In May, I will have the honor of being the Keynote Speaker at a graduation ceremony at my College. I was deeply touched to get the call and accepted on the spot. This school gave me the opportunity to trade in one label for another. It allowed me to turn in a label that shamed and haunted me, shielded my eyes when I came in contact with others who had not done the unthinkable thing that I had done.
This college gave me a chance to turn in my label, and in doing so, offered me an opportunity to step up and take another label instead.
You see, this is no ordinary graduation ceremony. This ceremony will be for all of the students, who like myself, for one personal life story reason or another, never finished high school. High school drop-outs, high-school fell-outs, people who, for whatever reason, never crossed that magic threshold to make them high school graduates.
Trust me, “High School Drop Out” is not a label anyone wears with pride. I had the dubious honor of wearing the label of “Two-time High School Drop Out” because I dropped out once, decided I had gotten my act together and could finally do it, and then realized I couldn’t. So I dropped out again. Double Fail. Double Shame.
However, something deep within my spirit wouldn’t settle for wearing that label. Something inside of me knew that I was destined for much more than “Two-time High School Drop Out” attached to my obituary when it was written and I sure as hell didn’t want my daughter (the beautiful happenstance that caused the dropping out in the first place…) to describe me that way.
So I went to the local college where I could take a high school equivalency test (GED). My hand shook as I signed the paper.
What if I failed?
It felt like my only chance. My last chance to get rid of this label.
The fear of failing was so strong I almost ran out of the room. In fact, I did walk out of the room, down the hall and slunk to the floor, my stomach quivering, my heart beating hard against my chest cavity as I willed the tears not to come. I did not want to face that test. A test, which in fact is a series of tests. Each one in different subjects to be sure you don’t sneak through on your one pretty good thing. I knew I would pass the history and science parts.
But to this very day, I count on my fingers and can’t spell. I’m dyslexic. There was no promise I would make it out that door without that shameful label still stuck to my name.
But one thing was for sure, if I stayed in that hallway, I was a high school drop out for the rest of my life. If I went back in, I at least stood a chance at changing my future.
As you might have guessed, I passed. I let go of the shackles of two time- drop out and moved on to high school graduate. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted a bigger label. I wasn’t ready to settle for the label of “High School Graduate.”
So when Autumn came, I faced the Fear Monster one more time and trembled my way through the terror into my first semester as a full time college student, full time employee and single mother. It wasn’t pretty. It was H.A.R.D. It took me ten years to graduate. And a hell of a lot of scraping, sleepless nights and tears. But I added college graduate to my labels and moved on.
When I was discussing the upcoming speech with the Dean at the college, I asked her, “What is one thing you want me to know about these graduates, and one thing you want them to know?”
I am paraphrasing, but she said something to the effect of, “I want you to know that you are one of the rare ones. Going on to college, getting your own business, creating success and having a happy family, writing and publishing novels, that is amazing. Less then 10% of the graduating class will have the courage to go on to college. They won’t believe they can do it. I want them to know they can do it.”
That made me sad.
They won’t believe they can do it.
What labels in your life are you accepting because you don’t believe you can go any farther? How far did you go before you said, “That’s my wall, that’s the line, I’m not capable of anything more.”
What label have you pinned on yourself because of fear?
Believe me, I know that fear. I know the heart-pounding, dry-mouthed, tear-provoking, panic-stricken terror of stepping over your label to reach for something more. I remember the first day of college, feeling like I didn’t belong there.
The first day of being a mother at sixteen. And every day since…
The first day of stepping into my first apartment.
The first day of being a homeowner.
Of being a wife.
Of being divorced
Of being a wife again. And again.
Of passing my Real Estate License, selling my first house…Owning my own business, becoming a coach…
Writing our first novel, having the courage to stop writing it and calling it done… letting the world see it for the first time.
Writing a second one and having the courage to step over the fear of worrying if it was going to be good as the first one. Finishing the series.
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about labels anymore. Until I got that phone call, I hadn’t thought about them for a very long time. I had forgotten about the way words like drop out, graduate, good, bad, in, out, used to define me.
They don’t anymore.
But neither does fear define me. Don’t misunderstand, I am by no means, fearless. I know fear very well. I just don’t let it stop me. Fear is something I step over on the way to where I am going next.
What are you letting define you? What are you letting stop you?
What labels are you settling for instead of stepping over fear and limiting beliefs to live the life you want?
Step over it. Let it go. Wear the label you want to wear. Not the one you feel stuck with. The only one keeping it there is…you.
Ready to drop the old labels, limiting beliefs and step over fear to start your new life? Afraid you don’t know where to begin, or how to do it by yourself? You don’t have to. Get the support, practical tips, strategies, compassion, help you desire and have some fun along the way. Join the Journey@ Journey to the Center of Your Heart .
Lisa Hines ~ SoulBiz Strategist says
This: “step over on the way to where I am going next.”
I loved the way you wrote that, letting the big-ness out of fear, and making it more manageable.
There are certainly things I skirt around, and stuff I need to just step over. I’ll think of your words as I do.
Lisa Hines ~ SoulBiz Strategist\’s last post… I stopped dancing when . . .
Jenny Tomlin says
Most people always think that the label someone else puts on you is the worst thing, however you hit the nail on the head, the label you give yourself is probably worse. That being said, despite knowing this bit of information does not stop either one from happening and after happening for such a long time, it’s very hard to ignore. My labels suck, but at this point, I don’t have a clue what to do to change them. I feel like I am lost in a tornado of coulda,shoulda, woulda and have no way of getting out.
Jenny Tomlin\’s last post… A Fresh Re-Start
Wendi Kelly says
Change is always possible if you are ready to do the work. One option is to join our free facebook “Around the Studio” group, where you can hang out with like-minded people who are dropping their label. If you want affordable group coaching, you can join our Journey Group. It’s $39.00 a month. Cheaper than what people pay for their monthly trips through fast food drives through and coffee shops.
There is ALWAYS a way out. It just depends on how important it is.
Your story is powerful and poignant. Your message will be heard by so many who need to hear it. We all need to hear it and the timing for them will be important. Marking this threshold more special than they can even imagine. BRAVA!
Wanda Baader says
Congratulations on achieving so much in your life so far and setting a great example for those that you touch. We all have gifts to share and it takes courage to step outside ourselves at times and take risks especially if we did not succeed before.
I am sure that you will deliver an inspiring keynote speech that will have the graduates thinking about their own dreams and possibilities that they may not have already realized. You will have to let us know how it went.
Best to you, Wendi.
Jennifer Truesdale says
Wendi, first let me say that the students who will hear you speak at graduation are very lucky indeed. What a gift your story will be to them. I love your take on fear, “Fear is something I step over on the way to where I am going next.” Right on! It’s not about being fearless but about not letting that fear define you. Beautiful!
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Miichelle Verdugo says
Congratulations ~ I’m excited for you Wendi! Your post is inspiring and you will be just as inspiring when you speak to the graduates! Life is all about “crossing over” and over and over and over… thanks for sharing your beautiful story!
Aly Pain says
Thank you so much for sharing the story of your ‘beautiful happenstance’. I am in awe of your courage and tenacity to create the success you have in spite of some pretty daunting odds. What better way to inspire more young people to follow you than share at the graduation ceremony!! I can’t wait to hear how that goes!
Labels can be an awful thing to face and overcome. I love how you have depersonalized them, put them aside and moved on. Kuddos!!
Great article and great story!
No matter how much wehave achieved and how far we have come, most of us tend to still hover around the labels that define us- some are more flattering than others, yet even these labels limit us in some way. Knowing that we can indeed choose to “step over” any label we have outgrown is so powerful!