The Liberation of Being a Determined Black Sheep


What defines determination? In every day life, work, grad school, internships, driving and buying coffee--we are beings that are encoded to be determined. Never give in, try hard, make the right decisions; the inspirational quotes surround us and yet, what do they all really mean? What defines a determined individual and how can we be good at it?

As a grad student, the realms of academia, networking events, and professional development surround me. I continue to ponder what more can I do and what will my mentors, professors, preceptors, colleagues and parents think--literally seeking the spotlight from everyone. Grad school perpetuates the notion that we must practice being professional, behave and sell ourselves. We are constantly in a state of proving people right or wrong; we have skills to build and minds to prove. We want recognition, we seek experience, we require good grades, and we need money. Determination is built into our education system to engage and mobilize individuals to change the world. Though not all choose to conquer a graduate program, determination is expected of all of us. It lives within us.

One of the most impactful quotes I love is by the infamous Dr. Seuss: "Today You are You, that is truer than true! There is no one alive who is You-er than You!" I love this quote, not only for its message of encouragement, but because I truly am I, you are truly you, and we are truly we. We are told in our educational upbringing to act a certain way--be professional and sell ourselves. Goal setting, financial sustainability and appropriate behavior are inherent to career success, but what about our personal selves? Since there can be no one alive who is me-er than me, changing myself to fit some professional stereotype seems preposterous.

I have run into the squabble with colleagues that I'm a black sheep, I'm radical and a bit too intense. The first reaction is delight; I am these things and I'm proud of them! Yet, deep down I cannot help but wonder, what do they mean by that? Because I am not quiet about my passions, nor afraid to show my inner queerness, my body jewelry and my ideas, I'm a black sheep? Does my individuality counteract the professional demeanor expected of me?

Respect is an obvious characteristic we should demonstrate in professional settings. Of course, what one says to their boss and colleagues they may not say to their friends, family or cat. But whether we are in grad school, working, or simply existing, we hold our own determinations and methods of expressing them. In a work setting, respect and determination come like reflexes, but I do not feel myself as merely transformed. I fear some colleagues of mine let their personal liberations fall short of their work ethic, which we understand to be professional. Though personal matters do not belong in the office, where do we draw the line between acting up and just being ourselves?

While I am not promoting inappropriate behavior or negating the importance of professional development, we must balance our passions with our skilled demeanor. Don't box yourself in. Let your determinations flow naturally. Staying true to your self can lessen the pressures of graduate school and entering the real world. And like we stress to be the individuals who get straight A's and be liked by our professors, we should ultimately be okay with just being ourselves. We should be encouraged to think and act outside of the box. The change we bring to the world is within us and not shaped by others. So to the students, working professionals and anyone else--do not solely worship professional development, but also, cherish your inner black sheep.