When I was in middle school, my parents bought me a pair of sneakers that no one else had. They were black and gold L.A. Gear’s with glittery shoestrings, and we called them “Michael Jackson” shoes. In the store, I loved them. I begged for them. I had to have them! My parents finally gave in and plopped down more money than we usually spent on shoes, and I left the store, happy with the purchase, and grateful that my parents gave in to my request.
That gratefulness soon disappeared, though, when I wore the sneakers to school and was teased about them. All of a sudden, in the light of my school…and my classmates’ comments, the shoes looked stupid to me. They were too clunky, too shiny, too…different. I took them off, put on my gym sneakers, and left my formerly beloved sneakers in my locker, never to be worn again. Every time I opened my locker, they were there, looking extra cool, but I never could bring myself to wear them again. I often think back and remember those sneakers, and wish I hadn’t cared so much about what other folks thought.
Fortunately, I’ve grown a lot since that middle school day when I let other people’s opinions change the way that I thought. Thank goodness, too, because in my line of work, a leadership role in an educational non-profit, I have found that I need to be able to be confident in what I think and be willing to stand up for something that I know is right, even if no one else feels the same way. It really could mean the difference between doing something right for thousands of children, or doing something wrong.
It isn’t easy. There are still times, just like in middle school, when I’m treated like an outsider because I don’t think the way everyone else thinks, or I don’t like the same things everyone else likes. What helps me to stay strong, though, and firm in my beliefs, is knowing that if I waiver on something that’s important just because it’s easier to give in to others, that I will be doing a great disservice to the children that we serve.
So, I learned a valuable lesson all of those years ago. I learned that it can be challenging to go against the crowd. You might get teased, you might get talked about, but if you really believe in what you’re doing (or saying, or wearing) it’s worth it to stand strong in your beliefs. I lost the chance to strut my stuff in some fancy shoes all those years ago, but now I get to wear my “Stand For What You Believe In” shoes. And guess what? I love them, even if no one else does!
Brandi Jeter is the mother of a 2 year old daughter. She writes curriculum for summer camp and after school programs, blogs at Mama Knows It All, and is an iVillage iVoice video correspondent. Oh, and she writes a mean haiku!