I went to NYC for the first time in 2006. As a child I had decided since New York was cold and full of people, I wasn’t too interested in going there. I always figured I wouldn’t feel safe, and I would get lost. I decided if I had to pick a big city to live in, I would pick LA. A good portion of this decision was based on the fact that I loved sunny weather, and all of my favorite TV shows were filmed in LA. But, even so, when we were embarking on the trip I was a bit apprehensive.
We were only going to be there for about 48 hours. And my only goal on the trip was to make it to Rockefeller Center to see the tree. I’ve always loved Christmas trees, and when they are all lit up I can sit and look at the lights for hours. It’s calming to me. We drove into New Jersey, and made our way to NYC via the subway, and our train stopped in Grand Central Station. When we got out into the night lights, I found myself feeling unusually comfortable. There were people everywhere. It was three days before Christmas. It was cold and rainy but not freezing out. And the whole time I was there, I was continuously surprised at how at home I felt. There are more people in a two block radius than there are in my entire state. But something about it just fit.
When we got down to the tree I remember just thinking to myself, if it weren’t insanely expensive or I were a millionaire, or I figured out a way to get into Columbia to go to school, I could totally live here. People weren’t rude. They were simply on their way to wherever they were going. And we were as well. We didn’t get lost. There was nothing scary about it. When we went to the Top of the Rock and looked out over the city, it was a truly beautiful sight. We could see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. The bridges were lit. There were red and green lights for the season. You could see life. For miles and miles. You just knew there was life all around. It was lively, and encouraging, and you could feel the energy in the air. You could see all of the different avenues of possibility that were right at your fingertips. They are simply waiting for you to stroll their way.
Sometimes it’s surprising what we find when we go places we never really wanted to go. I never wanted to go to NYC, yet it took one quick trip for me to fall in love. I never wanted to write a blog, but this has turned out to be one of the most encouraging experiences I’ve had in a long time. I never wanted to pursue my dreams, because there was a chance I would fail, and I didn’t know how to handle that, yet this journey of writing and publishing and reaching people with something I believe in has been the best experience I’ve had despite its frustrations.
Potential is what we continually seek in life. The potential for something new can feel exciting, if not unnerving. It feels like hope, and we need hope. We need the potential to reach our own potential. We want to feel accomplished and productive. We want to feel like we can achieve something worthwhile. All of life is tied to potential, and sometimes if we change our point of view, and we try new things – even those we really don’t think we want to, it can change our lives in the most wonderful way. Whether it’s writing a different type of story than we had envisioned, taking a job we didn’t think we wanted to have, traveling somewhere we aren’t really interested in going, there may just be something in those experiences that change our lives for the better. So don’t forget to be open, and try to envision what life could be like with a view from the top, where potential is visible all around.
More about potential and learning to utilize it.
Apparently Friday was a precursor. I didn’t actually forget yesterday, but I left my house at 5:30 am and didn’t get home until after midnight. It’s strange, because I felt both a bit of relief not writing yesterday and a bit of stress as well. My plan was to write every day this month. But I didn’t get to do that. Last night I was kind of sad, because I really wanted to be able to do it. And I felt like things happened in a way that I couldn’t foresee. I was supposed to be home early and have time, but that’s not what happened.
This morning I thought about how difficult it can be to adjust when all the things we’ve put in place and gotten ready don’t lead to the result we were hoping for. And in many cases it’s not because of anything we’ve done. We put all of the pieces in order, but the puzzle never comes together. It’s extremely upsetting. It starts to feel like there are very real forces working against you and it’s hard to figure out how to overcome it. It’s hard to cope with those things. When we don’t get the job we want or our relationship fails or whatever the case may be. But many times those moments are the most pivotal. It’s at those times when we either give up or keep on working.
One of the hardest things that many of us face is the fact that life doesn’t normally go the way we had planned when we were young. The idea of who we were and how things would happen that we dreamed up long ago is quite difficult to get past. We need things to happen the way that we want them to. It’s normal. It gives us a certain amount of control and confidence, because it means we know what we are doing when things work out.But when they don’t, we have a tendency to start questioning everything.
It’s interesting how quickly we want to make things our fault and decide that we must have done something wrong, when in reality that’s not the case. I wrote about self-worth a few days ago, and I’m bringing it up now because I think it’s important to realize that these situations can easily dampen our self-worth. When we had that job lined up that was absolutely perfect for us, but we don’t get it – or it ends unexpectedly, it makes us think maybe there is something wrong with us. Sometimes we start to think that even if we tried something else it wouldn’t work out, because there’s nothing out there more perfect than this and this didn’t work. And this is the case with everything in life, work, family, relationships, any of the things we love and want most. When our plans fail, we can find it hard to figure out how to move on.
One of the things I also noticed this morning was that I felt a sense of renewal. I hadn’t written in a long time before I started writing in the blog this month, but I never wrote the way that I write here on a daily basis. I wrote a lot, but when I’m writing for me I write differently. It’s about specific people or things that I want, and it tended to be repetitive. Whereas this is a different thing. And it’s been really nice to learn about myself in this way, and to work on creating something of substance on a daily basis. The process is a little taxing, because in essence this is like my third job each night. But it’s been rewarding.
Previously if something I had planned to do hadn’t gone the way I had hoped, I would start to slack off and probably end up just leaving it all together. When I was younger it was very hard for me to cope with things not going exactly as I wanted. I would simply let it go and and not try if it wasn’t going to work perfectly or I wasn’t going to be the best. One of the nicest things about the process of change I’ve gone through over the past decade is the ability to let myself fail, not be perfect and to realize that I still survive. And that very few people even notice the fact that I wasn’t perfect. And more importantly, they don’t care. It’s nice now knowing that if things don’t work out just as I wanted there are ALWAYS other options. ALWAYS. It may not be just as I planned. It may not be just as I wanted. But in many cases it ends up better than what I had originally planned anyway. And that was one of the best surprises of all.
I didn’t get the relationship I wanted, but I now stand in something exceedingly better. I didn’t get the job I wanted, but I embarking on one that will truly be much better. I thought everything was against me, because that’s what we think when things don’t seem to go our way. But in reality, everything was working for me to bring me somewhere I never would have gotten otherwise. Where have you gone that you didn’t think you would go? Have you ever ended up better off because of it?
I know I’ve probably said it before, but since this is mental health month, I’m going to say it again, self-worth is quite possibly the key to understanding who we are and getting us to where we want to go. (otherwise I wouldn’t have written a book about it!) Over the course of my life I struggled with fear and doubt, and all of those things that are normal for us to struggle with. I was always scared, and I never tried to do anything I didn’t think I could be at least good at, if not great. I played the sports that I knew I could be one of the best at. I took the classes I knew I would do well in. Part of this may have been my competitive nature, but in the end the major force behind my decision making was my self-worth.
I never realized when I was younger that my self-worth was an issue. In fact, I didn’t really think it was a problem at all, if I even knew it existed. People have a tendency to group self-worth and self-esteem together, and that’s simply not the case I have come to find out. Even though I used to say that I was never happy, which was true, and I used to say that I didn’t think I’d really get anywhere in life, which was also true, I didn’t truly dislike me. In fact, I liked myself a lot. The thing that I hated was that no one else seemed to. Or maybe it appeared that no one else truly cared about me.
People asked me for help. They readily asked me to do things for them. And it was clear that I was dependable. But it seemed like I was left out of all of the important things. No one asked me out. No one seemed to believe in me. It seemed like people felt as though it was terrible if I didn’t do as they asked, but if I asked for a favor I seemed to be an inconvenience. I had some really great friends, don’t get me wrong. But in my head, I just never felt good enough. But it wasn’t in my eyes that I wasn’t good enough, it was the way I believed everyone else thought about me.
My issue was not that I didn’t like myself. It was not that I didn’t hold myself in high esteem. I knew I could do things well. I knew I could probably be anything I wanted to be when I went to college. But I felt like it would never happen. And when it got down to it, it turned out that I felt like it wouldn’t happen because I wasn’t worthy of it happening. I didn’t go through extraordinary circumstances. My childhood was fairly normal, in my mind. Most people weren’t mean to me, though some were. Instead, most people never knew I existed. At my high school reunion, yes I’m that old, I had more people say, I don’t remember you than anyone else probably. And that’s okay, because I spent a whole lot of time not really wanting to be noticed. And the reason was because I had felt so often that when I did try to make friends or get people to like me, they might for a while, but then they’d move on. I wasn’t really worthy of being a part of a real friendship in my head. And considering how often people were happy to exclude me in middle school, I do understand where this idea came from.
It’s really hard to convince a teenager that these times will pass. That the reason people are mean to you has very little to do with you. In reality it’s all about themselves. So instead, I decided it was absolutely about me, and since it seemed to be the new general consensus, it was probably right.My issue was not self-esteem. I liked me. I didn’t understand why no one else did. I thought I could do things. I didn’t know why people wouldn’t let me try. So when the times started to change, and they did some in high school and especially college, it was really hard for me to let go and be open to people wanting to be my friends, and believing that anyone really cared. My self-worth had dropped drastically. I didn’t think I was worth it, so I spent my time in high school mostly trying not to be noticed by the people I didn’t already trust.
I liked myself. I believed I was capable. I held myself in high esteem. I thought I could change the world given the chance. But what I found when I finally started my journey into happiness, was that I didn’t really feel worthy. I didn’t feel worthy of my dreams coming true. I didn’t feel worthy of good things happening. So I had decided they wouldn’t, and I put measure into place to make sure I was right. Because that’s what we do in life. We work really hard to prove ourselves right about whatever we decide.
But what I have learned is that I, like everyone else, am worthy. My negative self-worth dictated everything. I knew I was capable, but I acted incapable. I knew I could and should be doing things. I acted as though I couldn’t. And it worked. I wasted a lot of time not getting to where I wanted to go. Self-worth dictates our journey. It leads us on our way. Because the way we feel about our worth is what dictates the way we do things and it affects all other aspects of our being. So my question to you is, do you feel worthy?
I normally don’t watch Glee, but I watched part of it tonight. I used to be in choir so I’m a fan of chorale singing, but on the show tonight they went to Nationals. The thing that I like most about these moments in shows… the end of the singing shows, and this one as well, is that someone’s dreams are literally coming true at that moment. There is still tons of work ahead. It may not pan out the way they had hoped, but at that moment in time they have achieved something they’ve only dreamed of achieving. The closest I’ve ever come to this is when I was 14 or 15 and playing softball, and the team I was on won the state games (it used to be known as the junior olympics here). I remember singing along to “We Are the Champions.” I remember that overall feeling of how fantastic it was to finally be at the top, to be the winner, for things to have finally gone right.
Those moments don’t last, but they can certainly be moments to strive for. I was a state champion. That can’t be undone. It’s good to achieve things in our lives. It’s good to dream. Speaking in mental health terms, a mind that has hope and is capable of readily dreaming is more open to opportunities and more likely to actually achieve their dreams. They are more likely to report being happy in their lives, and they believe that life has something to offer. Dreams matter. It’s hard to feel fulfilled if we aren’t trying to do any of the things we really want to do. It doesn’t matter how big or small. If we don’t give ourselves a chance then the battle is already lost. And it affects every area of our lives.
It’s hard not to give up. It’s hard not to give in. It’s hard to figure out what’s really worth fighting for. It’s hard not to believe what other people say. But it’s hard living with yourself when you give up. It’s harder than overcoming. We have to make ends meet. We have to survive. But we have to find ways to do more as well. Time is scarce, and is completely irreversible. We are truly on a one-way track. It’s never too late to try. We have to find ways to make our contribution feel worthwhile to ourselves. We get a new chance with each new day. And every day we have something worthwhile to offer. What dreams do you have?
One day when I was driving home with my son in the back of my car, he started to cry. I tried music. I tried talking to him. I tried getting out and giving him juice and snacks. I checked to make sure he didn’t need anything else. I tried everything I knew to convince him that it was going to be okay. I gave him everything he could need. As he continued crying we began again with just a few more blocks to our house. I remember sitting at the stop sign and saying to him, “If you could only see, my love, we’re just a few minutes from being there. Just a few more minutes. It’s almost over. You don’t have to worry. Everything will be just as you want it to be soon. ”
In that moment I began to realize just how similar that sweet little baby and I were. I thought to myself:
How many times do I sit there wondering, crying, ‘God why isn’t this happening yet? Why can’t I see what’s going on? Why isn’t it the way I want it to be? What can I do to make things different? I can’t use what I have, I don’t even want this stuff I’ve got. I want something different, something better. Why can’t you just give me what I really want? Why is it like this? Why can’t I see the way out?’ and all the while God is sitting there saying, ‘It’s okay. I’ve given you everything you can possibly need. It’s all right there. Everything is waiting for you to arrive. You’re so close. You don’t have to cry. You don’t have to worry. I promise it’s all right there. If you could only just believe me, it would all be okay. ’”
I spent so much time worrying about why things weren’t right, that I failed to understand everything that was right with where I was. I didn’t appreciate it. I wasn’t thankful for it. I just threw it aside thinking I didn’t really need it. What’s the use in all of this stuff? I let myself get to a point where I couldn’t see past the hurt, the worry, the fear. It consumed me. And so it consumed everything I did for the most part, as well.
When we got home that day, I turned on Oprah, and there was a woman who had survived the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. As I watched, she talked about all of the things she goes through each day just to get up and going. She had been burned over a large portion of her body. She could no longer hold her children. Up until recently, she couldn’t even open the peanut butter jar to make a sandwich for her children’s lunch. While watching, I realized all of the things that I had to be thankful for.
I can hold my son. I can touch his face. I can hug him. I can pick him up. I can see him smile. I can hear his laughter. I can play with him. I can drive him anywhere he needs to go. I can feel him breathe. I can run and jump with him. I can teach him to play sports. I have so many things to be thankful for, especially when it comes to him. He and my nephews make me smile every day. They fill my heart with joy every day. They let me love them every day, and I feel so honored to be able to do so. And I am so thankful to have the chance, all day every day to try again.
Even when I get things wrong, I have learned to be thankful that I have the chance to try again. And one of the ways I try to show my gratitude is by trying to make the right choice after I’ve made the wrong one. If it is something that can be undone, then I try to undo it. If the chance has passed, then I make sure to try not to make the same mistake again. With gratitude comes the possibility for change. If we recognize that it is possible for us at any moment to show that we are thankful, somehow, some way, we can seize the opportunity instead of allowing it to pass us by.