Today I was listening to an interview on British radio. They were interviewing a black woman from South Africa and talking to her about apartheid and growing up in a society that told her she was less than human. A society that reinforced all her doubts and insecurities about herself. She talked about how she had to pull herself out of a negative mindset by realizing that her biography did not determine her destiny.
Immediately I thought about my students in Kenya. Many of them went days without food, showed up to class wearing torn clothing with only rubber sandals on their feet. However, they showed up eager to learn and with aspirations of becoming doctors, lawyers, politicians and even becoming the president of Kenya. They lived in a society that didn’t care for them and didn’t acknowledge them. Still, they create beauty, dream big and work diligently on their goals. I truly believe they will succeed at whatever it is they set out to do.
When I thought about myself, however, I realized that I have been living as if my past, my biography, who I was 20 years ago, determines who I am today and what I will become. This idea is self-defeating and a problem in our society. We think, “I was awkward and weird in Middle School and so that is all I will ever be,” “My parents are overweight, so I am overweight,” “I didn’t do well in chemistry, so I am stupid,” “I am the youngest, so everyone will always see me as just a kid,” etc. I remember a family member once telling me that I could never have a flat stomach because my dad’s side of the family all have soft bellies. This is something I believed for a long time until I was old enough to realize that it was a ludicrous idea and, if I worked hard at it, I could get a flat stomach just like everyone else.
I told a friend the other day that I fail at relationships. I said I was never in a relationship in high school and college so I never learned how to make them work. I told her I always felt clueless in my current relationship and constantly felt like I was screwing things up. The fact is, this was not true. I have had friends and maintained them for more then 20 years. I have friends all over the world that I talk to on a regular basis. Just because I didn’t date all through high school and college like I assumed everyone else did, doesn’t mean I don’t know how relationships work.
Just because I don’t have athletes in my immediate family, it doesn’t mean I am not an athlete myself. I have completed 2 full marathons and 2 half marathons and I still catch myself apologizing to people and saying I’m not a “real” runner. The fact is that I am a runner. I run two or three times a week. I will no longer let who I was in high school determine who I am today. The last thing I want is to get to my 40’s and still be able to relate to the person I was when I was 18. That girl was nutty, sloppy, uncertain of herself, and knew so little about the world.
At 34, I know who I am. I know what I want. I want to be a writer. I want to be a runner. I want to be a yogi. I want to be in a happy, loving relationship. I want to see the world with someone who wants to see it with me. I have spent way too much time telling myself I couldn’t have these things and didn’t deserve them because of the person I was yesterday and 10 years ago. Today, I stop. Today I am a writer, a runner, a yogi, and know I will have a loving relationship and see the world. Today I stop looking backwards and only see what is before me.