Story 8

To forgive is to redeem yourself

Hi, I’m Mădălina, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I’m a marketer by day and a reader and painter by night. I’m fascinated by the human mind and honestly believe that people can create a better world as soon as they acknowledge it’s in their power.

I did volunteering for more than five years while I was a student and continue to do so ever since, getting involved in different activities that resonate with me. Volunteering has contributed to my growth beyond what I could have dreamt of. It was there where I felt at home, where I felt safe to make mistakes, where I was accepted for who I was, where I received support and helped other people develop, where I built the foundation for my skills, where I first learned what it means to work for something I believe in, where I understood that, together with a bunch of motivated people, I could change for the better a part of the world I live in.

Many experiences from those years have contributed to the person that I am today, but one, in particular, has shaped me. And it was not the most uplifting one.

In my third year of volunteering in a student organization (Board of European Students of Technology), I became the local branch president. At that moment, the NGO had around sixty members, and I joined a board of five people. I was in my fourth year of university, so the bachelor thesis was coming up. The future didn’t seem easy, but I was extremely excited and motivated to do it all. And as a result, the months that followed went very well with many intense emotions, beautiful moments, and many events that brought people together. 

I was young, perfectionist, and highly demanding. I thought that I could only get results if I worked non-stop, and I prioritized this on top of everything else. And of course, I expected that everyone would do the same. But at one point, things started to change. I got tired. It was a year in which I worked hard, barely slept, and mostly ate poorly. 

I managed to end the year with a bachelor’s degree, good results on the NGO’s growth, demotivated members, broken friendships, an ended relationship, and burnout. Though being part of BEST is one of the most beautiful experiences for me, that year, I assumed a role, as a human, that I am not so proud of. I was, most of the time, angry, harsh, and pushing everyone to do more: to attend each meeting (we had them almost daily), to take more responsibilities, to make everything pixel-perfect, to take leadership roles, to set a good example for others. In the end, I got the results I was after, but I lost things that were important for me, including myself.

I went on a downward spiral and started to think that everything was wrong because of me. During the next months, I did some introspection, and the question to which I didn’t want to find an answer was: “Is this who I am?” I didn’t want that to be true.

I started to work, and for the next year, I played a double role: eight hours as a marketer in a local software company and a trainer for the NGO after that. The following year I continued with another project, extra work filling all my time, and the year after that, I decided to give more than 100% at my job and stuffed my days with it. 

I ran away from myself. But how much more could I escape? I got to a point where I needed to write an author bio for a newly launched website. It sounds pretty simple, but for me, it was not. My mind was blank. I couldn’t write a word. I knew that I was a marketer, but what was beneath this role? What other things can I proudly say about me?

Who was I?

When I felt lost, I usually paint. I felt like it was something truly mine, something that allowed me to express myself. But in all the tornado of events I got involved in, I managed to ditch it. I didn’t know how to do it anymore; I didn’t feel creative; I didn’t know how to start. My perfectionistic mind killed this too.

Some tough months followed. Being face to face with the thoughts that I’ve been running from for so long was not easy, and I judged myself harshly. All these feelings blocked my creative energy, and I couldn’t write, paint, or give my honest opinion about the things that mattered to me. I basically couldn’t express myself since I was constantly thinking: “Who was I to do this thing?” It was not healthy. I lost weight; I didn’t want to meet with my friends anymore; I started to isolate myself; I didn’t want to discuss how I felt. On top of this, I was tired most of the time since I frequently had less than one hour of deep sleep per night.  

I decided this is not good for me. I slowed down the pace, started therapy, and changed my mindset and the boundaries I created for myself.

After countless therapy sessions, books, and discussions, I concluded that who I was at that moment was a version of me. It is not who I am today and neither who I will be for the rest of my life. I grew. I changed. 

The new me

I wrote down who is this new version, what are my values, what are my strengths, what I want to improve, what causes I believe in, what are the fields that I would like to contribute to, what is crucial for me, what moments fill me up with energy, and which drain me. I wrote a description of myself in different roles, as a friend, as a team member, as a professional, as a girlfriend, as a citizen, as a human being. I assumed them and started to act accordingly. I began to allow myself, imperfect as I am, to express, explore, and grow even further. 

Some of the values and phrases that I put on paper to act as guidance were: be kind, accept and respect other people’s worlds and help them if it is in your power; remember that people have different needs and paces; don’t assume without validating; seek to find out the reason behind and understand why; take actions based on a bigger purpose; always learn; explore and understand different cultures; seek to have an impact with your actions; create change; share your ideas freely; have boundaries and offer feedback. They’ve been my north star in different circumstances, and I update them as soon as an experience changes my beliefs or builds them up.

I learned that myself is not just a word to describe who I am. It is a cumulus of factors: what I value, how I choose to react to different circumstances, what provokes in me those strong emotional situations, activities that make my eyes spark, the passion I put in what I do, things I choose to invest time in, people I surround myself with. I learned that assuming who I am at this moment is challenging but profoundly liberating. I started, as Brené Brown would say, to “show up and be seen.”

I learned that the bio version that I write now would not define me forever. The version of myself that I am showing now is not permanent. It is who I am now, someone who makes the most to sail through the waves of life, and it is in my power to change what once was written in stone. I learned that playing the victim role is burdensome and tiring. Taking responsibility for myself and my actions is what frees me and allows me to truly enjoy life, grow, build up resilience, and be grateful for each moment, good or bad.

These experiences changed me profoundly. I had moments that made me proud and moments of which I am ashamed. Though they shaped me, they do not define me. I learned to remind myself that I am not perfect, that I make mistakes, and that I might hurt the people around me and myself, but it is in my power to change and create a new version of myself. It is in my power to define who I am and allow myself to grow beyond imagination and create this better world that l dream of. 

During this transition, I succeeded in accepting the old version of me as being part of my journey. Once I embraced it and understood why it happened, I healed, and I learned the power of forgiving myself for the moments I’m not proud of even today. What changed once I did it is that I realized that I am free to be whomever I want to be.

Be gentle,

Contributors of this story: Mădălina Lăcătiș wrote this gem, Oana Filip edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all together, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development.

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