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Looking Back: Yearbooks, Reflections, and Lessons on Identity

Welcome back to Consider Yourself Hugged! Click below to watch, or Click here to listen to Episode 171.

Yearbooks are snapshots of a time we often look back on with mixed emotions. For some, they encapsulate memories of friendships, triumphs, and the journey of self-discovery. For others, they are a reminder of challenging times, struggles with identity, and the harsh realities of adolescence. This is especially true for those who, like me, were quiet, bullied, and not popular. My middle school and high school years were marked by a turbulent home life, living in poverty, and the challenges of being overweight.

Despite these hardships, revisiting my yearbooks has provided valuable insights into my identity during those formative years. It has been a journey of understanding who I was, who I am, and who I aspire to be. This episode is an exploration of those reflections, lessons learned, and the ways we can all find strength in our past experiences.


Flipping through the pages of my yearbooks, one theme stands out: I was consistently described as "nice" and "quiet,” and “sweet.” Most of the messages from classmates and teachers were polite and well-wishing, but they rarely delved deeper than surface-level compliments. "Have a great summer!" "You're so sweet!" "Stay the way you are!" These are the kinds of things people wrote.


At first glance, these comments might seem unremarkable. However, they reflect a crucial aspect of my identity at the time. Being nice and quiet were the ways I navigated a world where I often felt out of place. In a school environment where bullying was a daily reality and home life offered little respite, being nice was a survival strategy. It was a way to avoid drawing negative attention, to blend in and not become a target.


As I look back at my yearbooks, the absence of certain names and faces stands out just as much as the messages that are present. Most bullies didn't sign my yearbook. Their absence is a silent testament to the pain they caused, a reminder of the exclusion and isolation I felt. But…. one did! He wrote:


To a real sweet girl. Good luck un the future. C-ya this summer. Love ya


WHAT? WAS he one of my bullies? Are my memories even accurate as to who was who? I don’t know, and it probably doesn’t matter.  I will say that this journey I’ve embarked on is far from over 😊


I also saw a sense of resilience that came through in those pages. Despite the bullying, I persevered. I showed up every day, did my work, and kept going. This resilience is a core part of my identity, forged in the throes of those difficult years.


Home life during these years was far from ideal. Living in poverty, with a lack of resources and support, compounded the challenges I faced at school.  The economic struggles my family faced meant that I often went without the things my peers took for granted. Brand name clothes were out, of course. Yet, it also fostered a sense of empathy and understanding in me. I knew what it was like to go without, and this made me more compassionate towards others who were struggling.


Looking back, I see how these experiences cultivated a deep sense of determination within me. The desire to rise above my circumstances, to create a better future for myself, became a driving force. This determination is a key part of who I am today.


Something else interesting happened. I remember having two close girlfriends in fifth grade, the year before we entered middle school. Both made the cheerleading team in middle school and became popular, leaving me behind. For many years, I harbored feelings of rejection and sadness over this loss. It felt like yet another layer of exclusion in an already difficult period of my life.


However, as I look back, I wonder if my low self-esteem played a role in this separation. Did they distance themselves because they were caught up in their new social world? OR, did I push them away because I felt unworthy of their friendship? It's something I've never considered until now, reflecting on my life during those years. This new perspective adds complexity to my understanding of those friendships and my own behavior during that time.


As I reflect on these yearbook entries and the memories they evoke, several key lessons about identity emerge.


First, identity is not static. The person I was in middle school and high school is not the person I am today. The experiences I had, both good and bad, have shaped me, but they do not define me. And the person I am today is not the one I’ll be years down the road.


Second, our perception of ourselves is often different from how others see us. While I saw myself as awkward, overweight, and unpopular, others saw me as nice, quiet, and even smart and funny! This discrepancy highlights the importance of self-perception and the need to cultivate a positive self-image, regardless of external validation.


Third, resilience and determination are powerful components of identity. The challenges I faced during those years forged a strength within me that has carried me through many other difficulties in life. Embracing these qualities can help us navigate future challenges with confidence and grace.


Looking back at my yearbooks, I realize that the lessons learned during those years have been instrumental in shaping my current path. The struggles, the kindnesses, the resilience – all of these elements have contributed to my journey of self-discovery and empowerment.


For anyone who has experienced similar challenges during their school years, know that you are not alone. The journey of self-discovery is ongoing, and our past experiences, no matter how difficult, can provide valuable insights and strengths. Embrace your story, learn from it, and move forward with confidence.


Revisiting old yearbooks can be an emotional experience. It brings to the surface memories and feelings that may have been buried for years. But it also offers an opportunity for healing and growth. By looking back with a compassionate and reflective mindset, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our journey. Remember, if you choose to revisit old memories, have someone (personal or professional) to be there for you if those memories are painful. There are resources below!


Here are some steps to help embrace your story and learn from it:


1. Reflect with Compassion: Approach your past with kindness. Acknowledge the difficulties you faced and give yourself credit for the resilience and strength you showed.


2. Seek Understanding: Try to understand the context of your experiences. Reflect on the social dynamics, family circumstances, and personal struggles that shaped your identity.


3. Find the Lessons: Look for the lessons in your experiences. What did you learn about yourself? How did these experiences shape your values and strengths?


4. Celebrate Growth: Recognize how far you’ve come. Celebrate the growth and progress you’ve made since those years.


5. Share Your Story: Sharing your story with others can be empowering. It can also help others who might be going through similar experiences.


Looking back at my middle school and high school yearbooks has been a journey of reflection and growth. It has reminded me of the challenges I faced, the resilience I developed, and the lessons I learned. Most importantly, it has reinforced the idea that our past experiences, no matter how difficult, do not define us. Instead, they are steppingstones on our journey of self-discovery and empowerment.


As we move forward, let’s embrace our stories with compassion and understanding. Let’s use our experiences to build a stronger, more confident identity. And let’s remember that we have the power to shape our future, regardless of where we come from.


Thanks for joining!

I hope this has been helpful today, and thank you for joining! As I've always asked in the past, please pass the show link along to your friends and subscribe, download, and review wherever you are listening. If you’re a woman and you haven’t joined our private FB group A Place for Women, please do that now! It’ll be your source of encouragement. I'd love for you to follow my Tami West Seminars Facebook page as well. If you'd like to know more about my Mental Health First Aid Courses, contact me at 615-497-7714 or

And until next time, Consider Yourself Hugged 😘🤗


The information in this show is not intended to be therapy or to address your individual situation. It is information based on experiences, opinions, and research. If you need further help, please reach out to one of the resources below, or others in your area.

Mental Health Resources:

Tami West, PhD

Stress and Mental Health Expert Dr. Tami West uses her entertaining and compelling style to shine a new light on how to transform your life and discover solutions to life’s challenges.

Tami has worked in a variety of industries including healthcare, school nutrition, corporate sales, and 10 years as a public-school teacher. In 2013 she received her PhD in Human Development, studying the connections among stress, emotions, and identity.

Dr. West has spoken in 48 states across the US, as well as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. In any given year, Tami speaks to groups with audiences consisting of anywhere from 100 to 3,000 people.

Dr. West is the author of several successful publications including three books: The Stress Club, Life Without the Monsters and Thrive. When she's not speaking or writing, you might find her with her traveling with her husband and family, reading historical fiction, or watching Big Bang Theory.

Tami connects with audiences through real experience, cutting edge research, and transparent stories – all sprinkled with humor! She will make you laugh, cry, and shine a refreshingly new light on life's challenges.

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Contact Tami at or follow her at Tami West Seminars. 

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