A defining moment..

My parents planned a last-minute camping trip the weekend before my birthday. They were still getting used to the idea of me having any “real” responsibilities. By this point I was 16 and working a retail job at FinishLine, the sports shoe and apparel store. The schedules were always made far in advance to ensure coverage. I told my parents that I couldn’t join them, I had to work that weekend, and that set off yet another argument that ended with a “you don’t understand!” and a slammed door.

I remember feeling like I didn’t matter. They didn’t care about my responsibilities, my feelings, or what I wanted to do for my birthday. Yet, they were angry with me. On one hand, I was upset, and on the other hand I was somewhat relieved that I would get some time alone, and maybe actually get to spend some time with my friends.

I had moved to the New Jersey suburbs from Miami only a couple of years ago at that point, so I had been in town long enough to make some friends—but not long enough for people to accept me into their “cliques.” I was a quiet girl that mostly kept to herself, which I later learned was often mistaken for standoffishness or hatefulness.

I guess, these days, they call that having a Resting B**** Face.

I called a few friends to come by the house to hang out for my birthday. I let them know that they should feel free to bring a few friends. I warned everyone though: no mischief. I wanted to respect my parents’ home and didn’t want to risk any kind of damage or law enforcement visits. In other words, I was very clear: absolutely no smoking, alcohol, or drugs.

I was always a straight and narrow path kind of kid, but I knew that not everyone had the same mentality. See, I had made a promise to my parents when I was in about first grade that I would get a scholarship. I wasn’t about to let anybody, or anything, get in the way of that.

Well, before I knew it, I had something like 20 kids in my house. I was feeling pretty good about myself. I was finally being accepted by kids at school. I was finally getting a chance to see kids outside of school. I was in with the popular kids!

Well, I guess sitting around talking and playing board games got too boring for some. They obviously didn’t realize how serious my demands were because, before I knew it, kids were smoking, chewing tobacco, and taking shots in my locked bathroom. When I reinforced my rules, they laughed and pressured me to join them.

In that moment, I had a choice to make for my future. Because of my principles and goals, there was only one option: I had to get everyone out of the house.

My one true friend stayed, helped clear out my home, and kept me company while I cried about how they were never my friends at all.

Looking back, I realize that moment defined both the rest of my high school experience and who I became. What followed were rumors, people being mean for no reason, and kids who would actually say it was “their mission” to get me to drink alcohol before graduation.

I became the lame kid that didn’t belong to any group of friends. But I also became even more firmly grounded in my principles, goals, and values.

I underestimated the impact that moment would have on my future. Years later, I told this story to my boss as an example of what a goody two-shoes I was. Years later, I learned that story made him want to mentor me. 

“You have integrity and backbone, and that is something you can’t teach.” He said. 

I continued to be focused on my future and took work very seriously. I spent endless nights making sure my work was done and always tried to take on more. He said he realized that all I needed was a little direction, skills, and knowledge. He went on to teach me everything he knew about business, providing me the support I needed to bloom. 

There are moments in life that define your future. In those moments, remember: you’re in charge of your own destiny, nothing worth having ever comes easy, and everything happens for a reason.

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