How I Saw the Value in My Life Experience

Last month, I was asked to attend a seminar at Duke University.  I thought this was a great opportunity for me to gain perspective from individuals who regularly study theology and divinity, topics by which I am so intrigued.  While learning about God was my primary focus, it turned out that learning about myself was actually what I walked away with.  Allow me to explain.

Let me start by sharing that I have always been insecure about my college path.  In my career, I am surrounded around high achievers – people who went to the top schools in the country and while there, had an exclusive experience that us common folk didn’t have the opportunity to have.  How do I know this? Well, they share their stories with me all the time.

My college experience was very different.  I started off with a community college and then transferred to the closest four-year university.  I didn’t pack up and reside at the actual university, though; rather, I took classes at their extended campus building, which was an hour away. Because of this choice, I didn’t have what I considered to be the full American college experience – Greek life, lifelong friendships, living in dorms, or even sitting at the feet of world-renowned professors.  Earning my graduate degree was no different.  Since I was already working in my career, I decided to attend an online university.

While sitting with this truth, it didn’t take me long to realize that the people I was surrounded around at Duke seemed to have that “exclusive” narrative. As I was walking through the campus, I was watching people live the life that I just didn’t live, but strongly desired.  And although I’m well past my college days, I felt myself inviting an insecurity over me during that seminar at Duke.  I was ashamed of my narrative.

I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel “less than” for about 2 hours.  But one new habit I’m practicing is talking myself through my feelings.  So, while listening to others around me speak, I was having my own conversation in my mind.  I told myself that my narrative and life experience was just as valuable as anyone else, because even though I may not have had the full college experience, I had other unique experiences, such as living in Germany for several years while my father served in the military or regularly traveling to other European countries for vacation. After coming back to reality, I felt more confident in the idea that I am enough and even started sharing my experience when asked what school I attended.  It was actually freeing.

Friends, comparison is a very real thing.  It can change your entire way of viewing yourself and your experiences. (It certainly did for me.) While we cannot change our past, it is our responsibility to change the story we tell ourselves about it.  I’m learning that is one of the keys that unlocks the door to peace and confidence. On this day, I found it at a seminar.



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Elana Cole is an author, educator, and coach who is passionate about helping others in their personal journeys towards a more beautiful life. She is the author of "The Midnight Experience" and creator of Empowered Narrative, a blog about transforming the way you live and love.

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