Dear Everyone In My Life,
I think it’s time to reveal a part of my past that none of my college friends could guess about me.
This is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside-down:
I never hung out in high school. Not even once. You read that right. Not to a movie, not for staying in to sit on a couch, not out to a restaurant, and certainly not to prom.
I had very few close friends in middle and high school. I talked to these people in class, joked around with them in afterschool clubs, and talked with them on AIM. But I didn’t have any social life outside of school. There were dozens of normal things I never had from grades 7-12. The first real hugs I ever gave or received in my entire life were at my high school graduation and later in college. The total number of times I called or texted anyone before college could be counted on my hands. And I always kept quiet about my birthday because it would be so embarrassing how few people would care.
I wore only black and white baggy T-shirts and khakis; my hair was greasy, unstyled, and full of dandruff; I avoided photos like the plague and NEVER smiled in them; I raised my hand fewer than five times throughout grades 7-12; and I had little self-confidence outside of academics. I was addicted to a computer game as an escape, sometimes playing until 3 or 4 am on school nights. A few people laughed at me or bullied me, but that was nothing serious. The consensus at my school was that I was always highly respected because of my intelligence and work ethic.
Still, I was socially anxious, unconfident, lonely, and miserable as a teenager. Sometimes my mood and hormones would get the best of me (not in THAT way, you perv) and I would eat dinner in a separate dark room at home to express some of this sadness.
The good thing about hitting rock bottom for anything is that you’re not afraid of risks–because there’s no further down you can go.
When I arrived at my college freshman year, in a brand new city five hours from home, I gave myself the responsibility to change my identity. I wanted more friends and self-confidence—and I wanted to be happier. I took small steps my first two years. These were some things that took a LOT more courage than most of you could imagine: I upgraded to COLORED baggy clothes, I managed to smile in photos, I pushed myself to say hi and talk to anyone I recognized from class or my dorm, I dated my first girlfriend who gave me lots of confidence, and I took advantage of new opportunities—even things that were extra uncomfortable for me, like salsa dancing and acting.
I made even bigger changes my junior and senior years, especially after a breakup and a need for a new group of friends. It was another brand new slate. I learned to dress a little better (but not quite there yet! haha), I said yes to most social invitations I received, I met some of my closest and dearest friends (the “Arthur crew”, the Spanish House, and many more–you know who you are), I was crazily involved in clubs and activities, I branched out to dozens of social circles matching my dozens of hobbies and interests (and personalities), and I slowly became a person who people depended on for plans, gatherings, and outings.
To me, Boston University was less about information and more about transformation. By the time I graduated, I was known as the person who knew everyone. One friend nicknamed me “The BU Celebrity” when we were walking down Comm Ave and I was stopped every 30 seconds because people kept coming up to me to say hi. I have friends from all over the US, six different continents, and too many countries to name (and yes, they invite me to stay; to this day, I’ve never booked a hotel!). One of my best friends said I’m the only person she knows who knows so many people but also manages to be genuine and close with everyone.
After graduating, I chose to be a teacher to educate, inspire, and empower young people. I stood in front of a classroom every day–something I couldn’t do when I was younger. I even gave a TEDx Talk about character education and the importance of integrity, joy, and compassion.
I don’t tell the first part of this story to get your sympathy, nor do I tell the second part to brag. I tell the whole story because it’s almost like a fairy tale—a portrait of how I’ve lived in completely opposite extremes. But it’s a true one, a real one. All my sorrow, happiness, change, and gratitude are 100% real.
I’m sure many people from my high school are surprised at what I’ve done with my life, and I’m sure almost all of my college friends and recent friends are surprised to learn this backstory about who I used to be. I never even told my exes.
But now I share the story to the public. As a teacher and motivational writer, I believe there are some lessons we can learn here:
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~ Lesson One: Life is changeable, malleable, reversible. You just need to roll your sleeves up and say that the power is in your own hands. Don’t like something about your life? Change it. No excuses.
~ Lesson Two: If you’re in grade school (or any stage in life) or you’re new to a city and you have few or no friends, if you’re bullied, if you feel left out, if you feel miserable, if you’re hurting like hell, and if you think there’s no way out, I want you to know that life can and will get better. You’ll have to accept part of that responsibility though. Maybe now or maybe later when you escape. But hang in there, okay?
~ Lesson Three: Use all your pain for good. Today I have an incredible soft spot for anyone who looks lonely, sad, isolated, or marginalized. I’ve met so many friends in dining halls by just inviting them to my table because I saw that they sat alone too often. What part of your past makes you who you are?
~ Lesson Four: Everything can be made into a grand mission. I’m often seen as a social leader, connector, and networker. I love bringing people together. I want to build communities everywhere I go and in every city I travel to. In addition, I am passionate about teaching these lessons to all the students I’ve had in my life, whether sixth-graders, high school seniors, or adults and corporate executives. Frank Warren, the creator of Post Secret, said “The people almost broken by the world become those most likely to change it.” I’m using all of my past to fuel my mission to bring peace, love, and happiness to every corner possible.
~ Lesson Five: Hitting rock bottom often makes you immune later in life. I’m still pretty quiet and introverted–all my closest friends know that. But I’ve become socially fearless too. I am comfortable being alone and going anywhere alone. AND I am good at stepping up to meet new people everywhere I go—at events, at restaurants, on the street, on the subway. Are there weaknesses you can turn into strengths too?
~ Lesson Six: Sometimes it takes a while to achieve the perfect balance in anything in life. During my change, there were many times when I was not really me, times when I did things just to impress people or prove my worth, times when I was overly silly, and times when my grades suffered because I cared too much about spending time with people. Today I’m very much at peace and know who I am. I enjoy and love my dear and enormous network of friends, but many times I just like being lame and staying in to read, write, or make lesson plans. Are you the real you yet?
~ Lesson Seven: The absence of something makes you eternally grateful for its presence later in life. I don’t take any of my friends for granted. I am so grateful for all the people, hugs, and happiness in my life today. Life is all about people anyway. Who are you thankful for?
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So above all else, I wrote and posted this story to thank you. Yes, you.
Thank you to everyone.
Thank you to everyone who has ever laughed at me, bullied me, harassed me, stereotyped me, doubted me, ignored me, or said no to me (and of course these things still happen today). Thank you for giving me tough skin, thank you for the rude awakening, and thank you for inspiring me to change myself and turn my life around.
Thank you to all my friends and teachers from home and from K-12. Thank you for all the times you made me feel cool, funny, or just worth it. Thank you for the kind words in my yearbook. Special thank you to anyone who genuinely accepted me, stood by me, and saw me for who I could become, not just who I was at the time. Some of you were friends and some of you barely knew me, but all of you set a foundation of growth for this loser.
Thank you to all my college friends and professors. Boston University was where all the change happened. So whether we shared a class or floor together, whether we met up regularly or said hi once a year, whether we laughed until our stomachs hurt or contemplated about life until sunrise, whether I met you when I needed friends the most or when I already had many, and whether you’re still one of my best friends or someone who has unfortunately drifted away—no matter who you were, you made a bigger difference in my life than you probably thought. I mean it. Making me feel like I fit in, laughing at my jokes, and even having someone who reciprocated a hello or a hug meant so much to me. Thank you for being part of a very special journey in my life.
Thank you to my family for ironically playing the smallest role. They never pushed me, never inspired me, never challenged me, never said I had to change. They loved and accepted me unconditionally. All they did was give me time. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Thank you to my coworkers and everyone I’ve met after college. I’m really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but actually you played no role in this specific story. At no time. =P
But in all seriousness—thank you to everyone in my life I haven’t listed. Coworkers, students, the Camp Lohikan family, people I met abroad, dates, strangers, whoever. I am grateful for every soul who has crossed paths with me, and I look forward to everyone else I am meant to meet.
Thank you to everyone for putting up with me if I ever seem too proud of how happy I am today or how much love, joy, and good fortune I have in my life. I hope this story puts some things into perspective and helps you understand why I do what I do, why I think what I think, and why I teach what I teach.
Sometimes I feel as if I’ve “made it” and I’m on top of the world. My bedroom is decorated with dozens of photos of family, friends, professors, coworkers, and classes cheaply taped in two rows wrapping around the entire room like a ribbon. One part of a wall has the most special thank you cards, student cards, and other cards I’ve received. I have none of my many awards or my diploma up—all of them are in boxes, and I think I’m wise enough to know that academics and work are not what life is about. Yeah, I’ve been there before.
I have one of my own quotes and reminders perched on top of the card section on my wall:
“Just like my life, I want my room to be surrounded by the people I love most, as if all together they are giving me a giant hug. In the end, this sharing, giving, and receiving–and the memories that go with them–are the only things that matter and that live on long after I am gone.”
At times, the road here was not pretty. But you have made it infinitely brighter and worth traveling.
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~ The Last Lesson: You can make a positive difference in someone’s life today. Sometimes it’s all about the small things. You did this for me. Go out and do it again for someone else. It could be a stranger, an acquaintance, or a friend. Cradle everyone you see with love, acceptance, and understanding. Let them grow. That may be the only sure way to change the world.
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Many hugs, much love, and all my blessings to each and every one of you! Thank you so very much. =)
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This story was cross-posted to Facebook here. Thank you to all my friends, my family, and random strangers who left me such kind messages when I first published this! I felt amazing and so loved!
Also, I am a Boston-based coach who can work with you individually to get you the life you want. Contact me at nathanschow at gmail dot com to let me know if you know anyone who wants to transform their life!!