I broke the school record for Women’s Long Jump when I was 14 years old. I wish I could say I had been anticipating the moment or that I had trained hard for it. I didn’t. There wasn’t anything crazy that happened afterwards either.
I lined up at my spot during our conference tournament, took a deep breath, and just ran as fast as I could. The only thing I thought about was hitting the line and making the jump. It was just that simple. In long jump you get three jumps and with my first one I broke the record. My next jump fell just short and my third jump tied it again. Many told me it was clear to see I had a track career in my future – maybe if I trained hard enough a college scholarship.
When I broke the record I ran over to the fence that surrounded the track and hugged my mom. Because long jump was relatively early on in the track program meant she would have left work early to make sure to see me. The picture that was taken of her and I that day I still have, fourteen years later, in my nightstand. As a teen I liked the picture because I thought my mom looked pretty and my smile looked nice. As an adult I like the simplicity the photo represents – the life my mom worked so hard to make sure we had.
The next year I trained and to be honest I overthought. I never broke my own record and by Senior Year of High School I stopped running track all together. The girl who broke the record couldn’t even finish out her high school career. What used to be a place of freedom for me, where I could run wildly and fly into the sand, became a place of overthinking and self-consciousness.
Why does that happen so often?
Why does the transition from childhood to adulthood reflect the same thing my track “career” reflected?
Why does the glamour and glitter of a free spirit get replaced with the belief we must carry the burden of people’s opinions of us and call them truth?
This self-consciousness and overbearing weight would walk with me most of my life. Let’s be serious it wasn’t just track – it was everything. In high school, if not sooner, you become acutely aware of what’s in, what’s out, and what you don’t want to be. Rather than keeping up with the Jones it’s more about not being THAT guy. You don’t need to be number one you just don’t want to be last.
“As long as I’m better than THAT person I’m ok.”
Most people survive it, get to college, and then begin to allow themselves to let go and learn who they really are outside the fences they grew up in. Some people, however, don’t grow outside of that mindset. They set off to understand who “THAT” is and grow entire principles and theologies against them. Race Wars. LGBT Outcasting. Sexual Slander at women. Disgusting immigration malice. That part of the company against this part of the company. Fat Jokes.Them verses us. I don’t see it as color verses another color or straight verses gay or man verses woman or legal verses illegal. I see it as human verses human.
These are human beings, breaking down humans beings, to be better than “THAT” human being.
When I’ve said this before people think I’m being too simplistic. But strip back the speeches full of fluff and hate … and you find humans hurting other humans. So yes simple but in a raw, ugly, painful kind of way.
Then there’s the other side of the coin. The side I landed on. Those who carried around those opinions as if they were truth cemented as their identity. The one who could no longer jump freely because the heaviness of being wrong or broken or simply not enough felt overwhelming.
Isn’t that the meat of it all? We just want to be enough. We just want to know we matter. That our story is worth reading… to somebody. And not in the way that pages will be torn out and plastered for those to ridicule and snarl at. But in a way that maybe someone feels hope or inspiration or just… kindness towards us.
So the story that could have been written begins to type out in invisible ink. The fear of rejection, cruelty, and abandonment strips us of the author pen. I don’t mean to dismiss God – I know he’s out there and watching me every day. I also know that we are meant to be active participants in our stories and when we hand over our story for someone else to write we rob ourselves of the two things everyone was created to experience.
The critics aren’t going to go away. Where there are people still needing to be better than THAT guy and opinions who can only see so far, there will be ridicule. What I’m trying to say is living out your story, your TRUE STORY, isn’t easy. Most of the time it’s a series of hard choices, moments of doubt, and sometimes even guilt. Yes guilt. Guilt of removing the bondage of someone else’s opinion of us. Opinion isn’t fact and letting someone else decide who you are isn’t the way to live.To be pretty brutally honest even if you do live exactly how someone wants you to that doesn’t mean they won’t find the next thing to pick at. Critics will always be critics and to a lot of us that is a scary thing.
With those scary moments, though, there is also freedom. A freedom I cannot give you in real words. A freedom that almost feels mystical because so many of us are so far from it.
Some people would rather live in the comfort of being hidden and less because it feels safer. Don’t be that person. Who you are matters. That is my daily, hourly, moment by moment mantra. It is tattooed on my heart and before I die I hope to tattoo it on the hearts of as many people as possible.
Be you. Be whole. Say no when no is appropriate. Stand up and push back with grace and humility when someone tells you that you are less. Break down hate with the reciprocation of compassion. When people throw punches it may bruise from time to time but don’t you dare let it scar. You are more than the opinions of others. You hold more value than the depths of their wounds.
Day by day we have to remove the weights wrapped around our ankles and stop drowning in the opinions of others. Critics are going to be critics. Haters are going to be haters. Or in the words of T. Swift “The Haters gonna hate, hate, hate… Shake it off, Shake it off.”
The fact of the matter is people are miserable out there – but you don’t have to be one of them. Changing takes courage. It takes the willingness to go against the current. Some days it will be liberating and other days it will be exhausting but it will always be a worthy cause because it’s your cause. Your life. Your story. We either go out there and write our story or we live the narrative someone else puts together for us.
Critics will always be critics. It’s not your job to change them because it’s not your choice – it’s theirs. You want a chance at improving people’s perceptions? Go out and live a life that makes them watch (even if they don’t want admit it). A life of Wholeness. Happiness. Worthiness. Grace for others and yourself. Take a risk on yourself. Surround yourself with a few really great people who actually want you happy and lean on their advice. Don’t depend on the advice of those who are only around or positive when it’s about meeting their needs. Remember false guilt should never be a motivator. Stop chasing past expectations and start dreaming of new horizons. Let it scare you a little – that means it matters. Be proud of who you are even if that means you are a work in progress.
Want to know how to get started? Be you… and see where that takes you. I bet it’s pretty freaking amazing.