To use (the circumstances of our lives) or not to use — that is the question: Are you using your stories or being used by them?
When you are in the thick of it — you know, the heat of an issue, something that is beating you down and sucking the joy right out of you — it’s difficult to conjure rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, all of this ‘just think happy thoughts’ sounds like spiritual rhetoric, blah, blah, blah. And in fact, can make you feel even further from it. Nothing against happy thoughts, but they alone aren’t going to solve problems. They are simply tools.
I recently stood before a group of high school students to speak about a bit of my life journey. They like to see and hear about my previous modeling career. I like to work as an undercover agent and thread that all together with modes of inspiration and self-empowerment — and to hopefully spark them (because of course, I know all the punch lines, the potholes and realities along the road to here, the behind-the-scenes truth of it all. I also know that if I can make, it so can they).
The content of my speaking, much like my life, has evolved. As I have healed, I have begun to not only to see my story differently, I tell my story differently. And more importantly I see how the story of my life threads back to that adolescent me, and how I had been leaving breadcrumbs, messages for myself that I would ultimately find my way back to reclaim.
Many of the young people I was talking to came from pretty rough situations and contended with realities that no child should face.
Some were homeless. Some were being bounced around the foster care system. Some were victims of abuse. And while that wasn’t my experience as an adolescent, my adversity had come in a different flavor. It was from that space of commonality, the messiness of our human experience, that I would try to meet them.
They didn’t need me to stand before them and spew platitudes — to watch the ‘Kristen Show’ on the overhead projector. They didn’t need to see glamorous images of me pulled from glossy magazines. But what they did need was to hear my real stories — the stories beneath the pictures and the experiences.
I watched their faces as they viewed the slideshow. Afterwards I asked them, What did you see? What did all of that look like to you? I got many of the expected responses: exciting, fun, travel, etc. And then one young woman lifted her head and blurted out, privileged. That one response landed like a lead balloon, but touched my heart so deeply. Yes. It was privileged. Her simple, yet poignant response told me so much about how my perceived life made her feel about hers. Bingo, there it was. How many times in life do we play out that game in our heads? How many times do we compare ourselves to another, to what they appear to have, to have accomplished, to have experienced — and then use it as a means to feel worse about ourselves?
This one-word response, this one reaction, was a welcomed relief, a sacred moment of truth that created the space for us to meet within. It allowed me to show up for her and to guide her to do the same for herself. The sugar plums that started dancing in my head were not about saving her, they were about activating her to see her own power. How could I help her believe that she could take this harsh and bitter pill she had been served and transform it into meaning? How could I help her see that it could serve a purpose, that she could use it and not be used by it?
As I went on to share the real story behind my experiences, to share what I see now when I look at those images, an authentic conversation unfolded.
As parents and teachers, we often edit the stories of our lives — and I’m not even talking about the big stuff. I’m talking about all the smaller in-between moments. The times when we felt the gamut of disempowering emotions — failure, disappointment, shame, unworthiness, insecurity, uncertainty — when we didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. We keep these memories stored away in the name of protection. But painting a different picture, hiding our emotions away doesn’t make them not so.
The golden thread to all healing is truth. When we tell the truth we can help ourselves, and each other.
Look, I wish I had a magic wand that I could have waved about that day. I would have healed every wound in that room. I would have changed every painful circumstance and extracted every ounce of suffering. However, I can’t save anyone. It isn’t possible to save another. A true fairy tale happy ending isn’t one of waving magic wands. It is about empowering others to find the way to their best selves, the only self that can save themselves.
It took me a long time to retrace the breadcrumbs of my life, to go back and pick them up — and to thread it all together, understanding how it led to here in this moment (side note: still threading). And even though I stood speaking before those young people, in many ways our interaction that day took me from teacher to student and giver to receiver. They reminded me that, just like the words I was saying to them, we are not the stories of our lives. We are not the actions of others. We are not our financial balance sheets, our race, our sexual orientation, our careers, etc. They are just the pieces and parts that make up our unique, brilliant Technicolor Dreamcoat of this thing called life.
We get to decide to use our circumstances and not be used by them. This is our best self superpower, the true magic wand. Ready to start waving that about?
Is there a place you’re holding onto something, a story that is using you and not the other way around? Share with me in the comments below. Let’s flip this thinking on its side.