One Event Does Not Define You

It was parent conference week at my school this past week. It’s a week I always look forward to (even while I dread the long hours required). I love getting a chance to talk with the parents after I have been able to see their child’s strengths, weaknesses, celebrations and struggles. Most of the conversations and strategies are pretty run-of-the-mill. Helping middle schoolers learn to prioritize, time-manage and organize is an on-going and ever-present task.

But every year since my first in the classroom, I have had a handful of conferences that are anything but run-of-the-mill. Some of the kids that come through my classroom have been through tragedy. Loss. Trauma. And as the teachers sit around the table and learn the information, the missing assignments suddenly become less important than the missing childhood. The focus shifts from succeeding in school to creating a support system to help the child succeed in living.

Once I learn of the background, there is one talk I always make sure to have with any student that went through too much far too soon.

I call it my “defining speech.” And it goes something like this:


“Make a line through this point,” I ask, drawing a dark mark in the center of a blank white sheet of paper.

“Where should I make the line?,” some students inquire, while others simply follow my command and draw a line on the paper. The perfectionists make themselves known by insisting upon a ruler.

“Is that the only line you can make through that point?” I ask.

“Well, no. I could make a bunch of different lines.” I gesture for them to show me.

I then turn the paper over and draw two points.

“Make a line through these.”

“Is that the only line you can make through these two points?”

I usually get a “Is my teacher crazy?” look at about this point.

“Well, yeah? I mean, two points make a line, right?”

“True. If it’s straight,” I say with a slight smile. “Try connecting them with something that isn’t linear.”

This is where I can tell who is willing to take risks. But they all manage to create some sort of nonlinear path through the two points.

“Is that the only curve you can make that can connect these two points?” I continue.

“No. Do you want me to draw more? I mean, there are infinite ways!”

“No, it’s okay. I just want you to see that there are multiple paths to get from one of those points to the next.”

The shoulders relax as the brow rises, wondering about the point of this exercise.

“Almost done. I just have one more for you.”

“Connect ALL of these points any way you want to.” If I do this after our lessons on scatter plots, it drives them crazy not to simply draw a line of best fit 🙂

Once they’ve completed the task, I bring the point home. Yes, pun intended.

“I want you to think of these points as events that happen in life. When you have a single point or event, it does not define your path. There were many routes you could take. When there were two points, there was only one way if you chose to see it that way. If you were more creative, you could find many more. But life doesn’t consist of just one or two events, even though certain ones may stand out more than others. Life is a series of events. And it is your choice how you move through them. Look at how you connected your points here on your last picture. You had to include the outliers, but it didn’t completely change the general shape of the graph.”

“I know you’ve had some stuff in your past that makes you feel like you’re stuck on a predetermined path. But you’re not. You had to walk through that point. That event or series of events. And now you decide what direction you go.”

“One event does not define you. YOU define you by the choices you make and the path you choose.”

Okay, class dismissed 🙂

Thank you for sharing!

23 thoughts on “One Event Does Not Define You

  1. Jennifer – Albuquerque, New Mexico – First off, I am not very funny. Secondly, I am a full-blown geek; I like chess (it is my favorite game), I enjoyed writing research papers in college, I enjoyed statistics and any other kind of math. But, in my old age (47), I have learned to own my geekdom, it is uniquely mine. Third, I have manic-depressive illness which can make life a bit rocky sometimes, like when the medications are not strong enough to treat the illness, then it bites me in the ass…..hard. Most of the time, though, I ride the sine wave that are normal moods. It is an interesting disease to have though. You do a lot of self reflecting and exploration which can be rough, but you can see where you have made mistakes and you can take action to prevent that behavior in the future. Fourth, I have learned how not to settle for anything; bad medical care, toxic and angry people, bad food, bad relationships. I just will not settle anymore. I have already been there and done that. Fifth, I have learned over the years it is not cool to puke through your nose because you drank too much at a party or a bar. Sixth, I love to read everything from fiction to non-fiction to school textbooks. I do not remember learning to read. My mom says when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I picked up National Geographic and began to read it. Who knew? Seventh, and possibly last, I love music of all types except Rap. My favorite music to relax to is classical preferably of the Baroque period like Amadeus Mozart and Beethoven. I love going to the movies by myself. If you go on a Monday afternoon matinée, there is usually no one there so it is like having your own private theater. I am also a Nichiren Buddhist by way of spiritual belief. I am basically just a normal person who happens to be not funny :) .
    songtothesirens says:

    Interesting method for helping adolescents see that there is more than one way to travel through the events that they have experienced, and that there is more than one “shape” to those paths. I like it; it is creative. I wish I had had a teacher like you when I was going through adolescence.

  2. Lisa you are awesome! These kids are lucky to have you. I also wish I’d had a teacher like you to share this perspective with me at that age.

  3. Mary Lou – I'm still here and loving it! Nostalgia isn't my all-time favorite past time. I like to live in the present and look forward. When you reach a certain point in life it's good to look back and review this journey with new eyes ~ in a different place in time. I've arrived at a place in my life where the experiences I've had are coming together to form a collage of beauty and strength. A time where I can put a little more time into my love for water color painting and writing. Creating this website allows me to share some of the expressions of my gratitude and amazement of where this journey has taken me. It's my hope that it will encourage others to share their own story through written word and art.
    Mary Lou says:

    You’ve done it again, Lisa! A terrific post! I’m going to share this with my art teacher son! 🙂

  4. SassaFrassTheFeisty – Indianapolis, IN – I'm a mother of two-mostly amazing-kids. This is my journey towards healing from the ruin of my marriage and 10 year relationship to my kid's "dad", my stories of dealing with really good and really bad days, learning to cope and move on. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 with mania and ADHD-look! Something shiny!!-and Postpartum Depression. I love completely and passionately. Just don't piss me off, because I'll burn that bridge-and I'll stand on it and watch the flames consume everything. Sass 101 First-As my name suggests I am a Feisty Lil Thang. I tell it like it is. It is no holds barred on my blog. If you expect fluffy puppies, rainbows and sunshine, exit Stage Right because it ain't gonna be here. If you expect no cussing and positivity, and that I pray to a God or deity, exit Stage Left. That's not here either. What's here is real, honest, raw and truthful. This is my journey through the last 18 months from the separation of my husband and the JOYOUS roller coaster my family has been on. Oh yes, I did forget to mention-I am a sarcastic quick witted one. Sasscasm is trademarked by the ever Butch Blah. Don't mess with her Dragon, he eats assholes for breakfast. We have a tribe here that is very exclusive-seriously. If you're lucky enough to enter, you are worthy enough to partake in our Femme Speak. If not, just nod your head yes, and move on. I have Bipolar 1 with mania and I cycle into depression 2 times a year. This year has been an exception to the rule considering this year has just been shit. I've been to my local psych hospital twice in less than 10 months-once for depression, once for a psychotic episode resulting from over medication. YAY! Piss on that shit. If it hadn't been for Blah, I never would have gone. Thank you Blah. I lurve you! I have 2 kids-a boy I call NSLM-Not So Little Man-because Anxious Mom has her LM. Didn't want to steal her LM's thunder :) And I have a daughter referred to as Monkey-it's self explanatory. They are also referred to as my Heathens-yes I can call them that because I gave birth to them, I know them and they act like Heathens at times-just thank the Good Lord they aren't Hellians or I'd be in jail. I have an almost 5 year old purebred Red and Black German Shepherd named May-she's momma's baby, and Monkey is on her THRID guinea pig in about a year-thank her dad for that one. This one is S'mores and he's a wheeker and fat and fluffy. My kids and I live with my parents, because I'm not stable or healthy enough to work and live on my own. I have FINALLY found my magic pill cocktail-for now-and I have clarity for the first time in my life. I no longer use the word "stable" I use baseline. I've been on a lot of meds over the years, and since the last med I was on and overmedicated I have become med sensitive-SUPER YAY. I'm good at recognizing side effects and can tweak a med time better than a dr. Not cocky, just fact. I'm that in tune with my body. I'm also very emotionally charged. My emotions have always ruled my decisions, and I don't see that changing, but I am now better to stop and think things through before making a decision-some of the time. I'm mouthy, but I have a huge heart of gold, and I get hurt easily. And when I talk about people on here in my life off of WordPress they get their own special nicknames. DB-Douchebag. BBFL-Best Bitch For Life-My best friend in Alaska that I HOPE I get to see soon. EG-English Gentleman-a guy that I've bee talking to for a year that lives near Scotland and is on an 8 month trip around the world, and will be stateside in January. I can't wait to meet him in person! Cute Neighbor Guy. There were two guys that were named for the states they lived in, and I think I've deleted everything about Florida but the last post-Thank you Andrew for the title, you brilliant dictionary, you. Then there are my most supportive friends here: Anxious Mom, Andi, Zoe, Diane, Morgue, Blah, Chris, Sparkly Pants ;) Victo, Tessa, Bipolarfirst, bp7o9, Vic, Kitt, Leslie, and my newest BUDDY Andrew. I know I've forgotten some people and I SERIOUSLY apologize given the state of my brain haze, I hope you don't hate me!! I know you don't, I'm just overly dramatic. No I'm not...yeah, yes I am. ;) So, if you can't handle my sarcastic tongue and my cursing that can make sailors blush, the lobby exit is in the top right corner with a little X. That being said, I hope you new arrivals aren't just looking for blogs for numbers-this isn't that kind of blog. And I rather like interactive people on my little slice of the crazy pie-well, more like peach cobbler because it's my favorite but ANYWAY. I don't follow back just because you follow me. I may not be too picky about my food, but I'm picky about my men and the blogs I follow. With that, I shall bid you Welcome to Sasstopia, and may you stay to be among my Sassafrains. Reggie my Pegacorn is tethered out back as he doesn't do well with new people. I shall be shining my spork launcher on the table, next to my melon baller and grapefruit spoon all soaked in syphilis. If you have any questions, fucking ask. I don't do vague. LOVE YOU! <3
    SassaFrassTheFeisty says:

    Brilliant! Reblogging for a dear Buddy ❤️ Also, I believe in this post to my core. One event nor my past define me or us 😊

  5. Reblogged this on Life after his affair and commented:
    Great analogy she uses in this post! She uses it for her student..

    I could relate to it as a betrayed wife too. I’m not healing or recovering nearly as well as I’m told I should be… But I’m doing it my way and I’ll get “there”.. Someday.

  6. As always, so eloquent with your words.

  7. livebysurprise – Liv is the pseudonym reformed divorcee and single mom - now married, coparenting and working mother of three. She's been featured on ScaryMommy, HuffPost Divorce, The Mid and More at
    livebysurprise says:

    You are amazing. I love this.

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