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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…