I was a fearless child, but by the time I was in high school, I was a self-conscious mess. I loved everybody and the idea that they might not love or like me back, crushed my spirit. Fear of rejection made it feel impossible for me to be myself in school and made it hard on my peers to know how to react. I became so uncomfortable in my own skin, I didn’t know what to do. So I did nothing. By the end of sophomore year, I could count the number of people who would talk to me on one hand.

High school-like situations never end and go way beyond graduation (adult relationships, auditions, the workplace), but we can take their lessons and get much better at handling them.

These are the fifteen things I learned the “long” way:

1. If your love interest (or employer) doesn’t notice, like, or love you “that way,” it does NOT mean there is something wrong with you. It simply means they are wrong for you right now.

Everything whether an opportunity for love or career, comes down to timing and compatibility. If it is meant for you, it will come back around at a better time. Still, don’t waste time waiting for the wrong doors to open and wondering why they don’t open for you. Make and find your own doors! Look for those who are looking for you!

2. How people treat you says more about them than it does about you. It’s not always personal or all about you.

We don’t know the battles people are facing. We don’t know their insecurities or wounds. One day I walked into a store and a very stressed woman looked at me angrily and said, “What’s wrong with you???” I had answered nicer versions of this question before, so without thinking I said what I usually say, “I have Cerebral Palsy and it’s the blessing of my life. Thank you very much for asking.” I smiled genuinely and turned to walk away. She suddenly burst into tears and apologized. She then told me she just been laid off and had just had the worst day. We talked for a long time, hugged, and ended up becoming Facebook friends. She turned out to be a very sweet lady having a very bad day. We don’t always know why people react the way they do and as has been said many other times, the only thing we control is our own reaction. I’m secure enough in my disability identity not to let it be defined by anyone else. Letting others define you gives them power over you that they have not earned.

3. Everybody has insecurities, they just manifest differently in every person.

In high school I believed I was the only one with insecurities because mine seemed the most transparent, and that everyone around me was confident and knew who they were and what they wanted and what they were doing with their lives; but puberty is rough on everyone, and looking back it was clear that almost everyone I went to school with was battling similar uncertainty and insecurity, they just carried it differently. This is still true of people in the workplace, who seem put together, yet struggle privately. I don’t care who you are, we all have insecurities. Period.

4. Bullies and gossips are more insecure than their targets. “Haters” need your sympathy and prayers more than your hurt and anger.

Minnie Driver once shared on Ellen that she was bullied daily starting when she was 9, for five years. Years later when already famous, she ran into the girl who bullied her and simply asked without animosity, why she did it. Her former bully, pale and teary-eyed, said: “It was my identity. My identity was… I was frightened of who you were; creative and loud, gregarious. And my identity became stopping that. Shutting that down because it was shut down in me.” This is powerful because it demonstrates that insecurity triggers bullying behavior and it can even be one’s good qualities that can make someone a target. I’ve had people tell me in retrospect that they were put off by my positivity or smile and took my friendly openness as a threat to who they were. It has helped me to be much more compassionate and sensitive to bullies and “haters.”

5. Judgment or condemnation (of yourself or someone else) clouds your clarity of a situation. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings and bad decision-making.

Pain and emotions add color and weight to a situation that can cluster a cloud over the truth. We can paint malicious intent or negativity on something perfectly innocent. 

6. When you are secure you’re not so easily offended by what people say or think.

Going back to my story from earlier, when I was asked “What’s wrong with you?” I wasn’t offended simply because I know there’s nothing wrong with me as I am, especially in regards to my disability. We most often get offended when we fear something may be true. If somebody says you’re a triangle, and you know you’re not, it may seem odd, but it’s not going to offend you. 

7. Envy is a waste of time: if something good happens to someone else, it means it can happen to you. If you can’t have what someone else has, you can have something else better for you.

Not everyone wants or is destined to have the same things. And that’s perfectly ok! Also, what we want and what we need are very different. I always want chocolate, but I need vegetables. Let other people’s good news serve as a motivator. I like to use other people’s victories to feed hope to my own. Weddings make me believe in love more, rather than sad that I’m single. Walt Disney had filed for bankruptcy and had a failed business, before he had Disney Studios. For me, his testimony inspires patience. It reminds us all that whatever is happening at present, the ultimate plan is always better than we can dream of at the moment.

8. The strongest person is not necessarily the person with the biggest muscles or loudest voice.

Resilience comes in many forms. We did an exercise in a class I took: we were asked to go up to the person that you think is the strongest — and out of the room of about 20 people — some went to the burliest guy present, but to my shock at least five people came up to me. The girl using adapted ski poles for balance! Physically I was probably the weakest in the room and I’m not sure that I would say I was the strongest, given when many of my classmates had been through; but I saw that day and the many days that followed, that there are many ways to look at strength. And that’s a beautiful thing!

9. The beauty in someone else does not take away from the beauty in you. Trust that you have beauty, talents, and gifts — whatever company you keep.

When I was younger I was so distracted by all the accomplished, beautiful people around me and their contributions that I shrunk myself and didn’t look at what I could bring to the table. As I grew older I realized sharing the beauty I saw in others was one of my gifts and that we are all meant to shine in our own unique way.

10. You don’t have to do anything to be more beautiful, but you may have to put in work to feel beautiful everyday.

Feeling our beauty is a daily process. Feeling beautiful when we wake up stressed out with crazy hair is a lot harder. Making conscious efforts to feed your sense of beauty can help keep spirits high: counting your blessings (of any size), listening to empowering music, learning something new, dressing in a way that represents us or makes us feel good, sleeping enough, prayer. Even encouraging someone else can make us feel encouraged. It’s up to you what you do, but I encourage all to choose actions that give your beauty wings.

11. Rather than being perfect (flawless), focus on being authentic or becoming whole.

The good news is: Flawlessness is not possible for any human being — but fulfillment is. Not being perfect doesn’t mean we are any less beautiful as is.

12. Loving everybody does not necessarily mean making everyone your BFF. It’s okay to be selective about your inner circle.

We can love and respect all people, while also choosing who we invest in on a daily basis and when choosing healthy equal relationships, choose back those who also invest in us. Still, there are times where it is important invest in someone who cannot invest back (for example a child or stranger in need) or those in distress, but wisdom and discernment are key even in practicing unconditional love.

13. People-pleasing is the easiest way to lose your authentic self. Don’t let others’ opinions or fear of rejection have power over your God-given gut instinct.

Having standards and boundaries are an important expression of self-respect. Not having these, can even be dangerous to your health and safety.

14. Standing for something doesn’t mean standing for everything. Be prepared to disappoint some for the greater good; be prepared to accept those who disagree.

When we are not sure what we believe it’s easy to absorb everything, be overwhelmed, and swayed by the wind of popular opinion. If it’s something you truly believe, and it’s not harming anyone, be ok with the fact that others may disagree, and as much as you can, accept people who may have a very different stance. You can accept others without adopting their views.

15. The “oops” you have made are not mistakes or regrets per se; they are lessons to help you and/or others do better. It may even be a blessing in disguise. You may not see it now; it may take time to see what the lesson or blessing is. Be patient with yourself. Let your story unfold.

Unless you’ve got a bird’s or God’s-eye view, don’t make snap judgments or condemn yourself or someone else’s life — you haven’t seen the whole picture. I don’t know much, but I truly believe that, however messy life may seem, that the biggest picture is… simply and collectively beautiful.

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  • Xian Horn

    Beauty and Disability Advocate, Teacher, Founder

    Xian Horn is a joyful half-Asian woman with Cerebral Palsy, who serves as a teacher, speaker, beauty advocate, blogger, and Exemplar for the AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge toward the creation of Assistive Technology. Xian was named Women's eNews' 21 Leaders for the 21st Century in 2017 and in Walker's Legacy Power 15 in 2018 and the first-ever Positive Exposure Rising Leader Award in 2021. Give Beauty Wings’ tailored Self-Esteem programs began at NYU's Initiative for Women with Disabilities, and serve as a bridge to promote greater self-love and discovery, purpose, and connection. She aims to reconceptualize disability representation in fashion, beauty, and media and move accessible design forward by working with Anna Sui, Derek Lam, Parsons, Pratt and F.I.T. Xian is invested in contributing positively to our concept of self-esteem and the collective purpose, especially for girls and women. She is the founder of the “Give Beauty Wings” Self-Esteem program (and subsequent non-profit) which originated at NYU's Initiative for Women with Disabilities, the Jewish Community Center Manhattan, and nationally. Xian is an award-winning speaker and contributor at Forbes and Ariana Huffington's Thrive Global and has been featured in The White House Blog's Women Working To Do Good series, the New York Times, NPR, Fast Company, NBC News, Fox 5, and Yahoo Life among others.