Reputations. Stereotypes. Labels. We've all had to deal with these. You hope after high school that this gets better but it doesn't really. It shifts shapes but the idea remains the same. We all fall victim to this. So why am I writing about it now?
I was out with a guy friend of mine last week and we were discussing someone I've never really felt likes me. This person is more his friend than mine, which is why I brought it up. Now I pause here to say that one of the cold hard facts of life I've had to deal with is this, not everyone will like you. I'm a people pleaser and so this wasn't an overnight acceptance for me but I have finally come to grips with the idea that I don't have to please everyone and not everyone has to like me. In fact, I'd rather have their respect - but that's another entry.
Finally after several years of wondering why this particular acquaintance doesn't care for me my friend said, 'well, she thinks you're spoiled and entitled and you didn't have to work to get where you are'. Now this really knocked the wind out of me. I'm usually pretty in-tune with people and I'm rarely caught completely off guard but this one shocked me. She thinks what?
Pause again, I need to tell you that I've met this person maybe five times total over the course of 2-3 years. This is not someone who's heavily involved in my life, has ever had an in depth conversation with me, or is part of my social circles. In other words, she doesn't really know me. But apparently she think she has me pretty well figured out.
Normally as a fiery young lady this is the part where I would go on the defensive and list all the reasons that her assessment of me is completely off base. But I've learned and grown considerably this year and so I calmly turned to my friend and said, 'what do you think?' See I could spend the rest of my life defending myself against the people who think they understand me or the world I live in but what I'm more concerned with is what the people who know me think. I also appreciate honestly and this particular friend is painfully honest. He once told me 'well Becca, you were in pretty good shape but I can tell you've been slacking'. Yeah, that honest. So I will admit that while I waited for his response I was little afraid to hear what he might say.
He thought for a moment and he said, 'You know, when I first met you I might have thought that. Before we met I knew your Dad was an NFL football coach and I guess I kind of assumed what you'd be like from growing up in the lifestyle. But honestly, you're not. You work hard, harder than most people you're age. And while you probably could have leveraged your connections, you haven't - you've worked to get what you want and to be where you are. You're smart and you're always making plans and goals and working towards them. I think you deserve what you do have and I wouldn't say you're spoiled or entitled at all, just determined'.
I felt satisfied with that answer, I'll admit. From someone who basically told me I was pudging up, to be called smart and hardworking was a huge compliment. See, I didn't pick where I came from but the life I've built? That has been a direct result of my choices, effort, and work. I moved here to build a life on my own. That's not to say that my parents aren't supportive and that they haven't been incredibly encouraging and had my back over the years. But I came here to do it on my own, to prove to myself that I could.
I've done a lot of things wrong. I've made mistakes. I've screwed up. My pride has caused me to fall. I've poked holes in walls, fallen down stairs, spilled drinks on new carpet, over withdrawn a bank account (several times actually), and a whole slew of other mistakes. In fact, I recently let the cat out of the bag to my Mom about how after buying a house I got myself into a little credit card debt and how long it took me to get back out. My Mom sounded surprised when she said, 'you never told me about that' to which I responded, 'that's because it was my mistake to fix and I knew if I told you, you'd want to help'.
It has always been important to me to be independent. To earn what I get and to work for what I want. That is not to say that I don't appreciate that the Lord extends me grace and hasn't given me what I ultimately deserve or that I'm not grateful that my Mom sacrificed her career to homeschool me and my Dad worked hard to provide for me growing up. I have an incredible family and I wouldn't trade them for anything. My life is truly blessed in so many ways and I might even go so far as to say that I'm spoiled in that way.
The real point of this post isn't about whether that girl has me pegged just right or whether I'm, in fact, the opposite is true. The point is that labels, reputations, and stereotypes are a fact of life but they're also a dangerous game. Judging people you don't know based on their backgrounds will keep you from appreciating who they are now. Perhaps where we come from effects where we go in life but our pasts don't define us. If there's one lesson I've learned in my 20s it's this - you choose who you are and you create the life you have with choices that you make. What priorities you make and how you spend your time will in the end be the life you lived. That's on you.
I feel like I come from the generation of blamers. Nothing bad is ever our fault. We blame our parents. We blame our friends. We blame the economy and the job market and the federal government. We blame our colleges or the bad choice of major. But the truth is, we're responsible for us. And while I can't change that particular girl's mind about me if she wants to believe I'm a certain way, I can keep working towards being someone of character. I can't control what people say about me, but I can control who I am. I left that conversation encouraged and challenged. I have the freedom to control who I am. I may even be a little drunk with power on that topic lately. But I've been putting a lot of thought this week into what labels I want and how I would define myself.
So for any of you who have recently thought, 'Is that what you really think of me?', take heart! You're not alone. The rumor mill has given each of us the occasional swift kick. But while real life is unfortunately not always more advanced than high school, you control who you are. Don't let anyone make you think otherwise.