My older sister is 7 years my senior. She is an amazing teacher and has been since she was very young. I was probably about 3 years old when she started teaching me to read. Spelling, of course, was a part of these lessons. As we sat in front of a child-sized magnetic easel, plastic letter magnets in hand, she asked me what word I wanted to learn to spell first. "Unicorn!" I was never one to start small and decided to jump right in with something that brought me joy. Not long after that moment, she taught me that the way to remember the difference between desert and dessert was that dessert had two s's like strawberry shortcake. I still refer to this when spelling either word.
In first grade, I had spelling tests. I was already reading at a level much higher than my peers and was pulled out of general reading time in order to participate in a small advanced group with 3 of my classmates. Spelling tests though were still challenging. I loved the meaning of the words and how they fit together to make stories, but I really didn't care much for memorizing how the letters fit together in ways that often didn't make any sense at all. I'll never forget the week where on the list for the upcoming spelling test was the word vacuum. I had no idea why there were two u's in that word and could not find a way to make it stick in my brain. Eventually, I determined that the only way to remember it was to cheat. I wrote the letters out carefully on my large pink eraser and placed it just inside the front of my desk where I could easily see it. I turned it upside down so that the word was not visible and planned to turn it over briefly when the time came to ensure that I got it right. When I heard my teacher sound out the word, I got a horrible feeling in my stomach and couldn't make my hand reach in to flip over the eraser. My plan had worked though because I had exerted so much effort in setting up the situation for the cheating that I had no trouble remembering the extra u during the test.
I remember my Kindergarten placement test vividly. I had to throw bean bags back and forth with my to-be teacher and count one number higher with each toss. Somewhere in the sixties, she asked me how high I could count. My response was something more in the form of a question back to her about how high she would like for me to count. She asked if I knew my hundreds and when I proudly responded that I did, the activity quickly ended. Do you know your alphabet then, she continued. Of course I do. How would I be able to read books if I didn't know the alphabet? Silly question. Needless to say, I was admitted. My parents were advised to send me directly to second grade after a difficult year in kindergarten where I was bored out of my mind and was frequently sent home with homework to do because the things we were doing in school were not challenging me. I was also accused of having my mother complete this homework because it was at an even higher level than they anticipated. I had started out my school year speaking proudly of my accomplishments, but soon learned to keep quiet and in some cases to even curb my enthusiasm for progress. Learning became something that I was to do on my own and to keep my voice silent as to not make others feel badly about their own progress.
This is a photo of me reading to my little sister. Something I loved doing at the time.
When that spelling test came about in first grade, I was so ashamed that I could not remember how to spell vacuum and I did not feel I could ask for help. I don't know if I felt like I should have been able to figure it out since I was labeled as an advanced reader, or if it was because by this time I had a strong sense that I did not belong or fit within this educational system, so it was up to me to figure out the solution on my own. Regardless of the why, I absolutely felt that cheating was my only option, and yet it still didn't feel right to me. Moments like these are only tiny reflections of something much larger that was happening. I was learning that my way of knowing and being was wrong because it wasn't the same as how others experienced these things. I was learning that when I was authentically myself, I was too much, yet also somehow not enough. I began trying to shrink myself in as many ways as I possibly could and adding more activities rather than allowing myself to be really good at any one thing.
By my senior year, I was involved in every extracurricular activity that one could imagine and had completely most of my needed credits already a year prior to graduation. I was also working a full time job, dating someone who lived an hours drive away, and fueled all of this with saltine crackers and dill pickles. I would allow myself to eat a banana before soccer practice or a game so that I wouldn't pass out. I had so much drive and passion to sing and dance and play and learn, but was also punishing myself through my internal dialog, over exerting my body, and limiting my food intake simultaneously. Again, I felt like too much and not enough all at once. This is still a feeling that I resonate with today.
This photo of me was taken in high school while I was dancing on stage for one of our annual theatrical performances.
While there are many ways to transform a mindset, some common ways that this is done subconsciously throughout our lives is through either trauma or extreme doses of consistent love. My sister lovingly taught me to be proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. Slowly through a series of traumatic and repetitive events throughout my childhood, I unlearned this and replaced it with a belief that being fully myself is not safe for myself or anyone around me.
We can also transform mindsets through compassionately and consistently practicing the belief that we want to embody in place of our learned one. There is not a switch that we can flip in order to make this change; we have to commit to it. Once we commit, then we continue coming back to that same place again and again and again until we truly start to believe and embody this new mindset. If I want a million dollars, I have to value every penny that makes up that million. If I want to shift a mindset or belief pattern, I must first learn to transform each individual thought to align with my goal.
There is a process that I use for this. It is called ACCEPTANCE. The steps go as follows:
We must first accept where we are right now and honor where we have come from in order to release what we no longer need and step into a more aligned version of where we are going. I am in the process of creating a workshop on this process. If you are interested in being notified when it opens, please click here and I will add you to the distribution list.
In the meantime, join me on Instagram for my November #atmaitrijustasiamchallenge where I am honoring things in my life that are unfinished and imperfect and loving them just as they are. Please follow along and post your own photos or comment to let me know where you are doing this in your life!