In January, I began working as a tutor for Veterans Upward Bound, a government-funded organization whose mission is to help veterans refresh their academic skills and prepare them for college. I found the organization after working with them for a class project, and fell in love with their mission. I was, however, terrified about starting my job as a tutor.
I was extremely insecure about tutoring, because I was worried about what would happen if I couldn’t answer a question, or had something incorrect. I was worried I just wouldn’t know enough.
On top of that, I was also worried that I was too young for the job. Most other tutors that work for VUB are graduate students. I was a freshman in college and my major isn’t any of the things I’d offered to tutor for (math, English, Spanish).
I was going to be working with program participants who were, in some cases, three times my age. I wondered how I would be received, and if they would be receptive at all. Even though I knew they needed my help, I wondered if they would reject it, feeling as if they shouldn’t have to learn from someone so young. And with their amazing life experiences as veterans, I couldn’t say I would blame them.
I was slightly timid the first day when I was immediately given the reins by the professor who oversees tutoring. As the weeks of tutoring progressed, I became more confident in my abilities to teach, and found that the veterans of the program were friendly and appreciative of my help, regardless of the fact that I was so much younger than them. I began to build relationships with the tutoring regulars and look forward to seeing them every week, and I found that while they could best me any day in life experience, I had talents to offer them as well.
Today was one of the last days of tutoring for the semester. This afternoon, one of the women I tutor approached me after the tutoring session. She is one of my favorites, and certainly an inspiration. She is currently a wife and mother who works and takes classes at VUB. Despite the fact she is stretched thin between home and school, she always comes to tutoring with a super-coordinated outfit, a smile, a few sassy comments, and an eagerness to learn.
She approached me with a gift; she had thought enough of me to bring me back a souvenir from her Jamaican cruise. As if that wasn’t nice enough, she gave me a huge hug and thanked me for working with her throughout the semester.
“I love your enthusiasm and passion for learning,” she said. “I see that, and I’m like, ‘I want to be just like her.'”
At that moment, I was so surprised by what she had said. Me? Why would she want to be like me? I’m just a naive, inexperienced college student! She is a wise, disciplined veteran with more determination, strength, and optimism than I could ever possess. As I left shortly after, the verse from 1 Timothy popped into my head.
1 Timothy 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (NLV)
I think Paul offers a piece of wisdom that we all can use. Whether we feel we are too “young”, old, inexperienced, new, or unprepared, we have all, whether by our own accord or by that of someone else, been marginalized within a larger group. We have felt, like Paul mentions, that we are being looked down upon, and that maybe we don’t have anything remarkable or important to offer to the group we are a part of, whether they are believers of the Christian faith, our coworkers, or our peers.
Whether your prefer to use a religious lens or a humanistic one, Paul’s message is simple: everyone has something to offer. Even in the face of people who may look down on us or doubt us, the worst thing we can do is retreat into ourselves. On the level of simply being human, we all have completely different strengths, ideas, and talents, regardless of age, gender, etc. We can’t allow fear or intimidation to keep us from sharing the unique bundle of gifts we have with the world.
I don’t tell this story to “toot my own horn.” I felt the need to share this story because I think that it’s an amazing reminder for us all. It is easy to believe that we don’t have the capabilities to enrich someone else’s life, to offer something new, original, important, or insightful. It’s easy to believe that we are “young,” as Paul puts it.
As Paul reminds us, it doesn’t matter! Even if we don’t want to offer something directly, we can be examples for those around us. We can enrich others solely by pursuing what makes us shine and allowing others to see our actions. In the words of basically every cheesy video game arcade ever, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Keep in mind that if you don’t play, those around you don’t win either.