When my 10-year high school reunion rolled around, I had a sinking feeling in my gut. I wanted to go because I was proud of the direction my life was headed and who I was becoming. I moved out of my one-stoplight town. I had a college degree. I was living on my own in another state and grabbing my depression by the throat. I saw a psychologist weekly to overcome a tough childhood with an alcoholic parent. I had already found my birthparents and it was a magical reunion story I wanted to share with old friends. I was taking responsibility for my life, but part of me didn't want to go to my reunion. I was afraid people would hold a mirror up to who I used to be.
I was messed up in high school. When I think back on that girl now, I have compassion for her because life was about survival, not thriving. I acted out my anger for what was going on at home by attention-seeking behavior with men. I enjoyed being wild. I knew it would piss off my Catholic, conservative parents. I caked on make-up to cover up freckles and hide what I didn't like about me. I'd create high-school boy drama and then analyze it to death with the help of my friends and my journals. On the outside, I played confident cheerleader. On the inside, I was a girl whose self-image was an empty jar.
Today I am closer to my 30th high school reunion than my 10th, yet I still am surprised when I come across people who want me to be that mixed up girl. The unfortunate truth is some people don't want you to make smart decisions and evolve because doing so can hold up an uncomfortable mirror.
Here's why everyone won't celebrate your personal growth, and what you can do about it:
Some people stand taller when others fall. Your missteps and messes make other people feel better about their lives. When you go from messed up to someone who has your shit together, the comparison game becomes a lot tougher. Although they'd never admit it, there are people in your life who want you to fall flat on your face because that will make them feel better about their own lives.
What to do: Never give anyone permission to determine how you feel about you. Choose friends and surround yourself with people who lift you up and want you to succeed.
Your life shines a light on their life. Not taking anything personally is sage advice because how someone acts toward you has a lot more to do with their life than yours. If someone is trying to hold you down by reminding you of your mistakes or who you used to be, realize they are unhappy with their own life. Misery does seek company. Your growth and accomplishments become pain points for someone who is discontent.
What to do: Never throw the dimmer switch on your life to make someone else more comfortable. Be empathic that the person judging you is in pain, and have gratitude for your own life.
Some people use moments to define you. Some people are judge and jury all rolled into one. After seeing you at some of your lowest moments -- even if it's decades ago -- they think they have the verdict on you and they won't let go. Someone who wants to hold you down and keep you stuck in one moment of time is probably stuck in their own life.
What to do: Realize people don't know your full story. Remember what you've overcome and who you are today.
There's a lack of self-compassion. If people are hard on you, they are probably hard on themselves. People can't show you self-compassion if they have little for themselves.
What to do: Give yourself tons of self-compassion. Life is about making mistakes and becoming better from those mistakes. Look at your missteps in the past as proof that you are in the arena -- living and learning.
They haven't done the work on themselves. People who refuse to let you evolve will look for every opportunity to remind you of who you used to be. Often this is because they haven't done the hard work to become self-aware and to consciously create the life they want. The progress in your life triggers their insecurity.
What to do: Don't let others take you down with them. You don't have to let people hurt you. Set boundaries on what's okay with you and what isn't. Let go of painful relationships so you can rise.
I have plenty of cringe-worthy moments in my memory, and I could self-torment with regret, but I choose to see my experiences as boot camp for resilience. I am thankful for the wisdom I've gained.
It's sad when someone you care about is uncomfortable seeing you flourish. While we can't fix people who want to hold us back, we can choose to spend our time with people who lift us up instead. We can lift others up and be ready to celebrate them and their triumphs. We can let people reintroduce themselves to us. With a growth mindset we can let people change.
I went to my 10-year reunion long ago. Many friends seemed genuinely happy for me. Some poked fun at me about the girl I used to be, but talk therapy helped me realize that the only opinion that really matters about my life is my own.