Transitions. Or, Be Careful What Homework You Assign

The Class: Communication Studies 111, Interpersonal Communication

Self-concept: (noun) the idea or mental image one has of oneself and one’s strengths, weaknesses, status, etc.; self-image.

The Assignment: Please write a short, 500-700 word essay concerning your self-concept. What informs it? What factors have played out in your life that make you or define you? Do you believe these factors to be accurate? Do you believe you possess a healthy self-concept? How might you go about changing your self-concept?

I decided to take on this assignment myself. Not sure now if that was a good thing or bad thing. Maybe it’s just a thing.

It is not earth shattering news when I mention that a huge foundation of our self-concept is built during childhood. However, I learned a few years ago while attending an elementary school reunion, that it is not necessarily what happens to us during childhood that primarily informs our self-concept rather how we perceive ourselves during this time.

I thought of myself as an overweight, below-average-intellect, ugly kid whose only salvation was sports, as I was, quite fortunately, a very good athlete. However, as I spoke with classmates at the reunion, apparently I was the only one who saw me in this light. According to a group I was speaking with, I was the tough bully-type who thought his shit didn’t stink.

Wow. They were not even kidding. Yet it is not uncommon when insecurity comes across as pomposity.

Why did they think of me that way? Why did I think of myself in the other way? Well, some kids did call me “fatty” and a few used derogatory names at times—which never helps a self-image. However, a day did not go by that my father did not tell me I was very smart and handsome…problem was I just never believed him.

I realize now at age 50 (I am a slow learner I know), that what happens around us—all life experiences such as tragedies, promotions, interactions with people, everything—is only understood through the perception and meaning we assign to these experiences. While in a meeting with one of our excellent school counselors, Deborah Bogh, I was lamenting to her how difficult this empty nest transition has been for me, when she provided some excellent insight, “Nothing has really changed in your life at all, only your perceptions on how you view things,” this included how I viewed myself.

What seems like a “no shit Sherlock” comment that is worded just right, in the right context at the very right time, blossoms into a golden proverb of wisdom. My ears were ready to hear what my mind was ready to absorb. Such was this moment.

Do any of us really see ourselves for who we truly are? How can we?

We select, we determine, we decide how we choose to see ourselves. 

The last 25 years I decided to perceive myself, and the value of who I was, through the filter of being a father. Now, since that lens of self-perception is essentially over—at least on a hands-on, day-to-day basis—I struggle now to define myself.

I realize I cannot complete my own assignment. Or at least I cannot pass it.

We can be captain of our own self-concept ship and determine through what filters we see ourselves. During some periods in our lives we transition and change our filters to determine our self-concept. One might say I am in between filters at the moment. And they have a name for this.

Can you say crisis? Can you say mid-life? What many treat as a joke, you know getting the red convertible, dumping the spouse and dating people your kids’ age, is actually a real and important condition.

According to Dr. Dan Jones, “A midlife crisis might occur anywhere from about age 37 through the 50s, he says. By whatever term, the crisis or transition tends to occur around significant life events, he says, such as your youngest child finishing college, or a “zero” birthday announcing to the world that you’re entering a new decade.”

Damn. I am now realizing that the last few years were not mid-life crisis at all…it was just pre-game for the real thing.

I understand a crisis can be fairly debilitating and people act out all the time -yet I am fairly certain I am not going to destroy the few things working well in my life.  When I hear of men and women reaching this place and walking away from all they know and love, well, that ain’t me.  You might say I am pretty conservative crisis-er. 

I have already purchased the mid-level sports car and that is likely as far as the midlife madness will take me. Hell, it’s all I can afford.

So, let me give this self-concept thing a try. What informs it? I don’t know. Good  question. What factors have played out in your life that make you or define you? I no longer know. But good question. Do you believe these factors to be accurate? Yes. I guess. Because it is what it is. Great question. Do you believe you possess a healthy self-concept? It is hard to measure an unknowable quantity. Fair question. How might you go about changing your self-concept? I will write a book when I find out and let you know. Good question. Who wrote these? Brilliant.

I think I may have just failed my own assignment.