I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was in third grade and had just moved to a new town in the middle of the school year.

I was a pretty normal kid. Except maybe for the awkwardly curly hair, buck teeth, braces, thick brown glasses and the trombone I was carrying. Other than that? Totally normal.

On my first day at my new school, one of the girls in my class came up to me and introduced herself.

“Hi! You’re pretty…pretty ugly!”

And then she and her friends laughed and walked away.

It was a pretty stupid joke. Even by 8 year old standards. But that didn’t stop me from taking it seriously.

Perhaps if I was 4 or 5, I wouldn’t have understood it. Or maybe if I was 14 or 15, I might have dismissed it. But I wasn’t. I was 8. The perfect age to plant the seed. Cultivate it. And water it every day until it took over my entire garden.

I not only believed it. But I made it a part of who I was. It became my story.

Pretty Ugly

As I grew older, my damaged self-esteem matured into an overwhelming fear of rejection. I was insecure. Introverted to the point of being socially paralyzed. And I was deathly afraid of taking risks.

All because of two words.

Pretty ugly.

These two words had a profound affect on my life and every decision I made over the next 10-15 years. It was constantly whispering in my ear.

Should I ask that girl out? (pretty ugly)
Should I try out for the basketball team? (pretty ugly)
Who should I sit with at lunch? (pretty ugly)

Those two words, uttered by a 3rd grader, literally changed the course of my adult life.

And Then One Day I Woke Up

I’m not sure what exactly it was. Maybe a seminar I attended. Maybe a book I read. Or maybe I was just tired of watching another opportunity pass me by.

Whatever it was, I had enough. I was tired of believing and living into this ridiculous story that my 8 year old self had created for me 15 years earlier.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired of feeling rejected. Of being afraid. Of feeling alone.

Of missing out.

I decided that those two words were no longer going to control my life. My decisions. Or my destiny.

Not anymore.

So I Rewrote the Story

It took me 15 years to realize that I created that story. And only a split second to realize that if I created it then I could dismantle it. Change it. Turn it into whatever I wanted t to be.

So I chose to turn it into a strength.

Since then, those two words have become a trigger for me every time I feel scared. Or self-conscious. Or rejected. Or insecure.

When I would feel myself backing away from doing something risky, I remind myself.

Pretty ugly.

And that was all I would need to take another step forward.

When I wanted to play on Broadway and was told “no” enough times to put even the most confident person in the fetal position, I would remind myself.

Pretty ugly.

And that was all I needed to pick up the phone one more time and not stop until I had the gig.

When I was nervous about stepping into a room of 3,000 of the most successful business owners in America while wearing a super hero costume as a marketing stunt, I would remind myself.

Pretty ugly.

And that was all I needed to stand up in front of that room in my tights and cape and own it.

When I was afraid of hitting publish because I wrote something that was too vulnerable or too controversial, I would remind myself.

Pretty ugly.

And that’s all I would need to allow my voice to be heard unfiltered with no concerns of what other people might think.

Ugly Like Me

For me, “pretty ugly” has become a constant reminder of the story that I told myself over and over again. That kept me confined in my head for years. That was responsible for me missing out on so much of my life.

But it’s not just me. We all have those stories that we can’t let go of. Those mountains that were once molehills. The tricky part is recognizing them and refusing to allow them to take another minute of your life.

And yet, even after writing all of this, a piece of me wants to hit delete. To not publish it and share it with the world. It’s too close. Too vulnerable. I’m too naked. But then I think to myself…

Pretty ugly.

Featured image courtesy of Nomadic Lass licensed via Creative Commons.

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  • Robyn Gleason

    Thanks for sharing this, Marc. I love that you are not afraid to show your vulnerable side and the journey you took to get you there. If we all spent more time developing our own self awareness, we’d probably realize that each of us has a similar story.
    By the way, playing the trombone is cool! I played in high school too and it got me a 3 week trip through Europe, lol. Loved this!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      The best I got was a trip to the old age home with the jazz band :(

      Although, the trombone opened me up to playing bass and I got to tour the world with that, so I guess it all worked out pretty darn good!

      • Robyn Gleason

        Yes, I must confess I have not picked up the trombone in many years but I now play piano and guitar. I did some weddings with a little jazz band. They were a good place to get drunk when we were underage. :)

  • http://cliffpro.com/ Cliff Huizenga

    What a great, personal story. It’s almost as if you turned, “pretty ugly” into “I dare you.” Thank you for your motivational post and keep being awesome. Pretty ugly.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thank you Cliff! The encouragement is…well…encouraging!

  • http://www.nsgconsultinginc.com Nanette Gregory

    Thanks for sharing

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thanks for commenting!

  • http://cameraelucida.com/ John Tannahill

    People can put you down and discourage you from doing things but there’s only one person who can actually stop you, and that’s yourself.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Exactly. It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you make of what happens to you.

  • Sarah Penner

    Hey Marc,
    Awesome post! It’s amazing how these things in life can trap us when they should have no power over us at all. I, now, am learning to revel in what makes me different. I am learning to love my uniqueness and challenge myself to push my own boundaries that I’ve pretty much imposed on myself over the years. I think it’s awesome that you are stretching yourself and doing things that you wouldn’t have, not that long ago. This year I hope to go storm chasing. I hope to be a storm chaser. Even as I write this, I can feel the self-imposed chicken in me trying to step up. Nope. Not this year. This year I will try to live boldly! Sounds like you will too! Well done, my friend!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      I already told you that I’m holding you to that storm chaser thing! So, don’t thing you’re going to get away with it, I want pictures and video. Even if it’s just a light drizzle. Hey, you have to start somewhere.

      • Sarah Penner

        For sure! I remember the deal! :)

  • http://www.JohnPink.com Uncle John

    It’s funny Marc, since the moment I met you, I have never seen even one iota of ugly. All I have ever seen and a very confident, well grounded, not afraid to work harder than the next guy to get to the next level, man. I guess what you’re doing is working very well. You are one of the most fantastic people I have ever met. A great dad, husband, father, business man and to me, an awesome friend.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Uncle John!!! That means the world to me! You have no idea. I love you like my brother, but you already know that. The kids miss you like crazy. Get the hell out of that polar thunder dome and come down here for a little R&R!!!

  • Laurie

    One of the better articles I’ve read in a while. You have great rhythm in your writing, it’s such a pleasure to read.

    I have a similar script that used to run in my head but it’s not as clear as yours. I did once have someone say to me, “This one’s a fighter!” So I use that when I’m feeling weak.

    I’m glad you were able to turn it around.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thanks Laurie! I appreciate the feedback! Sounds like being a fighter is a pretty damn good story to grab hold of and live into!

  • Stan Bush

    Great post Marc. It resonates with everyone. We’ve all experienced it in our own way. I think the video you shared last week with the “38 Years” is/was a wake up call to anybody that has experienced it….which would be everyone in the world. (with the possible exception of most politicians)

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Oh brother. Here it comes…oh wait, this was a nice comment! Never mind! I was waiting for a “precious” reference 😉

  • Jodi Dichter Kaplan

    Wow I love the new definition of “pretty ugly”. The fact that it is nothing more than a trigger to shoot us all into facing fear head on. Fear = False evidence appearing real, or so I am told. Now if the cockroaches left Florida, I would enjoy living here more! BTW Marc, you are pretty awesome – hope that stays with you too!!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thank you Jodi! I really appreciate it! I’m going to have to put together a Marc to English dictionary for all of these redefined words…pretty ugly, Dick, etc. Otherwise you guys won’t understand a word I’m saying!

  • deanshaw

    That post was pretty ugly 😉

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      So was this comment.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for being you! Thank you for being honest! :)

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thank you Melissa!! That actually means a lot.

  • mickhaensler

    Mine was “half-assed”. Still is, getting better all the time though. Now that map I shared with you earlier….

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      That map was “no-assed”

  • http://www.jasonfrasca.com/deconstructing-tech-blog/ Jason Frasca

    Marc your transparency is amazing. It resonates… thanks for sharing.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thank you Jason! Nothing like airing out the dirty laundry all over the internet to clear out the cobwebs!

  • Tom Martin

    Great lesson — and something to keep in mind whenever I’m telling myself “It MUST be perfect…” Thanks, Marc.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thanks Tom! I’m still working on that perfection thing too!

  • Beckijo

    Brave and inspiring and, as always, a good read!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thank you!! I wasn’t sure if I should publish it, but all of the comments are proving it was the right thing to do.

  • Lisa Demmi

    Marc, more people can probably relate to this than you, me or anyone might think. We all have our “pretty ugly” moment. It’s hard to remember that words are just words AND that they don’t have to be our truth.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign


  • http://injuryattorneyflorida.com/ Tina Willis

    Mark I do not very often give comments of this nature, partly due to professional concerns, but I just want to say that I think you are pretty sexy! Please forget that I ever uttered those words and perhaps might have to delete them from my Discus account. But being smart, having a great smile, writing great material, being unique, not to mention looking pretty good from what I can see…all wonderful and very desirable traits, so I genuinely hope you really have completely dismissed that other inaccurate phrase from your brain.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      You’re awesome Tina! I forgot about this comment and came back here to read through some of this after a bad day. You just made me feel pretty great. Thanks!

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  • troy mc laughlin

    Great post Marc. There is one voice we never outrun… Our’s sometimes it speaks truth, other times it lies. The key is to know the difference between the two. I know I still screw this one up. Thanks for sharing your story, Precious.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      I like that! Thanks Troy! That voice is still there although writing this and then spending the last few months working on it has quieted it down some!

  • http://www.iwearspandex.com/home Brian Stephens

    Excellent post, Marc! I think everyone can relate to this story because we all have that awkward phase in life we’d like to forget. Fortunately for me, I have selective memory and have long since forgotten much of my past. In fact, I think my lack of focus on the past allowed me to push through my awkward phase without too much over analysis.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Lucky you! Although it’s made me who I am today so I guess it all worked out in the end, right?

  • https://justplainbee.wordpress.com/ Bee

    Thank you. Really. Thank you.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      No, thank you! Really! Thank you!

  • Meghan

    I love your blog! You and I have almost the same views on everything! Finally someone put these thoughts intelligently into words :)

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Wow! Thanks! Maybe you’re my blogging doppelgänger!

  • http://booksbybarbara.com Barbara

    Your blog makes me shut out the voices in my head that say things like “it’s too late’, “you’re too old’, “you can’t do that” . Maybe, because of your “pretty ugly” story, , it’s not too late, I’m not too old and i can so do it!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      It’s not too late, you’re not too old and you can do that. It’s been 7 months since you read this. What have you done with that time? And what do you plan on doing for the next 7 months?

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  • Susan

    Great Story – well told – good to read!
    I think almost all of us can relate!

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      I think we all have a “pretty ugly”…this one just happens to be mine.