Life is full of defining moments. Of course you don’t know they’re defining moments at the time. They can be pivotal points that help you embrace your life and forge ahead with a ferocious courage that acts as a beacon of light for yourself or others, or can act like a shadow that creeps into your heart and mind and tells you “I can’t” “it won’t work” “I’m too old” “I’m too fat” or any number of negativities that poison our lives and erode our hearts.
We create our own stories every day. Like any good novel, often there is a nasty villain. My nemesis was Cynthia, an average-looking, freckle-faced girl who was in several of my classes in grade school, junior high and high school. There was really nothing special about Cynthia, except she had a mean streak. She carried a grudge from the time we were in 5th grade and I beat her best friend out for the part of Mrs. Santa Claus for the school play.
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?” I think that being conceited was probably the worst thing I 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 and was embarrassed by my accomplishments, so I always downplayed them. I don’t know why, but I gave Cynthia’s comment a lot of power. This happened when I was 13. When I turned 50 I still carried a piece of this with me.
I replayed this scenario over and over in my head. What if I would’ve said, “Yes, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Or “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, have a problem with that?” Or even 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” and I don’t know that I ever felt quite right about feeling good about myself for a very long time. And I know this is the same for a lot of you 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. I want you to write that hurt on a piece of paper. It just needs to be a word or two for now. Look at that paper and read the words to yourself, or out loud if you want. Well, you know what I have to say to that? They were wrong! I want you to think about the hurt, the pain, the shame, whatever you are holding inside of you right now. I want you to crumble that piece of paper and throw it on the floor. Stomp on it. If it gets away from you, let someone help stomp on it for you as well. If you want to write it again when you get home and burn it, do it. It’s gone. It is no longer true. Release that negativity from your life forever.
We have all experienced painful experiences in our life. However we have absolute control over whether or not we are going to let those experiences beat us down or build us up. We cannot change the past, but we can release ourselves from the pain from it.
Here is my case in point. I wrote this story seven years ago as part of a speech I was giving. Seven years have passed. My high school reunion is coming up next year (40th!) and I have volunteered to call former classmates and encourage them to attend the big event. I volunteered for the same duty at our reunion four years ago. Guess whose name was on my list? Yup, good ole Cynthia. I wound up leaving her a message. I looked for her at the 35th reunion, but she did not attend. However, my guess is she will be at the next one. It sounds strange but I hope she can make it. I’ve decided that if she attends I will make a point to say hello. Perhaps she will remember her unkindness and apologize, or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure she has suffered in other ways and is just doing her best to have a happy life. I forgave her years ago.
If she is still snarky I have decided I will just laugh at her remarks. Whatever she thinks or says has no power over me anymore. I have created my own defining moments and I only have room for the ones that empower me.