Me, Rocky Balboa

“You are worthless and you’ll never amount to anything!”

So said my ex when we were still in the throes of unraveling our marriage. And today I want to officially thank him. Little did he know when he said those hurtful, pain-searing words, that he was doing me a favor.  In his own, offhanded way, he was encouraging me to fly the coop, and be something more—without him.  Turns out, it was just the push I needed.

I would be Rocky Balboa, resolved to win the world championship.

When those words were first flung at me, my initial reaction was to fall apart. My second was to pick up the pieces and gather my resolve. Resolve, to never be that woman who doesn’t amount to anything, who believes what she’s told and wallows in self-pity and low self esteem.  Instead, I would be Rocky Balboa, resolved to win the world heavyweight championship. Meryl Streep, determined to win my first Oscar. I’d be the little engine that could, and I’d be Dumbo, about to take my first flight over the Big Top.

According to my ex, the odds were not in my favor. Yet I wasn’t going to be the one to take it on the chin. So overnight my mantra became,  “I will prove him wrong, I will prove him wrong.” I had some big hurdles to overcome, though. Besides, the marriage coming apart, I was pounding the pavement in search of a job. Any job. I was also coming to terms with my mother’s increasing dementia, Alzheimer’s, which made it impossible to confide in her, and to seek her advice and comfort when I needed it most.

“I will prove him wrong,” I kept telling myself, and in my own way, I did. Though it took time, and during that time it became more about doing it for me rather than for the sake of proving him wrong. It was a long tough road, with hurdles every step of the way, but I kept at it. The Rocky Balboa drive was in me, the need to prove I could do it. Then one day I realized I’d had.  I’d found myself, my voice.

It took two years but I finally got the job I wanted, working for a place that thrives on creativity and people who are passionate about their work. Three years after that, I was able to buy my own home and turn it into a place that is uniquely mine, filled with beauty, art and yes, even kitsch. I also raised two children to be thoughtful, caring adults and found time along the way to spend with the people who mean so much to me. Indeed, like Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I’d found that the best reward of all is the love of family and friends.  That, and finding your bliss.

So if I ever do win the heavyweight championship or an Oscar, I’ll be sure to express my gratitude to all the people along the way who were there for me. And I’ll be sure to thank my ex, too. For I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know how his words helped shape who I am today. Oh, and how I became Rocky Balboa. Yeah, that’s me. Rocky.