It has taken me decades to learn the difficult lessons that have shaped my character. Always eager to please, I always have had a tendency to sacrifice my needs and wellbeing to fix problems that were in front of me. I would take criticisms personally and absorb other’s anger in effort to protect anyone else. In a profession where I serve and support clients, this has always been a tricky balance, requiring a lot of self-reflection and work. I am imperfect and a work in progress. I thank God for the challenges I have received.
My daughter Isabelle approached me a week ago to share a story. She felt “bad” when a peer was making comments on the size and shape of her eyes. A peer said they looked weird and were the size of saucers. She sat on her feelings about the interaction for days before she opened up about the event and had reflected on a story I once told about my childhood. You see….. I was picked on a lot. I tend to share my stories with others because I have learned lessons along the way about my experiences. In this instance, Isabelle had remembered that I faced embarrassment as a child about the size and shape of my eyes. Someone had teased me about having frog eyes and would continually make comments and sounds in the bus line about it each day at school. I was a quiet kid and internalized all these comments. My younger self would hyperfocus on ways to fix what I was told was wrong with my appearance so that the comments would stop. They never stopped. I was too tall, chubby, and had such deep-set eyes that even a teacher made similar comments. With one teacher, she would mention my appearance often and it impacted my confidence and ability to perform on stage. It took me many years to sort out the ridicule. I would further complicate my emotional responses to others comments by focusing on ways to change me. Never once did I think about them. In the instance with my daughter, I was able to simply explain what was happening. I will share my solution in a moment.
One of my wonderful teachers, Rev. Dr. Iyanla Vanzant once told a story about her meeting with the Dalai Lama. An organization was raising travel funds for the Dalai Lama and she managed to claw her way to the back of a room to grab hold of one of the few spots left to visit with him. The first person on the list paid $100, the second paid $200, and the 17th paid $1700. Iyanla was the 43rd on the list. She was one of fifty to have an opportunity to ask only one question, which she practices over and over as she waited for her turn. She witnessed, one by one, each person enter the room and then come out only a couple minutes later. All were reduced to tears as they exited the room. She knew for $4300, she better get it right and get way more time than the others before her! Once she entered the room, she was overwhelmed by the joy and love she witnessed in his presence. She too, reduced to tears and could hardly get out her one question. Blubbering and hardly able to catch her breath, she uttered, “What is the secret to success and happiness.” He clearly reiterated her question, without the crying, he gently touched her face and answered her question in three words: “Keep it simple.” She taught me that seeking the truth has the tendency to cut right through the crap that complicates our problem solving. Keep it simple.
I embarked on an annual trip to Vermont this week. I enjoy these trips alone because they provide me with much needed meditation and uninterrupted healing thoughts. As I was just beginning my journey, I was headed north on Route 9 through Middletown, Connecticut. This can be a hairy section of Route 9 because there are a couple ramps that do not have streetlights and poor visibility around the corners. I always approach the area with caution and was in the right hand lane, which is the side of these tricky ramps. I also had a few cars next to me on the left, so I dropped my speed to about 55mph as I approached the area. I witnesses two cars increasing their speed to merge onto the highway and watched the gentleman looking straight ahead instead of turning his head in my direction. We were side by side as he continued to merge and not yield to oncoming traffic. Observing this, I had to slam on my breaks as he nearly side-swiped my car. I let him go in front of me, but honked my horn once so he would be jolted to pay attention. He then failed to increase his speed to join traffic, resulting in me waiting for the other cars to pass on my left to then safely merge into the left lane. As I pulled in front of him, I noticed he had passengers in his car. When I pulled in line with his car, the white-haired gentleman flipped me off. Now if this was my younger self, I’m sure I would have been swearing and gesturing the same way in his direction. But instead, I prayed and felt divine peace in the moment. I was grateful that I was not a passenger in his car and imagined he was most likely calling me colorful names for beeping at him. I hoped he would begin to pay attention to his surroundings, and that they would all get to their destination safely. Keeping it simple, I imagine that his anger towards me is most likely anger he displays toward others and he is quick to anger. In addition, he most likely feels negatively about himself.
Why is it so easy to become a professional at picking out the faults of others? I think it’s because it is more challenging to be tested by our own faults and to look at our selves in a deep, meaningful way. I think we are always presented with tests at our point of weakness rather than our strengths. That is how we grow. It is through these tests and challenges that we become stronger and wiser beings. When talking through events with my daughter, I reminded her that peers who speak poorly and pick apart others are likely treating themselves in the same manner. It is my job to teach her how to also combat negativity in deep, meaningful ways. Keep it simple. If someone doesn’t appreciate you, it’s their loss. If someone is mean to you, they are mean to themselves. If your relationship didn’t work out, it’s because he/she wasn’t the one for you. Keep it simple. Find strength out of weakness. Create a testimony from your tests. Be strong. Be resilient. Grow.