I’m writing a lot of this first part of the “book” in very simplistic ways, because that’s how my “child mind” remembers it all. My life was incredibly complicated and becomes more complicated as time goes by, but in order for everyone to understand who I am today and how I got here, I feel it has to be told. There isn’t a simple answer to “how did you get here?” I’m afraid. Every little piece of these stories made me who I am today. They inform the decisions I made and make now in my life. The relationships I would have. All of it. I built up a series of patterns while young and a way of surviving. All of my resilience and “bravery” was incremental. There wasn’t a giant leap. There were thousands of little leaps.
Like many people, I hate therapy. I’ve been to so many therapists and I’ve never really had any luck with it, but the interesting thing is that they always start with your childhood. Therapy works for some people, but my life was so complex that having to unwind it again and again for someone is painful. So, I hope this is the last time I unwind it all. The best therapy, I came up with myself.
A lot of these stories are factually sad, but I don’t look back and view them that way. I’m telling you the rawness of it, and the pain I experienced as a child, but I am not a victim because I simply choose not to be one. These stories, while part of me, do not define me.
One skill I learned by age 7 was to be observant. Because I was so quiet, I took in everything around me. People thought I wasn’t smart, and I used that to my advantage. You didn’t need to be the smartest person in the room, but you did need to pay attention. I understood so much more than people around me thought I did and my mind was always at work. Even today, I sit in board rooms or meetings often quiet. I say very little, but when I have something to say, I try to make it matter. The more people there are, the quieter I am. This skill became incredibly valuable later in life. We all know the person who knows the answer to everything and the people who are first to answer a question. It is like they can’t wait to be first. I prefer to be last or not say anything at all. The impact this gives me, is that when I say something, other people listen. Words, do in fact have gravity, but usually only if they also have scarcity. If other people listen, and your answer is the best, then that’s how you shine. Being first doesn’t always work and if you are smart, people already know that. You can be smart and wrong. With a little more time, you might be smart and correct.
The grownups looming over me and stopping everything when I spoke reinforced this and now that I’m 5’6”, nothing has changed. Even to this day, people question if I’m actually intelligent.
I don’t fit any molds. I don’t do things other people do. I’m “odd”. I’m “strange”. I’m “magnetic”. I hear it all, but the thing that always I find profound is when someone tells me, “I wasn’t sure about you, like I was having a hard time figuring it out, but the things I thought were bugs are features.” You know what? I’m ok with all of that, because I don’t care. I learned not to care a long time ago. If you are smart, you don’t need to prove it. I see people who are clearly intelligent flexing constantly with thought pieces and thought olympics. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s a lot of us out there who are intelligent who don’t do that. You probably have them right in front of you and don’t even know it. They might even be your mechanic. You see, intelligence isn’t about accreditations. It isn’t about wealth, though that can sometimes be a measure of your cleverness. You don’t have to invent anything or write anything. You just have to be you. I was a “sleeper” and I’m guessing that instead of being an anomaly, there are more of me out there than you think. They might be farmers, mechanics, waiters, cooks, duck call makers etc. If your parents were uneducated or their parents were, they still may have been brilliant.
So, how do we unlock these brilliant minds? A lot of people were dealt some bad hands in life. So, they start this game set back without the advantages that some other people have. How we choose to view everything that happened to us redefines experiences and our “luck”.
Let’s take the stories I told you so far for example. These things all happened and more is about to happen. I’m only just 7 years old. However, when I look back at that time, I don’t fixate on the bad things that happened, despite what these stories might make you think. I fixate on the humming birds, watermelons, tractors, change, adaptation, resilience, thoughtfulness, my great grandmothers’ eyes, how I choose to remember Bob, the turtles that were on the porch when my grandpa put me outside on the porch. There’s beauty all around us, you just have to look. We, each and every one of us, is a miracle.
I believe there are more intelligent people out there who didn’t go to college and didn’t follow a traditional path. They weren’t accepted to Ivy league schools for a variety of reasons. Maybe they were poor, had a bad home life, lost a parent - who knows, but I assure you they are out there. They won’t make headlines like Elon Musk, but they will, if they want to, impact those around them in profound ways if they start lifting up those around them.
This isn’t me saying, “if I can do it, anyone can”. No, not at all. Each of our journeys are different. What I’m saying is that if you take the story you tell yourself and you examine it and turn every bad thing into something positive, you’ll have more positive outcomes in the future. You will literally start looking at the world differently, as well as opportunities. You may even decide you are already successful. You don’t have to have a lot of money to be successful. You don’t have to own a house.
Society might lead you to believe that. A lot of the people you see in magazines may have more money than a lot of people, but sometimes the clothes and the things they have in the photos aren’t even theirs. They are on loan or used strictly for the photo shoot. Often, you’ll find that people have a much simpler life than they will lead you to believe.
This is where optimism is essential. Optimism isn’t just about the future, but also about redefining your past.
So what is success? Well, I define it is being self-sufficient. That’s it. Some people define it as simply just being happy, because some people are incapable of being self-sufficient. So, as you can imagine, I see a lot of successful people around me. How positive is that? If you focus on happiness, you’d see a lot of unsuccessful people around you. Happiness is a goal post that a lot of people have. “I’ll just be happy when…” We’ve all done it and you’ve heard it a million times. Again, cliches are usually right. “The grass is always greener”. The hardest thing to accomplish in life, is to be content with what you have today. In order to that, you have to find contentment with everything that’s ever happened to you and move forward.
If you have time, write down the painful parts of your past and try to remember the beauty around it and rewrite those memories. What did that pain teach you. How are you better for it? I’m not saying it was ok that any of these things happened to you, but I am saying that you can turn it into a gift or you can turn it into a life-ruining TNT day in and day out. If you sit and tell yourself that you can’t do something in the future, because something happened to you in the past, well, then you are at a dead end of your own creation. Even at rock bottom, there’s always a tiny step above that which is achievable. Your pain and your happiness get you there. There’s no such thing as something being bad all of the time. There just isn’t. There’s so much good in this world and there are so many good people in it as well.