A few years ago, I heard an interview of a man jailed for political activism. When questioned about how he survived years of imprisonment, he responded, “When I walked in the prison yard, I looked up at the clouds. I was still free to see the sky, free to breathe the air. I was never a prisoner, because no one can imprison your mind. I just had to change my perspective.”
These were life-altering words for me, a message that radically altered my understanding of self-imposed limitations. If a man walks a prison courtyard path trod into a rut by thousands of inmates before him, and can still lift his head and recognize that his spirit is free, surely I could find ways to untangle myself from old habits and assumptions that limit my own life experiences.
(Full disclosure: when I shared this story with my penpal, a man serving a four-year sentence, he wrote back, “I wish I could get my hands on the crack that guy must have been smoking.”)
I’ve made changes in my life since then that helped open me to new possibilities instead of feeling strangled by destiny. Some changes are simple: embracing eating habits and exercise that work for me (and doubling down when I fall off the wagon). Choosing forgiveness and understanding when I’m hurt instead of licking old wounds (and accepting that I won’t be nominated for sainthood any time soon).
The biggest change that former prisoner’s words inspired was to remind me to look at myself anew every single day. To change my perception about what went wrong in the past, I learned to re-label those incidents not as failures but as illuminations. What can I change to avoid a negative outcome? Where are my stepping stones to get me to my goal?
Two years ago, I set a goal to write a novel. I had to learn to ignore the jeering voices in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I had nothing to say, that I’d never have the willpower to complete it. A year later, I signed a contract with The Wild Rose Press. This year, I’m completing the editing process and preparing for the launch of my debut novel, Leap of Faith, while working on my second manuscript. The promotional efforts required in the world of publishing are new and frightening to me. But so, I remind myself, was sending off those query letters.
This year, I’m taking a deep breath, lifting my head, and looking up at the sky. I hope that each one of you can embrace the perspective you need to move forward with hope into 2016.