Do you have a story that defines you? Internal scripts carry strong messages. I like happy endings, but a lot of our personal stories are tragic or melodramatic. In times of difficulty it is important to pull out the good ones and not reach for something that is going to sink you deeper into an emotional abyss.
I’m as guilty as anyone of a sob story. It has only been a few years that this story was shelved. I’m retelling this junior high saga to illustrate the power it had on me, even though decades have passed since the incident.
The villain in my story was a gal named Cynthia. Cynthia was an average-looking, freckle-faced brunette. There was really nothing special about her, except she had a wicked mean streak. In junior high I had my niche as the leader of the outcasts, she was the low person on the totem pole of the popular kids. She carried a grudge against me since the fifth grade. She carried her resentment like a badge of honor and would snipe at me every chance she got.
However, I wasn’t one to dwell on Cynthia and her cohorts. I had my friends and activities and was happy to excel in my own way. My confidence grew and I felt great. I remember standing with a group of my friends laughing and telling jokes. Cynthia called me over. She asked, “Sally, do you think you’re cool?” At that time of my life, being conceited was probably the worst thing a person could be, so I answered, “no.” Then she said “Then why do you try to act like it?”
It was like someone punched me in the gut. Instead of standing proud and confident, my shoulders drooped. My humor became self deprecatory. I made jokes about my failures. I became ashamed of my accomplishments and downplayed my successes. I don’t know why, but I gave Cynthia’s comment a lot of power. This happened when I was 13. Even when I turned 50, I realized how I still carried a piece of this incident with me.
For years I would replay this interaction with Cynthia over and over in my head. What if when she asked me if I thought I was cool I would have had a different response?
Me: “Yes, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Me: “Yes, I’m sorry it bothers you, but I’m perfectly happy with who I am.”
Or what if my garrulous nature would have surfaced and replied, “Yes, got a problem with that?”
I supposed I could have used my sarcasm and said “Yes, and I don’t think it would bode well for me to be talking to someone like you.”
But of course I didn’t. I just said “no”. It took a long time for me to feel good about myself. And I know this is the same for a lot of many of you who are reading this today. Someone, something said or did something bad to you and you believed it. You carried it around and it has poisoned your very being. Maybe 100 people said something good, but that one nasty thing, that’s the thing that has stuck like glue and sapped away at the belief that you are a wonderful human being.
It took me way too long to understand this for myself. But after many years of prayer, self reflection and a lot of self help books, I’ve learned one important thing. People have lots of opinions, and they will have them about you. But all it is their opinion. Just because they say it, and even believe it, does not make it so.
Before you embrace a life story, make sure it is one that bears repeating. You don’t reread a lousy book. Don’t replay a negative life scenario. Toss it aside and choose something else that inspires you.