The last time I stood up for a speech was for my 8th grade graduation and I used an analogy relating to a puzzle. I explained how over the years, each unique and individual piece works to fit together, forming a beautiful picture. From anyone who knows me, my brain works in metaphors. I need to tie everything together in a way that makes sense to me or I won’t understand. After living my life through metaphors I saw that it stopped me from healing. Avoiding the reality of situations and trying to diminish the pain they caused me, left me hiding behind a person no one ever knew. So, while everything I said in my 8th-grade graduation speech is true, today I am going to be more literal.
My whole life I have been afraid of the unknown. To add some context;
Gymnastics defined my childhood. I started the sport at three and quickly began winning every competition. I had a true talent and purpose: to compete at the Olympics and get full-ride scholarships for collegiate gymnastics. After years of tireless dedication, an injury ended everything. When practicing a new vault, I shattered my elbow. In the moment of shock, I had no idea my life would be forever changed. After years of rehabilitation and unexpected surgeries, it was time to move on. I spent my whole childhood working up to the certainty of a dream I thought I always knew. This unexpected turn of events left me lost in the unknown.
At the time I retired, I was entering high school. At the moment I had lost all sense of purpose, I was not excited for this next chapter of my life, but was dreading it. That first day, my discomfort was validated by the sheer volume of strangers who seemed to have a perfect sense of self. Even if there was a place for me there, I was so self-unaware that I didn’t give myself a chance to find it. As time progressed, my mental health and grades worsened. Gymnastics demands perfection and that narrow mindset crippled me as I fought to achieve an unattainable ideal. I was overcome by self-disappointment; Through habitually thrashing myself over others’ false impressions of my work ethic, my unknown sense of self, and belief that I did not deserve happiness, something broke internally. I had reached my rock bottom and it was time for me to move on.
In December of junior year, I made the radical decision to change schools. Being a quitter was inconceivable, but leaving was the only way to give myself another chance at success. After reaching rock-bottom, I craved an exhilarating new beginning. Because of the overwhelming outpouring of encouragement from those around me, my outlook on life profoundly changed. I became excited to wake up in the morning to be in an environment where I was truly seen. My academics flourished and, for the first time in years, I felt proud of myself. When I stopped disparaging myself over things out of my control, I found the confidence to rise to the challenge of things that are.
In all reality, there is no way to predict the future. Life is a constant cycle of the unknown; every unexpected twist and turn tests our strength as we press ourselves not to lose hope, but to gain it in a whole new way. I realized that my talent and purpose never left me, but were hidden by my narrow mindset of unattainable perfection. By reframing my perspective, I realized three things: I am not a quitter, but a fighter. I am not overly sensitive, but empathetic. And lastly, I am not broken, just bent in a beautiful way. The aftermath of pain is transformative. After all, contrast in life is painful, but the juxtaposition of true anguish and overwhelming potential shapes our true selves. My dread of the unknown has become excitement for the possibilities of the future. By walking through the darkness and accepting the uncertainty that life entails, I discovered a person I never knew and now love: a person with deep emotional empathy, and a newfound strength to find the light even in the bleakest of times.