The Single Most Life-Changing, Positive Lesson I’ve Learned In Life

Nicolas Cole Instagram

I was sitting in the middle of the forest with nothing but a tent, a small bag of fruits and nuts, a shovel, and a roll of toilet paper.

Each of us was given a space in this forest to spend 3 days by ourselves.

It was the afternoon, and for miles all I could see were trees and trees. There were no sounds other than the crackling of leaves under my shoes when I would pace my space back and forth. Every once in a while, I would test the silence and let out a scream, wanting to see how long it would echo.


It carried into the distance for a moment and then faded.

Just like many of my thoughts of home.

I had arrived on this trip with a lot of anger. I was 19 years old, feeling all the things you feel when you’re 19. I felt like my parents didn’t understand me. I felt like everything I did was wrong. I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I would never be the person they wanted me to be. I felt lost and didn’t know what I wanted to be in life. I enjoyed music. I enjoyed writing. But other than that, I didn’t enjoy much else. Most days, I just felt stuck.

But that day in the forest wasn’t like most days.

Finally, I had a moment to hear those thoughts — the ones that played the victim’s song. With 3 entire days to myself, that song became clearer and clearer, to the point where the words no longer seemed like my own.

They were just lyrics I’d memorized and repeated to myself, endlessly.

On the 3rd day (“He rose again”…jk) one of the counselors came by my tent. We sat together on a small patch of grass.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Unbelievable,” I said, playing with a stick in my hand. I’d never felt so calm.”

“Really? Learn anything special about yourself?” she said.

The way she said it, I could tell she was expecting a cliche response.

I started to nod. I hadn’t put my conclusion quite into words yet.

“Nothing in my life is going to change unless I make it so.”

She flickered her eyes, staring, not saying anything.

“And how did you come to learn that?” she asked.

I looked out at the vastness and the trees. The entire forest hadn’t changed at all in 3 days, and yet I felt like an entirely different person.

“Because all the things I want to change in my life, I keep waiting for them to change. But I don’t have control of those things. The only thing I have control over is myself. So, if I want anything to change, I have to be the one to do it.”

She tilted her head a bit and looked at me skeptically.

“Are you saying that just because you think that’s what I want to hear?” she asked. I was on a 30-day canoe trip for troubled teens, after all.

I shook my head, slowly and without defense.

“Nope,” I said softly. “I understand that anything I want in this world, I have to be the one to make it happen.”

I’ve been living by my own advice ever since.

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