During my sophomore year of college, I decided to get a tattoo.
When I arrived at the tattoo “studio” (which was actually someone’s living room), the tattoo artist pointed to a book and said, “Pick any tattoo you want. I can do every tattoo except dragons. Dragons hurt my wrist.”
In the book were images of leopards, tigers, lions, horses, dolphins, swords, lots of stuff with fire, various font types, and yes, dragons.
Something immediately told me that picking a random tattoo from a random photo album in a random tattoo parlor wasn’t a good idea. Still, I was committed to getting a tattoo.
So, I made the decision to get my own name – yes, “Antonio” – tattooed on my left deltoid. For the font style, I chose a tender cursive font that I liked.
When I showed the font to the tattoo artist, she raised an eyebrow and said, “You sure you want that font?”
When I nodded my head yes, she went on to create one of my best worst mistakes.
Since getting that tattoo many years ago, here are just a few things that I’ve heard when my arm isn’t covered:
Is that just in case you forget your name?
Are you getting your social security number next?
What’s up with that font, bro?
By my late twenties, I had heard enough. I decided to get rid of my tattoo. I scheduled an appointment with a dermatologist.
After a brief assessment (that included asking me why I got my own name tattooed on my arm), the dermatologist told me that he could remove the tattoo to the point where only I would be able to tell that there used to be a bad tattoo of my name with a horrible font.
Even though this was encouraging news, something didn’t feel right. Still I figured I might as well schedule an appointment to get my permanent name badge removed.
Then, something interesting happened. Over the course of the next few days, I changed my mind.
I realized that – even though my tattoo was the butt of far too many jokes – it was my tattoo. Part of my story. My journey in life.
So, I decided to keep it.
I came to accept that I’m a grown man with my first name etched on my left deltoid.
I’ve also come to embrace, and no longer regret, the decision to get the tattoo in the first place.
What My Bad Tattoo Can Teach You About Life – What Have You Yet To Accept?
I’ve come to learn that sometimes the things we are most ashamed of are actually the stories we most need to embrace.
Even more, the things that we think make us fragile, weak, and vulnerable can also be the things that have helped us develop grit, resilience, and character.
With the right perspective, these can be the experiences that actually give us strength.
Does my bad tattoo give me strength? That may be a stretch. But it does remind me that I have lived. That I made a choice. That I’ve made decisions, good and bad, and I’ve learned and rebounded from all of them.
All of the decisions we’ve made in our life play a similar role. We may not love them. Maybe we even regret them. But every single one has a story to tell and a lesson to teach.
It’s important to remember that we’re not here to judge ourselves or question our past decisions.
Instead, we’re here to get curious. We’re here to wonder. We’re here to take full accountability and responsibility for our lives and decisions.
What part of your story or journey in life do you need to accept?
Maybe it’s a bad tattoo, like mine. A relationship that came to an end. A job, or jobs, that didn’t end up as you hoped. Something your parents did (or didn’t do). An investment you made that went awry. The options are endless.
It’s only once we accept where we are that we can begin to make progress.
Doing this sure as hell isn’t easy. If everyone were willing to do it, we wouldn’t recognize life on this planet.
Again: What’s the thing that if you said it out loud to someone, you’d be afraid of or embarrassed by their reaction?
Whatever it is, I ask you to start to own it. To forgive what needs to be forgiven, whether it’s forgiving yourself or others.
When you have the courage to do this, it frees up the necessary space you need to live a better story.