By Sam Klossner, MPH Candidate at Drexel University Dornsife School of Public Health
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. As a grad student, I have the pleasure of working with a diverse group of colleagues—we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We learn from each other. However, many of these professionals-in-training exude microbursts of inquisitiveness. We are in a constant state of professional nurturing and fanatically compare ourselves to each other.
I am often told that I’m intense, I’m radical, and I’m outspoken. The first reaction is delight; I am these things and I’m proud of them! Yet, deep down, I cannot help but wonder—is this a bad thing? Because I am not discreet about my passions, nor afraid to show my inner queerness, my body jewelry and my ideas—I fit some black sheep description? Making a career in public health my goal does not equate to merely acting like a professional. I want to bring a unique change to the world. We go into a career for a reason—where, when and how do we express that?
What defines determination, willpower and success and where do we draw the balance between personal expression and this notion of professionalism? In every day life—work, grad school, internships, driving, buying coffee—we are beings that are gritty and resolute. We endure a lot. Never give in, try hard, and make the right decisions; the inspirational quotes surround us. What do they truly mean? What defines a determined individual, how can we be good at it, and where does the “You” that Dr. Seuss spoke of fit in?
As a grad student, the realms of academia, networking events, and professional development oblige me. I continue to ponder what more I can do; what will my mentors, professors, preceptors, colleagues and parents think? 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. The spotlight is compulsory. Professional and skills development are 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 a conviction we all hold—it lives within us. How do we gauge such a subjective perception?
Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, defines the concept of GRIT—“perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Exploring the concept of GRIT has led me to focus on the notion of resilience. As we progress in our cognitive and professional development, resilience is the idea that we hold ourselves through adversity, failure and the unknown. I took Duckworth’s GRIT survey. From 1 (least GRIT) to 5 (most GRIT), I received a 3.13. Initially, I thought this was a positive score and left the survey satisfied and empowered. However, once I thought about these concepts of resilience and determination, I couldn’t help but think—can we change our GRIT? Is a 3.13 bad?
Being professional is a key component of grad school and entering the working world. 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 should express our determinations uniquely. In a work setting, respect and determination are like reflexes, but I do not , and will not, transform away from my true self in order to learn. I wonder why my colleagues mask their inner selves while in professional settings. Where does the true “You” come into play?
As Dr. Seuss said: “There is no one alive who is You-er than You.” Embrace it. 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. Like we stress to be the individuals who get straight A’s, be liked by our professors, and strive for excellence, we should be okay with just being our true selves. The change we bring to the world is within us and shaped by our environment, not simply determined by our GRIT scores. So to the public health students, thinkers, leaders, managers, and any other working individual—do not merely worship professional development. Cherish your inner black sheep, never lose sight of who you are.
Sam Klossner is an 2nd year Masters of Public Health candidate at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University studying mental and sexual health, LGBTQ health disparities and social justice. In their free time, Sam likes to travel, explore Philadelphia, see live music, and play with their cats, Mocha and Frank.