My Biggest Life Lessons Summed Up in 4-7 Minute Increments

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Every year I go back to the place where I proudly break kids…into final rounds as a Forensics tournament judge. From the instant I walk through the door the frenetic energy is palpable and the chatter in the main commons of the building sounds like a million and seven crickets amped on adrenaline and caffeine and sugar cubes (don’t forget the sugar cubes).

Nervousness and excitement pull me in. I glance over and see my very first forensic and debate coach, Coats, as she’s known, and I flash back to what seems like an entire lifetime ago, how long exactly is irrelevant. Paola High School is my Alma Mater and my “Panther Pride” still swells as I walk back through the doors.

The halls smell a little like au gratin potatoes with a top of note of nervous sweat and hormones, particularly today. It’s not lovely.

What seems perfectly normal to me- the behavior of the contestants of this tournament- would probably be concerning to anyone else not familiar with what to expect. Thespians line the halls, mumbling, chanting, and some even yelling with gestures, pacing back and forth as they emote through the walls as if they are speaking to another person. All of this seems somewhat out of place amongst the typical lockers, drab walls, stained carpets and bulletin boards of the high school, but yet today, I wouldn’t expect anything else.

I love it here, today! It was through Forensics and Debate that I learned the most about who I am, my personal character, and exactly what I am capable of. Something about being thrown into a room with one other person whose sole purpose in that moment is to judge you makes you do one of two things, either you fall flat on your face, or rise to the occasion. Fortunately, I experienced both.

I figured out I had control over some things happening in that room. I could practice and prepare, I could learn the lines and develop the character, and I could use my voice to deliver a message or evoke an emotion. What I had no control over was if the person listening would appreciate how I had chosen to prepare the piece. I had one shot at it with that one judge.

Once I opened that door and entered, gave my introduction and headed into my first lines there was no turning back until I was done with my selection or time was up (sometimes I hoped for the latter). Confidence played an enormous part! I didn’t get a ton of confidence in high school like some kids do, but I got some. What I did get was a solid foundation of which I could build throughout my life.

I learned how to feel crazy scared, nervous, and want to run but how to stay in the moment and push myself to do it anyway. Learning to breathe, swallow hard, and to take that first step into the room is a skill I still have. I don’t necessarily still need it, but I had to learn it to get to where I am now. Recognizing that I survived the sweaty palms, rapid heart rate, dry mouth, and chose to stay and “fight” rather than take “flight” has made all the difference in my life.

Forensics in not like a team sport where you have all your team mates at your side, working together toward the win. Yes, a team in forensics scores collective points, but each individual is alone. Each member of the team must face their challenges individually and over come them on their own. Nothing prepares you for life’s obstacles more than learning how to trust and depend on yourself, and how to push through that fear and do it anyway! I may fall on my face, chances are I’ll rise to the occasion, but at least I got a chance to experience it and learn from it in 4-7 minute increments in forensics first before facing it in real life.

The Big Four-Fucking-Zero

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When I turned 27 was when I felt like a true adult. By that time in my life I already had 4 children, 6 years old and younger. But it was in that year that I felt like I could no longer make excuses for shit. I used to tell people when they asked my age that “I am old enough to know better and too young to care” well, at 27 I started caring. It was then that the weight of the world finally hit me. I realized that there was no stopping it, no turning back, and that no one was coming to my rescue. I was responsible and would be held accountable for my actions, and not only that but I also was responsible for the 4 children of mine that would some day become grown ups.

So, my focus shifted. My outlook changed, but the people around me did not. They were the same on August 24 as they were on my birthday, August 25th. There was also a lesson in that that I would not know until many years later. The lesson was that even though we all live, work, play, and interact with hundreds of people in our little bubble, each of us individually is but a blip in the whole scheme of things. No one is paying very much attention to any one else because everyone has their own little bubble that they are tending to. As important as I think I am, there are 6 billion people that think the same thing about themselves and the immediate people around them. This was a good lesson to learn.

I couldn’t wait to turn 30 when it came around. I always thought that 30 was when people would take me seriously. If I could just get to 30 years old I would be considered an adult. I think some of this thought process was because I carried some baggage about being and looking so young. I was THE youngest person to graduate from my high school class. I was a year behind in privileges of everyone around me. I started college at 17. Add to that a “baby face” and the fact that people thought I was the babysitter when I took my kids out. Yep, 30 couldn’t come soon enough.

My 30s were great. I mean if you take out the diagnosis of a mental illness, my life was pretty much perfect. I loved being a mother and a wife. My husband and I were very much deeply, blazingly hot in love (as we still are today). No one took me any more seriously than I took myself. Yeah, I learned that lesson in my thirties. It wasn’t up to anyone else how I felt about myself. I chose how and when I held myself accountable. I figured out that I decided what was right for my family and me. I learned that the only opinion that mattered was mine. The trouble with that is that I tend to be very critical of myself but that’s another lesson waiting to happen.

This year I turned 40. Yes the big 4-0. I had so many people asking me if I was “okay” with turning 40. Uh, yeah, I am. They keep telling me nothing would ever be the same (it’s a damn good thing!). My body would fall apart; my brain would start failing. So far, forty is FREEDOM and LIBERATION. A number on a calendar does not hold me down, puh-leeze! I accept that things change and it’s beyond my control. But things CHANGE and that is exciting to me.

I am 100% authentically me. I am aware of my impact on others, and can decide how much others will have an impact on me. I am capable of lifting others up and encouraging them through some of life’s challenges that I myself have faced. Yes, a lot did change when I turned 40, but every single bit of it was something that needed to change inside of me. I am working out the kinks, and have not yet reached my goals. The lesson on my plate currently, and has been for a couple of years, is that we are all connected. This may sound easy, simple, and cliché but I am learning how this philosophy plays out in reality, how it looks when practiced. I’ll keep you posted.