Friday, June 1, 2018

Look at Yourself





My parents, bless them, had three teenage daughters at once.

When I turned 13, my sisters were 15 and 17.  We shared clothes, friends, inside jokes, an older brother, and a bathroom. And in that bathroom, we shared Verv√© perfume, Paul Mitchell hairspray, Avon makeup, and a Nike ad.

The ad was placed there by our mom. She had torn it from a magazine and taped to our mirror. It featured a woman in Nike leggings and a tank top, running alone down a wooded path, and across the top it read:

I believe that if you can look at yourself and see what is right, instead of what is wrong, that is the true mark of a healthy individual

From my freshman year until I left for college, this quote stared back at me every time I looked in that mirror.

Four years of waking up at 5:00 am for early morning seminary. Four years of transitioning through adolescence and navigating precarious teenage relationships. Making new friends, losing old ones. Dating, breaking up. Four years of testing boundaries, developing a sense of autonomy and dealing with teenage insecurities. Braces, breakouts, perms and unflattering trends. Four years of high school tryouts and elections with all of their inherent vulnerabilities. Of summer camps, first jobs, and college applications. Four years of both achievements and rejections, underscored by all the emotion of leaving behind my childhood.

Four years.

Look at yourself.

See what is right.

Instead of what is wrong.

I'm no biologist, but I think there are times in our lives that our brains visit neurological tattoo parlors. Certain phrases and life lessons we pick up along the way are permanently etched in our minds, in scrolling fonts and sometimes with iconic symbols like bleeding hearts, angel wings, roman numerals or Smokey the Bear's face (a childhood story for another day).

That Nike ad is tattooed in my mind, with the image of the woman running alone down a wooded path. It's not a concept I've perfected by any means, but it has been a significant contributing factor to my happiness. After reading it, over and over, for four formative years, my brain seems to understand that my emotions aren't dependent on my circumstances, but are instead shaped by my perspective.

Am I self-conscious of my worst features, or proud of my best ones?

Do I focus my energy on people who don't accept me, or count my blessings for the ones who do?

Should I mutter about the messes and unfinished projects in my home, or delight at the sight of the paintings I have hung, and evidence of a thriving family?

Do I complain about our student loans, or am I grateful for our education?

Bemoan the division in our country, or celebrate the freedom to disagree?

Indulge in self-pity over my child's deficiencies, or pride in her accomplishments?

I think that the true mark of a healthy individual, according to Nike in the 90's, is worth some reflection. Perhaps the one your teenage daughter sees in the mirror.

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