Chasing a lie, and a few other life lessons...

girl at school in distress

It was the mid 80s.

I was sitting in a trailer at Mesa Community College, about to take the final exam for my human resource management class.

This was one of my favorite classes. 

I loved when the coursework emphasized the human side of organizations: the people, how they’re treated, and the best way to inspire them for growth – a subject matter that I truly love and that inspires me to this day.

I was ready for this final - totally prepared and psyched. 

The instructor was a beautiful Indian woman who spoke with a heavy accent. Extremely smart, fairly strict, and demanding of respect. And I could tell that she respected the hard-working student, too.

She was my kind of teacher.

All semester long, I participated in class. And since the subject matter was one that I loved, the coursework was pretty easy for me - dare I say, fun. (Yep, you guessed it. I'm a geek.)

This time, though, things were different.

As we were handed the exam, something happened. Something extremely unsettling.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I was one of those students who strove for straight A’s? If I didn’t get an A, that meant I’d failed.

As I glanced down at the paper and began reading the first few questions, my heart started to race.

It wasn’t an excited, happy, I’ve got this! kind of racing, as it often was. It was the Oh, god! What’s happening? kind.

Apparently, the pressure I’d put on myself all semester long was finally catching up.

And it wasn’t from just the class. As I said, I loved that stuff. I knew it inside and out.

It was a combination of overly high academic self-expectations, striving to excel in a new full time corporate job, and the fact that my first real love relationship was on the rocks. (He’d expected me to be perfect, too.)

My mind went blank, and I just stared at my paper in a state of panic.

Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! I CANNOT fail this test! I KNOW this stuff. I LOVE this stuff. I deserve a hundred percent! Oh, my god! What am I going to do?!

My eyes welled with tears, as I felt the rush of blood coursing through my head. You know that feeling?

I respected this teacher, and I was pretty sure she respected me, too –yet I still felt a little afraid to approach her now.

But I couldn’t accept a zero for this. That was NOT an option. I decided to make my way up to her desk.

Quietly, but in a state of desperation, I explained to her that I was so prepared for this test and that my mind had just gone blank.

I was visibly crying now.

What happened next, though, was something I would never forget.

At that very instant, my teacher showed her gentle side - more so than ever before. She exemplified what she and some of my other instructors would preach all semester long.

This strong, intelligent, beautiful woman immediately and instinctively shared with me a huge dose of compassion, still maintaining her strong, professor-like composure.

She suggested I take a few minutes… walk outside, get some fresh air... get a different perspective, perhaps.

I was a bit shocked that she'd allow me to leave the room during a final exam. (Did I mention she was pretty strict?)

Nevertheless, taking her advice, I headed out of the trailer, down the stairs to the dirt lot below.

I was now in a different environment, but the angst and panic were persistent.

Oh, my god, oh my god, oh my god. I can't believe this. What am I going to do?

I tried taking some deep breaths as I still struggled to remember the material - forcing and pushing against my own mind.

How could this be happening? WHY?

A few minutes that seemed like an eternity later, she came outside to check on me.

I told her I couldn’t believe this was happening. I was so prepared for this test. I knew this information. (And I knew that she knew that I knew it, too.)

The mere fact that she came out to check on me showed me that she felt for me. She knew the kind of student I was and really wanted to help me.

Yet, there was still this feeling that her hands were tied. This was a final exam, after all, and I felt that, to her, there was really nothing more she could do for me at that point.

Before heading back up the stairs, she suggested I try to relax and breathe and take a few minutes more, but that I should really come in soon.

Standing at the base of the trailer on the edge of campus, dumbfounded and almost resigned, I looked out toward the main parking lot and the admin building. 

Breathing in and out, in and out, I started to let go. Then a little more…

Within minutes, as if by some miracle, the floodgates started to crack.

Little by little, then faster and faster, bits and pieces of information started coming back to mind, until all the course material just gushed to the forefront like an open dam.

Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! YES! 

I raced back up the stairs, planted myself at my desk, and whizzed through that exam as if there were no tomorrow – and as though nothing had ever even happened.

That was it. Aced it. HA-LE-LU-JAH!

I was so relieved, beaming with satisfaction. And you can bet I was sure to thank my professor and let her know how much I appreciated her before walking out that trailer door for the last time.

After all these years, I may have forgotten her name, but I'll never forget her humanity, her endearing accent, or how she made me feel that day.

Far more valuable than that A, however, or the straight A's I'd earn through my college career, are some very important life lessons I’ve learned since then.

These lessons would continue to show up in various forms, over and over throughout my life, before they’d really sink in. And though I feel they've stuck for the most part, I still need an occasional reminder of what’s not so important (and what is) in the grand scheme of things. 

I feel privileged to share some of these lessons here with you, and offer a few suggestions from "the other side"...

  • Please don’t let your concern for getting things exactly right (or getting straight A’s) get in the way of your quality of life. You may feel validated at the moment, but that's just a temporary feeling. In the grand scheme of things, in most cases it just doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you did your best, learned, can apply what you learned, and enjoyed yourself along the way. 

  • There’s no such thing as a perfect human being. On the inside, you’re already perfect. Your soul… it’s perfect. No mistakes were made there. But as humans, perfection doesn’t exist. So don’t waste your time chasing the lie. And by all means, check anyone who expects it from you. They’re just trying to make up for their own feelings of inadequacy. 

  • Take the time to breathe and be present with yourself. And if you feel so stressed out that you don’t have the time to do this, it means you need to do it even more. At least take 5 minutes with yourself on a daily basis. You deserve it. And you’ll thank yourself for it.

  • This one is HUGE... If I’d been taught this back in my twenties, so many things would’ve landed into place much faster and more easily for me. Don’t try to resist or push away uncomfortable feelings. I'll say that again. Don’t try to resist or push away uncomfortable feelings. Notice them. Feel them. Be present with them. Dare I say, make friends with them. Be compassionate with yourself, as you would with anyone else you love. Do this and I promise you, the feelings will subside much more quickly… and gracefully.

  • Be patient. Answers will come - and not always (or usually) on your timetable.

  • Be grateful and present with life, and in turn life will reward you.

  • Life’s about stripping off the layers of perceived limitation. Our thoughts of limitation have accumulated from our environment and experiences since we were born. Through lessons learned, we aim to get back to our true nature, which is love itself.

  • Life’s about growing, expanding, contributing, and sharing what we’ve learned, so that others feel free to do the same. When we do these things, we feel fulfilled.

  • Know that you are never alone.

  • Share yourself – the real you – with all of humanity.

  • Know that everything you need is inside you.

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