With almost 4.5 million kids and adults seeking orthodontic treatment, braces have become almost a rite of passage in the United States. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), I was one of them and I wore braces for 18 months when I was in middle school. I hated it. About halfway through my treatment my orthodontist had me wear rubber bands to correct my bite.

Thanks to my cognitive distortions, I already felt like the laughing stock of my middle school so I could not get myself to wear wear my rubber bands everyday. Consequently, my teeth straightened but my bite remained crooked and progressively got worse over the years, which affected the way that I talked. So about a year ago I got Invisalign to shift my bite. I’m down to the last stretch of my Invisalign so allow me to reflect on my experience with braces and talk about three life lessons I’ve learned. 

Everyone experiences embarrassment

If I could go back and offer a piece of advice to my middle school self, I would tell her that embarrassing experiences are universal and like any other emotion, it will pass because it is temporary. Brene Brown describes embarrassment as funny and brief. Although my middle school self would not have found braces to be funny or brief, I can now look at that period of my life and laugh about the experiences that I had of the times that food got stuck in the metal or when I tried to cover my teeth in pictures.

Sometimes when we feel embarrassed, we fall into the “spotlight effect” where we overestimate how much attention other people around are paying us. In other words, in your embarrassing moment, you feel like everyone is watching you. However, research shows that people don’t notice as much as we think they do and while we feel mortified and want to sink into a hole, people will have likely moved on already.

Sometimes change is painful 

I still have memories of the pain caused by my braces, especially immediately after having them tightened every month. My teeth were tender and sensitive so sometimes I had to eat soft foods or soups temporarily. It was uncomfortable but after a little while, the pain subsided when my teeth adjusted. 

Sometimes change requires stretching out of our comfort zone which will almost always be uncomfortable but wouldn’t you agree that that is where the growth actually happens?! If we could hold on a little longer, persevere, and push forward, we will often find relief because we have the ability to adjust and adapt as we grow. 

It’s ok if you don’t do it right the first time 

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Do it right the first time.” I know that this saying should not and cannot apply to everything in life, but in my instance, following the recommendations from an orthodontist to fix what I considered a problem, it probably would have saved me money, time, and pain later on in my life if I had just been compliant the first time around. However, I am well aware that most times we don’t know what we don’t know, so making mistakes is an effective way to learn. If we normalize mistakes, maybe we will have the confidence we need to be brave, take risks, and try new things.