Just Joyful

By Diane Stark

“Diane, sit down,” my first grade teacher reminded me for the hundredth time. “You’ll need to be quiet too.”

I wanted to be good. I really did. I loved my teacher, and I longed to please her. But sitting still for too long made me feel anxious inside. Like I might burst or something. And being quiet was even more difficult.

I’ll never forget the first time I got in trouble for not sitting down. I was in kindergarten, and I was riding the school bus home. When it was my stop, the bus driver grabbed my arm before I could get off the bus. “I need you to write sentences for me,” she said in the sweetest voice. “I need you to write ‘I will not stand up on the bus’ ten times.”

“Okay,” I answered cheerfully. I didn’t realize I was being punished until my older brother told me. After that, I tried to stay seated on the school bus. But I was little, and the bus seats were over my head. I couldn’t hear what the other kids were saying, and I felt left out.

I had to write sentences many times throughout my elementary school career.

Even my Sunday school teacher reminded me almost weekly that God gave me two ears and only one mouth. “He did that for a reason, Honey,” she said kindly.

I really tried to be good, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to control myself. If I were in elementary school today, I’d be one of the millions of kids with a prescription for Ritalin, but I’m a child of the ‘80s, and back then fewer kids were diagnosed with ADHD.

I got good grades most of the time, so my parents never really thought I had a problem. But I always knew there was something wrong with me, that concentrating was easier for other kids than it was for me.

I grew up, went to college and became – of all things – a kindergarten teacher. I loved it, and it was the perfect environment for someone like me. My short attention span and inability to sit still didn’t hinder me with my students. They loved me. They thought I was fun.

After ten years, I resigned from teaching to become a stay-at-home mom and pursue a second career – writing. I know it sounds like a strange choice for someone like me, but I’d always felt drawn to tell my stories.  Plus, I discovered something else, something magical for someone with my struggles. When I write, I can focus. My mind stops thinking a million thoughts a minute and just concentrates on the story.

When I write, I feel like my brain works the way it’s supposed to.

But even today, when I talk, I know the old struggles are still there. When I get together with a friend for coffee, I almost always leave the coffee house feeling like I monopolized the conversation. Like I needed to heed my Sunday school teacher’s warning, but I didn’t. I use my mouth more than my ears, even when I don’t mean to.

I always talk very quickly, and I use my hands a lot. I know I come across as hyper, but I can’t seem to control it.

And it gets even worse when I’m nervous.

This past July, I was invited to speak at a writer’s conference. I taught classes on writing for parenting magazine and anthologies, things I do all the time. I knew I could teach other writers how to break in. But knowing I could do it didn’t stop me from feeling nervous before I taught my class.

I stood in front of 25 other writers to teach them what I know about writing a story for a Chicken Soup book. I told them to start with the action and not to try to tell their whole life story in 1200 words. While I spoke, people nodded and smiled, as though they were actually learning something.

It was a great feeling.

Afterward, the sweetest lady came up and hugged me. “You are wonderful,” she said. “I love your teaching style.”

My mouth dropped open. “My teaching style? You mean the way I talk too fast and can’t sit still?” I shrugged. “I know I’m hyper.”

But she shook her head. “You’re not hyper. You’re joyful. What you see as hyperactivity, other people see as enthusiasm.”

I know sounds silly, but I fought tears at her words. It was honestly one of the best compliments I’ve ever been given.

“Thank you for saying that,” I said. “It means more to me than I can say.” I didn’t tell her about my childhood, about my life-long struggle with talking too much and too fast, about being self-conscious about my mannerisms and inability to sit still.

I didn’t tell her all of that, but I will never forget her words.

You’re not hyper, you’re joyful.

Those five words set me free from the labels I put on myself when I was in kindergarten and my bus driver made me write sentences. I labeled myself too loud. Too chatty. Too fidgety. Too flighty.

My personality was just too much.

But my sweet new friend didn’t see any of that. She saw joy and enthusiasm. She saw a love for writing and a desire to help others succeed with their own writing aspirations.

Her view of me has helped me to change how I view myself. When my internal dialogue becomes too critical, I remember her words. I remind myself that other people don’t view me the same way I see myself, and that maybe, my hyperactivity could be seen as a strength if I just change my perception of it. Because of a friend’s kind words, I’ve been able to view myself in a more positive light.

I’m not hyper anymore. Now, I’m just joyful.

I love how one person’s words can become a silver lining in our own dark clouds.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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2 Responses to “Just Joyful”

  1. Mary Ann says:

    I have a joyful grandson who gives me great joy. What a great reminder of how words can hurt–or inspire! Thank you for sharing in this wonderful essay.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    Great essay. It seems that being “joyful” has made you successful in your endeavors. I would say it is a special gift to be appreciated :)

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