There have been moments of great change and transformation throughout my life, to the extent that I feel as if I have lived many lives within one.
As we grow up, we develop ideas about relationships, roles, life, and the world and how it works. I want you to imagine that you have a personal assistant, or secretary, that lives in your mind. We will call her “Mindy.”
Every time that you have a new experience, Mindy takes it and puts it in a storage unit where you have nice little boxes filled with mental concepts that fit together like legos.
As you have a new experience she helps you assimilate it: Mindy sees where it fits best and places it there.
At times new things enter our lives that don’t fit as neatly, and our personal Mindy rearranges and restacks some of the boxes to make that new experience fit into the storage unit. In other words, we accommodate it.
So, what happens when we have an experience that does not fit into any box? One that actually makes us question the contents of our storage unit?
For example, I was once working with a group of teenagers conducting an exercise called “Cross the Line,” in which different scenarios were called out to the group, and those who had experienced it in their past walked across the line in front of them, stood and reflected, and then walked back to where they started. The ones who had never experienced the scenario just stood in silence and watched the others cross.
One of the statements was, “Did you grow up in a household where there was a lot of fighting, arguing, and yelling?” Half of the students walked across the line, and as they turned around you could see the emotions on both sides of the line. Those who grew up with conflict realized they were not alone, while the others felt empathy for those who crossed. Many of them had assumed that their family environment was everyone’s reality, but the activity revealed that some relationships are filled with chaos and conflicts, while others revolve around harmony and support. This is important because:
Whatever we believe is reality becomes what we will seek and find.
Any information, such as this new insight for the teenagers, that contradicts the information in a box in our storage units creates disequilibrium, or imbalance, in our life. Imagine Mindy opening the storage unit, confused, thinking, “What am I suppose to do with this? If I put it in I have to rearrange many of these boxes that fit so tightly.” It can be daunting, exhausting, confusing, and frustrating. At the same time, it can be rewarding, adventurous, and joyful, if we become more open. If we experience something contrary to our belief system we often try to ignore it, force it into a box, and stuff it in the corner of the storage unit. Yet, with time additional, similar experiences arrive that support the information and strengthen the new belief, and it forces us to reconstruct our storage unit, and our reality, no matter how hard the task may be.
Some people like change to move slow, but often the experiences arrive all at once. Like the saying goes, “When it rains it pours.” However, we don’t realize at the time that rain brings new life and growth. In our society, we have been taught that when we experience a state of imbalance because of life changes we should fear and repress it. This is the farthest thing from the truth; we should embrace that imbalance because it is in that state of disequilibrium that we find complete transformation.
The longer we fight the transformation and hold onto belief systems that no longer serve us, the more challenging the transition will be.
Have no doubt, though, that the transition and transformation will occur. Once we plant a seed that speaks truth and resonates with our being, it will grow, no matter how much we try to deprive of it of water and sunlight.
In my life, I have grown to embrace and look forward to these periods of transformation. They come as tides in the ocean. When one rises and creates rapid growth, I devour all information, expose myself to the experience, and allow it to help me grow. When the tide goes out, I take the time to create that space to reflect and slow the pace down so that my mind, body, and soul can fully integrate the information.
I remember in high school and during my first year in college, which I failed, I surrounded myself with individuals who had little aspiration. In fact, many of my friends were on the fast track to ending up dead or in prison. For a while I saw this as reality—that life was a battle and that you always had to be prepared to fight for respect.
When I was 19 my brother passed away, and I started to question my reality.
I realized that life can be short and that some actions can lead to a lifetime of scaring, just as his death had left scars in me. I decided that I wanted to be the person who would help heal scars instead of creating them. I was inspired to return to college and better my life. I did, and now I am completing my dissertation for my Ph.D. in Psychology.
I owed it to myself and my family to accept and embrace transformation. How could I not when:
My mother had spent part of her childhood in an orphanage and experienced many struggles, yet she embraced her own transformation to become the loving, powerful woman that she is today.
She would continuously seek change and transformation, and even during the most challenging times she always kept a positive attitude. At the same time:
My father grew up with limited resources, with 13 brothers, living in a two-bedroom home without electricity or running water. However, all of his siblings grew up to be very successful contributors to society.
There were no if, buts, or doubts. Failure was not an option. When I fell, I would get up and learn. I embraced that every experience was there to teach me, and every little accomplishment made me throw away some of the legos that I had built up. For example, shortly after I started college my car was hit by a semi truck that severely injured my spinal cord and left me and my mother without a vehicle. I was in intensive therapy and was told that I would have severe back problems for the rest of my life and that after age 30 I would have to use a waking aid. I could not even carry my books because of the severe pain.
I saw it as a test of my commitment, and I took busses and walked several miles a day to go to work and therapy during the day and school at night. I also cut off those who did not serve my highest good and took more time to myself to reflect and refine my dreams and desires, even though I spent many of those days in debilitating pain. I kept my pain to myself because I did not want to burden my family anymore. I told myself,
“If you can make it through this semester you will know that nothing will stop you.”
I finished the semester getting A’s in all my classes, but most importantly it began a transformation process that I have continued to embrace throughout my life.
Transformation can be instantaneous, but other times it slowly creeps on us and when we look back we realize that we are a completely different person. All you have to do is take the next step and trust that even if that next step is off a cliff, the parachute will always open.
P.S. The doctors where wrong.
Joeel A Rivera, M.Ed., is a visionary, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. From an early age, Joeel faced adversity, including immigrating to the United States, failing his freshman year of college, losing his brother, and being in a nearly fatal car accident. These experiences inspired him to return to college, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Education and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology, with an emphasis on happiness. Joeel opened a non-profit teen center in honor of his brother and developed curriculums for the Juvenile Justice System. In almost a decade, Joeel has reached over ten thousand people as an educator, entrepreneur, speaker, and consultant. Visit www.joeelandnatalie.com.