By: Tosca DiMatteo
I was born at the very bottom of Mount Everest.
Not literally, but figuratively.
I was put on this earth with an immediate and acute mountain to climb. There was no choice but to follow a pathway of surgery after surgery after surgery.
The era of survival: Birth — 21.
My first surgery took place when I was three months old. Of course, I don’t remember it, but my body does. You see being born with cleft-lip and palate means more than needing a cosmetic solve, it also meant my ears, nose, and throat were affected.
This journey meant getting stared at on the street, in the grocery story, at school and EVERYWHERE. It means being asked “Why do you look like that?” It means not being asked to the prom. It means identifying more with the BEAST than the BEAUTY. Identifying more with PHANTOM than the woman (I have no idea what her name was…).
This journey included going to speech therapy, having a failed jaw surgery at the age of 13, multiple sets of tubes in the ears, wearing braces until age 21, surgeries to close the holes in my ears, surgery to close the gap in the roof of my mouth, surgery to fix my pharyngeal flap (don’t ask me what it is, but it helps with pronunciation), pulling four wisdom teeth, having another jaw surgery (this time with a BONUS of getting your teeth wired shut for six weeks) and…. Well, I think I made my point.
This journey included hospital stays, doctors’ visits, and monthly dental appointments without Netflix, iPads, or cell phones.
I had the thoughts in my head to get me through. My brain was my survival kit.
This journey meant walking this earth with a broken heart through grade school, middle school, high school, and college and the empty feeling that nobody really knew the depth of it, but me.
And yet the journey also included coming home to a household trying to make ends meet. Coming home to a father who is the son of an alcoholic, depression-era survivor, and first generation Italian who was shamed for his heritage. Coming home to a mother, whose mother was institutionalized for schizophrenia, who was told to keep her life a secret, and who experienced the roller coaster ride of untrustworthy and abusive stepfamilies. My parents were and are survivors, who raised a family the best they knew how. And you can imagine the tools at their disposal were limited in that day and age, let alone having to raise a daughter who needed so much more.
Through my values, my tears, trials and tribulations, I made it to 21. With love in my heart, empathy for the world and dreams to prove everyone wrong. My surgeries were behind me, and the future was in front of me. I made it. I climbed Mount Everest, or perhaps more accurately said — the mountain RANGE that included Everest. It was time to dream about further education, getting out of dodge, and seeing the world. While my being was cloaked in self-hate, and non-stop inner critics, I lived with hope in my heart for a future that was so much better than my past.
Enter the era of WTF: Age 22.
After months of being in denial of ALL my symptoms, I received a devastating new health diagnosis:
Type 1 diabetes.
You’re talking to a lover of all things FOOD here, I mean I grew up in a grocery store and in a family whose primary form of love came in the language of pasta and cannolis. Was enduring my mountain range not enough?
Are. You. Kidding Me?
A broken healthcare system. A diagnosis riddled with shame, denial, ignorance, and no sign that a toolbox for this was remotely even available….
And still, I move forward. Pursuing higher education, greener financial pastures, freedom, independence, and love.
Enter the era of the REAL corporate America: Age 26.
Be more agreeable.
Be less feisty.
Have THIS degree from THAT institution.
Follow THAT antiquated roadmap, express power OVER those people.
Take this ONE, socially approved path to get to where you want to be.
Be more like HER.
Be less like YOU.
Fix those WEAKNESSES.
Measure up to THAT cohort of people.
And hurry the F%&K up, before you get left behind.
[Related: Spring Clean Your Life]
Enter the era of MORE FREEDOM: Age 39.
The completely ignorant (thank goodness) decision to build my own business from the ground up.
Follow those pathways to growth.
Get connected with these people that know best.
Use all the tactics until your audience is ALMOST sick of you…
Face your money issues.
Face your worthiness issues.
Face the terrible advice — grin and bear it.
Feel disappointed over and over and over and over again.
Build a business during a pandemic.
Enter the era of TRUE FREEDOM: Present day.
Trust my breakdowns are the pathway to the breakthroughs.
Honor my body and what it needs. It is my most powerful asset.
Let love in. Keep my heart open.
Break down my walls of self-protection.
Breathe in the present moment.
Believe people when they show me who they are.
Come back to my truth over and over again.
Holding my boundaries is in service of me, and others.
When in doubt, pass the baton from my head to my heart.
When I’m lost, I know I am always held.
I’m not here to prove anything to anybody. I am here to love myself.
It’s the brave choice, to do it my way.
I was born worthy.
I am magical all the damn time.
What’s it all for?
We live in a time where we ALL have our mountains to climb.
The climb can be complex, multilayered, and even unfathomable at times.
It can be lonely and heartbreaking. It can be beautiful and terrifying.
And through it all, we have a choice.
When I first heard the term “inner critic” I had an aha moment.
It opened up the possibility of doing life differently.
For in all my climbing over each and every mountain….
I did it with tears in my eyes, a broken heart, and the belief that it was all gonna be hard.
I realized I could CHOOSE a new path forward.
I could choose to heal the wounds of my past.
I could choose to talk to myself differently.
I could choose to eradicate my limiting beliefs.
I could choose to honor my power and my badassery (it’s a word now, spell check).
I could choose to love myself BECAUSE of my journey and not in spite of it.
You too, have the choice.
And when you do, I’ll be here to wrap my loving arms around you. For when you climb your next mountain, you’ll have incredible tools and an expert to guide you in a new way. Not to mention, you’ll have a living, walking testimony to what’s possible when you choose different.
[Related: How the Future Works]
Tosca DiMatteo supports businesses to create people-centric cultures and individuals to experience transformational change to live their truth unapologetically. For details, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started or schedule an exploratory call here.