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“And the most-improved award goes to…”
It’s fifth grade and we are sitting at the general assembly watching the year-end awards be handed out.
The teacher arrives at the “most-improved” award, and everyone holds their breath, hoping that it isn’t them.
You see as kids, no one wanted to be labeled as the kid who made the most improvement.
If you were winning that award then, well, yikes...you must have really started way below everyone else. And the hard work and progress you made were overshadowed by the fact that you weren’t good enough at the start. Or at least, so everyone thought at ten years old.
No kid was hoping for that award. At least, no one in my fifth grade class was.
But now as an adult, sometimes I feel like I’m winning that award, and I still don’t always appreciate it, and wish that it wasn’t me.
As I’ve mentioned before, in the last ten years, I’ve gone from a shy, timid, closed-minded, and not-quite-sure-of-herself girl, to a confident, ambitious, brave, and ever-growing woman.
So often people tell me this. The ways that I’ve changed. And it takes me right back to that old, musty auditorium. And I cringe.
Why couldn’t I have started out the person I’ve become? Why did I have to be the person who needed to grow so much?
Let me give you a practical example.
Six weeks ago I arrived in Panama for six months. And it just so happened to fall on almost exactly ten years to the day that I had arrived in Spain for four months abroad in college. In fact, the day I left for Panama, my Facebook Timehop reminded me of the first post I had made in Spain exactly a decade earlier.
To be honest, I never really wanted to go to Spain. I went because I needed the credits to finish my Spanish degree, but I had never left my family, or my boyfriend at the time, for so long. I wasn’t Ms. Adventure, and I didn’t have any interest in being.
I was miserable. Anxiety that I didn’t even know that I had burst forth like the Koolaid man through that wall, but with more tears and fear than smiles.
Now to be fair, my host mom was hopelessly depressed and only left her room to feed me, and the group that I went with had more drama packed into four months than four years of high school. But while I might not have been set up for success, I also didn’t have a sense of adventure that made me want to be there to begin with, or the coping mechanisms to deal. I was homesick, and lonely, and at twenty years old, four months felt like an eternity.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve looked back on that experience and every ounce of me wishes I could do it over as the person I am now.
To brush off the drama, have more compassion for my host mom, shake the negative, and make an adventure for myself despite it all.
And guess what? As infrequent as do-overs are in life, I actually got mine. Almost exactly ten years later, as an entirely different person, with new confidence, an ability to cope, and a passion for adventure, I get to do it all again. And this time, not even six months sounds like long enough.
In the categories of finding passions, becoming brave, opening your mind, and embracing confidence, I am inarguably a candidate for “most-improved”.
So why then, have I ever hated it when people remind me of who I’ve become?
Well, its because there’s that little kid inside me who still wishes I had started out this way. It’s because when people tell me how much I’ve changed, I feel like they’re the other kids in the class, assuming that to grow so much, I must have started far behind.
But truly, that’s all in my mind, and if you’ve ever thought the same, I promise it’s all in yours too. Because the reality is that no one starts out where they want to be, or where they could be. Maybe some people are further along than others, but even the person at the top of the class could win “most improved” if they tried. After all, the award isn’t the “person who needed to improve the most” award. It simply goes to the person who made the most progress.
You see in life, just like in school, it isn’t about needing improvement.
I was a perfectly fine person ten years ago, and would still be considered as such if I were the same person now. But its about choosing to grow no matter where we started, because there is always more we can become.
I look back now and wish that as a kid I had embraced that “most-improved” award. That whether I won it, or someone else, I had felt most proud of that person over everyone else. Because that person, while they may not have realized it at the time, was doing exactly what we should all be doing in life. Constantly growing, never giving up, and realizing that we could always end better than where we start.
So to anyone wishing they knew what they know now, or wishing they were the person they are now ten years ago, I get you.
It’s hard not to look back and wish for a do-over. But I think one of the greatest blessings is to look back and wish you could do it all again. Not to stay in that moment, with regrets and despair, but to sit for just a few seconds and appreciate that the reason you’re wishing that is because of how far you’ve come, and how much you’ve learned.
Let yourself be proud.
You’ve done what many people will never do. So many still don’t want that award, they don’t want to put in the work, or don’t think they have any growing to do. In fact their regret in life will likely be looking back and wishing for a do-over, not because of how much they’ve changed, but because of how much they haven’t.
So if you’re feeling disappointed with “most-improved”, chin up. We should be fighting for that award.
To feel like we overcame a gap between where we were and where we are that took hard work, self-exploration, and a drive and persistence that carried us through when most others would have given up, or stopped at “good enough”.
So go ahead. Take me back to that old auditorium.
I’ll take that “most-improved” award ten times over, with the hope that I’ll be handing it right back to you.