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  • Mary Sciscente Bonilla

Identity and Creative Uneducation

When given the chance to speak your mind, how do you find your voice?

Here I am, a fresh high school grad, and in charge of something bigger than I have ever been a part of… I’m on the production team for a TED event, participating in a visual storytelling mentorship program, and taking up a serious role that lets me do what I love. I remember initially thinking, “Yes! Now I can have something on my LinkedIn that isn’t working for mom’s daycare.” But then I had to ask myself, how do I even jump into something so new and so big? For once, I was being EXPECTED to be creative, solve real-world problems, and develop my own voice. I am now being tasked with thinking creatively to articulate the ideas I feel really passionate about. But for once, I'm not doing this for a grade—I’m thinking for the sake of creating something that means something to me and my audience. 

In such a short amount of time, I experienced a full 180 in ways of thinking. Just over a month ago I was cramming for final exams and memorizing as much American Government and Calculus as I could handle. Suddenly, now I am a ‘visual storyteller’ for TEDxYouth Seattle team where I was given the opportunity to use the TED platform to speak out about whatever message I choose. I went from memorizing and regurgitating information to learning actively, and working in an environment where sharing ideas is literally the organization’s motto. And that mental shift was jarring!

This revival of my own creativity resembled to me what all young adults go through eventually: coming of age. There really wasn’t any transition time for me to unlearn the suffocating way of thinking I’d been trained to keep, and as I gradually let my mind out of this cage I can’t help but see the journey as an awakening for me—a coming of age for my developing mind. I was finally using a muscle I had been dying to stretch.

And so I asked myself, how do I go about telling a story through my lens and my writing? After years of living strictly in the ‘school’ mindset not really challenging myself to develop a message to care about, what do I do once I’m handed the mic?

This team of TEDx Youth leaders sit and discuss some of their ideas about what they think IT'S TIME for as they bus together to the last stop of their street interview weekend.

I first ask myself, what is it that compels me and ignites this desire to speak up? We all have our motives fueling that very human pursuit of shaping the reality of the world around us, and each and every one of them plays a crucial role in understanding ourselves and what it actually is we are passionate about. It’s impossible to curate a message for an audience without looking into yourself and acknowledging why it is you’re communicating to them in the first place. For now, that question remains in the back of my mind unanswered... because I am still figuring it out.

I start to re-identify myself and my passions by questioning what it is that silences me. I find that without an honest understanding of the variables holding us back in life, all efforts to develop a strong identity become futile. I have found routine often creates a safe structure for me to get lost in ‘busying’ myself, which I have used as a way to procrastinate on critical thinking. Breaking out of this safety net I created for myself has challenged me to practice self-reflection and creativity more so than I have ever had to do before, because I have to break the pattern that functions to pacify the natural fear of failure. The only answer to my question is IT’S TIME to cast away that fear and embrace the failures necessary to grow. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that when we coddle the fear of imperfection, be it in pursuing hobbies, developing a career, or strengthening one’s identity, we limit ourselves moving forward. So yeah, I think it’s time to unlearn my silence.

It’s not that simple, or that easy. I haven’t even really fully achieved it. But I start with turning to mentorship. I am lucky to be surrounded by some pretty impeccable individuals, but I find mentorship in just about anyone. Anyone who I admire, really. When I don’t know where to start in bettering myself, I find it’s pretty refreshing to look to others and ask myself what it is I value most in some of my favorite people. It could be a sibling, a friend, or even a stranger I held a conversation with on the street one time. After finding someone who inspires me, I make it my ‘goal’ to figure out what it is I see in them that defines them as someone I hold to that special esteem. Then, I make it my goal to try and live out whatever qualities around me that resonate with me. The people around me themselves don’t have to really be related to what I like at all, my goals don’t have to align with theirs. I simply find someone who lives and functions in a manner I admire, and set goals to achieve their level of exercised self-determinedness.  

Just hearing about what other people are doing and what ideas they have looking forward was enough to spark an incredibly raw moment of collaboration and creativity.

Through self-reflection and discussion, I find that the depth of one’s voice depends on their mental presence and the message they choose to communicate. Having a strong sense of identity goes hand in hand with narrowing down a message to amplify—therefore your sense of identity reflects the initiative and intention in your voice. Since I, a youth, am still developing my sense of identity, I am still developing the message or story I seek to vocalize. 

My story is an ongoing analysis of the state of being, based on personal experience not unique to myself alone. It is a snapshot of the nature of youth identity, and therefore it is beautiful and incomplete.

I’m going to be tracking my own growth as a young person in the works of strengthening my sense of identity and embracing the power of my creative mind. I invite you to follow along this raw account of coming of age and individuality, and I challenge you to question yourself as you read along. 

Starting with this:

What do you think it’s time for?

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