When I started Wildflowers & Progress, I caught myself filtering decisions about the blog through a sieve of fear regarding what a particular friend would think of me. This person has been a good friend through difficult times, but they don’t have a desire to understand what they deem illogical. They call it like they see it, even at the risk of hurting or discouraging others. I’ve been hurt by this friend, and there’s one instance in particular that I’ve carried with me for far too long.
A few years ago, I was embarking on a new challenge that I was really excited about. I shared it with this friend, and they said that I would fail, and even if I somehow succeeded, it was still a bad idea. Ouch.
I know some people believe a true friend will support you in whatever you want to do, and while there’s some merit to this, I think it’s oversimplified. If I tell a friend I’m going to jump off a building and neglect to mention I’m bungee jumping, they’re right to want to stop me.
I think that’s what happened here. This friend was operating on misinformation, but their intention was to protect me. True, I wish we could have had a discussion about my perspective, but even that’s not the real problem.
The real problem is that I took their seeds of discouragement, and I planted them in my heart and watered them for the years. I replayed that conversation hundreds of times, solidifying what became my belief that I couldn’t succeed. I became scared to open up to people, and I resented them for stealing my self-confidence.
In a lot of ways, I stopped trying, because I internalized that I would fail, and that even if I did succeed, it still was a bad idea.
If this friend and I were still close, I would wonder about the fruitfulness of maintaining a relationship with a frequently discouraging friend. As is, all that was left to wonder about was how to let go of these words that I fixated on for so long.
So the letter below (which I didn’t send, I case you’re wondering) is me letting go:
First of all, thank you for caring for me. Thank you for having the courage to speak up when something didn’t seem right to you. I’m sorry that I didn’t respond well in the moment, and I’m sorry that I haven’t responded well in the years following.
You may not know this, because our lives drifted apart naturally with the completion of school and the introduction of other life phases, but I drifted apart from you emotionally as well. I took your words of doubt, and instead of accepting them as your attempt to help me, I saw them as confirmations of my future failure. You knew me so well, and if you didn’t believe in me, I thought that you must be right.
So I planted those seeds of doubt in my heart, and I visited them repeatedly. I watered them and nurtured them, and I watched them grow into a great tree. A monument, even, to my failure and your disbelief in me. I let that grow between us and I withdrew from our friendship.
Even worse, I blamed you. For years, I have blamed you and that conversation for my shortcomings. I thought that if that conversation had not happened, seeds of doubt would have never been planted, and I would have kept my self-confidence and achieved more as a result.
But you know what? 10,000 acorns fall from an oak tree each year, and hardly any of those turn into trees. Only those that receive the proper nurturing – regardless of if it’s intentional or simply environmental – grow to full strength.
You may have been wrong to discourage me, but I was wrong to nurture those seeds of discouragement when I should have let them rot until forgotten. I’ve been wrong to blame you for my shortcomings. I’ve been wrong to become resentful of you.
While we’re no longer as close as we once were, I know that our shared history will cause our lives to occasionally intersect. While I still may be careful of what I share with you, I’m happy to tell you that I will no longer be resentful of the concerns your shared with me.
Thank you for the friendship you have shown me. I wish you the best.
In truth, I don’t think my friend was right to share their pessimistic perspective as they did. I could have easily written a potentially cathartic letter about how wrong it was for them to rain on my parade, but to what end? Writing this letter was fantastically cathartic, and realizing the part I played in amplifying the damage done by my friend’s hurtful words was hugely helpful.
People have discouraged me in the past and will continue to try in the future. I have no power over what people say to or about me, but I do have power over how I respond to it.
Clearly, I’ve tried the “give it too much value and hold a long grudge” route, and if we’re being frank, I don’t fancy the results.
As opposed to getting mad, hurt, or triggered (oh, how our world loves that word!), it’s much more valuable for me to learn how to let those words rot into oblivion.*
This letter is me finally letting those words rot, as I plan to let many more words rot over the years to come. In their place, I will intentionally nurture into existence monuments of encouragement, grace, and strength. My qualifications for what I will nurture are simple and not my own:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
In my life, it has not been negative words or events that have caused lasting damage, but my own replaying of them with compounding importance.
I wonder if it’s the same in your own life?
If it is, what wonderful news this is! It means we have full control over the monumental trees taking root in our hearts. I encourage you to join me in chopping down the hurtful trees we’ve grown and crowding out their stumps with intentionally nurtured trees of strength. Perhaps you’ll write a letter like I did, or maybe you’ll find something else that works for you. However you choose to do it, I hope you join me in becoming an on-guard gardener, choosing discriminatingly which seeds we let sprout.
If you choose to join me – I’d love to hear how your experience goes! Feel free to share in the comments.
And if you’re interested in future reading, I’d recommend Born to Win, by Lewis Timeberlake, which sparked this train of thought.
*“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke There is true evil in the world, and if you offended or hurt by real evil, good! Take a stand! Let those evil words galvanize you to action and light a fire under you for justice. Still, guard your heart from them taking root as anything more than a catalyst to positive action.