You First

My mom recently moved out of the home she’s been in since I was just out of high school. In the process of the move, she gave me a bunch of my old things, including a box that held some of my older journals from high school. Might I just say, “wow”. Wow, did I worry a whole heck of a lot what other people thought of me, but then isn’t that the way of teenagers, particularly teenage girls? I can’t believe how much I allowed my vision of my self-worth to be wrapped up in who liked, or didn’t like me.

Learning to be okay with and like yourself is one of life’s hardest and greatest achievements. I didn’t quite figure out I wouldn’t be too attractive to others until I was attractive to myself until later. I think I was in my mid-twenties, ditching yet another failed relationship, stuck in a hotel room by myself on a business trip before I sat down and faced it all. I needed to like and accept myself first before I could expect anyone else to really like and accept me. I had to be fine alone before I could truly be in anyone else’s life, much less truly let anyone else fully inside my life.  Make sense? That was an intense week of self-reflection and self-revelation. It was painful at times – I had to clearly see and accept all my faults. I also had to clearly see and accept all my strengths, something I actually found much more difficult.

Back in high school, and even early college, I felt my value came through having someone want me, just me. I’m not talking about friends – I was lucky enough to have some really incredible friends who loved and accepted me more than I did myself. I’m still grateful to them for keeping me afloat. But as I read the words I’d written from freshman year through my high school graduation, I realized my days were preoccupied with whomever I had a crush on at the time. If he didn’t talk to me on a particular day, I must’ve looked bad or sounded stupid. If he didn’t acknowledge me, it was because I was an ugly, annoying little girl. If he didn’t smile at me, it was because I was wearing the wrong clothes. If I didn’t get asked to the prom, or homecoming, or the winter dance, I was worthless and a failure. I didn’t have a boyfriend until mid-way through my senior year of high school. Looking back, I can see that was mostly because of the way I viewed myself. Once I gained a little bit of confidence, things started to change. But if I’d spent less time obsessing about who liked me, or didn’t like me, whether I had a boyfriend or not, which group I was part of or not part of, and spent more time learning to like me for me, maybe I would have found a peace with myself much earlier in life.

Watching my older two navigate high school, I’m reminded why you couldn’t pay me enough to relive those four years (well, most of them anyways – it wasn’t all entirely awful). If I could go back and tell my sixteen-year-old self anything it would be to love, care for, and accept myself first. I’d tell myself not to send my “representative self” to school each day, but to just be me, and be good enough with who I really was to put that person out there every day. If I wasn’t good enough as myself, my representative certainly wouldn’t be good enough either as she was a shell, a front, a wall between me and the world around me.

I guess my point is this – love you, first. Once you learn to love you, others will find it easier to love you too.

The Teacher

Did you see the story last week about the man who sent a $10,000 check to his home economics teacher as a thank you for how she had touched and changed his life? Pretty cool, right? Don’t we all have at least one teacher in particular who really reached us? The story had me thinking and remembering back to my high school days.

I was an extremely shy girl, painfully shy. My self-esteem was very low. I had good friends, but never felt good enough. I didn’t really believe in myself. Along came Mrs. T my Junior year. She was my English/Language Arts teacher. I adored her. I don’t know she knows she’s the reason I ended up studying Literature in college. But it wasn’t just what she taught in the classroom that touched me. We kept journals in that class. Sometimes the writing was directed and we were given prompts. Sometimes, we wrote freely. She read them all, which is no small feat for one class of 30+ kids, much less 5 or 6 classes of 30+ kids. She not only read them, she commented.

Her comments in my journal gave me such courage over the course of that year. She helped me believe in myself. She showed me myself through other eyes. She was the mentor I needed. She encouraged, she prompted, she empowered. I found that journal  a few years back in a box my mom had been keeping for me. I laughed and I cried as I read it. The things Mrs. T had written – they were things I would say to my daughter now, and they were things I needed to hear then.

I will never forget Mrs. T, the fun things we did in class that year. We wrote our own Canterbury Tales. We learned to (kind of) read and speak Old English (hilarious adventure by the way…you should try it). It was my favorite year of English in high school. When it came time to write my Senior Thesis in college, I chose Spencer’s Faerie Queene because she’d given me a love for it.

Mrs. T – you may never read this, but I wanted to say thank you for encouraging a young, shy, awkward girl. You gave her more than you’ll ever know.

Which teacher touched and/or changed your life?