An incredibly shy, awkward, introverted young teenager walked the halls of high school with his head hung low, anxiously avoiding eye contact for fear of judgment and condemnation.
He rushed between classes, spending as little time as possible in the hallways and at his locker. And he often ate his lunch safely hidden in the back corner of the cafeteria.
I knew this teen very well. He was me.
The story I told myself was that I wasn’t cool enough to hang with the popular kids nor conversant enough to engage in interesting discussions. So I kept mostly to myself – immersed in schoolwork with very few friends.
I dreaded the first day of college, projecting my high school experiences onto a new population of nearly 20,000 students. The day I moved into my dorm, I said very little to my roommate, whom I had just met. This seemed to be fine with him as he was even more quiet, anxious, and reserved than me.
But that evening a spectacularly strange occurrence changed the rest of my life.
The university had three options for dining: a fast-food cafeteria, a more traditional menu-based restaurant, and walk-up food trucks parked along the road. That first evening, many students on my dorm floor were mulling around the hallway contemplating where they should eat dinner. It so happened that my room was in the middle of the hallway – just across from the elevators.
My door was ajar because my roommate chewed tobacco and I wasn’t particularly fond of the odor. So, I was attempting to create a draft between the door and the open window. A stranger poked his head in and asked, “Where are we eating dinner tonight?”
The question wasn’t directed to me or my roommate – it felt more like a rhetorical question of no one in particular. But then a mind-blowing thought occurred to me.
What if all my experiences from high school resulted from a story I had told myself – about myself – rather than me being the hapless victim of a cruel fate? If so, could I tell myself a different story? One in which I wasn’t uncool. One in which I wasn’t uninteresting.
Uncharacteristically, I called out to the masses in the hall, “We’re going to the fast-food cafe. I heard the french fries there are awesome.”
And with that one bold proclamation, nearly the entire 8th floor of Kelly Hall followed me to the cafeteria, where sure enough the fries were delicious. And from that moment on, I became the go-to person for nearly every random decision many of those students made over the following nine months.
In one instant I went from an outsider shunning attention and conversation to an insider around which much of campus life revolved for a handful of university students. I told myself a different story. That I was good enough. That I was interesting. And that one story, in that one moment, made all the difference.
Every day we are telling ourselves stories – about ourselves. Very often that story is that I am not [good, smart, tall, pretty, young, rich, funny, …] enough. Yet we fail to realize that not only are we the protagonist of those stories – but we are also the author. We write the script of our beliefs about ourselves. And as such, we can write any script we want.
The secret of salvation is but this: that you are doing this unto yourself. (T-27.VIII.10)
As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. (T-21.in.1)
The world you see merely represents your thoughts. And it will change entirely as you elect to change your mind. (W-pI.190.6)
Join us in Monday’s class where we will explore the stories we tell ourselves, and how we can pen a different story – one in which joy thoroughly permeates our experiences. I look forward to seeing you then.