Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Teens Inspire Me

I’ve been battling the self-doubt bug lately. I hit a massive wall with my writing, wonder if I’m ever going to get through this round of revisions, wonder if my stories will ever even be good enough to see a bookshelf other than my own. That feeling can be rather overwhelming, a sickness that festers, that perpetuates until it fogs your mind, affects your decisions, eats away at your soul.

It’s easy to let the self-doubt bug become a parasite. And last week, I was kind of there with it.

But then I was at my husband’s soccer game this past Tuesday. It was the Eastern finals, one game away from State Championship, and you could tell both sides wanted the win BAD. Our team goes up 1-0. Then, they come back and tie it up. Then right before the end of the first half, they take the lead 2-1. They have momentum, they have the edge, but my husband’s boys never stopped fighting. Even when a freakish call in the box ejects our goalie for two seconds, and one penalty kick later, we're down two goals. Even when the clock went to fifteen, then ten, then five minutes left. Even when some of the fans gave up and left the stadium, my husband’s boys never relented. They fought until the last second.

They lost, and yeah, I cried for like, two days. But reflecting back on it, I just thought about those boys and was just in utter AWE of their unbridled passion, their heart, their unwillingness to give up without a fight.

And I see this teen tenacity A LOT. And it inspires ME to keep going.

Let me tell you about the teens who inspire me.

I’m inspired by my football players, my soccer players, all of my athletes, who play with SO MUCH HEART and win games they probably shouldn’t.

I’m inspired by teens who set out to right wrongs. At my school, just over ten years ago, a group of teens was bothered by the second-hand smoke at athletic events. In fact, one girl’s asthma was so bad that she couldn’t even attend games and support her classmates. Andbutso, they did something about it. Several petitions, speeches, and presentations to school board members later, smoking was banned on school campuses across the county.

I’m inspired by that student in my classroom, the one who always struggles with math, but perseveres despite that. The one who, when I say, “You guys ready to go over this problem,” shouts, “NO!” And begs for one more minute so she can finish it herself.

I’m inspired by all these teens doing NaNo. I know of one teen who’s already finished her NaNo novel. That’s 50K in less than a month!

I’m inspired by my teens in the musicals, the ones who have to sing but contract laryngitis two days before opening night. They continue to rehearse what they can. And suck lemons and drink insane quantities of tea and honey so that the show can go on.

I’m inspired by the Jeanines of So You Think You Can Dance and the Scotty McHottys McCreerys of American Idol. Pursuing dreams AND achieving them as teens. Whoa.

I’m inspired by that student who DOES NOT want to take exams, who comes to school pale and sweating off a (probably contagious) flu bug so he doesn’t have to miss days. (Of course, I strap on the white mask and stick him in a corner so my students and I can keep our distance.)

I’m inspired by that student with the worst home life, who could easily be sucked into dealing drugs or a life of crime, but doesn’t. And instead, sticks out high school for a diploma. For something BETTER.

I love it when teens stand up for what they believe in, when they fight injustice, when they feel they have a voice because THEY DO. When it’s something they care about, something that’s important to them, something they BELIEVE in, a passion that extends beyond thirty seconds, there are some teens, many teens who will go for the win, or die trying.

Now you might be wondering, are ALL teens like this? No. But it’s like I’ve always done in any aspect of teaching. I can choose to focus on that one student who cusses like an upset coach and rolls her eyes twenty times in twenty minutes, or I can focus on the thirty other students who say thank you and are nice to each other and who are truly genuine caring human beings.

Likewise, I can choose to focus on student apathy or I can choose to focus on their passions. I teach a lot of students who are apathetic to math, but they are typically passionate about something. Skateboarding, body art, sports, books, dance, their jobs, their pets, their family. I love to hear what gets them going, what lights their fire. What they’re passionate about. Why?

Because their passion ignites my own.

It’s why I read so much YA. AND why I write it. And some of my favorite stories are those with the most tenacious characters. The ones who, when all is really, really lost, look adversity in the eye—and spit in it. Even when things are their WORST, these characters do not. Give. Up.


It’s these same characters that don’t leave me for a long, long time. Adam Wilde (Where She Went), Katniss and Peeta(Hunger Games) Lexi (Ripple), Tris and Four (Divergent), Max (Maximum Ride),... For me, this list goes on and on.

And as for my teens, those students who are the most passionate, the most tenacious, the most “heart-minded,” those are the students I typically remember long after they graduate.


Believe in yourself, believe in each other. Believe in your dreams.

It’s been my husband’s team’s motto for several years. It plasters their walls, their clothes. My husband even has Believe tattooed on his arm (He has a mermaid on the other one that Special K would LOVE) Not a game, not a practice goes by where they don’t finish a huddle with “Believe.” And all their friends get into it too, chanting “Believe” songs to pump up the crowd at games.

Believe in yourself, believe in each other. Believe in your dreams.

At some point, just about everyone contracts the virus of self-doubt. Sometimes we beast the sickness as quickly as it arrives, sometimes the self-doubt lingers for weeks. And I know we all have our own ways of battling bouts with self-doubt.

Me? I look to my teens.

And I’ll tell you what I believe. I believe my teens impact me as much as I do them, if not more so.

They inspire me to persevere in the ugliest face of adversity, to fight for what I believe in (or die trying), to never lose that unrelenting, unwavering, unmitigated passion.

Teen tenacity. It’s what keeps me going. And inspires me to persevere with dreams of my own.

So, how about YOU? What helps you battle the self-doubt bug? What inspires you to keep going?


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