Mother’s Day weekend found me in Charleston, S.C. for my niece’s graduation from the College of Charleston.
I have six amazing nieces and nephews and I love them all, but I have a special connection with Brit. She is the oldest and grew up in South Carolina, so I would always see her and my oldest brother when I was home visiting Mom. Over the years we built a loving, open, strong relationship. She has always been bright, funny and accomplished, but she also has had a lot to deal with in her 21 short years. The worst was when she lost her mother during her freshman year in college. I think that’s when my role as a maternal figure solidified in her life.
Graduations are one of those milestones that make you reflect on your life, aren’t they? As I walked onto the campus for Brit’s ceremony, I was brought back to my graduation from the same college some 25 years ago. Her graduation ceremony kicked off a weeklong trip down memory lane. I would find myself remembering, reminiscing and analyzing. For those of you who know me well, you understand the analyze reference. I have been known to over-analyze a situation or two...
I lingered on the relationships, choices and decisions that make up who I am as a person. I realized I spend more time lingering on the bad moments than the good, especially the cringe-worthy moments. These were times that I said unkind things, was afraid to ask for help when I needed it, or just flat out made a bad decision.
It is almost two weeks later and I am still spending a lot of time reminiscing, remembering and mostly enjoying memory lane. I was sharing my graduation story with friends at dinner last week and Mama Lee, one of the wise women in my life, helped me understand what I was feeling. I have a wonderfully full life that includes an eclectic patchwork of family, friends, mentors, coworkers and more. I have learned some great lessons, including behaviors or choices that I DON’T want to duplicate.
I have learned some great lessons, including behaviors or choices that I DON’T want to duplicate.
So, the graduation of my niece, my trip down memory lane and the timing of this article led me to share a couple of life lessons I have found to be beneficial. And this is not just a moment to preach to my nieces and nephews, this is to remind myself of these lessons, too.
So here we go:
Be nice. Give people the benefit of the doubt and be welcome and open to new people and opportunities. When I am being cranky, short-tempered or judgmental, it usually comes from a place of discomfort, insecurity or fear on my part.
Take responsibility for yourself. Your life is what you make it. If you don’t like your circumstances, take the steps to change them. Don’t expect other people to fix things for you. Personal responsibility can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow, especially when you find yourself in a place, literally or figuratively, that you don’t want to be. Isn’t is so much easier to try to figure out whose fault it is? But the side effects of taking personal responsibility are pretty fantastic: empowerment, confidence and empathy.
Be empathetic. It is so easy to make a snap judgment, but give yourself the space and time to try to understand someone else’s circumstances or actions. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone and everything.
Listen to your intuition or that gut feeling. If you are fortunate enough to have gut feelings about things, pay attention. If it turns out that your gut feeling is right more often than not, listen to it!
Laugh. Think about how you feel when you have a really good laugh. Do it often — and, most importantly, don’t forget to laugh at yourself!
Laugh. Do it often — and, most importantly, don’t forget to laugh at yourself!
Finally, take the time to build relationships. It is our relationships that connect us to something bigger than ourselves and help ground us. Building a strong social support network is one of the most important things we can do.
I am very fortunate and have the most AMAZING people in my life. These are my family, friends, coworkers and all of the wonderful, caring, compassionate people I meet in my role at the Women’s Resource Center. All of these people make up my support system. They give me a place to connect when I need input, a boost in self-confidence or just the space to relax and cut loose.
There is something comforting in knowing you aren’t facing things on your own. Having people in your corner is a good feeling! Having strong social support can actually help you cope with problems on your own, by improving your self-esteem and sense of autonomy.
Writing this article has been cathartic for me. I think I can wrap up my nostalgia for now. I also made a conscious choice to forgive myself for those moments that make me cringe when I remember them, and focus on the lessons learned and not embarrassment or shame.
As for Brit, and all of my nieces and nephews (blood-related and more) I look forward to watching you continue your journey and celebrating your successes, and being a support to you when you need me!
Ashley Brown, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center of Manatee, can be reached at 941-747-6797 or firstname.lastname@example.org