Trying to fit the mould...
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
This week I was told a project of mine wasn't the right fit for the group I proposed it to. Which is okay – it just means I’m not for them, and they’re not for me. However, it started me thinking, and I realised that I’ve been trying to ‘fit the mould’ in some way or another my entire life – the perfect daughter, the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect teacher, the perfect friend, the perfect woman. So I wanted to examine this idea of trying to ‘fit the mould’ for a moment.
The glaring question is - Who created the mould? Society definitely plays a huge part in what it is the perceived criteria to successfully fulfil these roles. Our family dynamics during our formative years are also a significant influence. But I think it is mainly our inherent need to feel a sense of belonging that drives us to conform, or ‘fit the mould’. We believe that in order to belong we must meet a set of standards or comply with a list of norms – look a particular way, behave in a specific way, achieve certain things. However, there is nothing more empowering than realising, that in actual fact, there is no mould.
"Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance." Brene Brown
Let’s quickly circle back to my list of moulds above and what they all have in common - that small, but oh so powerful, adjective...perfect. One of most important, and challenging, lessons in my life has been to let go of perfectionism. Perfectionism has been my strongest, and heaviest, armour and the way I've been driven to try to prove my worthiness over and over again (thank you Brene Brown for those insights!). Of course, perfectionism does not exist and trying to achieve it only leads to the inevitable result – failure. It’s taken a long time (over 40 years 😬) for me to learn that lesson.
This then led me to wonder about the moulds we may expecting our students to fit. What behaviours are we expecting them to exhibit? What standards are we expecting them to meet? What norms are we expecting them to abide by? When it comes to misbehaviour, do we see defiance or difficulty? Do we expect compliance or celebrate creativity? Do we seek student engagement or encourage empowerment? Do we promote uniformity or diversity? Do we value achievement or improvement? Do our students fear or face failure? I realise most of these are not a one or the other example, can be influenced by circumstance and context, and that some are something of a paradox, but they are the questions that ran through my mind. I also know that being an educator is increasingly complex, and this could be seen as simplifying that role. Furthermore, I genuinely believe that educators truly have their student’s best interests at heart, so I am not criticising in any way. My main point is, that while we may know how we want to answer the above questions, we need to be brave enough to delve deeply, to honestly reflect on our beliefs and actions in order to ensure that we aren’t unconsciously sending the message to our students that they need to conform in order be accepted.
Given that is has taken me until well, well, well into adulthood to let go of perfectionism and know and accept my authentic self, it is vital that we create a culture where we nurture and model self-acceptance during a time when our students are most vulnerable, in order to foster a true sense of belonging. We need to guide them to embrace their individuality and love themselves for who they are, not for who someone else wants or expects them to be.