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“If you went back and fixed all the mistakes you made, you erase yourself” – Louis C.K. I remember a lot from my elementary school days, it was full of the typical childhood shenanigans. It’s easy to look back at those times and laugh since I see it as a distant memory but if I went back in time to be in the 4th grade again a new feeling emerges, dread. What am I dreading? It’s not a doctor visit, or a run in with the local bully or even irrational fears kids have like monsters or aliens’ it was a typical day at school.
Going to school in the 4th grade was constant humiliation for me.
At a young age I realized I had a stutter and the habit of saying “uhm” whenever I spoke. This never affected me at home since nobody thought anything of it, but it was a completely different story at school. The start of a new school year rolled around again and it was time for me to enter a fresh year of school, making new friends and experiences.
It was time to go around the room and share something about yourself that would get everyone to know each other. This never worked in middle school (or college for that matter) as it’s not easy for kids to talk to strangers, and its worse if you don’t like speaking in general. It was my turn to go, “What do you like to do for fun” rung in my head, “I…I…I Like t-to play kickball” was the only thing I could say.
This made my teacher chuckle and it spread to some classmates. I remember these days with vivid memories since they impacted me to not speak unless spoken to and to hold my tongue for fear of embarrassment in front of everyone. The teacher was an enemy just the same as the other kids in my class because all the students watched her she was the adult and the authority figure in the room. If she laughed at something, everyone laughed, if she didn’t do something neither did we. What mistake did I make? This something nine-year-old me wanted to know as well. Did she not see the affect this took on me in class?
I often look back at those memories and wish I could go back and do it differently, to not hate going to school and never hang out with the other kids in my class. That wasn’t how the world works so I had to power through. I lived that part of my life trying to do everything the way other people did things. I payed close attention to the other students in my class to see why I was getting picked on and they weren’t. I saw how they tied their shoes, how they dressed, and how they acted. At the time I didn’t know that blindly following other people to be like them removes any personality I had.
It became ingrained in me that being different meant making mistakes and I did not want to be different. This was my idea of a mistake: not being accepted like everyone else. Elementary school me didn’t know what a mistake was.
I decided one day that I would participate in class. Everyone else does it, why not me? The teacher called on students to continue with the reading. Eventually my hand shot up, she decided to make a point of me finally joining the class in the reading activity. I stared down at the book memorizing my lines to try and speak normally, but the first thing that came out was “uhm uh”. That was all it took at this point. The class erupted in laughter. Our teacher even repeated my words and had a laugh of her own. I knew I had made a mistake. Not for being nervous, but for reading my lines and trying to join in on my other peers reading and to feel like them.
I think back and wonder. What if I didn’t embarrass myself? The answers came to me one day. I realized that I would be a worse person if I hadn’t been through those experiences. I would not have known what it would be like to be the odd one out, or to realize that your actions can have an effect on more people than yourself. I would have gone on to find someone like me who didn’t fit in and wasn’t like everyone else and picked on them.
There’re always times when you can improve yourself to be a better person. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes always is how we understand a viewpoint different from our own. In the moment, we only think about ourselves and what our actions do to us. We rarely think about other side of the coin. Without proper thought and reflection, we cannot fully understand and articulate our thoughts and feelings regarding the mistakes we have made. Now I know better, I don’t look back at those humiliating days for me as bad memories or mistakes. I see them as learning experiences. I am free to make as many mistakes as I can as long as there is something to be learned. “You can never make the same mistake twice because the second time you make it, it’s not a mistake, it’s a choice.” ― Steven Denn.
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