Stop me when I get to one that you don’t recognize:
All my life I hads to fights; They always told me I was never gonna amount to nothing; Nobody ever told me I was pretty; Nobody ever gave me nothing; Nobody would give me a chance; I come from the ghetto streets of (fill in name of urban hell-hole here); Back then they didn’t want me now I’m hot, they all on me; I had to fight for everything that I got; I got shot 9 times; We was so poor we couldn’t afford water to drink or air to breathe; My momma beat me; My daddy left me; I gave him eleven years and he left me at the drop of a dime; I was born by the river in a little tent and just like that river I been running ever since…
Ok, STOP. Please people, STOP this bullshit once and for all. Our culture has become so obsessed with victim currency, abuse excuse, and incredible comeback stories that it seems like everybody is propagating some tale about how they were dealt such a bad hand in life that it is a miracle that they made it to wherever they happen to be when you find them.
I was at a professional networking breakfast last month and the emcee got up to give his welcoming remarks and commented on how well heeled the crowd appeared to be that morning. He joked from the lectern “My God! Aren’t you glad you don’t look like what you’ve been through?” We all laughed a little more than the polite chuckle you normally give up at these events. It was a funny line and appropriate for the room but it was also reflective of the point of this piece. In a gorgeous banquet hall full to capacity with doctors, bankers and professional consultants that make their living off of doctors and bankers why the safe assumption that everyone in the room has “been through” so much that they should look like hell? Yes it was a joke but the best jokes carry an element of truth. Nobody knows everybody’s back story, nor should they. Sometimes a short hand assessment is plenty good enough for the engagement. The superior and more edifying message to deliver is this- Wherever you have been before, you look like you are well today. God has been good to you, and I’m glad for you. If you are not well, let me know how I can help. That is quite sufficient.
The simple fact is that everybody has had challenges in their life and everybody’s journey is distinct. It is theirs and theirs alone and they can account for the details as they feel the need. But in the era of gratuitous personal sharing and group psychotherapy, it seems like when people are winning in life they often take a pause to disclose some hardship or horror that they endured somewhere along their journey. I suppose it makes any achievement they’ve had more noteworthy and valuable so they want to stomp on the gas pedal, rev their engines and make the tires squeal doing donuts in that winner’s circle.
Fine, I get it. You overcame challenges and adversity and you made something of your life. Congratulations. But what does it say about our culture of expectations that we act like our personal hardships were somehow unfair or unwarranted. Life is notoriously unfair and we have always known that God distributes His gifts unevenly. Ever read any of those stories from the Old Testament? It is a virtual horror-show of searing inequity.
So maybe nobody gave you a chance because nothing about you inspired them to give you a chance. Maybe nobody told you were pretty because you weren’t pretty at that time and place. Maybe you had to fight because everybody around you had to fight and you just happen to be in that place and time. Maybe whoever told you you weren’t gonna amount to nothing is an expert on amounting to nothing because that is exactly what they are-nothing. So who’s problem is that- theirs or yours?
Rakim is one of the most influential MCs of all time and he popularized the classic phrase “it ain’t where you’re from it’s where you’re at.” He’s damned right and we should all be more mindful of that so we can stop bitching about whoever did us wrong or whatever unfair burden was placed upon us in this life.
And that also includes making excuses for when you lose as much as it does for adding the moonwalk to your touchdown dance when you win. But if I accounted for all of the excuses for losing at the top if this discussion, this piece would be longer than the Encyclopedia Britainica.
Whatever you have been through, somehow you lived to fight another day, to pursue your goals and life plans, to reflect on your journey and form a vision of your future. My hope is that you have the presence of mind to see that you are already winning in your life because you are still in the game. But if you insist on staring in that rear-view mirror and carrying on about how all your life you had to fight, you are burning energy and focus that could be propelling you forward even farther and faster.
But let me be clear that I am not exempt from this syndrome and have even found myself at times sipping from the sweet nectar of victimhood to soothe my own feelings and constructing my own narrative- and I fully expected to know better than that. So I’ll unburden myself of some old baggage here and now and maybe it will help you dump any baggage you’ve been carrying.
No, I did not lose my starting position as quarterback on my high school team because Coach Stevenson didn’t like me and wanted me to fail. I lost the job because I fumbled too much and threw too many damned interceptions.
No, working multiple jobs to get through college with a young family was not anything special- it was just living the life I chose for myself. I just did what I had to do.
And no, I did not get stripped of my certification to practice law because the system was corrupt. I got stripped and kicked out because I decided be an asshole and not play by the rules they set for lawyers in my state. No matter who you are or who you think you are, there are rules to play by. And when you don’t you pay the cost. I just paid a high premium.
So there you have it: And now I’m free- unburdened and unchained by the “all my life I had to fight” syndrome and all of its side affects. Truth is I came to grips with those experiences quite a long time ago and each time the relief was liberating. Hopefully if we start to unchain ourselves we can stop chaining each other up in these dark corners of our pasts. There’s a ton of daylight out here to run to and through and just maybe that’s a healthier place to invest most of our energy and focus.
I suspect that upon further review, most people narrating the dramatic tales set forth above in the opening did have SOMEBODY who believed in them and helped them. SOMEBODY loved them and encouraged them. SOMEBODY extended themselves who didn’t have to. SOMEBODY put a book in their hand that made a difference for them and helped them move forward. Because no man or woman is an island. Now if you happen to be the one person in this world that really was born under a rock and left for dead, who really walked 6 miles to school through a blinding blizzard every day, who really did get jumped into a gang so you could help your crack addicted mother put bread on the table for your 9 little brothers and sisters in the projects, then you got me: Do all the donuts in the winners’ circle you want and shout it from the rooftops. God knows you’ve earned it.