I have been on quite a few little trips (nothing ‘big’ or culturally shocking… yet); I’ve seen concerts that made me feel alive and intense and more present than I ever knew I could feel. But… once these experiences are over, they become a part of your memory bank – they may momentarily take you out of your homeostasis, and they may make you appreciate what you have, where you have stepped and walked and breathed, and who your real friends are. You may be able, for years, to speak to these experiences and how amazing they were. But I’m of the opinion that they are not ‘life-changing’ – at least, not the extent as we think they might be in the moment.
To me, only YOU can change your life. And it doesn’t come from getting on a plane or meeting ‘the right person’ or being what you think you want to be. To me, a true “life-changing” experience is when you can look back on that moment for your own self, and realize that before and after a moment, a time, a period, and suddenly have an a-ha moment when you realize you are NOT the same person at all from before that moment, to now.
I used to think my weight loss journey changed my life; it didn’t. I lacked confidence and the ability to go after what I wanted when I was overweight, and I felt unpretty and unloveable and unwanted. But 60lb lost and I still feel this way sometimes. It’s a mindset that stayed, despite the changing of my physical shell. I am healthier on the outside now, and I certainly notice the ways in which people look at me and treat me based on my physical appearance. But, at the end of the day, my consciousness was more or less the same.
I used to think meeting my idol would change my life. And even that didn’t change my life; rather, I felt a sense of wholeness in that moment and in retrospect, a sense of sheer disbelief that I was fortunate enough to have that moment at all. But, it certainly didn’t permanently change me in any way.
If I had to choose actual ‘life-changing’ moments, I would argue that either my journey to becoming a teacher changed my life, and my first heartbreak changed my life. Both of these periods of time re-shaped and re-framed my existence, my ways of thinking about the world, my opinions about life. Both of these occurrences involved very high highs and also profoundly low lows that helps me to re-evaluate my place in the world, my interactions with men, my responsibility to youth as I attempt to step forward into this profession.
Heartbreak taught me that sometimes there isn’t a “Happily ever after” and we’ll never ever know exactly why that’s the case, but eventually we must reach a place where we’re okay with that fact. Heartbreak taught me that you must grieve for as long as it takes; even if you’re ashamed of your grief, even if it makes you jealous and messes with your head and it hurts like a physical stabbing pain. Heartbreak taught me that other people should not be responsible at all for your happiness, your confidence, your feelings. YOU are. Only you. And if you do enough to distract yourself, empower yourself, instill confidence in yourself and make yourself happy and whole and healthy, then you will realize you never needed anyone – especially the person that you thought you needed.
Teaching taught me that in life, assertiveness is one of the most important qualities you can have. And although I’ve by no means mastered the ability to be consistently assertive and ask for what I want and need out of life, I have stepped towards that in a way I didn’t think was possible. Teaching taught me that I don’t believe in things I thought were important – I didn’t believe in feedback if a grade was good (or bad) because the end justified, or pulverized, the means; I believed that teachers didn’t work as hard as everyone proclaimed they did; I believed that teaching meant working in isolation, and not really ‘asking for help’; and I believed that myself as a professional could be, and should be, the same as myself as just me. And all of these beliefs were completely shattered once I stood up in front of a class. Teaching taught me that despite being overworked and stressed and devoting 16-17 hours a day to my vocation, when that hard work pays off, it makes you feel like all is right in the world, and that was a kind of day-to-day accomplishment that I had never experienced before. I was for the first time, a leader, facilitator, mentor, creative mind behind all of my daily tasks, and I had free reign to decide how things would be done and adapt my own practice to suit the needs of those around me. I was in charge. I had never, ever been in charge before. It was an incredible and empowering feeling, and it took me too long to get used to it. Teaching also taught me that looking back is more than just fondness or anger or regret; it is also a window into your future, the opportunity to not make the same mistakes again and if you use those opportunities wisely there is a lot of strength in that experience.
Do I believe that in life, there are really experiences that can “change” everything? Within reason, yes and no. But ultimately I believe that we are in charge of our destinies and being in the right place at the right time, is not going to change anything. Only we can change ourselves. So that we aren’t shaped by experiences, but experiences are shaped by us.