Falling in love with words at a young age has taken me to some very interesting places.
One of the most interesting – and least comfortable – of these places were the years I spent as a traveling motivational speaker.
In theory, I was attempting to motivate others – particularly college students who struggled with eating or other issues the way I had done when I was in college myself.
But in reality, looking back now, I have to admit I was mostly hoping to motivate myself.
Every time I would speak to a group of students and instructors, I would learn something new about my own journey. Most importantly, I would discover again and again how very important, vital, essential, my mentors have been in keeping me alive and helping me heal, one small aha moment at a time.
I’m pretty sure the only reason any institution ever hired me to speak was because they wanted to hear the eating disorder basics from the horse’s mouth, so to speak – warning signs, triggers, symptoms, how to help a loved one, that sort of thing.
And these were all very important topics that I wanted to cover.
But they weren’t nearly so important as the one topic I absolutely planned to cover during my talks. That topic was mentoring.
I say this because, in over two decades’ worth of fighting to heal from anorexia and bulimia, I learned one single thing that literally saved my life, and I wanted each person in the audience to learn about it too.
What I learned is that I have a choice who I listen to in this life. I have a choice who I look to for guidance, inspiration, support, help. I have a choice who I surround myself with.
Even more importantly, I learned that if I don’t make this choice for myself, the world will make it for me.
This world we live in is literally chock-full of mentors. We have so many mentors it would be impossible to count them up.
This world’s mentors are busy each and every day creating new content to slow down our internet connections and boggle our brains. These mentors clog up our freeways with billboards and bulk up our magazines with ads.
They interrupt our television programs to tell us about new products and services and programs we can buy to make ourselves better, stronger, bigger or smaller, depending on who is talking and who is listening and what the day’s self-betterment goals may be.
But what these mentors – the world’s mentors – will never ever say, what we will never EVER hear from them, is this:
You are fine just the way you are. You do you. You be you. You is the best person to be.
During the years just before I developed anorexia (so basically years zero to 10), I never heard this from anyone around me. I did stick out, make no mistake about it. I was a head taller than everyone else in my class from kindergarten through fifth grade. I was also a year older and I got my pre-pubescent growth spurt a year earlier than my classmates.
This meant I grew visibly bigger than every other kid in my class, and you’d better believe they noticed.
It probably didn’t help matters that I often insisted on wearing every skirt I owned to school all at the same time, layered in an odd multi-colored type of “tutu” and accented by a long white slip on my head because I wanted long hair and my mom wouldn’t let me grow mine out.
And I never did manage to grasp why, if I really loved an outfit (like, say, my blue jean culottes with matching pale blue Izod shirt and pale blue Keds sneakers), I couldn’t just wear it to school every. single. day.
My peers definitely tried to educate me on these finer style points. By fifth grade, I could have worn couture to school and I still would have been bullied. I just couldn’t manage to blend in no matter what I tried (and believe me, I DID want to blend in – or, better yet, simply turn invisible).
Right before I flat-out stopped eating, which was near the end of my sixth grade year, three very important people in my life told me I was too fat in the space of a single week. At that point, I had finally had enough.
So I decided to fix it. I decided to let them mentor me.
They mentored me and did a fine job of it for more than a decade before I realized their “help” was going to kill me. In fact, it wasn’t just going to kill me, but by that point I actually wanted it to kill me because I was so miserable life didn’t seem like it was worth living anyway.
Then I met someone who changed all that. I met Annie.* I write about Annie in my very first book – she is the first person I mention and there is a reason for that. She is still, in many ways, the most important mentor ever to come into my life. Her presence saved me. She saved my life just by having the courage to say something different than what all my other so-called “mentors” were saying.
Annie looked at me and she saw me. She saw ME. She saw down underneath the unfashionably baggy all-black clothes that were by then hanging like limp rags on my clothespin frame. She saw past the poker face and sad eyes and mono-syllabic vocabulary. She saw through the people-pleasing robotic facade I had carefully constructed to keep interaction with and input from others of my species to a minimum.
Most importantly, Annie made sure to let me know she saw me. She did this by telling me. She said to me, “I see you.” Then she told me she cared about the me she saw. She communicated this by saying to me, “I think you have something to you need to talk about. And I think if you don’t tell someone what you are holding inside you are going to burst.”
She was right. I made a very brave choice that day when I opened up my mouth to politely tell Annie she was wrong and instead I let all those trapped, stuck words spill out. I told her the TRUTH about what it felt to be me, living my life, stuck in a nightmare with my name on it that I had no idea how to get myself out of.
Then something magical happened. Annie said she wanted to help me. She actually wanted to help me learn to see food as a friend. She wanted to listen as I talked. She wanted to stand there beside me to help me feel braver and learn how to live from that brave place inside me. She told me she saw a fighter inside me and that fighter was someone she recognized, because she had a fighter inside her too.
That moment – that hour – changed my WHOLE LIFE.
I simply cannot emphasize this enough. Over the years I have written blogs, books and whole boatloads of articles about mentoring. And I suspect I will continue to do so because I love mentoring with a passion. This is because mentoring, for me at least, is the ultimate game-changer.
The mentors you choose – the mentors I choose – they can change everything. They can make anything possible or make everything impossible. They can lift us up or bury us ten feet under. The mentors we surround ourselves with each and every day can absolutely make or break us.
There are so many theories by so many great people to support this (I write about many of my favorites each week here in this very blog!)
But no matter how much I write about it, think about it, meditate on it, it is something I still don’t think has sunk in enough in my own life. Truthfully, every input matters. Each moment we spend “casually” flipping through a magazine or browsing what’s on television matters. Every minute of reading a book or talking with a friend or colleague matters. Every little bit of information, knowledge, insight, opinion, theory or fact we let slip past our personal gatekeeper matters. Each and every particle of it will make an impact.
So we’d better be sure whatever we are letting in deserves the privilege.
I continue to learn and re-learn that there really is no “wasted” time. There is only time spent focusing on things that make our life a little bit worse when we could have instead spent those moments focusing on things that make our life a little bit better.
This is the essence of mentoring for me.
I’m not always super-fond of today’s trend towards “curating” everything, especially as it seems to be applied fairly equally to everything from sandwich meats to fine art.
But I will say, I have a VERY carefully curated network of mentors that I have hand-selected and installed in up-close and personal positions in my daily life. Each one of these souls is essential to my well-being and, really, my sanity.
Here, I should stop and clarify: when I say “mentors,” I mean people, plants, animals, books, movies, nature – anyone and anything inspiring, uplifting, positively challenging is fair game to get added to my curated collection. I don’t have to know these beings personally. I don’t have to have had the chance to shake their hand, say thank you or chit-chat. I also don’t have to ask their permission, and they never need to know about it.
This is because I am adding them for my benefit, not theirs. It is a private matter between me and me and I am the only one who gets a say.
So I just want to emphasize – even a magazine can be a mentor, a positive influence, a welcome source of smiles and gratitude in your daily life – if it is the right magazine.
I can prove it, too. I won’t list all of my mentors here, because I’m sure you have other things to do today besides reading this blog post.
But here is a small sample from my ever-growing intimate inner circle of beings and entities and things that make me want to just BLOOM with everything in me, give living my life as me absolutely everything that I’ve got…..
- Pearl, Malti & Bruce (my “inner flock” as one dear friend calls them).
- Sting. His music soothes my soul. Plus, true love lasts a lifetime.
- Don Miguel Ruiz. “The Four Agreements.” “The Mastery of Love.” ’nuff said.
- Lynn. My long-time, long-suffering mentor of nearly 2 decades now.
- Byron Katie. Saying “yes” and “no” sincerely and from the heart is enough.
- Adriene Mischler. #yogawithadriene. #findwhatfeelsgood. <3
- The Dalai Lama. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
- The ocean. It is the expert puzzle-solver. Just watching the ocean can take all the broken, bent, missing pieces of me and put them into perfect place again.
- Green beings. From houseplants to ancient forests, they are the oxygen to my carbon dioxide.
- Animals and nature, the sun and the moon. Nature can heal me, soothe me, comfort me, restore me when nothing else even comes close.
These are just a handful of the many mentors in my life (for a more complete list of my favorite book mentors, check out my reading list).
Today’s Takeaway: Who is mentoring you? Did you choose your mentors or have you allowed the world to choose them for you? Or do you look out over the many influences shaping you and see a mix? Where would you perhaps like to make some deliberate changes to create a community of mentors that aligns fully with your unique and unrepeatable body, heart, mind and spirit?
*I changed her name to protect her privacy. <3