The greatest weapon you can carry is self-awareness. When you know who you are, you’re no longer a victim to the conformation of external standards, expectations, and opinions. You no longer allow your boundaries to be violated. You’re no longer triggered by the names and comparisons others use against you when you refuse to fit their mold. And you no longer allow the world to dictate your destiny.
Although chaotic and far from prestigious, my low-income, public high school experiences have powerfully shaped me. Two particular instances will forever be burned into my conscience.
A bit of context: I was a shy, polite girl in high school that prioritized her education above anything else. I turned beet red and sweated profusely when I had to speak in front of the class. Let’s not even talk about my paranoia about answering a question incorrectly or getting anything below an A on an exam. Looking back, I placed a lot of value in what others thought of me.
Feeling like I didn’t “fit in,” teachers and students saw a very limited side of me. I wasn’t clear about my goals and desires for the future, but I always carried an entrepreneurial spirit. Creative ideas constantly flooded my mind. I loved finding solutions and persevering through the toughest assignments. It was instinctual for me to dive deep into my studies, set high standards, and “over-achieve” in everything that I did. I just loved to learn and challenge myself.
On one winter day, I was in my seventh-period Spanish block and we were learning the vocabulary for jobs and occupations. Still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life at that point, I still told my teacher that I envision myself as a businesswoman when it was my turn to share my aspirations.
I can still remember her puzzled, disbelieving tone and piercing glare as she smirked, “A businesswoman?! You, Julia? You should be a nurse.”
It made sense based on the fraction of my character that my teachers witnessed. I wasn’t competitive nor outspoken. My confidence wasn’t externalized and, quite frankly, it was easy to forget I even existed. Nevertheless, my heart sank. It simultaneously fueled up with frustration because, well, I thrived off of validation. I wanted so badly for others to see my worth and capabilities – that I wasn’t just this introverted, sensitive wildflower that submitted to the conforming winds of the world around me.
The second instance occurred in my senior-year English class with a teacher who was quite the icon. Not only was she absolutely gorgeous, but her wisdom and personality continuously radiated through her being. Her smile, talkative nature, empathy, and distinctive mannerisms were characteristic of a television show host.
At the midpoint of our senior year, each person was asked to share where they were along their college acceptance process (which is when I was waiting for what would eventually be a rejection letter from Duke University.)
Near the end of the group discussion, my teacher described her college experience and dream of becoming a famous author until she was confronted with the actuality that “people don’t just come knocking on your door begging you to write for them.”
So she gave up on her dream of being a famous author and became a teacher instead.
The practicality of being a teacher and submitting to a predictable route in life overpowered her hunger and passion for writing a book that could potentially change countless lives.
She was right, though. No one is coming to save you. No one is going to plead you to share your gifts with the world – to live your dream.
You have to put in the work to make it happen. You have to battle through the discomfort of starting something unconventional that scares you. You have to stay true to your mission because it was selectively implanted within you to fulfill in this lifetime.
Now here I am, a couple of years later, starting my own business instead of sitting in a virtual college classroom. Here I am, choosing to create and not conform to the unofficial “rules of life.” Here I am, using passion as my compass, trusting that it will guide me along the paths I’m meant to travel.
Thank you to my teachers for embedding the realization that what you believe to be true about yourself becomes your reality. Stop waiting for everything to be “perfect.” Stop waiting for other people to give you permission to follow whatever it is that sets your heart on fire. That vision is meant for you, not them!
Yes, it takes courage to stand your ground, shove the limiting beliefs out of your ears, and have the audacity to prove the world wrong. No, it’s not going to be easy, but guess what? I know there have been moments when you thought you’d never make it through. Now you’re out on the other end and, looking back, I bet you’re so grateful that it happened because it enhanced the way you presently view life.
Have faith that the pursuit of following your dreams will be no different. When you enable the blessings to fuel you and the lessons to redirect you, you succeed every time.
Julia Nadolski, CPT