Sometimes situations do not always turn out as we expect or hope. This is usually a blessing in disguise.
Sometimes, perhaps, we think too small. Sometimes we may be charting a course that merely leads us to someone else's dream.
Sometimes there is a lesson still to be learned that can only come from facing adversity or overcoming some obstacle. Until we’ve learned that lesson we can’t advance to the next stop on our own journey.
Summer before last I spent a week in Vermont studying in a sustainable food systems leadership program. That turned out to be a transformative experience for me in two ways.
The obvious transformation comes from what I learned and the vision that knowledge helped to solidify.
An unexpected benefit, though, was a brief opportunity to experience rejection.
After our group dinner Thursday night we had the opportunity to hang out and socialize with each other and with some of the speakers and session leaders. As the evening progressed, we drifted away in small groups, some back to the residence hall where most of us were staying, some of us stopped by a grocery coop. After the grocery visit, I returned to my wing of the residence hall alone.
As I walked down the deserted corridor to my room I heard lots of laughter from a room just across the hall from my door. Just as I arrived at my door, I heard a familiar voice in an obviously mocking tone say something that included the words “in Alabama.” Peals of laughter drowned out exactly what was said.
I paused in front of my door to listen, suddenly and painfully aware that someone was making fun of me. I was the only person in this group from Alabama. I had probably rattled my key or something, as I approached, because as quickly as the laughter came, it ceased, as if someone had heard me arrive and signaled to the others to kill whatever impersonation was underway.
I unlocked my door, went inside, and settled in to read.
Although I wasn’t interested in dwelling on what had just happened, I’m human.
I’d just spent pretty much every waking moment, from breakfast until after dinner, getting acquainted with about 30 individuals who were equally committed to doing something about the food system. I’d gotten to know some better than others. It was easy to figure out some of the people who were not in the room, because we had parted ways at the grocery co-op we’d visited on the way back to our respective lodgings.
I was fairly certain that I recognized the voice of the mocker. It was somewhat distinctive, even though partially disguised by the attempt at imitating my voice. And I was fairly certain they knew that I’d overhead.
I’m not a petty person and I knew that I would never overtly say anything.
But I also knew that I had to decide on my response, or it would eat at me, despite my best efforts to keep the selfish, wounded wolf of pride at bay.
As I lay in bed that night, trying to fall asleep, these words came to me:
Transcend and Transform
That would be my response. Transcend. Rise above.
At that moment, I perceived the transformation to be more about working to transform our food system. But I quickly came to realize the transformation would be internal.
The next day, when I saw these folks at breakfast, I felt nothing more than collegial companionship. Maybe even a bit of compassion for the person whom I thought to be my imitator.
I was the one being transformed. My willingness to ignore what had just happened and let it go changed me in some major way. It was liberating to be free of chains that come from holding onto a negative feeling.
Although that’s not the first time I’ve faced adversity, it’s the first time that I’ve known first-hand that someone was making fun of me. I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve been mocked. I’m a teacher, so it has happened, I'm sure. But it’s the only time that it’s happened in a context where I experienced it first hand, in real-time.
We often grow in ways we least expect.
For the past few years, I’ve been dealing with another form of adversity that I’ve come to realize has some parallels with what happened in that residence hall in Vermont last year.
Although I was chosen, I wasn’t the choice of the one person who holds the power that matters in the context.
Without using the word “transcend” at the time, when I first learned what had happened, I chose to focus on improvement and personal development. I was naïve enough to believe that if I expanded my skills and produced the desired results, the evidence would speak for itself.
I chose to focus on myself, not fixing the other person. I produced the right results, but the results didn’t yield the predicted outcome. When confirmation bias is in play, evidence isn't interpreted objectively.
In the process of trying to figure out how to deal with the situation and trying to control the outcome, I learned that just had to let go.
I had to let go that I could influence the other person’s response to my efforts. I learned that I had to let go, even of the results of my efforts.
I’ve learned that confirmation bias is a real phenomenon and that we humans are a fickle lot. We tend to only see what we want to see.
Over the course of the past year, I’ve come to the realization that I will never win over that person.
I can only control my response. And my ultimate response has been to transcend. Let go.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve grown in ways and in directions that I never would have predicted. I’ve learned new skills and I’ve learned more about human psychology than a Ph.D. in that field would ever yield.
But most importantly, I’ve been transformed.
Had I not experienced a fleeting and irrelevant moment of rejection in that corridor in a residence hall in Vermont, I don’t think I would have experienced transformation through this other situation.
And I've come to discern that everything I've experienced has been preparing me for something I never envisioned.
Life is funny that way.
Transcend. And Be Transformed.
Do you agree? How have you learned through adversity? I'd love to hear your story. Share it below in the comments.