Be true to yourself. Don’t cheat yourself. Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror.
How many times have you heard these, or some variant of them? What do these mean to you? When did you first truly ask yourself — er, the mirror — “Who is the [insert self-affirming adjective here] one of all”? More importantly, when did you first take head of the answer, and what impact did it have on your life?
I recently had a very tough conversation with a beloved protege that led me to revisit this concept. It reminded me of a drastically different situation that caused me to do what I asked of her — to look in the mirror, be honest about what you see and, if you are not satisfied with what you see, be sincere in your actions to grow.
It sounds so simple. It actuality, it can be so hard. Sometimes it stings. When you are sincere, though, and you really want to grow, it’s always rewarding. Here’s my flashback…
I was ten years old. It was summertime, and I was doing what I did everyday — playing pickup (you name it, we played it) at the playground. This day we were playing wiffle ball, a favorite because we could throw curve balls like major league pitchers; and the only equipment needed was a wiffle ball and a plastic bat… I was at bat when a kid, a complete stranger to me at the time, saw fit to walk up and start ripping on me. More may have occurred in the preceding moments; but, from my perspective, it was that sudden. One moment I’m in summertime competitive bliss, the next I’m faced with a new kind of challenge. This was an unwelcome turn of events, to say the least.
I was caught completely off guard. The stuff he was saying didn’t really offend me, and it wasn’t that funny. Nobody was even laughing… I pretended to ignore it, but he kept at it. I didn’t say a word to him. I didn’t even look at him… We even finished the game. After the game, I, coincidentally, of course :-), decided to go home “to eat” :-)… I’m cracking up as I write this. I really am… LMAO… But it wasn’t funny then.
So I started on the way home… A small group of kids followed me. My closest friends stayed back. In hindsight, they were probably just glad not to have been selected. (I didn’t blame them then, and I don’t now)… Anyway, I refused to look back at exactly who was following me; but I recognized the voices. They were neighborhood kids who were/are a few years older than I. And the new kid, the stranger… An hour before, I thought these were my friends.
When we got out of site of the playground, the stranger pushed me from behind. He didn’t push me that hard, but I fell forward due to the surprise of it. I stopped myself with my hands. When I stood and turned to face him, he started to sort of wrestle me… Then it happened… I cried out for help…. Oy… I’m not laughing now. This was quite possibly my darkest day… The kid muttered something like “He won’t even fight back” and left me alone. They all laughed and headed back to the playground. I headed home, relieved — and ashamed.
So where’s the moral to this thing??? LOL, I’m getting to it. Patience!
When I got home, I didn’t say a word to anyone about what happened. I didn’t eat when I got there… I started doing pushups. I started doing any exercises I could think of doing. In the coming days, I somehow got my hands on a couple of karate magazines, from which I ordered at least one “Teach Yourself Karate” book… ( Side note: If you read my earlier post about finding myself, partially though youth sports participation, you will may realize that this summer preceded my “eureka” summer… It’s no coincidence 😉 ).
Most of my family members noticed my new “fitness craze” but barely commented. My mother mentioned how I’d been around the house more than usual for the past few days, but she didn’t ask why that was so. Just one more weird phase in a weird kids life, I’m sure they thought (LOL… I’m still pretty weird, so can’t blame them)… But then something happened.
My older brother, who is, to this day, one of the most blunt people I know, said something amazingly insightful. He was helping my dad unload the truck after a day of work when he saw me jumping rope in the back yard. He asked me, “Who kicked your ass?” … Yikes! Of course, I didn’t respond. He then went on to elaborate, “He’s around the house everyday because he’s scared to go to the playground. I should make him go over there and fight whoever it is he’s scared of” … Mercifully, he didn’t. LOL… My brother did me a huge favor that day. He (figuratively) held a mirror in front of me. I didn’t like what I saw.
From the time of the incident until that point, I was angry and ashamed; but I focused more on the anger. I didn’t face what was really eating at my gut. I didn’t admit to myself why I didn’t let anyone in on what had happened… I was afraid. I knew it was okay to be afraid; but how I handled it, in my book, was not okay. As the kid who teased me said “He won’t even fight back” … That was a problem because I’d been portraying myself as someone who would embrace the opportunity to fight. It was a problem because I wasn’t being honest with myself, or with with anyone else, about who I really was.
I later learned that I was chosen that day because all of the neighborhood kids assumed that I was tough. I was my father’s son. I was my brother’s brother… I must be tough. Logical enough, I guess… When I realized that people assumed that about me, I just kind of went with it…. But I was not being honest about who I was, and it came back to bite me in a big way. By that, I don’t mean the little “almost skirmish” that I had. I wasn’t physically injured in any way, and they didn’t really “torment” me. They basically teased me for a bit, laughed and went about their day. They didn’t continue to revisit the matter, either, so I wouldn’t say that was bullied… What I do mean is that the tough guy bit was not who I was, but that’s the image that I essentially portrayed… When I got called on my bull, the mask was lifted; and I was ashamed that I had not been genuine. I’d been fake.
Once I faced that stinging truth, I began to grow past it… It took me several years 🙂 … I went through some serious growing pains 🙂 , including a (kind long LOL) phase of overcompensating, proving to myself that I would never act in cowardly fashion again… It would require lots of posts, and some disclosures I am not prepared to make to fully explain! SMH, LOL… Hey, I never said I was an angel 🙂 … ANYWAY, I have always, since that time, tried to be blatantly honest with myself. The realizations are sometimes stinging, but the benefits just keep coming.
Getting back to my beloved protege… She is faced with a very difficult situation, one that would be trying for any of us… I began to hear “I give up” in her comments and sense the same in her actions… I asked her to take an honest look at herself, and answer honestly whether she was giving her best effort to grow — in spite of it all… She has tremendous heart, so she took the challenge… Her situation is still difficult, but she is making the best of each day, and she continues to grow. With this sincere effort, her talent is beginning to shine through. With sustained effort, life will ultimately be her oyster.
In allowing me to help, she has helped me to grow, in part by revisiting one of the most valuable lessons of my entire life — and letting me share, so that I may grow, as well.
Look in the mirror. Don’t turn away. Be honest with yourself. Be sincere in your actions to address dissatisfaction with what you see. Never stop growing.