How We Become Who We Are

How We Become Who We Are

Do you ever think about how we become who we are? I do, all the time.

Whenever I meet a young person with big aspirations or an adult with interesting life experiences, I ask myself, “How did they know they could do that?”

Let me give you a few examples:

  • A few years ago, I met a 10-year-old girl who told me that she wanted to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon one day. I remember replying, “Wow, do you know one?” Of course she did. She had been born with a skeletal condition that required multiple childhood surgeries, and she knew several.

  • My husband and I know a woman who, by her mid-20s, had amassed a small real estate empire. She had been born to multimillionaire parents and had learned to create positive cash flow via investments without needing a conventional job.

  • Another woman I know is a successful businesswoman and second-generation Mexican American, the daughter of immigrants. She was the first in her family to attend and graduate from a four-year college, and she did it contrary to the expectations and wishes of her family. She had always done well in school and, thus, she knew she could keep going.

We are all products of our upbringing—which can be empowering and limiting. What we learn and experience during childhood generally sets the tone for who we become.

And so I wonder:

  • What happens to children who grow up in communities where adults typically have high school educations or below?

  • If parents aren’t fluent in English, how do they know all of the options available to their children? How well do such children do in school and life?

  • How likely are children from low-income families to go to college or professional school?

  • How likely are children to aspire to become lawyers or doctors or software engineers if they don’t have appropriate role models for inspiration?

I could post statistical answers to the above questions, but statistics dehumanize my message.

It always frustrates me when I see a story about a young person who hoped to make it out of a lower income community by becoming a professional athlete or musician…and then she or he didn’t. Sure, some do, but music and athletics aren’t the only options to “make it.”

We say that our children can become anything they want to be, but is that true if they don’t know their options? More importantly, how will our children become their best selves without feeling confident that they belong where they want to go? Without culturally relevant role models?

Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri has said that he hopes his recent wins on the European Tour will help show his countrymen what is possible for them. Their responses are bearing that out.

How do we help millions of young Americans see their opportunities and believe in their futures? I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I don’t have all the answers. But I don’t need to. Many people are working on this issue. A wholly effective solution would be comprehensive, involving parents, schools, communities, nonprofits, and the government. But every little bit helps.

And so I’m choosing to help in the way I know how: By documenting the issues and sharing the success stories, not of celebrities but of everyday men and women through my new Project “What Will You Be?” Details are in the project outline below:

Project "What Will You Be?"

To learn more or to become involved, please contact me.


Kate Watson