Finding Me – Part 2/3: Pygmalion In The Classroom

October 26, 2016 Oliver Briny 1 comment

Pygmalion in the classroom has graduated. No longer is he shackled by people's expectations.

Life has a tendency of trying to tell you who you are. If you haven't done the necessary mileage to purposefully seek out who you are, the world has no problem in persuading you. Unfortunately, forming your self-image by only listening to outside sources is like legitimizing a system that renders you passive.
Getting your course right towards living an active life with a purpose requires brainwork to determine who you want to be and what direction you want to start heading. This may sound like a vague idea when starting from zero, or after deciding to start over, but let’s begin breaking down some of the practical thinking steps you can take to kick-start the journey of becoming who you want to be.


I remember speaking to a dear friend who told me how he grew up with siblings who were very skilled verbally and academically.


Seeing the way their surroundings (friends and family) labeled the siblings as very smart and gifted, my friend, who was the youngest of the three, unknowingly formed a label of his own. Thinking that all the 'smart cards’ had been dealt, he started to identify with sports, which was something that came naturally to him. 


Years later he moved to study abroad and was planted into an environment where no one had any preconceived notions of what kind of a person he was. He quickly learned that he had an inclination towards learning new things, and a thirst for academical knowledge and concepts. Others quickly identified him as smart and wise, which was confirmed by multiple strength tests later on. ‘I wish I knew earlier!’, he said to me.


Sadly, many people never do…


During my studies in psychology I came across the observer-expectancy-, or the Pygmalion effect.


In a study conducted by Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson, teachers in a single California elementary school were told that some of their students could be expected to be ‘intellectual bloomers’ that specific year. The bloomers’ names were given to the teachers, but what the teachers didn’t know was that these students were randomly picked, and formed about 20% of the student body in that school. In other words the prediction that was given to the teachers about the bloomers was completely made up!


At the end of the study the whole student body was tested, and the researchers found that the results of the bloomers, especially that of the first and second graders, showed statistically significant gains. This confirmed the researchers' hypothesis that through the expectations of others, reality can be positively or negatively changed.1


In the same way, most of us have experienced labels that have formed through the expectations of others. Many are still affected by labels that are put on them in their respective communities. These labels give us a direction that may be based on falsehood or other people’s desires for us, and aren’t quite the optimal choice for our lives. The innate gifting that you have is, in a way, a direction that has been written on you since the very beginning of your life.


Have you ever tried to move the steering wheel of a stationary car? It’s quite heavy to turn, but if you get the car going, even if in the wrong direction initially, changing the direction to where you want to go becomes so much easier. The moral of the analogy is to always have a direction instead of being complacent - no matter what season you’re in. If you decide on a direction and start moving, you’re better able to align your life to the path you actually want to take.


There’s so much more to us than we usually allow ourselves to explore. Sometimes it’s a restrictive community such as a family or a group of friends, others live inside a culture that doesn’t allow for big differences. I believe you are so much more than a person forced to fit into other people’s expectations.


Take some time and write down some thoughts on what gifts, talents and passions you have - move away if you have to - and set a direction for your life accordingly. What do you want to see a change in? What void do you see in the world that you want to fill?


I encourage you to take responsibility for your life, decide on a direction and begin the journey of becoming the person you want to become! 


It's time for Pygmalion to graduate...



1. Rosenthal, Robert; Jacobson, Lenore. Pygmalion in the classroom (Expanded ed.). New York: Irvington, 1992.

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