“Twenty years ago, if you had told me I would be doing what I’m doing now I would have said you’re crazy. There is no way I would have believed you.

We each walk a path that is our own. It isn’t always pretty. It can be painful. Messy. Destructive. And we experience things that shape us for better or for worse. I fought my path tooth and nail for a good chunk of my life. I tried to fill it with things that hurt me. Because I was hurting. I made choices that hurt people. I made choices that hurt myself.

Like many out there, I’ve survived terrible things. Seen things I shouldn’t have. Witnessed atrocious behavior and didn’t speak up.

Somewhere along the way I decided that I wanted to be happy and live a life I could be proud of. I wanted more than being a martyr or victim or to suffer in silence. It was lonely and very difficult. Many times I wanted to give up. I don’t know how I made it sometimes.

Experiencing hardship and challenges is what makes many of us more compassionate and accepting. It did me. And it showed me what I didn’t want in my life.

In my culture we call this kind of idea “ciillanguarteq”. To become aware or conscious of the world around us. We have many awakenings like that in our lifetime. It’s up to us to choose how we process and use those awakenings. It’s up to us to continue to evolve or to fight them.

One of the things I promised myself when I was younger and experiencing hardship was that I would become adept at being able to do as much as I could. Enhance the definition of our Yup’ik word: “cavesratuli”-Somebody who knows how to work on everything. I promised myself I would become an expert in as many things and types of work as I could so I would never be without a job or a way to support myself. That desire came from having nothing.

Another thing I promised myself was I would constantly work at being a better person. Learn. Grow. Change. Because I knew that who I wanted to be wasn’t who I was. That’s the difficult part. It means you have to be able to look at yourself critically and see what needs work. You have to admit your weaknesses. To yourself. And sometimes to others. It means you make the things that don’t work in your life obsolete.

What’s really hard about that, is that sometimes…it means you’ll be alone. If you’ve ever changed while others around you stayed the same, you know it’s a lonely thing to do.

I’m glad I chose the things I did. Even the mistakes.” — Estelle Thomson