my confidence, visualising this ultimate youth worker that I’m supposed to be…
I wonder if there are a bunch of people that would be so influential in young people’s lives but think they just aren’t…enough. Not young enough. not cool enough. Not loud and flamboyant enough. And that’s really sad – the young people miss out on some incredible relationships and they miss out themselves. I have learned so much from the teenagers I’ve worked with – they push me, challenge me and encourage me more than any one adult has done.
I’m rubbish at pretending – it can get very awkward and has got me into trouble but you can read me like a book. For a while I battled against it, but then I figured I would just be creating a mask – a more polished version of myself. How can we, as adults, do that and then expect young people to just be themselves, warts and all??
So I’m not the ultimate youthworker. I’m not happy and bouncy all the time. I get grumpy when I’m hungry. I get PMT’d out. But I love Jesus with all that I am and I love young people like they’re my own kids (or, ahem, maybe little brother or sister…!). I don’t feel enough – but I know that His grace is enough. And when God calls us to something, he’s already figured out that we’re the person to do it – we don’t need to sweat it or question it. And whatever it is, whether its supporting something already existing or stepping out into new territory, as a very wise Charlotte gambill preached at Cherish Conference this year – we just need to put our hand up and say “I’m in”.