Two years ago, I wrote my first article for the Bagpipe in the Opinions section about my first Kilter experience. A month later, when I followed that up with a review of Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz album, Emmett Gienapp told me that the whole staff room cheered.
Since then, much of my college experience could be summarized as a cycle of trying to be remembered. I am part of a hall community that thrives on public stunts, with which I’ve taken every opportunity to use my talents in writing and theatre to create an image and boost it. My Facebook page has oft been filled with ironic meta-statements on the nature of connection and bombastic pictures featuring my photogenic personality. During this time I’ve also acquired more nicknames than could reasonably be counted.
When offstage, I sometimes try to keep a low profile and build an air of mystique, only speaking when necessary. The idea is that this way, when an issue comes up that I may want to change, I can reply with an out-of-the-box comment and people might listen. Although to be fair, I don’t know how well I’ve pulled this last strategy off. I tend to talk a lot when I get excited.
What I am saying is that I’ve attempted analysis on how I’m being perceived by strangers and adjusted my life accordingly. Some of this comes from childhood insecurities I’ve struggled against my whole life. Related to this is a well-intentioned, but fear-driven desire to make my best friends in college, and make memories I can take into my adult life.
But despite the many photos, stunts, and memories documented in my file, when I look back at my time in college, I will no doubt see it as a very troubled time in my life. More than that, living my life in a “public image cycle,” always waiting for the next time I can get that high from being the center of attention, has affected my ability to use my gifts responsibly.
The trap comes when you are focused on earning the love of others—which really just stems from a love of self—at the expense of glorifying God. The truth is, one cannot know how they are being perceived, and even if they could, it should not influence their convictions to speak boldly or to love others through ministry, when those convictions are being prompted in your heart by God.
There have been many times when I’ve wondered, because of my insecurities and rapt attention on some constructed, imaginary persona, whether I should be allowed to give opinions, perform, or otherwise live my life in freedom of expression. Is it narcissistic to consider whether you’re showing off too much? Furthermore, is it worth risking being called a narcissist if you think the things you want to do would glorify God and serve your community? What is the limit on taking initiative? On stepping out in roles of leadership?
I write this article not because I have the answers to these questions, but because I have an opinion on them. More importantly, I want to speak to people who, like me, may also have opinions, but are too worried about what others will think to speak into their community’s discourse with them.
Don’t spend your time in college, or your life, worried about your legacy. It will never be enough, and it will cripple you in places you actually care about.
Don’t spend your life concerned about what others are thinking. You will be disappointed.
When God calls you to do something, you should do it, even if it means more responsibility and the chance that you’ll be in the public eye.
Be yourself. But remember to try, at least imperfectly, to keep your bigheadedness in check. Matt. 5:3 says, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And it seems to me that living life under that philosophy, with a healthy understanding of where your gifts and opportunities come from, will save you from a lot of problems that come with egocentrism.