People are toxic to be around when they believe that everything happening around them is a direct assault on them or is in some way all about them.
That is the truth. Let it sink in.
What people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether people think you’re amazing, or believe you’re the worst, again, is more about them and how they view the world.
Now, I’m not suggesting we should be self-indulged narcissists and ignore all the opinions and commentary we receive from others. I’m simply saying that incredible amounts of hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives come directly from our tendency to take things personally. In most cases it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinions of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
The underlying key is to…
Watch Your Response
When something stressful happens in a social situation, what is your response? Some people jump right into action – but oftentimes immediate action can be harmful. Others get angry, or sad. Still others start to feel sorry for themselves… and victimized… and left thinking: “Why can’t other people behave better?”
Responses like these are not healthy or helpful. In fact, whenever your response lacks a mindful level of acceptance you’re likely taking things too personally. And you’re not alone. We all make this mistake sometimes.
If someone does something we disagree with, we tend to interpret this as a personal attack…
- Our children don’t clean their rooms? They are purposely defying us!
- Our significant other doesn’t show affection? They must not care about us as much as they should!
- Our coworkers act inconsiderately at work? They must hate us!
- Someone hurts us? Everyone must be out to get us!
Some people even think life itself is personally against them. But the truth is, almost nothing in life is personal – things happen, or they don’t, and it’s rarely all about anyone specifically.
People have emotional issues they’re dealing with, and it makes them defiant, rude, and thoughtless sometimes. They are doing the best they can, or they’re not even aware of their issues. In any case, you can learn not to interpret their behaviors as personal attacks, and instead see them as non-personal encounters (like a dog barking in the distance, or a bumblebee buzzing by) that you can either respond to with a peaceful mindset, or not respond to at all.
Here’s what you need to remember…
Mantras for NOT Taking Things Personally
Like you, I’m only human, and I still take things personally sometimes when I’m in the heat of the moment. So I’ve implemented a simple strategy to support the practice of watching my response, as I’ve outlined above. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself NOT to take things personally. Anytime I catch myself doing so, I pause and read the following mantras to myself. Then I take some fresh deep breaths…
- You can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of you. They do things because of them.
- You may not be able control all the things people say and do to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
- There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you detach from other people’s beliefs and behaviors. The way people treat you is their problem, how you react is yours.
- Take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally. Listen, and then operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
- You are GOOD enough, SMART enough, FINE enough, and STRONG enough. You don’t need other people to validate you – you’re already valuable.
- If you truly wish to improve your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth, stop allowing other people to be responsible for them. Stop allowing other people to dominate your emotions.
- All the hardest, coldest people you meet were once as soft as a baby. And that’s the tragedy of living. So when people are rude, be kind, be mindful, be your best. Give those around you the “break” that you hope the world will give you on your own “bad day” and you will never, ever regret it.
As I am finishing up this post, I am reminded of all the senseless violence we see in our world today.
Please don’t attach yourself to it.
Do your best not to take it personally.
Do your best to let it go – to rise above the hate.
A small group of people may try to build barriers between us, but the rest of us can find a way to fly above them. Others can try to pin us down with a hundred thousand arms, but in numbers we can find a way to help one another back up. Yes, there are many of us out there, more than any of us likely realize, who know love is the answer. People who refuse to stop believing. People who refuse to trade an eye for an eye. People who love in a world without conditions, who love into hate, into refusal, with faith, and without fear.
And that gives me hope.
How has “taking things personally” affected your life and relationships? Do you have any thoughts or insights to share? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a reply below.
Have you ever woken up in the morning hating everything about your existence? Have you ever gone to bed at night wishing you would not wake up the next day? Have you ever lived every minute hoping it would be your last? Have you ever felt hopeless, distraught, unwanted and worthless? And have you ever wished to stop feeling that way?
Because I have. A lot of people I know have. And trust me when I tell you it is not unnatural. Believe me when I say you are not the only one. We have all had dark days. We have all had sleepless nights. We have all been broken and felt unimportant. We have all wanted to end it someday.
Low self-esteem may feel like a curse you were born with. Always doubting your abilities. Never knowing if you were doing enough. Thinking you don’t deserve the people in your life that love and appreciate you. Feeling like everything you have achieved in life has been a matter of luck and coincidence.
If you can relate, here is what you need to do:
Talk to yourself:
You need to look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself you need to stop feeling like filth. Tell yourself you are worth more than you think. Repeat after me ‘I am beautiful, confident, brave and ambitious. I do not care about what people have to say about me.’ The first time you do it, it will feel like you are lying to yourself. You will feel like you are wasting time but go on anyway. The reason you care so much about what other people think about you is that you listen to other people way more than you listen to yourself. Tell yourself you matter. Tell yourself you are worth it.
Burn down the negativity:
Literally. Write down all the things you think are ‘wrong’ with you. List down all the things you think you are ‘incapable’ of. Do people ever tell you that you are worthless? Do they taunt and mock you? Write down their words onto the page. Write down every negative thought that comes to your head when you wish to do something. Compile your negativity on one piece of paper. Walk to the stove and set it on fire. Watch it burn and reduce to ashes. Video tape if you would like to watch it again later. Everything holding you back has been wiped off existence. ‘Everything wrong with you’ no longer exists. You are now free. You are a new person.
It does not matter if you can’t. It does not matter if you failed creative writing class. What matters is that you have feelings. What matters is that you have something to say. You don’t necessarily have to write about yourself. You don’t have to write about your life. Write about what you want to write about. Maintain a journal if you’d like. Write about a friend that inspires you. Write about something you love to eat. Write about a sport you enjoy watching. Write about absolutely anything or anyone that puts a smile on your face.
We are often afraid of opening up to the people around us. Many a time I have felt like I needed to be someone else around other people. I have felt like I needed to hide myself. Crying in front of someone made me feel weak and vulnerable. I would run to the toilet to shed my tears every time I felt sad. And I would come out with a huge fake smile on my face like everything inside me wasn’t broken. But recently going through a hard time in my life I started to have extreme anxiety and panic attacks. However, this time I ran to my mother’s room instead of somewhere no one would find me. It was hard opening up at first. Emotions feel so irrational sometimes. You think if you’d say it out loud, it wouldn’t make sense. You feel like no one can truly understand you besides you. But that is untrue. We are all humans capable of connecting and relating to each other on various levels. It is nothing you need to think too much about. You just need to start talking. Let everything out. If everything inside you feels like it is going to collapse, sharing it with someone will only help ease the pain and hold you together. It is okay to cry. It is human to feel sad.
What is most important is realizing it is not just you. 85% of the world’s population is affected by low self-esteem. We all have irrational fears, insecurities and troubles we live with every single day. Every smile has tales of despair it so conveniently hides behind it. You don’t need to feel like you are insignificant. Every time you are unsure of going ahead, look at how far you have come and remind yourself of all you have survived through. You are brave. You are beautiful and you are stronger than anyone will ever be able to tell you. Keep fighting. You are not alone.
By: Ramsha Zafar, Pakistan.
Are you tired of being held back by your social anxiety? Do you always feel like you totally embarrass yourself after every social occasion even though the only “embarrassing” action you took was holding eye contact for more than 2 seconds? If all that relates to you, then read on and I will show you practical steps you can take to improve your social skills.
“But why should I take time and effort to improve my social skills?”, you might ask yourself, so before we get on to the 6 steps you can take to develop your social skills, let me first tell you why having excellent social skills is beneficial.
Why I should Improve my Social Skills
1. For business and the Job Market:
Social skills are not only important in dating and parties, as a matter of fact, the most important part of having good social skills is to influence people in the business world. You might have excellent technical skills on the job you do, but if you can’t communicate with customers, ultimately and most probably, the person with better social skills will have your job. There are exceptions, but why take the chance? Right.
2. For Relationships
Here, I am talking about both romantic and friendly relationships. In case of the romantic relationships, no matter how “hot” you think you are, nobody wants a partner who only has looks but you can’t relate to. This applies for both men and women. For friendly relationships, I think it is obvious for why you need social skills. The more relatable you are (which requires social skills), the more friends you will have.
3. For Developing Confidence
Many people on the internet claim there are shortcuts to having magnetic confidence, but the only practical way to develop confidence is to master skills. Confidence is a mindset where you are certain that you won’t fail on what you plan to do. Do you think regular public speakers (comedians, actors, motivational speakers…) have low confidence? No, you know why, because they have been in the situation for years, so it doesn’t faze them anymore. The same way when you apply the steps, I am about to give, below consistently you will be unfazed with social situations eventually.
Note: This is not a shortcut or overnight method to improving social skills. It requires consistent action and effort by your part, but eventually, the effort will pay off like it did for me, and you will be happy with the time you took.
6 Practical and Proven Steps To Take To Master Your Social Skills
1. Understand why your fear social situations and try to identify specific parts of interactions where you feel embarrassed and out of your comfort zone. The next time you are in a social situation where you aren’t comfortable, I want you to forget about the interaction and instead take notes in your mind for why you fear socializing. The more diverse your interactions; the better, so try interacting with men, women, elders, managers… and write why you fear the interaction
- Are you constantly thinking about what to say next and how to say it so that you don’t get embarrassed?
- Are you constantly re-positioning yourself so that you don’t look awkward, even though the only thing you are doing that is awkward is not sitting still.
- Take note of everything that is bothering your mind and making you unsociable. After that…
2. Write all the reasons you came up with and jot down under each why you have this irrational or exaggerated fear. For example, you might be afraid of being judged and laughed at if you say something wrong. Write for every single reason you came up with explanations for why you are afraid. You will find that for some of the reasons, you won’t have explanations After jotting down everything that came through your mind…
3. Make a plan to confront that fear: I am pretty sure some of the excuses for your fear you came up with are just irrational and exaggerated, and in order for you to see that you are just irrational, you have to confront it and see how harmless the fear you have is. The plan is to go out and confront your fear; I know, it is scary, but I promise it is worth it. I suffered for the majority of my life thinking I could find an easier solution, but truthfully, there isn’t one.
4. Improve your Physical Appearance: One of the reasons you came up with in Step 1 is probably that you are insecure about your looks and there is a solution for that. Take effort and time to improve your physical appearance. Many think that they are stuck with their looks but in reality there is a 1000 steps you could take to improve your appearance. You could improve your fashion and style sense; you could improve your facial appearance; you could lose weight and gain muscle mass by following Brandon Carters Channel; You could improve yourbody language and more.
Note: This step doesn’t have to be completed before going on to the next step, keep working on it while following the next steps.
5. Get a Job That Requires You to Utilize Your Social Skills: This is the step that completely eradicated my social anxiety and made me more sociable and you know why it works? Because you fear being fired more than interacting with strangers. It is like a therapy for your mind but you don’t pay 300$ per hour. The jobs I am talking about are waiting, hosting, retail service… Anything that requires constant interaction with strangers. If you take this action, I assure you social skills will skyrocket and your anxiety will start fading. If you want to take it a step further…
6. Embarrass yourself in Public: I am not saying you should make a complete utter fool out of yourself, but try to do something that grabs attention and try to cope with the attention by being unfazed and welcoming it. For example, go into a cafe and order something and eat by yourself. If you don’t fear this, try something more daring. But I know people who would rather not eat lunch rather than go out and eat lunch by themselves. Come up with things that embarrass you and do those things in public and eventually it will feel like a feather landing on your skin. NOTHING.
These are all the steps you need to take to improve your social skills; it requires constant effort and will not solve your problem in one day so keep at it and you will eradicate your anxiety and master your social skills.
It was 1955 and Disneyland had just opened in Anaheim, California when a 10-year-old boy walked in and asked for a job. Labour laws were loose back then and the boy managed to land a position selling guidebooks to visitors for $0.50 a piece.
This post originally appeared on James Clear’s blog.
Within a year, he had transitioned to Disney’s magic shop where he learned tricks from the older employees. He experimented with jokes and tried out simple magic routines on the visitors. Soon, he discovered that what he loved was not performing magic, but performing in general. The young boy set his sights on becoming a comedian.
Once he entered high school, he started performing in small clubs around Los Angeles. The crowds were small and his act was short. He was rarely on stage for more than five minutes. In one case, he literally delivered his standup routine to an empty club.
It wasn’t glamorous work, but there was no doubt he was getting better. His first magic routines would only last one or two minutes. By high school his material had expanded to include a five minute skit and then a 10 minute show. At the age of 19, he was performing weekly at clubs for 20 minutes at a time. Of course, he had to read three poems during the act just to make the routine long enough, but still. He was improving.
He spent another decade experimenting, adjusting and practising his act. He took a job as a television writer and, gradually, he was able to land his own appearances on television shows. By the mid-1970s, he had worked his way into being a regular guest on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live.
After nearly 15 years of work, he broke through to wild success. He toured 60 cities in 63 days. Then 72 cities in 80 days. Then 85 cities in 90 days. 18,695 people attended one show in Ohio. 45,000 tickets were sold for his three-day show in New York. He catapulted to the top of his genre and became one of the most important comedians of his time.
His name was Steve Martin.
Steve Martin’s Long Road to Success
I recently finished Steve Martin’s wonderful autobiography, Born Standing Up.
Comedy is not for the faint of heart. It is hard to imagine a situation that would strike fear into the hearts of more people than failing to get a single laugh on stage. And yet, Martin worked at it for 18 years. In his words, “10 years spent learning, 4 years spent refining, and 4 years spent in wild success.” His story offers a fascinating perspective on motivation, perseverance and consistency.
Why do we stay motivated to reach some goals, but not others? Why do we say we want something, but give up on it after a few days? What is the difference between the areas where we naturally stay motivated and those where we give up?
Scientists have been studying motivation for decades. While there is still much to learn, one of the most consistent findings is that perhaps the best way to stay motivated is to work on tasks of “just manageable difficulty”.
The Goldilocks Rule
Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty.
For example, imagine you are playing tennis. If you try to play a serious match against a four-year-old, you will quickly become bored. The match is too easy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you try to play a serious match against a professional tennis player like Roger Federer or Serena Williams, you will find yourself demotivated for a different reason. The match is too difficult.
Compare these experiences to playing tennis against someone who is your equal. As the game progresses, you win a few points and you lose a few points. You have a chance of winning the match, but only if you really try. Your focus narrows, distractions fade away and you find yourself fully invested in the task at hand. The challenge you are facing is “just manageable”. Victory is not guaranteed, but it is possible. Tasks like these, science has found are the most likely to keep us motivated in the long term.
Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains. We want nothing more than to master a skill just beyond our current horizon.
We can call this phenomenon The Goldilocks Rule. The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
Martin’s comedy career was a perfect example of what The Goldilocks Rule looks like in the real world. Each year, the length of his comedy routines expanded, but only by a minute or two. He was always adding new material, but he also kept a few jokes that were guaranteed to get laughs. There were just enough victories to keep him motivated and just enough mistakes to keep him working hard.
Measure Your Progress
If you want to learn how to stay motivated to reach your goals, then there is a second piece of the motivation puzzle that is crucial to understand. It has to do with achieving that perfect blend of hard work and happiness.
Working on challenges of an optimal level of difficulty has been found to not only be motivating, but also to be a major source of happiness. As psychologist Gilbert Brim put it, “One of the important sources of human happiness is working on tasks at a suitable level of difficulty, neither too hard nor too easy.”
This blend of happiness and peak performance is sometimes referred to as “flow”, which is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone”. Flow is the mental state you experience when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away.
In order to reach this state of peak performance, however, you not only need to work on challenges at the right degree of difficulty, but also measure your immediate progress. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains, one of the keys to reaching a flow state is that “you get immediate feedback about how you are doing at each step”.
Seeing yourself make progress in the moment is incredibly motivating. Steve Martin would tell a joke and immediately know if it worked based on the laughter of the crowd. Imagine how addicting it would be to create a roar of laughter. The rush of positive feedback Martin experienced from one great joke would probably be enough to overpower his fears and inspire him to work for weeks.
In other areas of life, measurement looks different but is just as critical for achieving a blend of motivation and happiness. In tennis, you get immediate feedback based on whether or not you win the point. Regardless of how it is measured, the human brain needs some way to visualise our progress if we are to maintain motivation. We need to be able to see our wins.
Two Steps to Motivation
If we want to break down the mystery of how to stay motivated for the long-term, we could simply say:
- Stick to The Goldilocks Rule and work on tasks of just manageable difficulty.
- Measure your progress and receive immediate feedback whenever possible.
Wanting to improve your life is easy. Sticking with it is a different story. If you want to stay motivated for good, then start with a challenge that is just manageable, measure your progress and repeat the process.
The biggest and most complex obstacle you’ll ever have to overcome is your mind. If you can overcome that, you can overcome anything.
Have you ever lost your motivation?
I know exactly how you feel.
Many moons ago, there was a time when my motivation hit rock bottom. I would look around and see others motivating themselves to do things simply by knowing that these things needed to be done. But not me. For me, motivation was an esoteric, intimidating game where I’d try to make myself do something while my mind simultaneously avoided doing it. If I won, I’d have to do something I didn’t really want to do. And if I lost, I’d be one step closer to ruining the rest of my entire life. At least that’s how I felt. And I never really knew whether I was going to win or lose until the very last minute.
Obviously, I was not being mindful.
The good news is, with daily practice, I’ve come a long way from those rock bottom days of haphazard motivation.
Nowadays, Angel and I coach students on a daily basis who are struggling to motivate themselves in various life situations. And, fittingly, we guide them through many of the same proven strategies I’ve learned and practiced over the years to get my mindset and motivation from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.
One of those strategies involves mindful daily reflection.
The truth is, motivation can be fleeting, which is why we need to positively recharge our mindset on a regular basis. I was reminded of this a few minutes ago when I received an email from a new course student that opened with:
“I feel drained! I’m stuck… with worry and overwhelm and frustration… and just a general lack of enthusiasm! Any advice? What should I reflect on or try to remember when I’ve completely lost my motivation?”
Today, with our student’s permission, I’ve decided to answer this question publicly, because I know we all need these reminders sometimes. Here are some key things I reflect on regularly to support my practice of nurturing a more mindful, motivated mindset…
- It’s not the weight that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. You can use pain, frustration and inconvenience to motivate you rather than annoy you. You are in control of the way you look at life. Beautiful things happen when you distance yourself from negative thinking.
- You always have a choice. Choose to be negative and you’ll find plenty of reasons to stop and frown. Choose to be positive and you’ll find plenty of reasons to step forward and smile. Truly, the most powerful weapon against stress and discouragement is our ability to choose one thought over another. Train your mind to see the good in everything.
- One of the most rewarding and important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage to let go of what you can’t change. When you stop worrying and complaining about what you can’t control, you have more time to change the things you can control. And that changes everything.
- It’s never in your best interests to share lots of time with people who constantly try to discourage you (even if they’re your family). Because, if you’re the kind of person who believes there’s something out there for you beyond whatever it is you’re expected to do – if you want to be extraordinary – you can’t get there by shackling yourself to those who hold you back. Instead, you will very likely become just as ordinary as they expect you to be. And there’s absolutely no reason to do that to yourself.
- Long-term success in life is a trifecta of ability, motivation, and attitude. Ability is what you’re capable of doing every day. Motivation determines what you actually do every day. And attitude determines how well you ultimately do it. Keep this in mind, and keep yourself in check.
- Sitting around worrying is a misuse of your incredible creative energy. Instead of imagining the worst, imagine the best and how you can bring it about.
- It’s always better to be exhausted from meaningful work than to be tired of doing nothing. Put in the effort and live the life you’ve imagined. Wake up and remind yourself that you are what you do today, not what you say you’ll do someday. Good things don’t come to those who wait – they come to those who work on meaningful goals. When all is said and done, oftentimes more is said than done. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The way to get going, and feel good about it, is to quit talking and begin doing.
- Imagine how much more effective and happy you’d be if, instead of dreading and fighting against certain tasks, you simply got them done. Remember, the task ahead of you is never greater than the strength within you. Do what’s right, not what’s easy. And when the task is a big one, do just a little bit of it every day. Even the tiniest daily ritual changes everything in the long run. (Angel and I build tiny, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- Effort is never wasted, even when it leads to disappointing results. For it always makes you stronger, more educated, and more experienced. So when the going gets tough, be patient and keep going. Just because you are struggling does NOT mean you are failing. Every great success requires some kind of struggle to get there.
- The next step is always worth taking. Seriously, no matter what happens, no matter how far you seem to be away from where you want to be, never stop believing that you will make it. Have an unrelenting belief that things will work out, that the long road has a purpose, that the things you desire may not happen today, but they will happen. Practice patience. And remember that patience is not about waiting – it’s the ability to keep a good attitude while working hard to make progress every day, and knowing that this journey is worth it.
And now it’s time for a quick reality check…
If you’ve ever caught yourself thinking you’re too young or too old to be successful or to pursue a meaningful path, here’s a short list of people who have accomplished incredible things at various ages – young and old:
- Helen Keller, at the age of 19 months, became deaf and blind. But that didn’t stop her. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
- Mozart was already competent on the keyboard and violin, and he started composing music at the age of 5.
- Shirley Temple was 6 when she became a movie star in “Bright Eyes”.
- Anne Frank was 12 when she wrote “The Diary of Anne Frank”.
- Magnus Carlsen became a chess Grandmaster at the age of 13.
- Nadia Comaneci was a gymnast from Romania that scored seven perfect 10.0 ratings and won three gold medals at the Olympics by age 14.
- Tenzin Gyatso was formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama in November 1950, at the age of 15.
- Pele, the soccer superstar, was 17-years-old when he won the world cup in 1958 with Brazil.
- John Lennon was 20-years-old and Paul McCartney was 18-years-old when the Beatles held their first concert in 1961.
- Beethoven was a piano virtuoso by age 23
- Isaac Newton wrote The Principia (containing Newton’s laws of motion), at age 24
- Roger Bannister was 25 when he broke the 4-minute mile record – the first person to ever accomplish this.
- Albert Einstein was 26 when he wrote the “Theory of Relativity”.
- Lance Armstrong was 27 when he won the Tour de France.
- J.K. Rowling was 30-years-old when she finished the first manuscript of “Harry Potter”.
- Amelia Earhart was 31-years-old when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
- Oprah was 32 when she started her talk show, which became the highest-rated program of its kind in history.
- Martin Luther King Jr. was 34 when he wrote the speech “I Have a Dream”.
- Neil Armstrong was 38 when he became the first human being to set foot on the moon.
- Mark Twain was 40 when he wrote “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, and 49 years old when he wrote “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.
- John F. Kennedy was 43-years-old when he became President of the United States.
- Henry Ford Was 45 when the Ford T came out.
- Suzanne Collins was 46 when she wrote “The Hunger Games”.
- Leonardo Da Vinci was 51-years-old when he painted the Mona Lisa.
- Dr. Seuss was 54 when he wrote “The Cat in the Hat”.
- Colonel Sanders was 61 when he started the KFC Franchise.
- J.R.R Tolkien was 62 when “The Lord of the Rings” book series was published.
- Ronald Reagan was 69 when he became President of the United States.
- Nelson Mandela was 76 when he became President of South Africa.
It’s never too soon or too late to be all you can be. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You CAN take the next tiniest step forward! I hope that fact alone motivates you to stand back up.
Please leave a comment below and let us know:
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett
As a family, we never discussed the fire that burned down our house and nearly took my life. We endured it, survived it, and moved past it. We chose not to be defined by it.
That is, until my parents sat in the first row of a church on November 22, 2003.
Their oldest son, Jim, stood on the altar in a tuxedo, the best man for their younger (and better-looking) son, John.
Watching their boys together, with their four daughters as bridesmaids, and a gorgeous woman in white named Beth about to join the family, they realized something for the first time: The terrible fire from years earlier wasn’t the end. The tragedy we’d endured as a family decades ago had a happy ending.
The fire did not take away the life their little boy could make for himself. Contrarily, it led perfectly to this place, this church, this altar, this union, this day.
The therapy and surgeries and amputations and scars and challenges culminated in a blowout celebration. It was miracle upon miracle upon miracle…looking back over the last two decades.
At the end of the service, as Beth and I walked together down the aisle, my parents were overflowing with gratitude to my doctors, to their family and friends who supported them, and most of all to God, whom we credit with the miracle of not only my survival, but an incredible life just beginning.
Less than a week after my wedding, they were writing a book about their experience years earlier. It was their story as parents experiencing the devastating news that their son had been burned. It was their story about months of waiting-room anguish, support from the community, and a miraculous triumph.
In the early stages of their book writing, I was far from encouraging. I didn’t believe there was a story to tell and encouraged them not to dredge up the past. I offered my best arguments against it. Who will read your book? Why would they care? Do you guys even know how to use a computer? I suggested they keep the story in their hearts.
They wrote their book anyway.
They called it Overwhelming Odds.
They ignored my advice.
And in doing so, they changed my life.
Imagine this: the mask you’ve so carefully constructed to hide behind your entire life is removed. You know, the one that tells the world you’re fine, you’re all good, your kids are perfect, you have no problems, there are no addictions, no worries, no scars? Imagine that it is taken gently off your face, set carefully on a table, and smashed with a massive sledgehammer.
I felt naked.
But as I continued to read, I realized something else.
For the first time I understood that I wasn’t the only one burned in the story. For the first time I came to understand all that my family went through. My brother, Jim, was injured physically and emotionally. My sisters were prescribed sleeping pills because of witnessing me burning in front of them, and then there were the months of constant fear that they’d lose me for good. Oh, and my parents. My poor parents. As difficult as my physical pain was, the emotional toll on them was, in so many ways, much worse.
Not to mention our neighbors!
Imagine knowing that your story somehow galvanized a community into action. Our neighbors in the suburbs of St. Louis literally opened up their homes to my siblings as we waited for the house to be repaired; the community raised money, donated blood, offered prayers, brought food.
I had never fully considered all the people who came together to make the miracle a reality. And imagine, after reading the last page of your tragic story, seeing it differently, clearly for the first time. As if cataracts had been cut away, I understood, “Oh my gosh . . . it was all a gift.”
All of it was a gift!
The fire led perfectly to where I am today. The challenges led to experiences that shaped me, the character that drives me, the faith that guides me, the life around me, and to the possibility in front of me. No, it wasn’t always perfect.
But it was my life.
It was my story.
And it was time to claim it.
After reading my parents’ book, the scars that I had been covering up for twenty years were transformed into badges of honor.
The scars remained, yes. But they were there because the wounds had healed.
They were evidence of a miracle.
Covering them up denied others the chance to see them.
After I read my parents’ book, I turned the book over and stared at the picture on the cover. The picture of me as a kid with my scars and splints was still there. But now, I saw something I had never seen before. I no longer saw a little boy at the end of a journey he had survived, but instead at the start of one that he could not wait to begin.
Shifting my perspective on that picture from the past and the scars still present served as an inflection point that positively transformed my life. It shaped how I viewed the current reflection in the mirror, interact with others, and engaged in life. It elevated how I viewed current challenges and future opportunities.
My friends, we all have been burned. We’ve all endured heartache and letdowns. We’ve failed in business, stumbled in finances, tripped in relationships, and struggled physically. We all have a story. It’s just usually not the story we are telling the world.
In order to best connect with others, uncover our purpose and live up to the fullness of our promise, it is critical to embrace the scars of yesterday. No, we don’t accept them as horrible reminders of how lousy the past was and the litany of mistakes made. Instead, we wear them as badges of honor ― celebrating all we’ve survived, the lessons learned, the character developed, the faith fortified, and the litany of reasons we still to have to be grateful.
So if you want to embrace the one perspective that is certain to transform current challenges into opportunities, look no further than your past. For in it you’ll discover that every experience, adversity, and even tragedy has led perfectly to where you are today.
And today, with that perspective (regardless of whether or not you always intentionally chose the path you walked in the past) you are free to choose the manner in which you walk your path going forward.
This is your day to wake up from accidental living and embrace the gift that is your life.
This is your day to live inspired.
Can you think of a personal example of how your scars have strengthened you?
Anything else to share?
Please tell us about it. We would love to hear from YOU in the comments section below.
The secret to being grateful is no secret. You choose to be grateful. Then you do it again and again. If you forget, begin again.
I remember that rainy summer evening – shortly after Angel and I lost two loved ones to illness, lost our livelihood in a layoff, and ultimately lost sight of the goodness that remained in our lives – when I found myself lying down on a tile floor, alone in the dark, just thinking.
Angel and I rarely spoke openly about anything meaningful during that period of time, mostly because I was withdrawn. I felt helpless and essentially depressed about what had happened. I was lost in the darkness of my own negative thinking.
But something shifted inside me as I was lying on that tile floor.
As I looked up and out the open window next to me, the moon suddenly broke through the clouds and illuminated the dark room I was in. Then, within seconds, a light breeze started blowing the white window curtains inward and over me. As the curtains fluttered in the air four feet over my body, I smiled. It was a beautiful moment. And without thinking twice, I whispered out loud, “Life is still a miracle to be grateful for.”
Angel walked into the room at that exact moment and whispered, “I agree.”
She ducked under the curtains and snuggled into me on the floor. After a couple moments of shared silence, we decided to list some things off the top of our minds that we were grateful for, despite our struggles.
Our list of gratitude looked something like this:
- We had each other
- We had parents, extended family, and some friends who loved us
- We were reasonably healthy
- Most of our family members and friends were reasonably healthy
- We had some savings
- We had shelter, water and food
- We could experience and appreciate the beauty of the moonlight illuminating this dark room, and the breeze making the curtains dance
And the list went on, of course, but you get the gist. Even when everything seemed to be wrong, we had a lot going right – a lot to be grateful for.
That night I resolved to change my thinking and make gratitude a daily ritual in my life.
- Someone expects you to be someone you’re not. – Don’t change who you are for anyone else. It’s wiser to lose someone over being who you are, than to keep them by being someone you’re not. Because it’s easier to mend a broken heart, than it is to piece together a shattered identity. It’s easier to fill an empty space in your life where someone else used to be, than it is to fill the empty space inside yourself where YOU used to be.
- A person’s actions don’t match their words. – Everybody deserves somebody who helps them look forward to tomorrow. If someone has the opposite effect on you, because they are consistently inconsistent and their actions don’t match up with their words, it’s time to let them go. It’s always better to be alone than to be in bad company. True is a promise made in the heart – silent, unwritten, unbreakable by distance, and unchangeable by time. Don’t listen to what people say; watch what they do. Your true friends will slowly reveal themselves over time.
- You catch yourself forcing someone to love you. – Let us keep in mind that we can’t force anyone to love us. We shouldn’t beg someone to stay when they want to leave. That’s what love is all about – freedom. However, the end of love is not the end of life. It should be the beginning of an understanding that love sometimes leaves for a reason, but never leaves without a lesson. If someone truly loves you, they will never give you a reason to doubt it. Anyone can come into your life and say how much they love you, but it takes someone really special to stay in your life and prove how much they love you. Sometimes it takes awhile to find the right person, but the right person is always worth the wait.
- An intimate relationship is based strictly on physical attraction. – Being beautiful is more than how many people you can get to look at you, or how others perceive you at a single glance. It’s about what you live for. It’s about what defines you. It’s about the depth of your heart, and what makes you unique. It’s about being who you are and living out your life honestly. It’s about those little quirks that make you, you. People who are only attracted to you because of your pretty face or nice body won’t stay by your side forever. But the people who can see how beautiful your heart is will never leave you.
- Someone continuously breaks your trust. – Love means giving someone the chance to hurt you, but trusting them not to. When you completely trust a person, without any doubt, you’ll automatically get one of two results – a FRIEND for life or a LESSON for life. Either way there’s a positive outcome. Either you confirm the fact that this person cares about you, or you get the opportunity to weed them out of your life and make room for those who do. In the end you’ll discover who’s fake, who’s true, and who would risk it all for you. And trust me, some people will totally surprise you.
- Someone continuously overlooks your worth. – Know your worth! When you give yourself to someone who doesn’t respect you, you surrender pieces of your soul that you’ll never get back. There comes a point when you have to let go and stop chasing some people. If someone wants you in their life, they’ll find a way to put you there. Sometimes you just need to let go and accept the fact that they don’t care for you the way you care for them. Let them leave your life quietly. Letting go is oftentimes easier than holding on. We think it’s too hard to let go, until we actually do. Then we ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
- You are never given a chance to speak your mind. – Sometimes an argument saves a relationship, whereas silence breaks it. Speak up for your heart so that you won’t have regrets. Life is not about making others happy. Life is about being honest and sharing your happiness with others.
- You are frequently forced to sacrifice your happiness. – If you allow people to make more withdrawals than deposits in your life, you will be out of balance and in the negative before you know it. Know when to close the account. It’s always better to be alone with dignity than in a relationship that constantly requires you to sacrifice your happiness and self-respect.
- You truly dislike your current situation, routine, job, etc. – It’s better to be a failure at something you love than to succeed at doing something you hate. Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of going after yours. The best thing you can do in life is follow your heart. Take risks. Don’t just make the safe and easy choices because you’re afraid of what might happen. If you do, nothing will ever happen. Chances must be taken, mistakes must be made, and lessons must be learned. It might be an uphill climb, but when you reach that mountaintop it will be worth every ounce of blood, sweat and tears you put into it.
- You catch yourself obsessing over, and living in, the past. – Eventually you will overcome the heartache, and forget the reasons you cried, and who caused the pain. Eventually you will realize that the secret to happiness and freedom is not about control or revenge, but in letting things unfold naturally, and learning from your experiences over the course of time. After all, what matters most is not the first, but the final chapter of your life, which unveils the details of how well you wrote your story. So let go of the past, set yourself free, and open your mind to the possibility of new relationships and priceless experiences.
And the one thing you should never let go of is hope. Remember what you deserve and keep pushing forward. Someday all the pieces will come together. Unimaginably good things will transpire in your life, even if everything doesn’t turn out exactly the way you had anticipated. And you will look back at the times that have passed, smile, and ask yourself, “How did I get through all of that?”