Emotions are often uncomfortable to confront. Thing is, when we don’t acknowledge them, they can gain power over us. We literally give our power away when we don’t process and learn from our emotions (good or bad). Let me tell you a story of my experience with adversity, emotions, and the power struggle that we all face with emotions.
I started my college career majoring in pre-med, enrolling in English, calculus, biology, and physics the first semester. I really enjoyed physics, but the class was huge, with over 100 students and an Iranian professor who spoke broken English. There was no feedback, no quizzes or homework, just a mid-term and a final.
I studied my ass off for the midterm. And I got a 40 percent. I was devastated.
I’d never failed at anything in my life. And the concept of resiliency was a distant lesson.
I went to see the freshman dean. It was his first year at Colgate, too. He immediately and confidently suggested I wasn’t cut out for pre-med and that I should drop the course. I went to see my professor, and he agreed with the dean.
So, I dropped the course, and that was the end of my pre-med career.
Deciding I was mentally unequipped for the rigid academics required for medicine, I shifted to what I deemed an easier major: economics. As that first painful semester of college wound down, I found the courage to approach a pre-med friend who had joined the same fraternity about his experience with physics.
“Boy, I really torched that midterm,” I said to Chris. “I had to drop the class.”
“Yeah,” he said, “Me, too, I got like a 20 on it.”
“Yeah, yeah, he had to grade on a curve because everyone failed.”
“Well, I got a 40 on it.”
“Dude, then you had one of the highest grades in the class!”
…well there you go. I learned then not to trust “the experts” all the time. And I also learned that all of life is graded on a curve. The irony is that I would have made a terrible medical professional. I can’t stand the sterile environment of the lab or hospital environment. So those people actually did a great favor for me by derailing me from a wrong-path decision. The final lesson from this interesting experience is that often the universe will give you what you need, and not what you want.
However, at that time the incident piled onto the inferiority complex I had in my own intellectual ability. Sophomore year, I decided to step up my game and do things differently by modeling two all-star academic guys from my fraternity, Dan and Gary. They had been accepted to a London semester abroad program at the London School of Economics the next fall. The idea of going overseas to study really intrigued me. But the professor running the program was only taking ten students, and you had to have a 4.0 to go. I had a solid 2.85 and the program was full. But I was persistent and the vision of me going was solidly planted in my mind, so I tagged along, uninvited, to the first meeting. There I asked the professor if I could be on a waiting list. He said he didn’t have one, but he would put me on it anyhow. “Well, okay, but don’t get your hopes up,” were his precise words.
Turns out that the professor was an avid swimmer. I had never noticed him at the pool before, but now saw him at nearly every of my practice sessions. That’s how synchronicity works…. I’d wave or go over and we’d chat it up at the pool.
The next meeting came. Though still uninvited, I went anyhow. That was my M.O. for two months. After the physics BS, I was focusing more on positive self-talk because self-doubt hadn’t served me at all. Negative self-talk and doubt had turned me into a quitter. I was hell-bent on changing that story.
Then one day, near the end of the semester, I got a call from the professor. “Mark, good news. One of the students hasn’t shown up to the last two meetings and I can’t get in touch with him. Are you still interested in going?”
“Heck, yeah!” I got the slot.
A week later, I bumped into the guy who no-showed, and he accused me of stealing his spot.
I looked at him and said, “I didn’t steal anything. You lost it yourself. Sorry.”
The Mark who dropped out of physics would not have had the confidence to pull off any of that. The same voices and emotions were still there, suggesting I wasn’t good or smart enough. But I just decided to ignore them, to deny them energy and to change the story.
You, too, have the power to take control of the emotions that originate as thoughts. And you must do so for any negative ones, as your well-being depends on it. But before you can do this, you must first acknowledge them and name them. Sometimes it is a slap in the face that helps you identify the emotional patterns that are holding you back from your best life. Be on the lookout for these emotions, patterns, and habits – so you can address them and nip them in the bud. Take back the power!