Updated: Dec 10, 2019
The year was 1985. I was 14 years old, and my ego continued to be bruised by people who decided it was their obligation to announce my imperfections. There was the time I was sitting in my American Government class, wearing a pink and white dress – and feeling unusually confident for a middle school wallflower. My jovial, good-natured history teacher, Mr. Phillips, even exclaimed, "You look like Miss America today, LeAnn!” Boy, I was on top of the world – for about 2.3 seconds – when the tall, popular boy seated next to me rolled his eyes and said, "Miss America – yeah, right!"
Later that year, my best friend’s cooler, older sister proclaimed on the morning bus ride to school – "the only good thing about LeAnn is her hair."
Have you ever fallen into the trap of caring a little too much about what everyone else thinks of you– and then defining yourself in that way?
A few years back, I ran into a very long-time family friend who has a daughter my age. I asked about her daughter – and I received no response about her daughter’s career as a medical professional, her beautiful children, or her marriage. Instead, I received the following response: "Oh, she's like you – she's gained a bunch of weight. You know you aren't what you used to be." After thinking, “did she mean to say that out loud?” I couldn't help but notice that her words didn't sting like they would have when I was 14. I honestly felt amused – and strangely empowered.
Because this woman has only had sporadic contact with me for the past 30 years, I can only assume she was comparing me to the 18-year-old version of myself. “You aren’t what you used to be.” She had no idea how right she was when she said that.
Yes, I am much bigger than I was as a teenager. I’m no longer a size 6 with a fresh face – living for the weekend party, refusing to look the world in the eye, and not understanding my worth. On the outside, I am just a larger, somewhat wrinkled, version of that 18-year-old girl. Those are the unimportant ways that I have changed. The most meaningful difference is that I like myself now, and I am not overly concerned with the opinions of others. Age has provided me with the beauty that can only come from confidence, compassion, and gratitude. Maturity has allowed me to understand that I earned every wrinkle, I am worthy with extra inches, and there are no accessories more fabulous than a quick smile and a kind heart.
In the past 30 years, I gave birth to three human beings who made me want to be a better human being. I no longer looked at the world through a lens of how I expected people to treat me, but rather, how I want my children to be treated, accepted, and nurtured. My kids have taught me how enormously other people love you even when you aren't perfect; when you believe with your whole heart that you are doing everything wrong and failing everyone. Motherhood has taught me patience, unconditional love, and the joy of being home on a Saturday night, making memories with my family.
In the past 30 years, life has kicked my butt a time or two – or a few hundred. I have failed in too many ways to count. I have made bad decisions and wrong choices. My failures proved to me that I tried. My mistakes taught me that accountability is the most critical lesson for moving forward in a meaningful way. I am not less because I am flawed.
In the past 30 years, I have lost many people I loved and cherished; many, far too soon. These losses taught me gratitude for the people and circumstances that have provided so much joy. It has been a reminder to live every day to the fullest. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
We are who we are because of our unique journey – the choices we’ve made, the experiences we’ve had, and the people we have loved.
I urge you to not only decide who you are but love who you are. Because I promise you, you are not your mistakes, your struggles, or your failures. Just like me, you are not who you used to be. You are better — every day.
Choose Happy –