“Antisocial?” I stuttered, picking up the graded exam from the teacher’s desk. I can still remember the stern look on the man’s face as his words, delivered like a judge’s sentence, cut right through me.

“Brighty, you’re an introvert,” he continued. “That makes you antisocial and therefore you’ll never succeed at anything in life.”

Even as a 12-year-old I knew he’d overstepped a line. I felt betrayed as I walked back to my seat amongst sniggers and whispered comments in the classroom. I couldn’t believe anyone wearing socks and sandals and a scraggly beard would dare point a finger at me. Seriously! This man was meant to be a role model; someone kids could look up to.

That day I made a vow to myself: If I ever held down a teaching position, I’d do my best to inspire others. I’ve since had the opportunity to put theory to practice by tutoring school kids and teaching adults how to better their lives through health and fitness. It’s a rewarding journey.

I’d always been a shy kid, but never thought of myself as a pariah. Being different to most boys my age and not sharing their passion for sports and an interest in the opposite sex didn’t seem such a big deal at the time. I didn’t quite get the point of chasing pigskin around a football field. I could however name every character on Happy Days and The Love Boat. Now that’s something to be proud of!

My parents once told me, “Challenge yourself and break your own records. Don’t worry so much what people think about you. Most often they’re just as worried what you think about them!” And it’s true. No one should have to bear the responsibility of living up to any expectations other than their own.

When I understood it was OK not to constantly conform, I began taking risks and realised that I could get back up again if I took a tumble. Being able to break out of my comfort zone and push boundaries was a new and satisfying experience. Funnily enough, every job I’ve had since leaving school has required public speaking.

Decades later, I happened to be walking past my old school. Spray-painted on a sidewall was an angry message to the very same teacher who’d mangled me in sixth grade. How many children had he damaged, I wondered. I smiled as I read the one-liner and then thought back to the 12-year-old boy I once was. If I had any words of encouragement to share with him, they would be:

“You have more inner strength than you know. Be true to yourself, embrace your sexuality and never lose your love of life. It does get better, kiddo.”

Follow Luke Brighty on Twitter via @brightlights_66

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