Yesterday, I was flying back to Charlotte from a business trip to Indianapolis. I recently attained Silver Preferred status on U.S. Airways, and lucky me, I got a free upgrade to first class on my flight home!
As I was relaxing into my extra roomy seat on the plane, it struck me just how far I’ve come. Everyone has a self-concept – an idea of what kind of person you are and what you are capable of. My self-concept seems to have been forged primarily in high school and college.
In a nutshell, I was a nerdy shy girl in high school. I was very quiet and didn’t speak up very much. I hated public speaking. I did everything I could to avoid drawing attention to myself, and when I did receive it, it made me supremely uncomfortable. I excelled in school and in dance, which were really the only two areas in my life that I had any confidence in. I was bullied by others throughout middle school and high school, which really adversely affected my self-esteem. My twin sister and I were together almost all of the time, so I rarely had to do anything alone, which made me happy because I wasn’t independent at all. The thought of doing anything alone petrified me.
College was a little bit better, but in all honesty, I used alcohol as a crutch to overcome my shyness and lack of confidence. It might have seemed like progress at the time, but in hindsight, I wasn’t changing who I was, I was simply using booze to cover up who I really was, but didn’t want to be. When I was sober, I was the same high school geek. To make matters worse, I quit dance my freshman year and started slacking off a bit in my studies, so I lost the two things that had always been a source of pride for me. I still knew I was smart, but in a school of 50,000 students, I clearly wasn’t the intellectual cream of the crop anymore. Although I probably could have gone to pretty much any university I wanted to, I decided to stay local because I couldn’t even entertain the notion of venturing off into some new place where I didn’t know anyone and start over from scratch by myself.
So, I am sitting on the plane thinking about how different things are now, especially the past year or two. I vividly remember being the shy, co-dependent, fearful girl I was in high school. And in some ways, I still am her. But now I have become the girl who raced up the corporate ladder and became a manager at a Fortune 100 company at 24 years old. I have become the girl who put on stripper heels and a tiny bikini and got on stage in front of hundreds of strangers. I have become the girl who left everything and everyone I had known for 27 years to move to a place I had never been before to start life over from scratch. I have become the girl who “networks” with my colleagues and presents to prospective clients when there are hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars on the line. I have become the girl who, for better or worse, does almost everything alone and independently.
I am not one of those people who believes “everything happens for a reason,” at least not in the sense that most people do. What I do see is how every decision I have made in my past has led me to exactly where I am and who I am today. In hindsight, I see the consequences of the paths I’ve chosen, and often things that seemed trivial at the time were in fact pivotal moments. I am very proud of who I am, where I am, and what I have accomplished at this point in my life. The way that I got here was by embracing what was uncomfortable and doing the things I feared. They were small steps, but over time, those small steps have turned into leaps and bounds. And in the long run, it has changed who I am as a person for the better. The things that once paralyzed me no longer hold me back. Fear is something I run to instead of run from. But if I had never had the courage to step outside my comfort zone in the first place, I would very likely be the same person I was a decade ago, which would be a shame.
The message I want to convey in sharing this is that you are not boxed in to being a certain type of person for your whole life. What you achieve is dictated primarily by the limits you perceive, which in many cases, aren’t real. Be open to the possibility of change. Learn to see the things that make you uncomfortable or fearful as opportunities for growth and embrace them. I actually get excited when I get an opportunity to do something that scares me because I know it will help me become a better person. There is nothing that will make you feel more confident and capable than facing something that scares you head on and conquering it. And finally, give yourself credit for what you have accomplished. My high school self-concept has become obsolete. It’s time to upgrade and update the way I see myself and what I am capable of. Competing in bikini is scary to me. You have to be sexy to compete in bikini. Guess what is not a part of my current self-concept – sexy! It’s time to do something about that 🙂