Once upon a time a baby girl was born to loving parents. On the day of her birth they gave her a beautiful box, a treasured gift. By her second birthday, the loving parents had died and the little girl was living with her aunt.
Now, Auntie was a mean-spirited, angry and bitter old crone. As the girl grew into a lovely young woman, Auntie would remind her, “You’re no better than anyone else”, and “Don’t get too big for your britches”, and, more painfully, “You are as ugly as your mother”, for Auntie had doted on the girl’s father and ignorantly blamed the girl’s mother for his death.
So, the girl grew up believing that she was, indeed, unattractive, and hid herself behind unfashionable and unflattering clothes.
At school, the girl worked hard and excelled at her studies. In fifth grade, jealous and deceitful Teacher took her aside and said, “You’re not as smart as you think you are — you’re just lucky. Once your luck fades, you will fail.” The girl did not know that luck was more important than hard work. Auntie had never told her that. She began to worry more about her luck running out than her studies, and soon her grades began to fall. “Teacher was right,” she thought. “I am not smart. Auntie is right, too. Who do I think I am, anyway?”
The girl struggled to finish her schooling and began to look for a job. Auntie said, “Don’t aim too high, you’ll be disappointed,” so the girl took a job cleaning offices. It was difficult, dirty, boring work, but the girl believed she was not smart enough to do anything else. Hadn’t Teacher said? Hadn’t Auntie said?
Every day she rode the bus to work. One day Nice Man started a conversation with the girl. She liked how his eyes twinkled. He had a kind face. He was a happy fellow. He asked her to go with him for a cup of coffee. Now, the girl had never been on a date with a boy before because Auntie had told her that all men, save her dead father, were useless bullies. “Men are interested in only one thing,” Auntie would say. “And once they get it, they dump you in a hot second.” The girl did not know what to do — this man seemed nice. But he might be fooling her.
She did not trust her own instincts. Auntie had been right about so many things — perhaps she was right about men and relationships. So with a sad shake of the head she said no to the coffee, and from that day on did not talk to any men.
Ten years later the girl was numb, living the same kind of small, safe life Auntie led. She was old before her time. That spring, Auntie died. The girl did not know what to do. She had looked to Auntie for so much. How could an old, ugly, stupid cleaning lady make it in the world, all alone?
As she cleaned the small house she shared with Auntie, she found the beautiful box her parents had given her on the day of her birth. She did not know what it was as spiteful Auntie had hidden the treasure away. The girl gently lifted the lid and a small piece of paper fluttered to her feet.
She opened it. It was from her parents. It said, “You are the treasure. May you live a life worthy of all of your gifts.” Inside the box was an intricately engraved silver mirror. The girl took the beautiful, cool metal in her hands and held it up to her face.
With a blinding flash, the girl saw what her parents had seen in her even as a baby. She saw clearly into her own heart and she was astonished. Rather than the ugly woman she had thought herself for so many years, suddenly she saw a lovely young woman. Was that her? Was she really that pretty?
In a moment, her limiting thoughts about herself fell away. She was beautiful, for she could see that clearly with her parents’ gift. She was able to love, for she had loved even unlovable Auntie. And she was smart, because she had figured out these things about herself.
And she knew, too, that all of those things had been inside her, hidden her whole life, because that’s how others had wanted it to be. She had been made to act small so that others could feel big. She straightened her spine at that thought, and vowed to never again allow herself to be framed by what others thought about her.
The next day the girl sold Auntie’s house, quit her job, enrolled in college and began her life anew, knowing that her greatest treasure was within her. It always had been there, and always would be.
Moral of the story: To live fully, you must live without limits — whether imposed by yourself or imposed by others. Everything you need to be your best self is already within you. That is your greatest treasure.