That other day I went with my son and his friend to the woods to make a den. They were excited about the idea of building something together. When we arrived, we headed off to a clearing where kids do their own projects. They were a couple of dens that were looking already great.
Some of them were only the foundations of dens, so I thought maybe they could continue with any of these instead of starting from scratch with their own project. It happened that they were not enthusiastic about continuing someone else’s den. They wanted to make their own.
You might think that there’s nothing logical in this inclination. If you can build something better based on someone else’s job, if you can save time by building on someone else’s project, if you can make something bigger following on from what someone else has initiated, why would you want to start from scratch? The reason is self-expression.
Better, bigger, quicker didn’t do it for them, as it won’t do it for you if you can’t find a way of expressing yourself in what you do.
Most of the time we try to rationalise our choices, saying that we’re starting our own business to have more freedom and flexibility, when the truth is that self-expression is an important reason.
It’s in our DNA to want to express who we are in the world, building things that reflect our character, values, beliefs, and how we see the world.
There is no right or wrong here. We can do as my son and his friend did, building a den that they were really proud of and absolutely loved and acknowledged for what was: self-expression. But later you might want to invite ten other friends from school to join you.
If you decide to invite your friends on a regular basis and you want them to feel welcome, you’ll need to make some changes to accommodate them, but it might be handy to remember that even if your den becomes the favourite spot for the whole school to hang around in, it won’t be because it is the best or the biggest, but because somehow you’ve created a den that expresses who you are in such a way that others feel connected and welcome.