Upon our entrance into this life, even when all we can do is scream, cry and eat, we are already encoded with massive potential. However, as we go through life, we learn that achieving our potential is something entirely different. We must train ourselves and constantly mold our perspective to get where we need to go. We are shaped by our experiences, our toughest hardships and the hardships of others. Just as an acorn is perfectly prepared to be a tree, it nonetheless needs water and sunlight to grow. Our sunlight comes in the form of joy, connection and peace. But we also need to cherish our struggles, pains and trials, because those messy bits are the water that cultivates us so we can become extraordinary people. Here are three steps to help you embrace your whole story:

Step 1: Let Go of Judgment

Everyone’s growth looks different. So to begin, let go of judgment of yourself or another for where you exist in your respective stories; coming from a place of judgment can only be detrimental. There is a common habit of resenting ourselves, even fearing our own decisions, because of our mistakes, problems and missteps of the past. However, acknowledging a weakness or a fear is nothing but bravery and wisdom. There is no way to grow and strengthen if you are walking on flat ground. You have to climb. You have to fall and claw your way back up again, and when you emerge covered in dirt, sweat and smiles, it’s beautiful! It’s worth it. If you rub away the climb and the fall, you rub away the story itself.

Step 2: Accept the Pain of the Past

Don’t fear your pain. If you bury it, it will only spread. To really thrive, feel it now, let it breathe, accept that it is here and you are where you are, so you can start climbing out. You can never get out of the hole if you keep covering your eyes and saying, “La la la! I’m out of the hole,” instead of using those wise eyes to find the way out.

I invite you to look back at some of your most troublesome memories and search for the blessings. Then acknowledge the new friends you made or the beautiful places you ended up. Remember the way you awoke, rose up and kept fighting forward. Appreciate how strong you are now, and getting only stronger with every new twist and turn in your life. If you wash away the painful times, you wash away your own strength. You wash away your growth.

Step 3: Acknowledge Successes and the Path You Took To Get There

Now bring to mind your greatest memory. Remember a time or event that is now a highlight in your life. Think about all the things that had to be set in motion in your life for that event to have occurred. Every little thing, every time and emotion were all pieces brought together to create this wonderful memory. I bet there were a few harder times mixed in with those puzzle pieces. Some pain. Those are pieces of the puzzle, too. If you knew at the time that the struggle you faced was necessary to create your fondest memory yet, wouldn’t you push that piece in there all the same?

If any of the pains from the past could have been avoided, they would have been. You don’t have to wallow in these times or relive them, but do cherish them. Respect them. And learn from them.

There is so much talk of being “damaged” or “broken” because of past experiences. However, it’s those experiences that gave us the knowledge and strength to grow and move forward to be where we are today, and to have the wisdom needed to tackle new challenges and help others who are struggling. You are not broken. You are wiser, stronger and better prepared for anything that life may try to throw at you now. You’re a leader. You’re a teacher. You made it through so much and have more to give because of it. Be proud of your whole story. It’s what makes you incredible.

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About the author

Kaitlin Abendroth is a multi-platform creative professional who holds a BFA in performing arts from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She is co-author of Scanning For Signal, a book of introspective writings and prose that explores the feelings and emotions most relevant, and often most troublesome, to an awakening generation of young people.