Wisdom From an Old Teacher

Do what you can, with what you have where you are at” F.D.R

With school about to come back in session, I thought I’d share a lesson from one of my favorite elementary school teachers. Mr Garza, who was my 6th grade teacher. I’m not sure if this is true, but I was told by someone that the teachers drew lots to see who would have me in their class. In early elementary school I was troubled. I was a foster child and was pretty much unwanted. I wasn’t promiscuous, or rebellious, but socially insecure and very damaged. One day a girl in my class took it upon herself to both share (her opinion) my business, and to call me the most degrading name you can to a person of color.. I quite literally jumped over two desks and grabbed copious amounts of her hair. It took two teachers to separate me and her hair from the girl and while she took away two bald spots, I took with me the nickname “Scary Cari”. It remained with me the rest of the year. In Sixth grade my beloved teacher gave me the gift of starting over. He told me at the beginning of the year before I had time to get in trouble, That I was not my history. That I had the power to make of that year and my life whatever I chose and it stuck with me. (Much better than 6th grade math). My teacher gave me the gift of knowing I could reinvent myself and that simple knowledge quite literally on that day changed my life.

There are lots of ways to reinvent yourself, from costly plastic surgery to moving to a new location to massive weight loss and a beauty makeover. But the very first step for me cost nothing and absolutely anyone can do it, and results are almost instantaneous. What is this miracle I speak of..its simple, (Well subjectively speaking) it’s CHANGING YOUR ATTITUDE, Its choosing to be optimistic to look for and celebrate whats good about others, even if sometimes you have to dig deep. It’s sometimes swallowing your pride, sometimes making yourself a little smaller. (But not in a way that denies you respect) its being a source of Joy instead of strife. It looking for the perverbial silver lining. It’s using logic, terrible things will pass just as easy as those that are wonderful.

Very quickly in my 6th grade class, I learned to stop focusing on my misery. I developed empathy and could see and do my best to stop any hurt, it became sort of my mission and before long that sour reputation had changed to something sweet.

I’m not so naive as to believe its that easy, I was lucky in that my intervention happened while I was still young and not into any serious trouble.

For many their starting place is so so much worse. They are starting out addicted, they are starting out imprisoned, or maybe depressed, or simply not inherently likable. I can’t relate to all of that except to say, I have known people in such circumstances to turn their lives around. The key is simple to start.

How do I do that? You might ask. Well, I think you first need a plan. Not a short term today plan, but one that will help you create an ultimate vision for your life. Figure out where you want to be, and then work backwards, Don’t forget to aim high!!!!

Some categories you might consider are

1. Appearance. How do you want to come across to others. This should take in cleanliness and posture as well as style. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to be presentable and to command respect. I actually, as well as many of my professional contemporaies, shop thrift stores, before considering something new. I save money but also don’t end up looking just like everyone else. Don’t worry, in a future post we can talk all about style and image.

2. Attitude. It can really take you far to have a “can do attitude” to let people know you are willing and eager to work hard, see hard work as an opportunity to prove yourself, not just to the would be employer but also to you. My husband, has made himself incredibly valuable and climbed the ranks in his company by being willing to go the extra mile, give service with a smile and make things happen. When we married, we lived in a former chicken coup, we know have a mortgage and a little piece of the American Dream. We have the things we need and many of the things we want. based heavily not on education but by making the very most of opportunities given. Be grateful for those chances you get, even if they seem menial, use them as a stepping stone.

3. Humility, perhaps it goes hand in hand with attitude, but to overcome you have to first acknowledge where you are at. You can just leap from point A-D. And sometimes you need help getting to B. There are a lot of resources out there to help you! Many of them free and not being utilized. While some are income based, there are several that aren’t. In fact I’ve taken a few free courses at the local library as well as computer classes at our local Good Will. Speaking of library, this is my favorite source for free knowledge! I’m also a fan of YouTube. Zig Zigler a famous motivational speaker and sales men, said “to become a success you must help others become a success”. I think many people in the YouTube universe apply this admirably.

4.Make your goals your priority. This is a hard one and one that I’ll expand on on a future post. but basically think about those things in your life that don’t support your vision and lose them, bad friends, relationships, whatever. Cut out that that would prevent you from being your own success story.

The main point is, if you want to change your life you simply have to make a decision to start. This isn’t like a diet where it takes a ton of will power, and for many it is the choice to change your perspective to believe it is possible to do better, that where you are starting is indeed, your initial turning point.

On Standing Alone

When I was 8 years old I left my home. I left my family.  I walked into a police station. And said “I’m done, no more” I fantasized that a happy normal family would adopt me but that turned out to be a pipe dream. I lived in 18 different foster homes before I aged out at 18.  Nine different Christmases. Countless foster siblings a host of different “parents” and a single truth, I was alone.

I was alone as I walked into each different school. Each time the new kid-

I was alone as I approached a table and faced to decisions; sit by myself or risk being rejected…again.

I was alone at the new church, where new “parents” were praised for “generous hearts” but within closed walls no such generosity was displayed.

I was alone as with clumsy fingers I tried to affix the buttoner on the lapel of my pitying dates, homecoming suit, I in a dated hand- me- down dress four sizes too big.

I was alone as I headed off to college, having no parents no mentors, no anything.

I made mistakes. I did things to try to STOP BEING LONELY. I threw myself into bad situations, wrong relationships, and ill-thought-out spiritual choices, All to be a part of something. To just not be alone ANYMORE.

And one day I realized…There IS POWER IN BEING ALONE.

Gandhi wrote-

“The best way to find yourself is in service to others’

One day I decided to look for another person sitting by themselves at the lunch table and started a conversation. When they didn’t reject me, I was encouraged to try again, I found that trying to comfort someone else met a need within myself.

I saw the hypocrisy, of my Pseudo families, for what they were. And made notes to myself of what I did and didn’t want for my own one day family.

I started to see being alone as a gift. A clean canvas, I have never been encumbered by anyone else’s demands. I’ve rarely felt pressure to settle for something not within my own vision. Since I was alone I alone was responsible for my decisions, I learned to make ones I could live with.

When I have been tempted to do REALLY Stupid Things, I’ve mostly found within myself that hard-won resilience to walk away. To leave it behind and not look back and to know that despite what anyone else might think or say, in the end, I would be okay.

So is this a selfish perspective? Perhaps. Unquestionably life taught me to be cautious, careful and a bit self-centered but, what is the alternative?

In my version of being self- centered I strive to be “self-aware” Conscious of both my strengths and my weaknesses and I acknowledge that working on those weaknesses is sometimes a lifelong process. In my version even after sometimes failing miserably, I still believe and try to give myself a little grace.

Sometimes we find ourselves alone because of our own crappy choices-

Sometimes we stand alone because of our good ones.

Never stay in a situation because you are afraid to be alone-

Become best friends and advocate for that person in the mirror!

Do something today that makes you proud!

I’m rooting for you!

Carob