I recently struck up a conversation with the guy who was taking our order at a very small Chinese restaurant. He was around 24 or 25 years old and had a scruffy beard and pony tail. He looked very worn down by life at a very young age. I took notice of how he patiently explained the menu to me. When I finally placed my order he passed it on to what seemed to be the owners. He went on serving, talking to customers, collecting payment and helping people. At one point, I noticed one of the owners asking him his opinion about something. He responded thoughtfully and she nodded her head in appreciation and agreement. Because I was in a college area I assumed he was a student working his way through school. As it turns out, I was only partially correct. As I waited to pay I asked him some questions. He was soft spoken. He said he was in college but not the four year university across the street but a community college 30 minutes away. He was working to pay for his degree. He said he did go to a four year college many years ago, but made some big mistakes and had to leave. I told him how I observed him in action and he did a good job. After telling him what I observed and how I thought this spoke well of him, he smiled in appreciation of my sharing. I reminded him that we all make mistakes and the fact that he had picked himself up and moved forward speaks volumes of his character. He then went deeper and said that he learned at a very young age that "life can be very unfair and that bad things happen." I didn't disagree as I too know life can be very difficult.
As a therapist and coach, I pay attention to people and their actions. I see the "hero" in everyone and I remind people they are not their mistakes but they are their courage and their strength. So when you are having a hard time, remember it is our ability to pick ourselves up and to move forward in life that speaks volumes about our character.