Celebrating the colourful penguin

Posted: June 11, 2017 in Inspiration, Uncategorized

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“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sometime you are meant to stick out. This is a statement I say to myself often. When you feel like you don’t fit in, you try to find ways to go about your day, to accomplish your objectives and to feel proud of whom you have become. It isn’t always easy; there are many obstacles you will encounter, but in the end, you have to have hope that being different is your purpose.

As a child, I never fit into the norm. Although I came from a traditional family, my mom and dad, my sister and myself, I found out quite quickly that I was not like everyone else. I had different interests as a boy: I liked reading, spending time with family, having game nights and watching movies. My weekly schedule was different as well. I was sent to a French school, a language I did not speak, I spent my Saturdays in a Polish school to enrich my culture and I did not play sports or go on play dates or to birthday parties, because financially we couldn’t afford it. I went to Church every Sunday and I was part of my church’s children’s choir. As I reflect back on my childhood, although I learned so much and grew up in a loving environment, I am not surprised that I didn’t fit into the regular crowd.

As a student, I wasn’t one to blend in either. I was left-handed, I was often the first to put up my hand to share the answer to a question, I excelled at the “game of school” from an early age and was an extreme perfectionist. I can still remember drawing in my art class. When I would want to make a change to a pencil drawing, I couldn’t simply erase my work because I knew there would be a mark left on the sheet; I would rip up the page with the mistake and start anew. Socially, I was more awkward. When you don’t spend your childhood in organized sports, you don’t learn the same skills as kids your age.  I was often the last kid picked in gym class, I often didn’t fit into the street hockey games at recess and I was chosen less often for group projects. That kid, who ate his lunch alone or would hide in the school to avoid recess, was me.

To this day, I don’t know if the teachers in my school knew the torment I felt in the halls. As an educator myself, I am assuming not, because I can’t imagine watching a child walk, feeling that little, and doing nothing. The whispers that came as I walked anywhere, the looks I got for being different, the teasing and taunting I endured were all part of my norm. These experiences, which for some would be characterized as “part of growing up” or “building character” or “building a tough skin”, were not always easy to get through.

Relationships and friendships have always been more difficult from me. I didn’t come from a social family. My lack of participation in traditional “western” events and ideologies did not contribute to the building of a positive self and the doubt created by an emotional school experience had a lasting impact. When you live a large part of your life in a deficit-based mindset rather than a strength-based mindset, your views change. The colours in the world that seem so obvious and vivid to some appear dull and lackluster to others.

There is no doubt that as an adult, I have been deeply shaped by the experiences I have lived. Where I once dreaded sticking out and preferred hiding, I now find strength and solace in being unique and different. My history has also given me a different perspective on education. I strive to find those colourful penguins who are different, who don’t fit in. I focus on building relationships and spending time with students. The time that I once hoped for with someone, the wish to be noticed, the relationships I once wanted as a child, are now the focus of my teaching career. Making a person feel noticed and important is the only way we can truly make a difference in someone’s life.

As I transpose this same celebratory mindset with adults, it is also both rewarding and challenging. It is a mission to help build people up, to help them reach new heights, to appreciate them, to celebrate them and to make them achieve more than they knew possible. After all, isn’t that one of the missions of a true leader? At the same time, like that seesaw in our childhood playground, as you push someone up, you often find yourself down. If you don’t find the balance in celebrating others and celebrating yourself, you can often encounter another challenge: finding your happiness and your accomplishment.

So what is the magic solution? There is none. No recipe exists to make the world a perfect place. But I do know one thing. If we all embrace being that colourful penguin who doesn’t mind sticking out in a crowd, if we all become conscientious of those around us, if we all take care of each other and treat one another with dignity…the world will be a more beautiful place.

So take the time to listen. Give the gift of your time. Reach out to those around you. Celebrate the uniqueness of every person around you. It is your heart that will make the real difference in someone’s life.

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