In the new movie The Muppets, Walter grows up as a muppet in a small town full of regular (read: human) people, never growing beyond 3 feet tall while his brother is being played by Jason Segel. One day he sees the Muppets on TV and realizes that there are people like him and that they are awesome! His life is changed by that moment.
There are a lot of kids who are looking for people like them, and not finding those people. At least, they don’t find them in popular culture, particularly if these kids are of an ethnic or cultural minority, or if they’re gay. But even outside of those big divides, there are smaller divides where kids don’t see a lot of people like them. Like being both a football player who writes science fiction short stories or any of those “walking contradictions” one might see in a Starburst ad.
We all have those things that the rest of the world seems to say are walking contradictions and as kids, the world seems to tell us that we have to choose one or the other. You can’t be passionate about haute couture and hockey, choose one. You can’t be both a jock and a nerd, you can’t love Shakespeare and Saturday morning cartoons.
As adults, we still have those contradictions, and those aspects of ourselves that don’t fit the stereotype. And somewhere out there, there’s a kid who doesn’t believe there is anyone like them. You can be their Proof of Concept, that somehow there are people who have gone through the things they are dealing with, that it is actually possible for someone who looks and feels like them to be happy, successful or both. You can be their proof of concept that what they feel is a walking contradiction, isn’t one.
In order to be a proof of concept, you need 3 things.
- You need to be okay with who you are. This isn’t to say that you think you are perfect, but that you realize that who you are is no worse than who anyone else is, it is just different.
- You need to be okay with talking about who you are. This would require some vulnerability, and some courage, but you can be honest with your struggles, your thoughts, or even your contradictions.
- You need to (at least occasionally) interact with kids. If I may borrow a metaphor, you have the opportunity to be a light, but it makes no sense to have that light hidden away.
And by the way, kids aren’t the only one who need you to be a proof of concept. Even adults sometimes need to see that it’s possible for a [fill-in-the-blank] to survive through and succeed in whatever it is you are surviving through or succeeding in. Live your identity, there are people out there who need to see you do it.