We all have experiences from our past that haunt us, influence us and affect the decisions we make today. Some experiences are so painful that we alter the very course of our lives based off of decisions that were made while in the midst of the resulting pain or despair. The precise moment that we have such an experience, combined with the resulting choices and decisions that we have to make, become a fork in the road of our lives.
Here is my fork in the road…
For as long as I can remember I have been a person who I consider to be either in the middle of the road or sub-par. In school I knew I could do much better than I did, but for some reason, I wouldn’t put in the effort to even try and do better. I tried so little in fact, that I eventually just dropped out. At work I would let myself get to a certain comfort level and then back off. It’s not that I didn’t have plenty of opportunities to excel and go further. Rather, with every new opportunity to do something a little more challenging – but something I knew I would love doing and could raise me up the corporate ladder – I would find a way out of it. My job at a news radio station is a perfect example. I worked really hard to get the job and I loved it beyond belief, even though I was in the lowest position a person in the newsroom could work. I was given three different offers that would have promoted me but I talked my way out of all three and I eventually left.
Another example was when I was hired as a writer for an online city guide. I liked the job but it was hard for me because I really struggle with grammar. So rather than pushing ahead with being a writer, I took a position in what was probably the lowest team on the company’s totem pole doing mainly data entry. Even though I eventually worked my way up to managing that team, I always knew I could have been doing so much more.
Recently, I had an opportunity to co-host a Blogtalk radio show and help grow Soulgineering.com. For a time there, I was soaring pretty high; I actually loved waking up every morning. On radio show days, I would wake up hours earlier then I needed to, just so that I would have the chance to think about the upcoming show, what I would learn from our guest and the questions I would ask. I was in love. But the moment the opportunity came up to take over the Soulgineering site or take over the Blogtalk radio show and do them on my own, I reverted right back to the old me that I had become accustomed to. If it takes too much effort, or if I am putting myself out there too much, I will just find a way to make it all go away.
And this is how the story of my life has gone. Now for the fork in the road.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at a restaurant where I had done some photography work and one of the employees, a young man in his early 20’s, said he wanted to ask me a question. He explained that he didn’t want me to get offended or misunderstand him. Immediately my curiosity was piqued. Little did I know that what he would ask me would spark a huge shift in my life. He asked me one simple question: “Why aren’t you great yet?” The moment those words flew out of his mouth, I knew exactly what he meant by it. It was almost as if I knew that someday, someone would ask me this very same question. He wanted to know how someone with a personality like mine had not yet become well-known or successful. He added, “If someone like you hasn’t managed to become successful, how am I supposed to?” I was completely floored but more than anything, I was embarrassed.
The young man at the restaurant had picked up on a secret dream of mine. When I worked at that radio station or even when I co-hosted that little Blogtalk show, I had wanted to be well known. I know this might sound vain but it really isn’t. I love talking, asking questions, sharing information and the more people I could share it with, the more I loved it. Even though I wasn’t surprised by the question, I was stumped because I didn’t have a ready answer. However, I did know that it all just didn’t make sense. How could I have these daydreams and yet not believe in myself to actually accomplish what I was dreaming? What was causing the roadblock that seemed to get in my way everywhere I went? I thought long and hard about what he was saying and then I I came to a realization: all along the way, I had had people in my life that tried to lift me up, people that supported me and people that believed in me a lot more than I believed in myself. I could see that the supportive network was there, yet I still didn’t know what these people saw in me that I couldn’t see in myself.
When I came home from the restaurant, I told my girlfriend about it and she posed the same question to me, why haven’t I become successful? I even called one of my close friends and when I told them about the conversation, they literally said they felt like they were pounding their head against the wall with me about this very same thing. It suddenly dawned on me that I owed it to that young man, to my girlfriend, to my amazing friends that kept offering support, but mostly to myself, to look for the answer. I asked myself “Why am I so afraid to put myself out there and just go for it?” I tried all the rational answers on for size, but the truth is that I am not scared of failure or success. The truth is that there was something much deeper at play.
For a couple of days this conundrum was constantly on my mind. Then one night while sleeping, I kept replaying a childhood memory almost as if it were a nightmare. Only it wasn’t a nightmare but a very real experience. In my memory-dream, I was about 10 or 11 years old. My mom was at work and my brother and I were going to spend the day with my dad’s best friend and his kids. I got all dressed up, in a long brown skirt and boots (with a little heal). I even did my hair. I wanted to make sure that I was I perfect so that my dad would be proud of me and to not give him any reason to lose his temper on me. As far as I can remember the day did turn out to be perfect. We had a lot of fun and I have no memory of anything going wrong. However, when we got home my dad started telling my brother and I what a disappointment we are and how his friend’s kids were so much better and smarter than we were. Then my dad focused his attention solely on me and told me that I could try and dress up however I wanted, but that I would still be fat and ugly and stupid and worthless, and so on and so forth. He paid special attention to making me understand how ugly and fat I was – probably because he knew I had tried to look pretty. All I could do was cry, but he just kept getting angrier and angrier until he found the perfect solution. He grabbed an apple and put it in my mouth and made me sit in the corner of the kitchen and said, “Now you look like a real pig.”
I don’t know how long I sat there like that or for how long my dad and my brother teased me with pig sounds and laughed at me. Eventually I found that I had drooled all down the front of my shirt and my skirt (because I couldn’t swallow due to the apple in my mouth). To make matters even worse, my dad broke out the Polaroid camera and took a picture so he could show my mom when she got home. When she did, I was still sitting in the corner with the apple in my mouth. He showed her the picture and laughed the whole time. She laughed right along with him. That was the end of the memory-dream. It was very powerful and was played on a loop all night long. I even woke up, watched television for an hour, and fell right back into the same dream.
At first, I didn’t understand the connection between this memory and the puzzle I was trying to solve. I was perplexed. Why was I remembering this now? Why did it play repeatedly in my mind? This was one of many childhood memories I had never wanted to remember again. That’s when the answer came to me. This was the fork in my road. The present-day me had traveled back to hear the thoughts of the little me: how it felt to get all dressed up and how happy I thought my dad would be by my efforts, only to find myself sitting in the corner humiliated with the apple in my mouth. I felt the heat of that little girl’s tears and heard her think to herself, “Never again.” And from that moment, I never again tried too hard at anything.
Even though I could feel little Dawn’s pain, I knew the present-day me, the big Dawn, could change how this moment affected me from now on. I was able to look back and see and experience the same situation, but I was now able to see it from the perspectives of my dad, my brother and my mom. I saw that my brother was just looking for my dad’s approval and at the same time, if he kept my dad focused on me, then the abuse wouldn’t fall on him. My mom laughed only out of fear of what would happen to her if she didn’t. In truth, she was horrified at his treatment of me. As for my dad (I could say a lot about how I know this but that will have to wait for another article), what I now saw was that every awful, horrible thing he was saying to me was exactly how he felt about himself. The truth was, he thought his friend was better looking because he was thin, tall, dark and handsome. My dad felt he was fat, short, dark and ugly. My dad resented that his friend was a great dad and his kids genuinely liked him; unlike my dad, whose kids were terrified of him.
When all these thoughts dawned on me, both little Dawn and big Dawn were able to see the truth. Even though we had had this humiliating experience, it truly had nothing to do with my attempt to try to be the best I could be. The truth was that when I was getting ready that day, I felt pretty and I felt proud. That was my truth. The horrible results were because of someone else’s thoughts of failure within themselves. And the other people involved responded out of fear and not because they thought I was fat and ugly. As I realized the truth of the situation, I also realized that this was my chance to change things for the better. I found myself back at the fork in the road – the moment when I could make a decision to have this experience propel me rather than inhibit me. I have decided to take the fork that leads to success. However, this time I am grabbing little Dawn’s hand and taking her with me.
Join me on my new quest for greatness: Soulgineering Radio, on Blogtalk radio starting April 4th at 10am PST.
Image courtesy of Photos8.com.