What You See is Not What You Get

By Tiffany L. Burleson-Predom

What you see is not what you get… 

From as early as I can remember I was labeled as Self-Confident, Bold, Smart, Strong.  I faintly recall my adolescent mind wondering, “What does that mean?”  But, since I never asked anyone I never gained a true understanding of my character-descriptors until well into my adulthood (not sure if this is necessary).  

I was a ‘normal’ child.  I did what I believe children my age normally do:  playing, reading writing, listening to music, hanging out with friends, going to school, and to church.  

As an adolescent, I liked myself.

I don’t know when the transition happened; but somewhere between adolescence and the journey of life, I developed an inner voice of self-doubt that cultivated a foundation for me to like me less.  

I believe it started with the labels:  self-confident, bold, smart, strong.

As I sit here reflecting on what others saw in me and how they defined me, a familiar feeling of doubt stirs within me.  As a child, I was defined without given meaning.  As an adolescent, I defined myself through the characters and people that I read about in books, watched on tv, and learned about in school.  In comparison, I was nowhere near as self-confident, bold, smart, or strong as them.

As a young adult, I liked me less.

But, as far as I knew, if ‘they’ said it, it had to be true.  So, consciously, or not, I worked hard to live up to the label of being self-confident, bold, smart, and strong.  Although I did not feel like what they said was true, I walked with a confidence that I did not possess; I spoke with an assurance that veiled my uncertainty and I dressed in attire that concealed my wavering esteem.  

As an adult, I struggled with me believing in me.

In-spite of my personal successes, I struggled. I made good grades in school. I was voted Sophomore Duchess, Favorite Junior, Homecoming Queen and proudly sported my letterman’s jacket, ladened with medals. I bought my first home, became a wife and mother, earned a master’s degree, landed great jobs, traveled abroad, and climbed the career ladder as I desired. I also met and made friends with some amazing people along the way.

By the time I realized that my struggle with liking me, defining me, loving me, and believing in me existed outside of me, I was as a middle school teacher.  For many years, I encountered many young people in the whirlwind of life; acting out against their peers, parents, and/or teachers; likely because they were struggling with liking themselves, loving themselves, defining themselves and/or believing in themselves.  As a teacher, I sensed a little bit of me in them.

The little girl in me empathized.  

So, despite their behavior, I was often moved to look beyond the surface of their external behaviors to talk to them to say the one word or make one comment that would reach them to encourage them and help them in whatever way they needed it.  Often challenging, I recall feeling exhausted and exhilarated after almost every encounter.  

I don’t know when I turned it on, on the inside of me; but, I do know that in-spite of my own insecurities, for my own child and for every child I have ever encountered in a professional and personal setting as a teacher, mentor, aunt or friend, I became determined to find a way to teach and encourage our youth how to build themselves from the inside out.

The message, Love The Ten You’re In, was birth in January 2020, in the midst of a prayer.  I was transitioning through some changes in life, and reflecting on my past, present and future, including wondering how to ensure that my son was best equipped to go to college in 5 years.  

Although, at that time, I was not working with young adults, I have always believed God purposed me to work with youth.  In my prayer, I asked God to help me to create ‘a something’ for our youth utilizing the skills I already possessed using the tools and resources I already had access to, to continue moving forward in fulfilling the purpose He had for me and my life. 

I told myself to start with a business name then from there I could determine the work of the business.  I started speaking different ideas out loud and seemingly, within minutes, I said, “Love The Ten You’re In!”  As soon as I said it, I screamed.  I was so excited because not only did it sound good.  It felt good as I said it.  The idea of printing the message on a t-shirt immediately followed.

Ask and you shall receive.

My mind was racing.  I already knew 3 people that I could call to get started:  a graphic designer, web designer and a printer.  I was so excited I had to pull over to a parking lot.  After settling into my excitement, I made a couple of phone calls to share my epiphany and get the ball to rolling.

Love The Ten You’re In is ever evolving.

Although my initial target audience began with youth, “Love The Ten You’re In,” a message of self-love, serves to empower all people so that we can all exist in our truth:  liking ourselves, loving ourselves and believing in ourselves.

Over the years, I have learned that my story is a story of many, quietly rooting within; so, I work to ensure that the encouragement of self-love to resonates when anyone sees or says, “Love the Ten You’re In!”

So, when I say, “It’s more than ‘just a shirt’.”  It is!  It is a commanding statement of self-love to reach the masses of young adults of all ages, statures, and characteristics to motivate them to be themselves and love themselves more and more each day!

The Mission:  Replace your inner voice of self-doubt with your affirming voice of self-love.

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