Stutzman: Building the tower of your life

People say your life experiences build character and the more experiences you have the more solid and grounded your character will be. I used to think this was nonsense until I realized how much my previous experiences have helped me manage daily situations as an adult.

We all have experiences from our upbringing, coming-of-age years, work life, and the consequences of choices. Some we’d prefer not to relive, some we look back on and wonder what in the world we were thinking, and some are just plain funny now that the moment has had sufficient time to pass.

Like the time our farm goat followed us onto the school bus when I was in fifth grade. Or the time my dad dropped me off at the old Thunder Bay Jr. High School in my grandpa’s big green dump truck (I asked him to drop me off a block away from the building so my classmates wouldn’t see). Or the time I opened my mouth to whisper something to a friend during a warmup practice for a band concert in junior high and out escaped the largest belch I had ever heard. I had chili for dinner. The band instructor yelled. Bandmates giggled. All I could squeak out was, “It was an accident.” And then there was the spectacle that was my first public speech. Which I delivered with the zipper of my pants unzipped; which later explained why a young man in the front row laughed until he was red in the face throughout the entire speech. Or the time in college when I was walking to class and saw a squirrel in a tree throwing things down on the sidewalk. What a crazy squirrel. Later, I excused myself from class to use the restroom only to discover, to my horror, there was a clump of chewed up leaves sitting on the end of my nose. How did I not know a squirrel bomb landed on my face!

My life also has had many hardships the memories with which I don’t enjoy spending much time. But nonetheless, each experience has made me stronger, in some cases more humble, more grounded, or more resilient to adversity.

When I was young and left feeling embarrassed, sad, or hurt from one of these life experiences my parent’s would always tell me that, “It builds character.” I didn’t really buy it and I used to pretend that certain parts of my life never happened; the painful parts, the embarrassing parts, the ‘what was I thinking’ parts. But the older I get the more I realize that every experience in my life is a building block for my future and every one of us has similar stories.

The key is not living through what happens to you and hiding it. The key is how you manage your reaction to what is happening and how you behave as a result.

Without really knowing it at the time, I was managing my less-than-ideal situations in order to build my character blocks. Instead of getting angry and going back to yell at people who had wronged me I chose to pack up my emotions and take them to someone who would not abuse them. Instead of running to hide when embarrassing situations arose I learned to laugh at the situation and also learned that most people understand life doesn’t always go as planned.

Now I know these situations, while unpleasant, are OK because they are helping me build the tower that is my life. My tower is nowhere near complete but I have built enough character blocks to protect me from situations that may tempt my integrity or go against the story that my character blocks tell.

You are building a tower too. Every time you struggle through a tough situation with your head held high it is a credit to your character and gives you another block to build with. But it’s a learning process and from time to time you may find yourself chipping away at your blocks. Poor decisions, vices, wrong friends, spreading untruths, or letting emotions get out of control are all situations in which we lose blocks from our tower.

The good news is there is a way to reverse the damage and embrace your experiences. You can start today by acknowledging and accepting your journey and take some time to reflect upon what it has taught you. You can grant those that have wronged you forgiveness. This is the mortar that makes your tower stronger.

People need your forgiveness more than you need the associated resentment and anger. And lastly, remember that if you find yourself in the middle of some chaotic disaster, emotional trauma, or embarrassing event just remember; you’re building a beautiful tower.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.