Almost all, if not all, of us have had experiences that negatively impacted our lives. For many those experiences, whether they area a single event or a series of occurrences, become defining moments that shape our personality. These experiences may not only play a part in shaping who we are, but sometimes our lives from that point forward become defined by that moment or experience.
For me, it was really a series of events that last all four years of high school. Stick with me as I set this up and share my experience. Growing up (and still today!) I had great family. My parents were amazing. I had the best grandparents and uncle and aunt. We were close, both geographically and in spending time together. So nothing negative in my life experience stemmed from my upbringing or family life. In my case for whatever reason, somewhere along the way in elementary and middle school I naturally gravitated to being a shy kid, lacking the self confidence to step out into new situations or meet new people. I became really focused in some ways of what people thought of me. Now, socially in school was a tough gig. My father not only taught at the school where I attended but he was in the upper levels of administration as well. So can you guess how many kids wanted to really be friend with Mr. Hathaway's kid? Not many and the one or two I had ended up moving as we entered middle school so I always felt pretty much on my own. Through the middle school years it wasn't much more than the occasional picking that kids do, except that I know deep down that I wasn't really accepted and part of the "in crowd". Emotionally what happened during the week stuck with me even away from that environment. With the exception of my best friend growing up, I didn't have close friends that'd I'd spend time with. And, being shy and lacking self confidence I certainly wasn't going to put myself out there to try and meet new people just so I could be rejected. You know what I mean? Now keep in mind, whether or not what I perceived was reality, it was my reality and what I experienced generally only served to reinforce that self view.
So now we move into the high school years. The school I attend was small. Super small. K-12 all on one campus and in three interconnected buildings. My classes pretty much ranged from 18-25 kids all the way from K-12th grade, so it wasn't like you could hide or have a plethora of new people to get to know each year. It was basically a continuation of where you left off. For may kids, the middle school years are the hardest. Nope. Not for me. High school was brutal. On one hand, I played multiple sports (basketball and baseball) and things were fine on a team level but those same people were the ones I had to deal with day in and day out. Looking back on it with time and maturity, do I think that most people had the intention of being mean, hurtful, and exclusionary? No. But in the moment; in that time as I was growing and beginning to really develop my identity, I felt like one kid standing alone against a daily onslaught of emotional arrows. Honestly, without two good buddies that were a year ahead of me I'm not sure I would have made it. Seriously. There were days I just wanted it all to be over, either for me or them.
At this point, my dad was the high school guidance counselor and coordinator, as well as teaching a class or two. And you know how it goes; when students don't like the teacher or administrator who actually holds them accountable for their actions and behavior then all they do is have unpleasant things to say about that person. So here I am, I've been with most of these students my entire academic life, never really fitting in, and now a few are (for lack of a better term) making fun of my dad. Talking crap. Now my dad's a confident man so I know he's not one to let it bother him. Heck, he knew what students were like. I knew he knew. And the truth is, most of the students that came through that school while he was there would probably freely admit as adults that he did more for them than they ever realized. But, as a young man who loves his dad it's not easy to hear day in and day out; especially when comments are directed right at you. And what am I going to do? I have three options. One, change schools to where I know basically no-one and there's no guarantee I'll be able to play sports (the only, and I mean only thing I enjoyed about school) or fit in there (remember my shyness and lack of self-confidence?). Two, let the school principal step in and do something (which he offered to do, but c'mon; you know how that would have gone over right? I'd have never lived that down. Three, suck it up, stick it out, and hope it just stopped. I opted for three. But, for four years I dealt with this. It was my reality for 9 months of the year for four years. Not feeling accepted by your peers; having your father insulted, made fun of, and then having a few select individuals put it on you and everyone else just laughs to go along with it. Emotionally I was just wrecked. Through those years I really wasn't sure how to be confident in myself. I wasn't mature enough to not care. And due to being a follower of Christ and having a family name to honor I couldn't unless the full measure of my emotions on those who I had to take it from each day. In all seriousness, I can understand how some kids turn to violence in school. For some kids, that is the only way you feel like you can make certain hurts stop; the only way to make your peers understand the depth of their exclusion.
In the end, I made it. I made it out. I made it into the world where I didn't have to see any of those people again if I didn't want to. But now what? Who am I? I don't know. I don't feel confident. Not even sure I feel like a "man" because I never stood up for myself, never had the confidence to really date (although I did have a girlfriend for a year or so, which I have no idea how that happened. Church. That's how. Nobody there knew me from school. Thank goodness!). At that point though, I was defined by my lack of confidence developed throughout those years and that experience.
Now what happens to us when our lives become defined or so heavily influenced by our past? It limits us. It limits us in the present and for the future. We are limited in our relationships both with our family and in meeting new people. We have negative self-talk that feeds our lack of self-confidence. It creates a mindset filter that almost always lets us only see the negative in situations or opportunities. Even our health can be limited. We suffer from constant emotional stress which in turn creates biological stress. It increases inflammation and toxicity in our bodies which only serves to make us feel worse physically which feeds into feeling worse emotionally. It becomes a vicious cycle. It hinders trying to successfully navigate the world and really enjoy the fullness of life.
Now, what if it doesn't have to be that way? What if the outcome and the impact could be different? What if you and I could change how those defining, negative experiences influence who we are and what we do?
Stay tuned to find out. The story isn't over yet.