Finding and Owning My Potential

I can fill the role that’s needed

Silhouettes of people following a leader down a hill at sunrise
Silhouettes of people following a leader down a hill at sunrise
Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

For much of my early life, I thought I was an introvert. I was homeschooled from eight to eighteen, and although I wasn’t truly socially awkward, I had always felt confined to the background like an extra in a movie. I didn’t think I was taken seriously by my peers, and I rarely felt I had something to say that any larger group would want or need to hear.

The first time I saw myself as an equal contributor among peers was at a film and acting camp the summer I turned sixteen. There, I found myself surrounded by other teenagers who listened to and held each other up in a way that didn’t, at least in my experience, create the usually overt sense of social hierarchy, and this environment gifted me a strange new feeling of freedom.

I left that camp with a greater sense of self. I was less of the person my parents had created, and more the person who I was actively creating.

The next summer, I went to a different camp, this one in New York City and just for aspiring actors. Everything about it was a little darker, more frightening, more adult. There was a sense of needing to survive there, which hadn’t been a factor in the cushy Disney resort-based camp of the previous year. That said, it gave me a bit of a thrill, and although I didn’t find a similar supportive group unity, I did find that I could hold my own.

The first moment of insight, however, came after I’d left that month-long New York acting camp and took the train to spend a week at Brown University. I was both intimidated and excited by the prestigious old campus with its perfect lawns and loads of kids who I knew were way more educated and prepared than I was.

Still, when I walked the halls of my temporary dorms at Brown and met the dozen or so girls on my floor, I found them surprisingly quiet and apprehensive. Although I felt I was the one who should have been most daunted by the place and its numerous smart kids, it didn’t take long to notice that these girls were for some reason looking to me for something.

There was an ice cream social that afternoon, and I found myself leading my floor-mates out to the lawn, which was then populated by many small groups like ours. It was silly to just stand in a circle on the grass and eat our ice cream while only sneaking glances at those nearby, but that was everyone’s inclination. No one seemed like they were going to make any move to meet anyone, and I was surprised to find myself taking the first steps.

I led my pack of girls to a nearby group of guys our age, introduced everyone, and got the group talking. I’d never before done anything like it; in the past, I would have been too nervous and embarrassed. But at that moment, it had been clear that no one else was going to do it, and so I found myself stepping into the role.

I can still remember how I felt right then as though I was in two places at once. I was both there on the lawn, laughing nervously and making introductions, and somewhere outside myself watching, thinking, wow, you go girl!

I had always been the one to stand back and let others take the lead, but that day, I started to realize that perhaps I was someone who could shift to fit the role required. I might not be someone who was always outgoing or who needed to take charge, but it seemed I could do those things with relative comfort if I felt they were needed of me. This was a surprising revelation, and again, I found that my world opened up a little bit more.

Some years later, I was twenty-two and a few months into working as a swim instructor when my supervisor suggested that his job was one I’d be good at. I hadn’t thought about it before, but when he suggested it, I realized, yes, I would be good at that.

Within months, I went from instructing to supervising, to managing an entire program, surrounded by people who looked to me for support. Each time, my willful belief was reaffirmed that yes, I could fill that role. If that was what was needed, I could do it. And I did.

It’s a funny thing how you find different parts of yourself in different contexts as each new situation brings its own set of expectations. Over the years, I’ve found that I’m not just capable, but that I can create, inspire, and be strong for those that need me.

Now, however, I’m working on how to show up for myself. I’m asking myself new questions. What do I want to be right now, at this moment? Who am I without the expectations of others? What do I do when I’m doing only for myself?

Elan is also a writing mentor, helping aspiring writers hone their craft and develop their authentic writing selves. If you’d like to subscribe to the write with elan! email list, click here:

Writer and Writing Mentor. Screenwriter. Honest. Human. She/Her. @elancassandra on Instagram, @ElanCDuensing on Twitter.

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