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February 23, 2009
Julia Russell Eells
Head of School

Being Yourself in a Selfless Era
I was browsing through a rack of greeting cards earlier today when an image of two women dressed in zany clothes walking arm in arm caught my eye.  Their joyful expressions were paired with an Oscar Wilde quotation:  "Be yourself: no one else is available."  I chuckled as I thought of my adolescence when all I wanted was to be like everyone (or at least someone) else.  And then I smiled as I thought of life at Lincoln.

Every day I witness the power of self-knowledge, independence, and "goodness" in our girls when I walk the hallways, visit classrooms, and attend meetings (Silent and not-so-silent) at Lincoln.  Supported by excellent teachers, an environment that prizes the accomplishments of girls, and an academic program that stretches her intellect and imagination; each girl at Lincoln builds her particular foundation of "self" that is her's forever.

On a long car ride many years ago, my teenage daughter shrieked from the back seat and from behind the pages of a magazine that she had "scored a hundred-and-two on the Seventeen Self-Esteem Test!"  We laughed, rolled our eyes a little, and were secretly pleased that her esteem was well intact.  I now think about this a little differently.

As we move further away from era of the "me" generation, we are pushed to think about individual achievement in the context of the greater good.  There is a healthy shift taking place as we move from prizing self-esteem to nurturing a sense of self worth. The difference to me is that one (esteem) is a measure of how you are admired.  The other (worth) is the quality of character you possess to command that esteem - from others or from yourself.  Schools are no longer doing their job if their graduates are emerging with mere self-esteem.  We must, through our teaching and through our example, equip our girls with a strong sense of self worth. At Lincoln, this work comes in the form of our burgeoning learning-through-service program, our emphasizing sports(wo)manship over winning, and our culture of cooperation, collaboration and reflection inherent in our unique all-girls Quaker setting.

Pat Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) puts his finger on this concept in a recent article he wrote for Independent School Magazine. "When parents keep saying and signaling, 'I just want you to be happy,' they send dangerous signals and set unrealistic expectations that life is supposed to be one continuous rush towards Nirvana, located somewhere between Bliss Street and Ecstasy Avenue."  I agree and would add, that schools, too, need to keep this in mind.

It is still critical that we convey the "be yourself" message to young people today but the time has come for us to qualify that message. By all means let's continue to tell each of our daughters to go ahead and "be herself," but let us also teach her that consideration of those around her will help her to shape her best self.

For Pat Bassett's complete article click here.

To access the website of the National Coalition of Girls Schools click here.


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