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Tom Chaney: Just Who Will You Be?

Of Writers And Their Books: Just Who Will You Be? Tom says: "As I read Ms Shriver, I realized that her new question fit my life quite nicely." This column first appeared 26 October 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Don't Ask, Don't Tell about Fried Green Tomatoes with Sausage

By Tom Chaney

Just Who Will You Be?

A few days back Gloria stopped by to visit. She was packing a little blue book that looked interesting, and I asked her what it was.

She perked right up and began to explain. "It ought to be in every library where school children can read it," she opined.

That got my interest up and I asked to keep it for a little while. She couldn't say nay 'cause I loan her some of my books from time to time knowing she'll buy 'em.

The book is by Maria Schriver and is titled Just Who Will You Be? [Hyperion, 2008]

It is an inspirational book, the kind you give a high school graduate. In fact it is mainly a speech she gave to her nephew's graduating class.

Maria Shriver is of the Kennedy clan, granddaughter of Joseph and Rose, niece to John and Robert and Ted. She is the daughter of Sergeant Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps, and of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Her husband is Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California. Coming from that background, no wonder that in her life and career she was driven to excel.

But in the midst of a career as a CBS television newsperson, she was forced to give up her job in journalism because of a possible conflict of interest with her husband's political position.

She had defined herself in terms of what she did. Now that career was over. As an adult she was forced to face the question we all faced while growing up: "What will you do when you get big?"

In this insightful little book, Maria Shriver turns the question around to "Who will you be?" With a little thought, we find this to be the more insightful question, because it forces us to define ourselves apart from our job, our fame, our family.

The commencement address is couched in rhyming four-line stanzas of doggerel.
But always remember
That who you will be
Will be up to you
Not your Mom, Dad -- or me.
Put this way, our lives are placed in an awesome new framework. In the first place our initial attempt at definition need not always be final. The days are pretty much gone in the world of work where one is employed by a single company in one's twenties and does the same job or succession of jobs until retirement forty years later from the same company.

Advancement often comes from mobility rather than stability.

The old question led to a fixed self-definition early on despite changing conditions in the workplace or changes and growth within our selves.

As I read Ms Shriver, I realized that her new question fit my life quite nicely. Late in high school and through college I defined myself by the profession which I thought I wanted to enter. As I began to realize that the ministry was not suitable for me, nor I for it, I was at sea. I had shattered my image of myself without making any replacement.

Fortunately for me, if not for my students, I shifted gears and began to teach. Still defining myself by what I did, rather than by who I was, I muddled through a teaching career for some fifteen years.

Very late I came to the right question: "Who will you be?" I expect to be working on that answer for a good while to come. I wish I had known the question about 1953.

Another essential element according to Ms Shriver is to realize that
Who you work for and with
Is important, it's true --
Can be even more crucial
Than what you actually do

So try to find someone
Who'll serve as your mentor
. . . .
This is the person
Who'll guide you and teach you
So keep your ears open
And let mentors reach you
How long will it take to be 'we'?

Good question -- it is a lifetime's work. But the flexibility the right question gives is liberating.

How many marriages would be saved if husband and wife realized that "You don't need anyone to be someone. . . . When you get married don't lose who you are."

At this point the matter of the quality of the product comes into play. Shriver puts the matter in focus. Will you be one who focuses on people in need? How about using your brain to solve difficult problems; to find out the truth?
Think of raising great children
Or creating great art.
Gloria and I agree. We like Ms Schriver's approach. Neither of us is too far gone to change our attitudes toward life and our place within it. It is just getting harder to find mentors who are our elders. Wiser? Yes. Elder? Few in the hill and far between!

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-10-27 00:34:45
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