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Doing Decker

by Decker Ngongang

April 9,2010

It took a move to another city for me to become more intentional about who I am.

As a child growing up in Charlotte, I focused on impressing my mom, my teachers, and my peers. My definition of self was rooted in perceptions of others and my view of “rightness” was a product of other people's input. This should come as no big surprise: America makes money by tapping into our need to be accepted, and plays on our motivation to be something or someone people accept. Slowly over time we lose the ability to do things just because we like it, to wear colors because we think they are cool, to make a painting based on how we feel, or to pick up some sticks and drum 'til we get tired. As we age we are trained away from these things. If we are lucky or mindful, as an adult we explore who we are with the freedom that comes with traveling, disposable income, and liberation from the grasp of parents. Some of us get a tattoo, start a band, or pick up a style of dress that is counter-cultural – all as a means of finding ourselves.

A year and a half ago, I moved from Charlotte to Washington D.C. to lead operations for GenerationEngage. I am now Vice President of Programs for, an organization that helps democracy work better by investing in Millennial Generation-driven solutions. My responsibilities include traveling throughout the nation meeting citizens engaged in solving civic issues.

Since relocating to D.C., a lot has changed about me, but one of the important things that I have noticed is the freeing of my mind. Being in a new environment, void of the creature comforts I had in Charlotte, has pushed me to really define who I am, what I believe in, and how I hold myself accountable for my self-definition. My friend Mike Whitehead would call this intentional thinking, but I like to use the phrase “doing Decker.” The newness of the city has allowed me to spend time figuring out what I like to eat, what music I love to listen to live, and who I want to date.

I’ve gained a new level of freedom and creativity. I realized that being in such close proximity to people who accepted me in Charlotte changed how I viewed myself. Over the last year I have come to realize that my self-definition came from a ‘zone of acceptance’ that did not challenge the essence of who I was inside.

All of this has happened for me at a time when many news stories emerged about once-lauded, seemingly appealing figures not being who we thought they were. Not only is finding a personal center important for oneself – it is vital in dealing with the people one loves and with whom one lives. I have found friends here in the city who embrace who I am, not my job or my social status. It has forced me to engage with them from my creative spot, because the value of those other things are less important to them. As I date, I realize that I want not only someone who is cute and smart, and all of those things – I am looking for someone who allows me to embrace those kooky or creative aspects of me.

Creativity is within us all. We often doubt the creative elements that we possess, and find ourselves intimidated by conventions that limit us. We create standards of decorum and behavior in our own minds that keep us from fully expressing ourselves. Sometimes we get caught up in chasing things that aren’t true to who we are, basing our likes or dislikes on material trends or the “norms” for our professions or peer groups. We get used to rooting our motivations and our belief systems in outside things, so much so that we lose our own passions and core beliefs.

Sooner or later our true self will shine. My recent journey has been about intentionally embracing my uniqueness and individuality. Tapping into my creativity has helped me to appreciate all that I am and all that I am not. Some things I am meant to control, and some I never will.

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