Have you noticed that we live our lives based on a story we choose to believe? Either, the one others have dictated to us or, the one we create in our mind from the events in our life. Or, the one that is buried deep inside trying to reveal itself: The Truth!
Isn’t it scary to imagine that we may be living our life based on the wrong story?
That’s why, last week, when I received this facebook message from Geraldine Cortes, a student at a university in Colombia, I asked her permission to share how letting her true story unfold, has changed her life.
“Querida Antonia, quería escribirte para compartir contigo la grandiosa noticia, pasé a la universidad la cual me presente la semana pasada. Es mi primer paso para alcanzar mi sueño sin sentirme presionada.”
Translation: “Dearest Antonia, I wanted to write to you and share the great news. I passed (been accepted) at the University in which I went to last week. It’s my first step towards reaching my dream, without feeling pressured.”
Geraldine approached me after hearing my “Rise Above Your Mind” conference and asked if we could meet outside the University to talk about her personal situation.
As you read this, try paying close attention to the story that has been leading your life.
We met about five days later at a coffee shop. Here’s what she shared with me.
I’m eighteen years old. I was raised by my grandmother and aunt from a very young age after my mom, who had me at 14 years old, began using drugs.
My grandmother became my world, my rock, my source of protection. My aunt and cousin, who lived with us, were my family, my friends and the people I trusted most. They did everything to prevent me from following in my mom’s footsteps. They chose who I was allowed to hang around with, the clothes I wore, the music I listened to and the books I read. Apart from going to school, I practically spend all my free time in my room studying. I did manage to get good grades and make them proud of me. So, they began planning my future and choosing the career that would allow me to have a good, successful life. This meant becoming a doctor or a lawyer. At first, I didn’t really question it. I felt they knew what was best for me. After all, they cared for me and showed me love. How could I possibly let them down and disappoint them?
About two years ago, my aunt and cousin moved to the United States and I was left alone with my grandmother. One day, she walked in my room and found me listening to my favorite artist, Bob Marley. She went hysterical and accused me of taking drugs and all kinds of other stuff. Of course, none of it was true and I tried explaining it to her. But, she wouldn’t listen and kept a close watch on everything I did. I began to question, “If she’s wrong about this, she’s probably wrong about what I should do with my life. She doesn’t really know me.” You see, I’ve always had an interest in learning different languages, particularly French, Italian and English. Since my future was all planned out, I never thought about pursuing it. But, in the last two years, I’ve been feeling all kinds of different emotions and spend so many sleepless nights crying alone in my room. I feel like I lost my youth and am an alien in my own mind. I’ve never felt strong enough or adequate enough to make my own decisions. I’ve always depended, trusted and listened to what my grandmother and aunt told me to do. But, the thought of being a lawyer or doctor was killing me inside and I couldn’t see any other direction to take.
About a month ago, my aunt called and said she had some exciting news. She told me about the many opportunities of finding a good paying job in the US that would give me stability, freedom and security. So, she has been trying to get me permanent residency over there. At the time, I felt like starting a brand new life would be great. And, more importantly, a decision that came from my aunt must be the best thing for me. That day, she told me that the process of adoption wouldn’t be accepted because I was an adult. But, there was another guaranteed option. “Your cousin has a friend who has agreed to marry you,” she said with excitement in her voice. “Once you’re married, you will be allowed in the country and live a good life here.”
Once again, who was I to question any of it? What did I know about what’s best for me? So, I agreed.
Since then, every night, I imagine being married to someone 10 years older than me, whom I’ve never even met. I get so scared…
Geraldine paused to stop herself from crying. As the tears rolled down her face, she grabbed a few napkins and hid her face in them. When she pulled herself together, she lay down the napkins, smiled and said, “Sorry, it’s the first time this happens in front of someone.”
I took her hand and assured her to take her time and that there was no need to apologize in expressing her emotions.
She wiped her eyes one last time and continued.
When I get scared, I start to tremble and try to talk myself out of being afraid. “It’s ok,” I tell myself, “The most important thing is to have freedom, security and stability.” Somehow, saying this didn’t seem right. Learning languages would creep up inside me. I see foreigners from all over the world come here. Some end up staying. I couldn’t help but think that I was missing out on something. That they knew something I didn’t know. Yes, I would love to travel. But, I would be able to do so with a work visa as a translator. If not, I see all the opportunities I would have here too. Then, I would think about how this would hurt my grandmother and especially my aunt who worked so hard for me to have a better life and couldn’t bring myself to pursue it. Besides, I didn’t feel I had the qualities, expertise and skills to ever be able to succeed on my own.
At your conference, I felt like you were speaking to me. While I listened to your words, everything my grandmother and aunt ever told me was no longer playing in my mind. And, I was no longer playing my own thoughts that I have been carrying for years. I was absorbed in your words and a totally different story began to surface. It was always there but, I never allowed it or, as you said, I never gave it space to unfold itself. I see now what you mean by, “There’s a clarity that comes from being with our sorrow, without trying to control it.” Letting go of the false beliefs and immense guilt of hurting my grandmother and aunt has liberated me. I realize that I had agreed to the marriage to escape my situation and emotions. Moving around and changing my outside world would not have resolved what I was carrying inside. My sorrow would have followed me to the US. Freedom is not getting away from one place and go to another place. It’s getting away from other people’s stories and from the stories in my mind. The freedom that opened my eyes to loving myself and seeing a completely different story reveal the truth. The truth that although I have no idea where learning languages will take me, it’s ok. I will learn and discover more about myself by doing it. This is exciting for me.
My grandmother and aunt will have a hard time accepting this at first. But, I’m ok with it. Don’t get me wrong, I love them so much and know that they truly do want the best for me. And, I did learn so much from them. But, this is not about them; it’s about me and what I really want to do. I know when they see how much happier I’ll be, they will be happy for me too. They just don’t know how much more is out there besides being a lawyer or a doctor. I don’t want to limit myself to their knowledge. I want to find out for myself.
So, after your conference, I submitted my application to another university for the Languages Program for next semester. So far, I received a response saying they will get back to me to schedule a five hour interview process.
Thank you so much Antonia, for having made that big change in your life five years ago. If you hadn’t, you would not be here today and I never would have had the chance to hear your words. It has changed my life in a way that you cannot imagine. I know you’re leaving Colombia soon but, I hope we get to see you again. I’ll keep you posted on my application…
Last week, Geraldine Cortes sent me the above message on facebook.
How about you? What story are you living? Is it the right one?