Have you ever wanted to do something different, anything from a new hobby to a career change to starting your own business to a new hair color, yet you thought about what your friends and family would think about your past and your choice? Have you ever started rehearsing in your mind what shortcomings people would bring up or what they would say you were trying to be?
“Who does she think she is?”
“Remember when she said she was going to…”
“She tried abc once and failed.”
“She is trying to be too big for her britches.” (Okay, who uses “britches” on a regular basis? So, you got to know this is nothing but a lie from the enemy.)
Maybe you go back two, five, or ten years ago to something you tried and how it did not go so well. And you remember the people around you who witnessed it.
Maybe you consider the weight of how your friends and family have become accustomed to you living to their expectations.
You can let these thoughts of fear last for a few minutes.
You can allow them hold you hostage for weeks, months and years.
When it comes to these thoughts, I have heard a piece of advice that I think is, well, just plain bad. It is:
It is all in your head. People are not spending time thinking about you and what you have done.
Although there is a high probability that most people are not spending every waking moment tallying your missteps and remembering most aspects of your life journey, certain people remember.
If you count on people to be God and have your whole life in a sea of forgetfulness, you live detached from reality.
People are not God. We are humans.
We are the kind that will cheer you on with tons of support, and the same kind who secretly competes against you.
We are that kind of humanity.
That random person who remembers that you failed on your diet from 1 year, 3 months, 5 weeks, 2 days, and 7 hours ago, when you thought no one paid attention.
I believed it, too.
I thought it was all in my head.
Until, it actually happened.
Participation Awards: Failed Attempt at Public Shaming
Once, I was at a gathering and a woman attended who remembered me from years ago. I did not even recognize her. This person did not come up to me to say, “Hello” or “Yo mama.”
What I found fascinating and illustrative was that she brought up a network marketing side-hustle I did from years upon years upon years ago. She asked aloud, in an announcement to the group, if I still did it. Also, what struck me about the way she did it was her body language, her tone of voice, and the way she looked at me. It was as if she was trying to embarrass me. I suppose after getting a Ph.D. I was supposed to somehow feel badly about a random side-hustle from my past. Have you ever come across someone with a straight-up jealous and hater energy? She had all of it going.
Good Lord and Good Lawd.
Typically, when I see someone from years ago, I try to catch up on the individual’s life. I seek to find ways to personally reconnect. I do not announce to a group instead of talking to the person, “Hey, ya’ll! Rebecca here used to sell make-up in college! Do you still sell it, Dr. Rebecca?”
I suppose I am more normal than I realize.
I could not recall what she was talking about, and I still struggled to place her in my mind. So her attempt failed. It took hours for me to figure out what she was talking about because it was such a small blip on the screen of my life. When I finally remembered, I laughed and shook my head. We had worked together a long time ago, but we were not close, and I think there are more embarrassing things in life than attempting to make extra income in a legitimate fashion.
For example, selling candles is legal, whereas, selling cocaine is not.
Besides, if Dr. Rebecca wants to still sell make-up then great for her.
Who would hold on to something insignificant for years to somehow use against you in the smallest or biggest ways? I don’t know. Most healthy-functioning and decent human beings will not engage in a crude manner.
But, I realized that people do remember even the smallest, most random things that you might give little thought to.
And you know what? I have experienced multiple instances with people bringing something up – good, bad, or some point in between about something from my past. Therefore, I am challenging the idea that it is all in our heads and that no one is thinking about what we do.
What Does It Mean to You?
People will remember things you do. I do not know who, but someone will.
You might have a frenemie. It could be someone who secretly wishes for your demise. It could be your loved one with the best of intentions.
I think this advice slaps a bandaid on a deeper issue: Feeling self-confident and assured in what you are doing.
The whole notion of slipping under the radar without any attention sounds fine and dandy, and for many maybe it does. But, I deal with folks who bring up the most random stuff.
You never know who is tallying what they perceive as your wins and losses.
I think instead of the bandaid, we should get to the root.
The bigger issue is not who is watching and what they are remembering, the larger concern is: What does it mean to YOU?
If they remember a time when you and I were lost, down, and downright out, it does not matter.
If they remember your past failings, it does not matter.
What matters is that God’s memory is looking at how you keep going. And how you rise up.
I want you to know it matters how you perceive your life journey.
Depending on which aspects of your life you choose to emphasize, the same life story of triumph can be perceived as a life story of failure.
You have freedom to choose your thoughts and feelings about all of it.
You see, this person tried to embarrass me for something I did not remember, which I still chuckle about as I write it. However, I have had moments that I did not find as entertaining because I focused more on my shortcomings.
The question I began to focus on that helps me: Is it your past?
If you have an affirmative response, then I offer to you to own your past so that you are not held hostage by it.
If you did illegal activities, made some poor decisions, or royally screwed up in the past, but you have been truly transformed, then boldly stand in your freedom.
Maybe you are stick a fork in it done with playing it safe and by everybody’s expectations more than God’s. Then walk boldly in his direction for your life.
I am unashamed that I have worked hard in life. I am unashamed that instead of being born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I waited tables at a greasy spoon restaurant.
I do not feel ashamed that part of my ancestry consists of enslaved Africans who did not allow the middle passage, chattal slavery, or Jim Crow to break them.
All of it makes me who I am.
No matter what, God shows up strong in his grace and power.
Therefore, when people remember parts of our journeys,
That is it.
It is part of my journey.
It is part of your journey.
When you live free from your past, you live unashamed.