Years ago I met a woman who was on a personal journey of self-discovery. She had been abandoned by her mother as a child and her father passed away when she was just a little girl. She found herself farmed out to her wealthy grandparents who sent her off to boarding school for 10 1/2 months of the year. She grew up never really feeling loved. The amazing thing was that she was determined to feel self-worth and self-love and find a community of friends to fill in the gaps where her family had failed. I was so intrigued by her because my reality was so completely different and I was amazed by her ability to make conscious decisions to be someone and do something that her whole life up until adulthood fought against. I had never thought too much about who I was or who I wanted to be and certainly never realized I had the power to effect this.
It amazed me. Life experience told my friend that she was unlovable yet she somehow knew otherwise and I needed to know how. So, I started paying close attention to what she did and said. At the time we both worked in a painfully dysfunctional and abusive work environment yet she managed to find the positive. I learned plenty of things from her and began to look at myself with a much more critical eye after knowing her. I learned so much and began to make changes in my own life. I mean, come on. If she could do it then I had no excuse.
There is one thing that she taught me that I live by every single day. She would say to me, “Live your life consciously. Know that every interaction you have with another person is an opportunity. You can decide to have a positive impact and make someone feel good or you can decide to do the opposite. But always know that the choice is yours.” Wow. The power in those words. The power of each of us as individuals. I was suddenly able to see that I couldn’t control what happened to me but I certainly could control how I reacted. I finally understood and truly felt one of my favourite quotes that has since become somewhat of a personal mantra. It was this famous quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:
Does this sound all spiritual and out there? Well believe me it’s not. I am a pretty regular gal whose motivation is, simply, to be happy. The reason it works? It is simple and it’s all within my control. I can decide to smile at someone and acknowledge them or I can choose to look away. I can decide to get angry over a mistake or a problem or I can choose to approach it calmly and without blame. I can choose to pass judgment or I can choose to accept and embrace our differences. The point is, I choose which means that no one else decides for me.
Sometimes people will say to me, “Oh, I don’t like her. She never smiles at me.” or “I don’t think that person likes me.” And all I can think is “why?” Most people want to like other people, right? Even if they don’t want to be best-friends I am sure most people are open to a smile or even a quick chat. I am always surprised when people make these assumptions because don’t you think they must have been doing exactly the same thing? Did you smile at them? Did you make the effort? I rarely, if ever, have smiled at someone and didn’t get at least a hint of a smile in return. Even a perfect stranger. Assuming they actually saw you smile or recognized that you were making an effort to reach out to them, why would they not be interested?
What I learned way back when from my friend is that I have the power to make the best out of my life, to be happy, and to connect with others. If they don’t reciprocate then too bad for them. I won’t stop smiling and I won’t take it personally. Feeling that you are worthy is one thing but acknowledging that most things other people do or say are out of your control is the real lesson. However, the one thing that so many people, amazingly, don’t realize actually IS within your control is how you react and how you let it impact you.
Now let me clarify. It has been a lengthy process getting to this point. When I was in my mid-twenties and met this woman I was insecure and sensitive and reactionary. Although my life was generally happy I spent way too much energy on external things that sucked me dry and never helped make my life better. It has taken me many, many years to retrain myself and convince myself I am worthy. Sometimes I still falter and take things personally or wallow in the negative but years of practice have shown me how to pull-up my socks (thanks to my mom for that phrase) and regroup. Believe me, it’s worth it. Life is far more enjoyable this way when the choice is yours.