Thursday, November 28, 2013

Unconvetionally Thankful

What may come as a shock to some, I once had a boyfriend who told me that I didn't listen well, that I was very negative and that I often made things difficult for people I care about.

If you happen to be one of those "some," ready to jump to my "defense" and scowl at the faceless image of a long ago beau, let me ask you to pause for a moment:

He was right.

You read that correctly. Long before I was the cheerful, positive person you've likely come to know, I was, well...not. I wasn't unhappy, exactly, but I was unsure. Unsure of life, unsure of myself, unsure of where I stood. Being unsure made me feel insecure and less than. Add to that my naturally quiet nature, at least until I get to know you, and it was a short trip to being negative. And, as I've since learned, being negative makes one unpleasant to be around, for sure, and on the worst days, downright exhausting. It made me high maintenance, because I *didn't* listen well to what he needed or how my actions and attitudes made him feel or even to the good things he tried to share. In short, I made it incredibly difficult for him to be around me as time passed.

Obviously, this relationship ended.

As I got older, I like to think I started to gain some wisdom through introspection. After years of glaring at his harsh criticism (when I wasn't still outright ignoring it), one day, I took a hard look at it and was honest with myself: I needed to do some work on me, because I didn't really like how I was or how it made me feel.

I worked hard, and I continue to work hard, because we're never a completed project, at being a better version of myself. I wanted to be cheerful -- genuinely cheerful -- and I wanted to have a positive outlook on life. I wanted to be low maintenance. I wanted to not be a burden on the people I care about. I wanted to be easy to be around, ready to enjoy this life, willing to *really* listen instead of letting myself spiral into feeling attacked, which lead to the inevitable argument being picked.

It's funny how this decision altered me in ways I never anticipated. I will always have a quiet nature, even more so when I first meet people, but I'm more confident in myself, and even when I'm not, I try to move outside my comfort zone at least some of the time. But the biggest gift for me is that I have found myself profoundly grateful. I am grateful for big things and small, the grand scale and the simple. I think I was generally grateful before, but now I'm more aware of just how much I have to be grateful *for*. And most surprising, I am even grateful for the criticism and grateful for who it made me. At the time, I didn't want to hear it, but now I am grateful for those words being the catalyst for me becoming someone I really like.

People talk about all the various blessings in life for which they are thankful on Thanksgiving -- food and family, friends and creature comforts, and on and on -- and maybe this isn't something we're "supposed" to voice among those expressions of gratitude, but today, I am also grateful for who I have become and for the person whose constructive criticism I rejected for years, because without those frank words, I may not have grown in this way, even if it took me an exceptionally long while to get to the place where I was willing to hear it and do the work. The proof of my efforts is in the shocked reaction of those who didn't know me "before."

Blessings can be big or small, yes, but they can also come wrapped in packages we don't recognize.

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