Read an Excerpt
Our life is like a piece of paper
on which every passerby leaves a mark.
Ancient Chinese Proverb
Who I (Really) Am
Every artist dips his brush into his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictureas he does in living his life.
Henry Ward Beecher
I keep my paintbrush with me, wherever I may go,
In case I need to cover up, so the real me doesnÆt show.
IÆm so afraid to show you me; afraid of what youÆll do,
IÆm afraid youÆll laugh or say mean things; afraid I might lose you.
IÆd like to remove all the layers, to show you the real, true me,
But I want you to try to understand; I need you to like what you see.
So if youÆll be patient and close your eyes, IÆll remove the coats real slow,
Please understand how much it hurts, to let the real me show.
Now that my coats are all stripped off, I feel naked, bare and cold,
And if you still find me pleasing, you are my friend, pure as gold.
I need to save my paintbrush though, and hold it in my hand,
I need to keep it handy in case someone doesnÆt understand.
So please protect me, my dear friend, and thanks for loving me true,
And please let me keep my paintbrush with me, until I love me, too.
A Word from the Authors
Each of us longs to ôbe ourselves.ö And yet, we seek the approval of others: ôDo you think IÆm okay?ö ôDo you accept me as I am?ö ôDo you like the way I look?ö ôDo you approve of how I act?ö ôDo you like me?ö ôWill you be my friend?ö We want the answers to each of these questions to be a wholehearted ôYes!ö When others like us and accept us, we feel worthylike weÆre a terrific person. But even though we may want to feel liked and accepted by others, we may not always get a positive responsesome people may not think as much of us as we would like. Sometimes this doesnÆt bother us, but most of the time, especially if their approval is important to us, itÆs only natural to feel rejected, hurt or left out.
All of us are vulnerable to the scrutiny of others. Why are we so sensitive to their review of us? We want them to accept and approve of who we are at our inner level, not just for what they see of us at the surface. What we really want is for others to like and accept us for who we areas we are. But what if they donÆt like what they see? The fear of being rejected is at the heart of the struggle between hiding and revealing ourselvesand can cause teens to feel as though even the people closest to them donÆt really understand them very well.
Almost all of the teens we heard from said that in order to win favor and friendship from others, they had to ôplay intoö or portray an image they believe someone else holds of them, rather than ôbe themselves.ö ItÆs a coat of paint teens arenÆt all that happy about wearing: The price-tag for being ôsomeone elseö comes at a loss of true identity. Sometimes the loss includes self-respect and self-esteemyour own. The good news is, while you are willing to do some things to gain acceptance, thereÆs a limitand then you begin to feel uncomfortable about it. Feeling uneasy about covering up who you are in order to be liked by someone else is a healthy feeling. You are youand that is who you are supposed to be. You shouldnÆt have to become someone youÆre not.
As we read the stories for this unit, my daughter and I talked at length about how easy it is for the image we hold of ourselves to be influenced or colored by others. ôWhen youÆre a teenager, you get pulled in a lot of different directions, especially when youÆre trying to meet the expectations of different peopleall of whom are important to you,ö Jennifer commented. ôThereÆs a fine line between going along, doing the things others want you to do, and being true to yourselflistening to your own voice and preferences, acting on what you believe, and doing whatÆs important and best for you.ö
ôGive me an example,ö I prompted.
ôWell, letÆs take the image I had of myself as an athlete in high school, more specifically, as a pitcher on my school softball team,ö she responded. ôJust before IÆd wind up to throw a pitch, IÆd look up in the bleachers and see your smiling face, confident IÆd strike out the batter. YouÆd reinforce it by shouting, æYou can do it, Jen!Æ Meanwhile I was thinking, æI just hope this pitch goes somewhere in the direction of the plate and not a half-mile over the batterÆs head and out of the ballpark entirely!Æ I wasnÆt nearly as certain as you were of my pitching skills. Then IÆd look over at Dad who had reminded meon more than one occasionÆJen, youÆre better at soccer. ThatÆs your best chance for a scholarship. ThatÆs where you should be concentrating your time.Æ All the while, I was wishing I could concentrate on my first lovetennis.
ôOnce a friend of mine asked me if my favorite sport was softball, soccer or tennis. æSoftball,Æ I answered. But I thought about it for a minute and knew softball wasnÆt my favorite sport. My answer was based on the gratification I felt having you at my games, and your enthusiasm about my playing softball. On the way home from the games, whether our team won or lost, you thought I played well. In your eyes, I could do no wrong. It was a very good feeling.
ôCorrecting myself, I said to my friend, æActually, I prefer soccer.Æ But once again, I realized that there were conditions around my playing soccer that made me continue to play it. A couple of times a week, and sometimes on the weekends, Dad spent time with me, teaching me soccer tricks. And, he came to practically every soccer game and once, after one of the games, he told me I was æthe most powerful athlete on the team.Æ You see, having you and Dad attend my games was the biggest appeal of my playing softball and soccer. It was your presence and approval, not the sport itself, that kept me playing these sports. Now tennisthat was my favorite sport when it came to playing for the fun of it.ö
ôBut you received a letter in softball and soccerbecause you were so good at them,ö I reminded her.
ôWell, you guys were at practically all the games!ö Jennifer said, laughing. ôIt was just great to look in the bleachers and see one or both of my parents there. Whenever I saw you, that was my favorite game, and my favorite sport.ö
ôSo why didnÆt you play on the tennis team, then?ö I asked, bewildered that as a parent, living with her as closely I did, I hadnÆt picked up on how she really felt about each of these sports at the time.
ôSimple,ö she said. ôI did play tennis for a while, but the tennis games were mostly held out of town. Since our team took the bus, you and Dad werenÆt able to come.ö
I must have looked forlorn, because Jennifer added, ôDonÆt feel bad, Mom. IÆll bet there are very few kids who sit at the piano when theyÆre first learning to play, saying, æIÆm practicing for the next half-hour without complaining because I see myself as a great pianist, the next Beethoven.Æ More likely theyÆre saying, æIÆm practicing because in thirty minutes, IÆll get a hug, a bowl of ice cream, time with my friends, an hour of televisionand avoid being in trouble with my mom (or dad) for not practicing!Æ
ôAnd by the way, you two (parents) werenÆt the only conflicting voices that I had to deal with. There were expectations of friends and coaches. For example, in the dugout was my best friendalso a pitcherwho each game prodded, æJennifer, work it so that in the fourth inning I can come in and relieve you!Æ Which meant, of course, that I was to deliberately pitch a succession of æballsÆ and not strikes, so the coach would send me to the dugout and her to the mound. Then there was the coach who said, æJust do your bestÆright before he promised that if we had a good game, heÆd take the team out for pizza. Now I had to deal with the question, æWhat should I doam I a good best friend, or a determined pitcher?Æ So you see, being pulled in so many directions by so many peopleall of whom you genuinely want to pleasemakes having a paintbrush seem like a necessity!ö
Perhaps thatÆs what made ôThe Paintbrushö such a popular piece with teens! We received so many poignant and heartfelt letters from teens everywhere who said ôThe Paintbrushö described their feelings to a ôT,ö that we felt obliged to make it the first selection in this book! Teens everywhere said, ôbeing a teenager is tough stufföone of the biggest reasons being that parents, teachers and even your friends see you differently than you see yourself. In the following stories in this chapter, youÆll learn that the struggle to gain acceptance, to be liked and considered worthy without having to be someone elsewithout having to ôcover upöis a challenge for both girls and boys, whether you are thirteen or eighteenor ninety! ôThe Dragon in My Drawer!ö was written just this past year by your friend, ninety-year-old Elmer Adrian, who admitted, ôThe image others see is not the authentic me.ö
Hmmm, maybe itÆs a view everyone shares throughout their lives!
Like paint, the views teens shared about being your ôauthentic selfö came in various shades, too. Some of you wanted a paintbrush to cover up, such as sixteen-year-old Shaun Martin, who confessed he needed one ôuntil the real me . . . will stay around long enough for me to get used to.ö Being a teen means constantly growing and changing in many ways. Sometimes many layers of paint were needed for more than camouflagethey were needed as protection. This was true for fourteen-year-old Mia Templett, who tells us why each day she paints a smile on her face, and for thirteen-year-old Alana Ballen, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. As we suggested in the introduction to this book, when facing problems of so serious a nature, we urge any teen to turn to a trusted adult for help and guidance. Hopefully, as a result of receiving such support, both Mia and Alana can look forward to lighter colorsand brighter days. And many teens, like sixteen-year-old Rebecca Holbrook, thought that perhaps adults, too, cover up their real selves, as she feels her mother does because her momÆs ôlife didnÆt really turn out the way she wanted.ö
Other teens were tired of needing a paintbrush and wanted to lay theirs down, to stop being someone elseÆs shade of friend, as did fifteen-year-old Marie Benton. So enthralled that sheÆd been chosen to do a school project with the all-popular Heather Winslow, Marie found herself shamelessly parading up and down the library, mimicking Heathereven though she knew her actions were suspect! ItÆs nice to see that Marie, like so many teens, is developing the courage to act in ways that feel right to her.
While some of you learn lessons firsthand, some learn them by watching others, like fifteen-year-old Chelsey Collinsdale, whose sister told conflicting stories about wanting a pager to wear to school. As Chelsey tells us, ôYou have to decide how willing you are to sacrifice your true self in order to have others like you.ö Still, other teenagers, like sixteen-year-old Chad Dalton, said, ôMy true color comes out when IÆm with real friends,ö and tells us what ôcolorö it takes to be considered his friend. And Eric Chadwick, seventeen, discovered that when it came to the beautiful girl he wanted to date, it was he, and not the girl, who had done the painting! Perhaps ChristinaÆs rudeness was her paintbrushmaybe this beautiful girl didnÆt feel all that beautiful.
This is a good reason not to judge a book by its cover, whether the cover looks appealing or unappealing.
All in all, you said you want to be true to your own colorthe self you know better than anyone else does. You want to do as legend Elton John did; he found a newer, wiser, healthier self after getting a fresh look at who he was beneath the layers of paint he had added over the years to meet the expectations of others. You proclaimed what singer-songwriter Stevie Nicks declared: ôThis is who I really amand who I want to be.ö
There is one thing all teens do agree on though: You may, on occasion, wear a coat of paint, but beneath its surface is a self you deeply love and honor. And would like the rest of us to love and honor, too.
Until then, you ask for understanding in keeping your paintbrush handy until youÆve learned the art of balancing the need for acceptance without sacrificing your own sense of self. In the meantime, please donÆt give up on the rest of us, who, like your friend ninety-year-old Elmer Adrian, are trying to find the courage to put our paintbrush down, too!
Will the Real Me Please Stand Up!
Lately IÆve started to wonder what it means when people say, ôJust be yourself!ö ItÆs a dumb thing to say to me right now because most of the time IÆm not sure who I am! How can I be? IÆm constantly changing. I mean, I look and sound totally different than I did just three months ago. Then I had a decent complexion; now itÆs oily and zit-ridden. Three months ago, my voice sounded like a normal human beingÆs; now it fluctuates between squeaky one day and deep the nextlike IÆm echoing into a big drum or something. And some of my body parts look like they donÆt belong with the other parts. I started working out last year, so I was really buffed. But IÆve grown five inches in the last six months, so IÆm gangly and look completely out of proportion. IÆm happy about getting taller, except that now my muscles donÆt look as big and my head looks as if itÆs sitting on a tall skinny post.
I used to have no problem getting girls to come up and talk with me. Now IÆve lost confidence that they find me attractive. I worry that if by chance a girl should get interested, itÆll only be a matter of time before sheÆll be turned off by my skin breaking out so much, or laugh when my voice does its squeak-and-croak act.
ItÆs not just my body that has changedeverything has. IÆve always thought of myself as a regular guy; but now, from one day to the next, my emotions are all over the place. One day I feel up, the next down. Some days I think, ôHey, IÆm really quite smart,ö and others, ôIÆm as dumb as a rock!ö One week IÆm sure what I want to do with my life, the next, IÆm totally unsure. IÆm a wreck! Really, I just want the real me to please stand up and stay around long enough for me to get used to him.
Oh yeah, I need a paintbrush for sure!
Shaun Martin, 16
¬1999. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Taste Berries for Teens by Bettie B. Youngs, Ph.D. and Jennifer Leigh Youngs. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.