This week I started one of my favorite writing units with my students: Fiction. I love listening to them brainstorm and hearing them get excited about each other’s stories, which are typically very creative. To start the unit, I always have them develop a main character that they’ll use throughout their stories.
To do so, I ask them to put their heads down and I walk them through a scenario where someone has entered our classroom and is standing in our doorway. Whoever they choose to see becomes their character. They first imagine and write down the characters’ external traits, then dig a little deeper to brainstorm their internal traits.
I teach them that one of the most important steps in making their characters come to life is that they have to be real. In order for them to be real and believable, they can’t be perfect. We discuss, at length, how no one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Everyone has things they’re not good at. Everyone is scared of something. Those features are what make the characters human and give them obstacles and problems we can write into their stories, giving them the opportunity to solve those problems and grow.
I’ve taught this lesson, with some minor tweaking, every spring for the last four years. It wasn’t until I taught it this week that I realized I haven’t been following my own advice. Like everyone else, I’ve come into contact with many people in my life, and especially in this past year, who gain pleasure from pointing out what they see as other people’s flaws and shortcomings. I never teach my students that if someone keeps their nose in your business it means they’re jealous because, honestly, it’s not always true. Sadly, some just enjoy that sort of thing. People like that are toxic and I’ve let them get to me. No more.
Straight to the Point: No one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. I’ve started embracing mine – They make me who I am. Things I haven’t been good at, things I wish I’d done differently, or obstacles and problems I’ve been faced with have helped form my character and given me the chance to strengthen my resolve as I’ve moved past them. Someone told me a few months ago that it’s not about your past, it’s about your future. I agree, as long as you factor in that the issues and problems you’ve encountered in your past affect the way you approach your future. It’s up to you to decide that outcome.
I learned an important lesson from my brother a few years ago. When people try to publicize what you’ve done “wrong” or what you’re not good at, why deny it? Your issues become a lot less interesting and people don’t have much they can say if you’ve embraced your faults. I am far from perfect, but I love who I am and I wouldn’t be that person without my strengths and my weaknesses. Most importantly, the only person that has to like who you are is you, and if you’re not happy, you have the power to change. It’s like I tell my students constantly – Your story isn’t finished until you decide it’s good enough. And even then, when you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.