Let Your Story Be Your Gift, Not Your Baggage

by Dian Reid-Jancic· Follow Dian on

Stories are our gifts, depending on how we relate to them and use them to relate to life. I used to look at the stories of my past with shame, as if I’d done something to deserve the obstacles put in my path (some I had, but most I hadn’t), which made my stories feel more like baggage than gifts.

But our stories don’t have to be baggage we carry with us from day to day, month to month, year to year. We have the opportunity to use our stories as fuel to put one foot in front of the other and lead us forward (to our next gift). Or we can choose to use our stories as fuel for the excuses (and baggage) that keep us from being who and where we want to be in life.

When I was thirteen I was arrested for shoplifting at Nordstrom in the Topanga Plaza. Later that year my mother’s boyfriend molested me while we were on a family trip in Maui. When I was fourteen I was kicked out of two schools—one for behavioral issues and the second for attendance issues. At fifteen I was arrested for shoplifting at Mervyn’s in the Fallbrook Mall. That same night I ran away from home and didn’t look back for six weeks.

Dian Reid @ Penny Lane 2

During the time I was a runaway a warrant was issued for my arrest, as I’d missed the court date for that Mervyn’s shoplifting charge. After six weeks I turned myself in and was sentenced to six months to a year in placement at Penny Lane. That’s me on the right in the photo on the left, cigarette in hand, attitude in heart. Less than a year into my sentence, my mother’s boyfriend killed her in their bedroom during a heated argument. I was sixteen.

I tell these parts of my story and people who didn’t know me back then (most people in my life now) look at me in disbelief.

I am proof positive that people can and do change.
I am proof positive that a person’s past does not need to dictate her future.
I am proof positive that perspective has a huge impact on the decisions one makes.
I am proof positive that our stories are our gifts, if we make conscious choices that allow them to be.

I could have used my mother’s death (and all that happened before it) as an excuse to distrust life and dig myself deeper into the juvenile justice system with an even longer rap sheet, fit for stereotypical statistics.

Dad and Daughter, 1992Instead, I dug deep within myself and found reasons to forgive and move forward. None of it was easy, but I convinced myself that my survival depended on my ability to shift my perspective from being a victim of circumstance into being in control of my own destiny.

The photo on the right shows me at seventeen with my dad after I’d accepted three awards, including Female Athlete of the Year and Most Improved Academic.

I refused to allow the circumstances of my past to send me spiraling toward my future demise. Rather than feel defeated by them, I chose to allow those circumstances to offer me the strength I would need to not only survive, but to thrive. It was also my choice to accept that strength.

In the midst of the pain in my teens, all I could be bothered with was survival. It wasn’t until I’d stepped out of my past for a few years that I had any ideas about thriving. Sometimes I still struggle with thriving and stick to simply surviving (one foot in front of the other today) because without survival, there can be no thrival.

I’ve learned that the events, the circumstances, the stories that become our lives, are the gifts that help teach us who we are and where we’re headed. Not by the circumstances themselves, but by what we’re willing to learn from each, day after day after day.

And still, when I look back on those chapters in the story of my life, I sometimes wonder how I got through it all. Then I remember: put one in front of the other, day after day after day.

That’s a gift I hope I’ll always choose to receive.

For more on how Dian put one foot in front of the other, check out her memoir, Seven Days


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