Live Your Nouns, not your Adjectives
Teenagers often describe themselves and others as adjectives. Have you noticed this? She or he is fat, or ugly, or gorgeous, or rich, or cool, or whatever. This may be a result of teens having had insufficient amounts of time and experience to become a noun, such as a bricklayer or attorney or soldier. Adjectives help separate the masses of strangers at school into sub-groups with easily understood labels.
Teens do use nouns to refer to these various cliques and social groups, but the nouns used are not very positive. He or she is a “jock” (parents would use the term “athlete,”) or “soc” or “preppie” or “Goth” or “nerd” or again, whatever. You’ll notice that “jock” is used instead of the more positive “athlete,” and is applied to both boys and girls, even though the item from which the term is derived is male only.
As adults we gradually wean ourselves away from the emotional damage of adjectives applied by others and mature into our own nouns. It is vitally important that the nouns representative of your life are positive nouns, at least to you.
I’ve been a teacher, a coach, a husband, a father, a motorcyclist, and a writer. All of those nouns are very important to me, and self-labeling with them provides an emotional and psychological lift. My self-esteem levels and life would be far different if I labeled myself as a drug addict, loser, or con artist, for example.
I became aware of this in my 30’s. Men of my age at social gatherings often engaged in tribal battles to see who was “winning” or at least “ahead.” I would lose points if the topic was salary, business accomplishments, foreign countries visited, or assets owned; topics that came up far too often to be coincidental. Body language and glances shifted to the positive if the group became aware that I was a coach. If women were present, “teacher” was a positive. When men met my wife and noted her great beauty of face, body, and personality, and if someone mentioned (I did not) that I drove a Porsche 911 AND rode a motorcycle there would be a palpable sense of tension in the air. It mattered not a jot that the Porsche was an older model, not a great example of the model, and not even worth all that much. The reaction was so strong that it negatively affected my enjoyment of owning the car.
I was confused for a time when my wife became friends with a colleague active in a Seattle gay men’s chorus. We’d go to their concerts and then out with some of the performers afterward. I always had such a great time, and after a few experiences I began to wonder if I was gay and it was a secret, even to me! Gradually the light dawned (It always seems to dawn gradually doesn’t it? A burst of inspiration would be so handy).
The reason I was enjoying myself so much was that the testosterone battles I detested at social gatherings were absent, at least between the gay men and I. Since we were playing for different teams, there was no reason to score points. The fact that we owned an old Porsche would simply trigger an interesting conversation on the pitfalls of car enthusiasm. That Susan was gorgeous was nice, but not something to be envied.
When I was teaching junior high I often had the experience, usually at the end of a long day as I straightened up an empty classroom, that I was doing exactly the job I should be doing. Junior high English teacher was what I was, what I wanted to be, and what I was supposed to be. There’s a lot of comfort in such moments that overwhelms other concerns – such as money and cars and power and houses and foreign travel.
So the lesson here (did not know I was presenting one) is to look at your own life and rack up the nouns that apply to you. If they are nouns that are important and positive words to you then things are working out well. If some are negative (like “drunk” for one example) are there actions you can take to get that one out of your life? Are there better choices for you?
I had a student many years ago who was a treasure. He was a smart ass – but of the best kind. A smart ass who pops off in class on the topic at hand is a tremendous asset that can help everyone in the class learn more and faster and at greater depth. The bad kind of smart ass is just someone who pops off because they need attention, which is a different kettle of problem fish. This young man had a great time in my class, and so did I, and by extension so did all of the other students. He came back to see me after college a few times, and he had a problem I was never able to solve for him.
What he really wanted to be was a teacher. His choices in college (where he did very well) had led him to a career in pharmaceutical sales, where he was having great success. The problem was two-fold. While he was making a lot of money, the job was just a job, and he took no joy from the noun phrase of being a pharmaceutical salesman, no matter how good he was at it. In order to become a teacher he would need to go back to college for at least two years, and then take a job for about $100,000 a year less. I could not in good conscience advise him to do that, and I’ve always wondered if he eventually came to terms with his choices or made that radical step to become a teacher.
Nouns carry tremendous weight. I went back to Minnesota the summer after my first year of teaching. I got to see a lot of friends from high school – those that had not gone to college and still lived in the area. Many of them were from “the wrong side of the tracks” in the parlance of my youth. I had a lot of friends from all walks and tracks of life. In high school I would probably have been described as a “soc,” a “wanna be jock” and a “nerd.” Although negative, all would have been pretty correct.
In any case, when I came back as a “teacher,” my friends were shocked. I came from a home where a college degree was as expected as mosquitoes in summer, and my ascendancy to teaching career was OK but nothing special. To these friends, however, it was clear that “teacher” was a noun that exceeded their expectations for me, and of their own by an even larger margin.
And now we get to “retirement.” What a blah word! The descriptive personal noun form is “retiree,” which is even worse. “Retiree” has no zing, no emotion, and no movement at all. It’s a word that just sits there – flat, lifeless, and dead. If you allow that word to be the noun that describes, you statistics show you will very soon become one with it – as in flat, lifeless, and dead.
Fortunately, many of the positive nouns I like so much will travel into retirement with me. I will still be a father, a husband, a writer, and a motorcyclist. I get to add grandfather to the list. My intent is for “retirement” to be inaccurate as a descriptor. The only thing I will not be doing is driving or riding to work for someone else 5 or 6 days a week. I will not be a retiree – ever.
I wish the same for you.
Copyright 2013 David Preston