I usually don’t get too personal in this blog but today, I want to share something amazing that happened to me recently that will hopefully be an inspiration to someone else who might be struggling or going through a rough time.
But first, let’s zip back to about 25 years ago… to when I was a teenager. (Gulp, has it really been that long? Ye gods…)
When I was in high school, I was one of those kids that got picked on a lot. My parents had strange ideas about wanting us kids to wear homemade clothes (during the era of Gloria VanderBilt jeans) and tied wearing those items to pushing us into some form of individuality… which was the wrong time for those intentions, since most teenagers would rather conform than stand out.
Combined with the fact that our family moved from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to a small farming town in Wisconsin where most of the kids had all grown up with each other, my thick Southern accent and deeply tanned skin stuck out as an immediate outsider. It didn’t help that my home life was pretty rough either… I was caught between trying to please my parents wearing the clothes that they had made for me and dodging the inevitable scuffles of the high school pecking order, including getting bullied on a regular basis.
It was a lonely time, and as a kid, I often felt hopeless about my future. I didn’t really have any dreams, and had no real idea of what I wanted to do for a career. That impacted my studies and I didn’t really try… it was a slippery slope and when my mom (a college professor) finally sat me down and said she didn’t think I was ‘college material’, it felt as though I had truly failed her and myself.
Weighed down with virtually no sense of belonging or self-worth, my depression was deep and dark. Then, one day at my lowest point ever, I tried to commit suicide by hanging myself in a closet.
For some reason, the clothes railing that I had attached the rope to broke, and I came to, surrounded by a mound of clothes and my sister’s disbelieving face in the doorway.
To this day, I remain convinced that something happened in the cosmic universe at that moment which said that this wasn’t my time to go yet. And miraculously afterwards, things slowly started to improve in my life.
My senior year, I had several inspirational teachers that coaxed a little bit of the new me out, bit by bit. They were patient, kind mentors who gave me a seed of hope that started to send out small roots. My grades improved, and by graduation, I had a fairly decent GPA that enabled me to get into college.
Starting over at a college out of state helped me escape the social stigmas that had plagued me in high school, and I started to grow more, and found even more positive challenges from my professors.
From there, I launched into a career in television, determined to make a name for myself, and was lucky enough to be on the team that won an Emmy Award for children’s programming. My career took some twists and turns after that point, but I was always able to roll my skill sets into the next position, which led to my being able to travel the world working as a tourism representative in Portland, Oregon. I had the incredible honor of being asked to be one of only 5 presenters providing regional updates to the all of the U.S. Commercial Service officials from across the world during a seminar at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, Germany. Additionally, I gave my first national convention session in Los Angeles to my industry peers, which was another thrill. The biggest honor came when two Oregon-based tour itineraries that I developed were recognized by the Clinton Administration White House under the Pathways 2000 Cultural Heritage project. I was invited to attend a reception in Washington, D.C. organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Since then, I worked at a event planning/tour company and also as a state school to career director with a trade association. In 2007, I launched my own business providing résumé writing services and traveling around the U.S. as a professional speaker on career management topics. One of the most recent highlights is when I was asked to be a columnist for two different magazines… one of my very few childhood dreams of being a published writer finally came true.
Then, earlier this year, a former high school classmate nominated me for the 2011 Distinguished Alumni Award, and the selection committee chose me. I was completely and utterly stunned. And very much humbled.
I flew back, nervous, to my hometown… I was to ride in the homecoming parade, and attend the homecoming football game where an announcement was made at halftime about my award. Most of the time, I was on the verge of tears… I am not normally a very emotional person but I found myself getting blurry-eyed on a number of occasions.
From a kid who had no hope and no vision for a future to being featured as a part of a parade was just unfathomable. Needless to say, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the circumstances that led to my being in that parade and winning this award. A lot of it has to do with always having some kind of hope and always believing in myself, no matter what.
And on that day in my hometown, in the stands at the homecoming football game, I sat alone in the crowd, just quietly observing and listening to the people around me. But I found myself looking back and peering intently into the stands. It wasn’t until later that I realized what it was that I was looking for – I was searching for a version of my former self… that lost, lonely kid who was unsure of themselves and their place in the world.
I wanted to find her, take her into my arms, and give her a big hug, and tell her that it was going to be okay. Everything was going to be all right, and that she just needed to believe in herself… anything IS possible.
YOU have your future in your hands, and always have the power to make choices. Sometimes you can’t see those choices, but it’s up to you to discover what they are and decide where you want to go with them.
But never, ever, stop believing in yourself. You never know where it will take you!