I watched my mother smile from ear-to-ear as she took each trophy out of the box and placed it on our living room mantle. The awards recognized my extensive academic and social achievements during my sixth-grade year at Mayde Creek Junior High School.
I had an award for being voted most popular. There was a trophy with gold basketballs, baseball bats, and tennis rackets which honored me as most athletic. A huge plaque recognized me as a top performer in my studies. The icing on the cake? A trophy with a couple ballroom dancing on top declaring my girlfriend and I class couple.
My mother couldn’t wait to show these trophies off to her friends. Who could blame her? I was apparently one brick cell phone away from being the Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell.
There was one small problem with all of this.
I never really accomplished any of those things.
My mom went to a local trophy store and paid to have the awards created. She made up a fake narrative about the school year as a way to compete with the other mothers around our neighborhood. It was the most bizarre Real Housewives storyline ever.
Here’s the truth about my sixth-grade year. I was a wallflower who struggled to make connections. I had just hit puberty, had braces, bad skin, and a bowl haircut because she fancied herself an amateur hair stylist. I didn’t really have many friends. I was bullied endlessly in the locker room and dreaded gym class. The girlfriend was nonexistent. I was too shy to even talk to girls.
But as I watched my mother show off my “awards” to her friends, 11-year-old Dan made a decision.
Whatever I was that year wasn’t enough for my family to be proud of me. I needed to be “more.”
So I began a 25-year quest to push harder, achieve higher, and prove my worthiness. By age 24, I was making six figures as a radio executive, a career in which I followed in my father’s footsteps. I drove nice cars and lived in beautiful homes.
By any definition, I was “successful.”
I just wasn’t fulfilled.
When I finally hit rock bottom with my depression in 2012, I couldn’t connect the dots as to why. No matter how much money I made, no matter what level of career success I achieved, I never felt like I was “enough”. I had lived with the feelings of inadequacy for so long that I figured it was simply part of my DNA. Unworthiness had become my identity.
Yet, nobody is born depressed. Babies can stare into space for hours, smile, and be in bliss without urging. Toddlers don’t live in fear. They fall on their face countless times as they learn to walk, only to get right back up and try again until the goal is achieved.
So why are we so different as adults? Why do we put our passions on hold and create an inauthentic life? Why do we believe we weren’t meant to live our highest vision?
Our journey is not unlike that of a circus elephant, an animal born so powerful, it could tear down the entire circus tent if it wanted to.
Why don’t they break free? They are conditioned to be submissive. Shortly after birth, the animal is chained to large stakes. While it fights hard, it does not yet possess the strength to get away. Once the elephant grows too weary to struggle further, it is rewarded with food and water. The process repeats until the animal finally gives in and resigns itself to its captivity.
People feel outraged when they hear this, overlooking the fact that humans go through a similar process. We are imprisoned by the limiting beliefs that we’re taught by parents and teachers who tell us what we should do and who we should be.
“Children should be seen, not heard.”
“Your dreams aren’t realistic.”
“Honor thy father and mother”.
We are rewarded when we are compliant with these statements and punished when we try to walk a different path. Thus, we develop behavioral patterns as a means to survive. This is where our negative thoughts and self-limiting beliefs are born. We are conditioned to be quiet, to disappear, to put the needs of everyone else first.
Watching my mother bragging about my fake trophies was one single fleeting afternoon in a lifetime. I had forgotten about it for decades. Yet, the results had lasting consequences.
In order to move forward, our personal development journey requires us to become an emotional archeologist and uncover these buried memories which keep us from our best life.
For every negative belief, there is a specific incident in which we made that decision. Freedom comes once we remember the incident, flip the script, and give it a new, empowering meaning.
Those trophies may have hurt my self-image, but they also caused me to be the hard worker that I am today. For that, I am thankful.
Likewise, my 25-year journey to find my purpose has given me a blueprint to coach others who have lost their way. Without that experience in sixth grade, I could not serve the world the way in which I was meant to serve.
This knowledge means I no longer have to survive. I can give myself permission to thrive and do the work I was intended to do.
So what is the belief that holds you back? What is the behavior you want to change? Trace the steps back, learn the precise moment you chose to make a belief, then simply make a new choice.
Your purpose is waiting for you on the other side.