It’s funny how I thought that as I grew up, learning lessons would become a thing of the past.
Struggling through my teenage years and entering my twenties, I thought I would finally have all the answers and life would stop teaching me lessons. Silly me. The biggest lessons in life came after I turned 30.
Every decade of life has brought lessons, and with it newfound wisdom. Some of the lessons and wisdom I have found liberating, but mostly, I have found the lessons to be painful, and often embarrassing. Growing up, we moved around a lot. I never really had the opportunity to settle into one place, to grow roots. Because of the constant moving, I missed a lot of life and lessons, setting me behind my peers.
A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a very important lesson: the value of feeling welcome. Even though I have lived in Oklahoma for the longest period of time, it seems like different situations have left me always being the new person.
For the most part, I don’t mind. I have a variety of friends and circles. I love meeting new people and learning new things. But sometimes, in the excitement of meeting new people and learning new things, there is a part of me that feels like an outsider looking in.
Years ago, one of the worst bosses I ever had taught me one of the most valuable lessons I ever learned. It is not the job of other people to make me feel welcome; it is my job to make myself feel welcome.
It took me years to understand what he meant by that. When I was working for him, I was finishing graduate school, had just lost my grandmother, learning to care for my grandfather who had dementia, and my daughter was struggling through in first grade. Needless to say, there was a lot going on. I often felt out of place – like the person who didn’t belong – and rather than trying to fit in, I wandered on the outside. At that time, being told it was my job to make myself feel welcome felt like a blow to my stomach.
Fast-forward 10 years, I can appreciate the wisdom. Walking into a new place, I know it is my responsibility to make myself feel welcome, to open myself to the people around me, and start conversations. Since learning to welcome myself, going to new places is exciting, I look forward to what I will learn. I tend to forget my daughter hasn’t quite mastered this lesson yet.
Recently, my daughter and I were invited to attend an event at a local church. We both grew up in conservative churches, and at times had no idea how to respond. But, since the event was a work conference, we decided to be brave. It was an experience. It was like nothing we had ever attended before, and at times, we were both surprised. But it was one of the best experiences of our lives. We have never been to a more welcoming church, a place where everyone is truly welcome, and love surrounds you. I have to admit, the feeling of acceptance, peace, and love overwhelmed me at times. But in each of these moments, as I struggled to believe the feelings were genuine, I would look around the room, and saw nothing but pure joy.
If I had not been open to attending this event, and understood the importance of welcoming myself in a new situation, I would have missed an amazing opportunity. My daughter was overwhelmed, but as she relaxed after the event, she told me she had never felt so welcome in her life. That was a huge step for her, she opened herself up to something completely different, new and discovered she enjoyed herself. I am thankful that I can teach her these lessons in a gentler way, and that she is learning them at a much younger age. I hope life will be kinder to her, giving her the opportunities to learn lessons without the pain.
Sara Orellana is a community volunteer, entrepreneur, author, amateur chef, and advocate for rescued animals. She may be reached by email at email@example.com.