A Conversation With My Middle School Self

Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations.
— Leo Buscaglia

Leave it to Throwback Thursday, aka #tbt, to get me thinking about middle school.

Yes, that painful 3 years where we should have cocoons for the changes we go through, but there we stand, exposed to the world while we morph physically and mentally.

A time where it seems social pressure and standards are thrown into hyperdrive. Judgement, cliques and paths of association are formed. Gone are the playful days of coloring and recess and here are the days of locker combinations, passing periods and pressure. 

Immense pressure.

Now, for those of you reading this thinking "What? Middle school was easy. None of this was part of it," I envy you in a lot of ways. 

As I was posting a picture for #tbt on Instagram (seen above), I paused and looked at it for a bit. To the eye, you see a 6th grade boy, posing for his youth basketball picture with a hesitant, uncomfortable smirk. Now, to say that I was a bit heavy is stating the obvious. From 3rd grade on, I gradually gained weight and became what you see in the photo and with that weight, especially due to the timing in life, caused an onset of insecurity and depression.

The one thing you want to do during this time is fit in and I just felt that I struggled in doing so. I got caught up in the idea of being popular and quickly realized that that was going to be an uphill battle. This compounded the problem in many ways, causing a downward spiral mentally and emotionally for me.

It's odd to say that in 6th grade, I experienced one of my personal lowest points, but every day was a battle. I had some great friends and I truly appreciate those around me, but inside I always felt like I was the "pity friend." The one that you invited because you felt bad. Now, I'm still friends with a lot of people I went to middle school and high school with who are probably reading this thinking that this concept is absurd. Well, it's also part of the facade of what I had to do those days. 

It was in this picture, in hindsight, that I can see myself carrying the weight of not feeling good enough. Battling everyday to love myself and be happy with my life. Something I would carry for more than a decade after. 

Fast forward about 10 years after this picture and I'm sitting in my counselor's office in Des Moines, talking through the after effects of a horrible relationship where I was subjected to verbal abuse on a daily basis. After uncovering my underlying pain of self imposed inadequacy, my counselor asked me to bring in a picture of myself from my childhood where I can clearly remember pain. This was the picture.

He asked me what I'd say to that child in the picture if I could sit down and talk with him. What words would I share if I could have that movie moment where you travel back in time and sit next to yourself. With tears in my eyes, I struggled to say "You're going to be ok." Struggled because I didn't want to fall apart in his office, not because I didn't feel it. It was in that moment that life turned north for me.

Over time, I've continually seen this picture as a reminder. A reminder not to be so hard on myself. Not to judge or put all of my emotions in one basket. A reminder that that bottom of my emotions is a hell of a long way from where I am now. A reminder to always check in with myself as much as I check in with others. I don't regret one moment of the pain I went through or overcome. It allowed me to focus on my personality, my heart, my sense of humor and my ability to connect with others. Without that pain, without the growth, without having to battle and dispatch the demons of depression, I wouldn't be the man I am today. I thank God every day for the struggle.

While I'm the first to say focus on the future and keep driving towards your goals, it's moments like this that make me realize the emotional benefit of appreciating where you've come from. The phrase "honor yourself," has a ton of meaning for me because of this. 

I've come a long way in life, I've experienced opportunities that some can only dream of, I've connected and touched thousands of lives since that day in Des Moines, and even back to that picture. The one thing that my self doubt created was the emergence of my God given gift of caring for others and being able to connect to them through emotion and energy. It's formed who I've become today as a motivator and leader. It's one of the main things that has kept me alive and has provided my path in life.

So, if you're ever struggling, trying to find that new level of energy where you're at, or just need a jolt of perspective, get out an old picture. Maybe a time that you felt awkward or lonely, It's in that time that you need to realize that you're 100% successful at living your life since then. That you've successfully gotten up every morning and pushed on in life. 

Be proud of who you are, love who you are for all that makes you uniquely you and mostly....

Honor yourself always.

The love you have for yourself will allow you to be the best version of you possible for you and those around you.

What would you say to your middle school self? Comment below!