After yet another semester of abysmal grades, I was ready to throw in the towel. I was on the phone with my Dad, and he was trying to talk me out of making the biggest mistake of my life. My college career hadn’t been exemplary, but the latest grades were a new low. And I was ready to quit for good.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this moment became a turning point in what was one of the darkest periods of my life. My grades weren’t the only casualty… My health wasn’t exactly in the best of shape either. I’ve never gone through a period where I was completely off the PKU diet, but I have been too relaxed at certain times. I justified it in my mind by saying, “I’m not eating meat. I’m not eating dairy. So what’s the harm?” But my eating habits were out of control, and my lack of focus, drive, and self-esteem was the proof. I just didn’t care about life.
I don’t know why I listened to my Dad in that difficult conversation over the phone, but I did. He told me I would regret dropping out of college for the rest of my life. It’s not that he had unreasonable expectations for me or anything. He knew that I was capable of so much more, and deep inside, so did I.
But I think something else happening during that time also changed my perspective. OK, I don’t think it… I know it. It was around this time that I met my wife Mara.
My entire life I’ve felt like an outsider. Even among my friends, people who genuinely cared about me, I still was reminded of how different I was. Every time we would sit down to eat together the reminder was there as I always had to explain my special diet as I ordered food. However much they were caring and patient, they still didn’t understand. And even though they never intended to make me feel a certain way, the truth is I always felt different.
At least, until I met Mara. She was the first person who I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, accepted me for who I was. This weekend we celebrate our 12 year anniversary, and although we’ve both changed in different ways as we’ve faced challenges together, she has never wavered in accepting me for who I am.
So, as I faced this dark time in life where I just wanted to give up, something changed. I began to learn what it means to have self-respect… to believe in yourself. I had started college, and I wanted to finish. I knew I could do it, if I just put some effort into it. I may not have finished with the best of grades, but I finished. But I also learned what it feels like when someone else believes in you. Now, I fully recognize that I’ve been blessed with incredibly supportive family and friends. But it’s different when you meet your soulmate, and that person accepts you and believes in you. I guess that’s one of the reasons I felt empowered to pursue a Master’s Degree, despite my grades in college. That, and the fact that my wife encouraged me to take better care of myself and follow my diet.
I didn’t give up on life, and it would have been very, very easy to do so. 12 years later, life is much better than I could have imagined. I not only finished college, but I finished my Master’s Degree with a 3.75 GPA. Mara and I have been married for 12 years, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.
And last week I received the Circle of Excellence Award from the Louisiana State University in Shreveport Alumni Association. It’s an annual award for various leaders and professionals who have graduated from the college. As I sat there, holding the award, my mind went back to that phone call. Were it not for my parents and my wife, I would have given up a long time ago.
I’ve been blessed in the last few years to meet so many people in our community from around the world. As positive as I try to be, and as much as I try to inspire others, I can’t deny that many in our community have it really rough. I never want to look at life through rose colored glasses. We may have different challenges, but there are some things we have in common.
We all have the potential to succeed. Success isn’t about external achievements. It’s an internal attitude of the heart and mind. It’s not about comparing yourself to other people. It’s about looking at your own challenges in life, and facing them head on.
It’s about not giving up, despite your challenges.
If you’re going through a rough time, don’t give up. I’ve learned from person experience that choices you make can have implications you can never imagine. You might not see the value in the decisions you are making today, but one day they will make sense. As long as you keep at it, those small decisions add up, and one day you will realize what you’ve been building out of your life. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s worth the wait.