When I was eight, my family moved back to South Africa from Canada. During the prior four years of living in Toronto, I was a feisty and outgoing kid. I loved to sing and dance and make up stories — and tried to find an audience wherever I went. I had no fear of talking to grown-ups or making new friends. I was the queen of my world, a leader in my friend group. Life was mine for the taking.
On my first day of school in Cape Town, I was amazed by how babyish the kids seemed. The schoolwork was easy and boring — we spent half the day practicing writing our letters. Upon arriving home, I announced to my parents that I wasn’t going back to school. This problem was solved by skipping me up a grade.
In my new class, I was befriended by a group of girls who were popular and pretty and shared my creativity and interests. We sang to Madonna and looked for fairies in our gardens. We made up dances and performed them for our parents. We dressed up and went trick-or-treating on Halloween — something that in the 90s in South Africa wasn’t really a thing.
Toward the end of the school year, without warning, they dumped me. There was no fight. No lead up. No obvious drama. One day we were best friends and the next day they wouldn’t talk to me. One day, I was the new girl who everyone wanted to play with, and the next nobody would include me in their games.
I interpreted what happened as there being something wrong with me. Maybe I was too joyful, too loud, too outgoing. Maybe I was too clever, too certain, too outspoken. Given that I had no idea what made me so unlikeable, I had no idea how to be with other people. I turned inward. I became shy. I became so terrified of a repeat rejection that I didn’t give anyone the opportunity to do it again.
At the age of nine, I lost the courage to be confident, to be happy. I had taken that rejection as a definitive statement of how the world would treat me if I was my authentic self. The story I told myself was that by trying to fit in, I could avoid that kind of rejection. If I didn’t stand out, I couldn’t be hammered down.
Unfortunately, that’s not how life works. The things we try to avoid most have a habit of turning into themes. We create coping mechanisms when we’re young and they lead us to repeat the same story over and over, further drilling our false views of ourselves into our personal narratives and identities.
Being the best version of ourselves takes courage. It takes the recognition that we are not our experiences or our childhood traumas. We get to shape the narratives of our lives by deciding what meaning we want to give to events. I can decide to be joy and power and radiance, or I can decide to be a shy wallflower who is going to be rejected by others. I can choose to be courageous and do the things that call to me — even if some people may not like me as a result — or I can choose to be fearful and settle for an unfulfilling existence…and probably still have some people dislike me all the same.
People love to read, watch and hear about courageous people. It takes courage to start a new business, to act in front of strangers, to write a book and put it out in the world. It takes courage to connect deeply with people we don’t know, to be our true selves in the face of potential rejection and ridicule. It takes courage to be our unbridled selves. It takes courage to change.
So really, it’s up to us. We can either believe we are our past experiences or we can strive to be the best version of ourselves. We can choose to believe the stories about trauma and how difficult it is to change, or we can take brave, bold leaps, and find ourselves again.
Despite the uncertainty and anxiety involved, I choose the latter. Today and every day, I choose to be brave and do the things that scare me. I choose to focus on what I can do right now to move forward one step at a time. I know it feels like a lot but I know it’s worth it. I hope you can find that part of yourself that knows this too and has the courage to do the same.
When I left my job this summer it was because I felt called to support others to find their stories and take the brave bold steps toward living their best lives. Right now, I’m doing it through story coaching, deep transformational coaching, and storytelling programs. If you’re curious about how I could help you change your life and business, I’d love to talk! My next storytelling program starts on November 25th!