What Shapes Us? was originally published in February 2017 and updated in January 2020.
Although this post was written several years ago, it’s particularly relevant to where I am in my life right now. I find it interesting that even a few years ago, I was starting to analyse myself and examine my characteristics – especially as I’m now studying to be a counsellor. Self-awareness is an important part of training to be a counsellor; without understanding ourselves, our values and why we behave the way we do, we are unable to help others.
So, What Shapes Us?
The older I get, the more I find myself pondering over questions about life: what do I want, what’s holding me back, what helped shape me into the person I am? I realised much of my childhood contributed to where I find myself today, but until I started on my counselling skills course, I didn’t realise why. During our younger years, we’re surrounded by family and peers, who already have their own set of values. Many of which will have been passed down through the family line. We’re impressionable at a young age, so this is when we start to learn what’s right or wrong. It’s when we start to learn empathy and other values that we pick up from our parents. If we’re criticised or told we’re naughty for doing something – we believe it and grow up linking these feelings to certain activities and words.
Growing up, I didn’t realise how lucky I was. My parents were fans of family days out and always encouraged me and my brother to spend time outdoors. There were days where we would visit a local park, play football or have a go at crazy golf. Then there were the more adventurous days where we would visit the seaside or climb a mountain. And then, there were the days when my dad would have random surprises planned but wouldn’t tell us where we were going until we were nearly there. Like the time he took us to visit the grave of Little John, followed by a trip to Nottingham so we could explore the alleged home of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
These were the type of days when he would also decide to take us all on a walk. The days where we would end up in a field of bulls and he would reassure us that everything would be okay – if we kept walking slowly and didn’t make any sudden movements of course. These were the days where I would be windswept, running through a field as fast as my legs could carry me, playing chase with my older brother and mimicking every movement he made, because I knew it would annoy him.
Even on the cold and rainy days, we were never encouraged to sit inside in front of the TV. Instead, the opposite was true. We were encouraged to either wrap up warm or put on a cagoule and make friends with adventure – and the weather. Holidays were the same. My parents have cine-film footage of me running along the beach at Burnham-on-Sea waving my fishing net around while it was hail stoning. There was never a dull day on a Wild family holiday. Some of my happiest memories are of me clambering over boulders at the seaside and searching rock pools, looking for crabs and anything else that may have survived after the tide had made its retreat.
One year, when I was in my early teens and my brother felt he was too old to come on holiday with us, I took a friend instead. She whined and moaned relentlessly. It was too cold; it was too wet, and she felt car sick. She didn’t like the things we were doing or the food we were eating and apart from the day my dad slipped in some mud, she didn’t crack a smile all week. She complained the whole time and my mum described it as one of the worst holiday’s she’s ever had. But regardless of my friend’s incessant whining, we still didn’t let her – or the weather – dictate our holiday. It wasn’t necessarily that she was a bad person, she’d just had a completely different upbringing and wasn’t used to our way of living.
Then there were my grandparents, who always seemed to be off with their caravan somewhere. They used to go on holiday to far-away places like Yugoslavia and return home with photos of them wandering around in the sunshine. At a weekend, my grandma would turn up with homemade jam tarts, chocolate cake and caramel slices – which now makes me see where my love of baking comes from. Apart from baking, she was also handy with a sewing machine, and used to make curtains and alter clothes. When she could no longer use the sewing machine, she passed it down to me. It’s clear to see that this is where my love of making things comes from.
As the years progressed, and I left home, my sense of outdoor adventure continued. There were camping trips, woodland walks, hiking up mountains and snorkelling; I found myself bungy jumping, sky diving and rock climbing. I believe it was a very wise man who said, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.’
The Early Years
But it wasn’t just being outdoors that turned me into the person I am. My parents taught me morals and values and to have respect for others. To play on the field instead of kicking a ball near people’s cars and houses. To share, to take it in turns when playing with toys, and to be kind to others.
My mum spent afternoons with me before I started school, teaching me to read, write and count. I was taught to stand up for myself and not let anybody take advantage of me. And although letting me watch TV gave mum half-an-hour or so to do some housework, it was by no means a way of keeping me quiet all day. It was an after-dinner treat. I remember staring at the clock on the wall, waiting for the hands to fall into place and getting excited because it was nearly time for Finger Mouse or Willo the Wisp. But as soon as it was over, she would switch the TV off and we would do something else.
There were many hours spent potato printing, drawing or making things out of pastry. We lived on a tight-knit street where everyone knew each other and as I got older, I was encouraged to mix with the other kids, play out on bikes, go roller skating and generally spend time outdoors.
It’s not only our family who are responsible for helping us to grow, it’s the friends we keep as well. They introduce us to new ideas that don’t necessarily match those from our family unit, and they help us to decide what traits we like and dislike in others. Growing up I had multiple groups of friends and found myself having to choose. Which friends served me, shared the same set of values, supported me and lifted me up? And which friends put me down, always had something to complain about and fuelled my life with negativity?
I had to decide what was important to me and in which direction I wanted my life to go. What baggage did I need to eliminate and what would help shape me to become the person I wanted to be? For me, walking away from my best friend of 16 years was the only option I could see. My life would have taken a completely different route had I not made that decision, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Good or bad, they’re a part of life and just like with friendships, they either lift us up or drag us down. Unfortunately, love isn’t always straightforward, and relationships can sometimes make us lose sight of our moral values. As time goes on and beliefs start to merge, it can be easy to forget who you are and what’s important to you.
In the past, I wasn’t always supported in my crazy dreams and I found myself being put down for wanting something more. I had to do a lot of soul searching and decide whether to lock my dreams away through fear of not being good enough or go ahead and push through regardless. I chose the latter. When an ex-boyfriend repeatedly told me, I wouldn’t be able to stand in front of a class and teach aerobics, I went ahead and proved him wrong. The fact that he told me I couldn’t do it only made me want it more and growing up I’d always been taught to stand up for myself.
Now that I look back over the years, it’s easy to see what helped mould me into the person I am. The years where I was encouraged to read, write, draw and paint, wrap up warm and spend time outdoors – they had more of an impact than I realised – and the older I get, the more everything makes sense. The quiet time I like to spend with a book and the hours where I can lose myself crafting words – they stem from the early years when I was first introduced to them.
My sense of adventure and my love of the great outdoors, it was a seed that was planted which continued to grow. And as much as I loved my childhood adventures of exploring castles and rock pools, I think along with my grandparents, it’s also the thing that made me so determined to explore other countries as I got older. I always knew there was more to see.
There are many things that shape us and help mould us into the person we become. And just like me, if you take some time to look back through the years, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of aha moments as things fall into place. Whether it was the first time you held a paintbrush or the first time you did a handstand, you might be surprised at what you find.
For me, it’s become abundantly clear that these are the things that helped shaped me.
What shaped you?