Earlier this year at work, our CFO published his first book, and in it, he mentions me as an example of embodying the trait of positivity.
The thing is, I truly remember the moment I decided to become a positive person, and I remember how I did it.
Reflecting on this one morning at 5 am, I arose and wrote the piece below.
“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”— Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was a miserable creature. Both parents had died. I’d moved to a new town and lived with a family in a home where I felt unwelcome and a burden.
At my new school, I didn’t fit in.
I hated my circumstances, my home situation, and even looking in the mirror.
At one point, a friend and I were hanging out in my bedroom, which I shared with a family member at my new house. And this friend said to me, “Whenever I start to feel down or sad about my own life, I look at your life and my life doesn’t seem so bad.”
I want to repeat that. Whenever I look at your life, mine doesn’t seem so bad.
I should thank this friend, though I never have.
Because her saying that woke up the life force within me that said, “No. Never again. No one is ever going to look at me again and think that. My life will not be the standard by which everyone else’s life doesn’t seem so bad.”
And I also realized that it was up to me to change that. And so, I turned it around.
First, I looked around for people I admired. One who immediately stuck out was a senior student at school, Desiree*. She barely knew who I was, and yet I admired her from afar. She was smart, and not apologetic about that fact. She was elected to the student council. More importantly, she had a beautiful smile and warmly said hello in the hallways to everyone she knew. She lit up at the sight of other people.
I wanted to be like her, so I started to do that. And the crazy thing is, I changed my behavior first, and the feeling soon followed. From the depths of my despair, I felt better in mere days. At first, when I’d smile at everyone and express joy at seeing them, I had to draw upon scarce inner resources to do it. Soon however, a deep well of joy and love began to well up within me and overflow to people around me. Also, people began responding to me differently and slowly, it didn’t matter any more that my skin was quite paler than the rest. People felt safe around me when they saw that my affection for them was genuine. I later ran for a student council position, and won.
Second, I acknowledged a harsh truth that I had to face at the time. “Everyone has their own problems,” I told** myself. “Nobody cares about yours. Stop expecting someone to care.”
Before, I’d been sulky and sullen, depressed and irritable, in desperate hope that someone — anyone! — would see me and rescue me, or fold me into their arms, like my mom used to, and let me cry and acknowledge my grief and tell me that I was going to be OK. That strategy wasn’t working. Realizing that I could set my own attitude was life-changing. I discovered within myself a deep well of my own power to create a good and productive life, no matter what happens to me.
My parents died, but I didn’t die, and I owed it to myself and to them, to live.
*Desiree is a motivational coach now! I am not surprised!! Check out what she’s up to, here: https://www.evo2gro.com/
**This kind of self talk was not a viable long-term solution. Therapy, grieving, healing and realizing that I needed to receive from other people was the journey of motherhood, and of my early 30s. Many thanks to Dave Lee for the chance to talk a little bit about this recently on his YouTube channel, around the 55 minute mark.
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