So, it’s been a long ass time since I did this whole blogging thing. You know, for most of my life I used to walk around telling everyone who was interested (probably not that many people to be honest) that I was a writer. Hell, I still walk around with a pen in my pocket ’cause every writer ALWAYS HAS TO BE READY!
…and this is my first blog post in over two years. Yup, I’m a writer. So prolific.
Anyway, I’m here to say that I’m back! Back from where? I dunno. A lot has happened in the last two and a half years. Like A LOT. So here are the major highlights that I can think of off the top of my head:
Holy snap I got married!!
New job. Cool job.
Did two TEDx talks (seriously, put my full name in YouTube or just google me, son!).
Won a big national mental health award in Canada (CAMH 150 Difference Maker–for being one of the top 150 difference makers in Canadian mental health).
Gained a bit of weight. Some good. Some bad.
Lost my athleticism and can’t dunk (see above point).
My kid’s mom passed so he lives with me and my wife now.
Been on TV a lot.
Got a little famous in Canadian mental health.
Wrote the foreword for a book, Brainstorm Revolution, which you can find here
Learned a little Spanish. Tal vez más que un poco español pero no sé. Puedes preguntarla a mi esposa. Ella es mexicana.
…and I haven’t updated my LinkedIn to reflect ANY of this. :p
So like, a lot has happened. Life is much different. I’m much different. But in many ways I’m still the same. Like, I’m still woefully insecure and struggle to see the ‘amazing’ things that others say they see in me. However, I’m trying my best to start believing in these things because like L’Oréal, I’m worth it.
On a more serious note, with the turn of the new year, I’ve naturally been reflecting on a lot. More specifically, I’m spending a lot of time reflecting on what I normally reflect on, something extremely important–myself. That and humility.
(That’s a joke y’all. I’m not a narcissist…I don’t think so anyway).
Upon all this reflection, what I’ve been finding is this–I walk around with lots and lots of internalized shame. This shame has been derived from my family history and generational trauma, internalized racism, societal disenfranchisement, marginalization, stigma from having a kid too young, growing up poor in the projects, being told I had to be perfect in order to be good enough (seriously, don’t do this to your kids), being ridiculed for the hobbies I chose and how I expressed my identity (wasn’t Black enough for some people…***checks skin colour***…whatever that means). Etc. Etc.
Anyway, point is, there’s a lot of shame. What has shame done to me? It’s made me hide things. It’s made me hide myself. I’ve been hiding myself from so many people, and the world really, for virtually my entire life. It suuuucks to want to get close to people, to crave closeness, but also to do everything necessary to avoid it because on some deep level you’re ashamed of who you are and what people might see if you invite them past the smoke and mirrors facade of a smile and virtuosity that you’ve created for yourselves. Sure, I think I’m mostly virtuous nowadays, but you wouldn’t know the ways in which I wasn’t virtuous since I hide a lot of my past (good thing I wasn’t tweeting back then, eh?). There’s lots you might not know, really significant stuff, because the shame I have associated with virtually every aspect of the life has motivated me to carefully curate an ideal image of myself for public consumption. And that’s not saying the stuff I hide is reprehensible–far from it actually. And that’s the point I think I’m trying to make, that I live with so much shame that I’m hiding parts of myself that are completely unnecessary to hide.
So, in 2019, I’m done with all that shit.
I’m going to work through this shame. I’m going to show you more of me. I’m going to be more vulnerable. And that’s because I want to be more close. To you. And you. And you too. Because I deserve it.
And so, 2019 isn’t going to be the year where I create a new me, but it will be the year that I show you a new me. The me that was always there. The me that I’m deciding to love better. Because dammit, I think I’m a pretty dope me, a me that is worth showing off and sharing with the world. So that’s what I’ma do this year. And it’s going to be hard. And it’s going to be scary. But, fudge it, I’m gonna do it.
And now, Shame, I’m talking directly to you…sayonara. In 2019, you’re done.
So I said, “I’m going to start working on my mixtape…but I’m not sure how good it’ll be.”
And then with a coy smile, Tomato said (name changed to protect his identity), “I’m sure it’ll be good.”
Then I chortled and asked, “How do you know when you’ve never heard me rap?”
And his reply was, “with your looks, it has to be good.”
Because what do looks have to do with rap?!?!
I mean, let’s look at Biggie Smalls a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. (for the uninitiated), commonly regarded as the best rapper of all-time. This is what he looks like:
“Make sure you get my good side.”
He’s not exactly gonna be pictured next to David Beckham on a bus in a black and white Calvin Klein ad anytime soon (well, part of that is because he’s dead — RIP — but even if he were alive, well…just look up. Yup. Not a model.). In fact, Biggie in his song, ‘One More Chance (Remix)’, even goes as far as to rap this line about himself:
“Heart throb never, black and ugly as ever!!”
And he says it with so much conviction that even if you didn’t know what he looked like you’d believe him.
Okay, now that we’ve established that Biggie is, um — aesthetically challenged — let’s see if there is any correlation between his looks and his rap skills.
This is what Biggie Smalls sounds like:
So, yeah, he’s pretty good. But he certainly ain’t good-looking. There is definitely no correlation between looks and rap skills — unless it’s a negative correlation where being good-looking means you won’t be a good rapper and vice versa…hold on a minute…was Tomato calling me ugly???
Hopefully. It wouldn’t hurt being as good of a rapper as Biggie was. But I don’t think that was the point he was trying to make. I think what Tomato was trying to say was that I’d likely be a good rapper because I was good-looking.
Which is friggin’ ridiculous.
I’m a good rapper because I practice. :p
But seriously, connecting my subjectively rated good looks to my rap skills is erroneous at best. And as such, in my next trick, I’ll try to explain why Tomato would make such a statement.
Now enter, The Halo Effect.
“[The] Halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties. It was named by psychologist Edward Thorndike in reference to a person being perceived as having a halo. Subsequent researchers have studied it in relation to attractiveness and its bearing on the judicial and educational systems. The halo effect is a specific type of confirmation bias, wherein positive feelings in one area cause ambiguous or neutral traits to be viewed positively. Edward Thorndike originally coined the term referring only to people; however, its use has been greatly expanded especially in the area of brand marketing.”
Basically, all the fancy schmancy language in the above definition means this: people tend to think good-looking people are nicer, more charming, more talented, and generally overall better as human beings because they are good-looking. This is untrue. They’re not. It’s a computational error made by our apparently shallow and weak-willed brains.
Now, looking in the mirror (figuratively, not literally — I’m not Narcissus), it’s been said that I’m good-looking. This may or may not be true. However, assuming that the people who have said that I’m good-looking are telling the truth, it makes me think…shit…maybe I’m not as charming or talented as I’ve been led to believe?
Maybe I’m a boring, untalented, hack who’s gotten by due to a fast metabolism and a magnetic smile.
Or maybe I actually am charming. And maybe I actually am talented at a few things. But honestly, the Halo Effect has made me think about how my looks have affected my success along my career path.
This is the part where I give a personal example from my life and try to connect it with my main argument. Here it goes.
I’m a pretty successful public speaker. I get a pretty decent amount of work. I don’t promote myself at all. This blog, which generates as much traffic as a dirt road in rural Idaho, is the closest thing I have to a promotional tool on the internet. Yet, I get a lot of work by word of mouth and one of the most common things said about my personality as a speaker is that I’m charming and charismatic. And I often have questioned myself of whether this is actually true or not, because I don’t feel especially charming or charismatic. To be real, I sometimes display awkward body language and I have a tendency to stumble over words with more than three syllables. But yet, I’m called charming, which is fairly new to me. Want to know why?
Because I was an ugly duckling.
At 16 years old in high school I was about 6-feet tall and 150 lbs, and about 30 of those lbs were in my head. Now that I’m a stout 6’4″ and 200 lbs with functional facial hair I’m often called charming. Here’s the thing — I don’t feel like I act particularly different than I did when I was 16 years old. I’m a little goofy now and I was a little goofy back then. I make intentionally cheesy jokes connecting nerdy things to pop culture now and I made intentionally cheesy jokes connecting nerdy things to pop culture back then. I sometimes smile awkwardly when my “social skills” aren’t able to generate a suitable response to a situation — just like when I was 16. And get this, when I was in grade 11, nobody told me I was charming. Instead, I was just a skinny kid with a big head and few friends who was largely ignored by the opposite sex. So, what’s the difference between high school pariah Asante and audience celebrated adult Asante? Four inches, lot’s of weight, a little bit of facial hair, and better personal grooming.
And now I wonder, what am I actually good at? Am I even good at anything at all? I hope so. Because it would suck not to be. I want to be able to offer something tangibly valuable to society. I have to be able to make a real contribution to the world based on what I can actually do well.
Or I could just get by with my good looks. That works too.
But seriously, despite being unfairly tethered to the lottery of one’s genetics, apparently looks matter. And that sucks. Because there must be plenty of people, like Susan Boyle, whose immense talents get overlooked because they aren’t considered physically attractive.
This is Susan Boyle:
Seriously, the woman can sing.
Susan Boyle was 47 in that clip. Nobody wanted to give her a chance for close to twenty years of her adult life because she doesn’t look the right way for TV and magazines. And on the other hand, again looking in the mirror (again, figuratively), I feel like I’ve been given a preponderance of opportunities in my adult life due to my looks. Which is stupid and unfair. I want to be judged by my actual character and abilities — and not my face, just as Susan Boyle should have been. But, in order for that to happen, we as a society need to stop placing so much importance on looks.
So, with this post, I challenge you, the reader, to be less shallow and to recognize people for their virtues regardless of their physical appearance. Let’s celebrate each other for what we can do, and how we contribute to the enrichment of each others’ lives. Yes, as it stands right now, looks matter, but they shouldn’t. Let’s change that.
Maybe then I’ll know whether or not I’m actually good at anything.
DISCLAIMER: This post is not a 1396 word humble brag. I swear. Seriously. I’m actually engaging in self-reflection and trying to make the point that my success has absolutely zero to do with my skills and work-ethic, and instead has everything to do with my traffic stopping good looks. That sound you hear is your hyperbole meter exploding. Toodles.
Today, I live in a three bedroom house in the suburbs with a walkout basement, a great deck, a big backyard, and a beautiful view of the sunset.
A view of the sunset from my deck.
Pretty nice right?
A part of me never thought this would happen.
Another part of me always hoped it would, but I had doubts.
And an even smaller part of me believed and had faith, no matter how bad things became, no matter how dark my world seemed. And as I moved through childhood into adolescence and then adulthood, my world very often seemed bleak and dark. My favourite rapper of all time, Nas, on a song called, The World is Yours, once said:
“I need a new n*gga for this black cloud to follow, ’cause while it’s over me it’s too dark to see tomorrow”
I felt like this very often growing up.
When I would come home to an empty fridge and empty cupboards I felt like this. When I was in high school and my mother was in and out of the hospital for over a year hearing voices, experiencing delusions, and hallucinating, I felt like this. When, because I had no lunch and no lunch money, I was pocketing candy bars and sodas while the storekeeper wasn’t looking, I felt like this. When I was on welfare and spent my last $90 on clothes for Isiah, leaving me with literally -$999.98 in my bank account, I felt like this.
There were a lot of dark days.
That black cloud, it felt like it was attached to me like a shadow and there was no way to sever it’s connection with me. But then Nas said this on the chorus of the aforementioned song:
“Who’s world is this? The world is yours! The world is yours! The world is yours!!”
And that reminded me that I could still be something, that I could still make something decent of my life, that I had some control over my circumstances, that I could make it. Even though my life was pretty shitty (for lack of a better term), Nas let me know that I still had the power to change it, and if it were to change that it would be up to me, that I would have to do it.
Black cloud or not, the world was mine!
But I was still hungry. And poor. And my mother was still sick. And I was still alone all the time, with no family around and very few friends. And I was still stealing food just to eat, still washing my three pairs of underwear by hand with dish detergent twice a week. And I was still on welfare. That black cloud loomed over me, making it difficult to see a way out.
But I had faith.
When I felt like selling drugs could be the answer, that faith made me stop. When I was about to run up on that youngster to rob him of his iPod so I could maybe sell it for some cash, that faith made me say not to violence. When I felt like I was all alone and nobody was willing to help, that faith made me trust. When felt like jumping in front of a subway train, that faith made me take the bus. That faith made me think that as bad as it was, even with that dark cloud over me, that if I tried hard enough one day things might possibly get better.
So I worked.
I didn’t even know what I was working for at the time, all I knew is that if I worked, and if I didn’t give up, that there may be brighter days ahead.
So I didn’t turn to crime. Or suicide. And I didn’t give up.
Instead, I went to class everyday, even when I was hungry with crushing headaches and a boulder in my stomach. Instead, I completed all of my readings and studied as best I could, hunger notwithstanding, for all of my tests. Instead, I decided to start taking medication for my anxiety and saw a therapist for my depression. Instead, I handed out dozens of resumes over the course of a month, eventually landing a job. And then after I got that job, I threw myself into the social world–which for me, with my social anxiety and distrust for others, made me feel like a bloody lamb being thrown into a pool of piranhas–until I eventually made friends. Then I made more friends. And then more friends after that. And I learned to trust.
Somewhere, interspersed in these happenings, I began public speaking, telling my story, hoping to help others find their faith. My faith was the fuel for my engine that coughed with the maladies of my personal history. Faith was what kept me working, even though I didn’t know what I was working toward or if the work would have any reward. Faith helped me find prosperity and happiness. Faith was what kept me going. Faith saved my life.
I could say that Nas gave me faith, but that would be wrong. I always had faith. Nas just helped me find it, black cloud or not. So now, I live my life with faith and I tell my story hoping to help others find their faith, because after all faith can save lives.
Faith is everything. Release yourself from your black cloud like I released myself from mine.
This was first said to me by my first serious girlfriend. And then my most serious girlfriend (we’re going to call her, ‘S.K.’) said it. Then my boss said it. Friends of both genders have said it. And my response has always been, “Nonsense! Baloney! Poppycock!”
So about tonight, I was invited out to a comedy club by a friend who just happens to a woman. I’ve known her for awhile as we sometimes cross paths because we both do a lot of work in the same industry. As I think about it now, doing the uncomplicated math in my head, it has been approximately 2.5742 years since I have known my friend, ‘Lime’ (I have decided, spontaneously in this moment, that Lime will be her name for the rest of this post). Recently, Lime and I have been corresponding more and more often. We’ve sent a few emails back and forth and texted a couple of times a week, just shooting the electronic breeze. We even hung out once. So, I’m thinking, “cool, I kind of like Lime, she’s pretty cool and she’s into hip hop, which earns her mad points, like she hit the bonus round on my pinball machine…we can be good friends.” Notice the italics. Basically, I’m thinking all of our interactions at this point are innocent and strictly platonic, and you know, looking back on it, perhaps they were.
But tonight makes me think differently.
For about half a week Lime has been texting me about various things happening in the city, including this comedy night that happens every Monday at this club that I happen to like, where my friend’s band has played before and where I recently attended a hip hop jam that has made my Top 10 All Time Greatest Parties list–and I’ve been to a lot of parties. Basically, Lime had me at, ‘hello.’ So, when Lime suggested we hit up this spot (that I loved) for a comedy night, I was very firmly and decidedly doooown!
We made plans–we were hitting up the comedy spot on Monday night.
But, as things go in Toronto, situations come up, plans change, and communication is frayed as us young, ambitious, (and beautiful) city folk are sometimes too busy and disorganized for our own good. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way, our plans fell through.
How did our plans fell through? I was supposed to text Lime to confirm, and I did, but I guess I texted too late so she went for a run and I played some basketball. So late in the evening, Lime and I caught up with each other and we decided to hit up the comedy spot, albeit late. As such, I went to pick up Lime and she hopped in Scarlett II (my car–not to be confused with my Grade 6 crush, also named Scarlett). We decided, because I was starving after having dominated on the basketball court like Lebron James on steroids only minutes earlier (I may be exaggerating), I felt I deserved a meal. After all, I did finish one of the games like this:
Complete with the eye-of-the-Tiger glare and the walk off. It was a good moment.
Anyway, due to my excessive hunger derived from the sweet sap of greatness and triumph, Lime, who had already eaten dinner, suggested we hit up a gourmet pizza spot whose pizzas literally received a stamp of approval from Naples in Italy. At this point I’m thinking, “yup, this pizza has got to be LEGIT!”
So, I drive Lime and I to the pizza spot. We sit down, order pizza and eat (the pizza was indeed exceedingly legitimate). As we’re at the table eating this amazing pizza, talking and joking around, I start noticing that Lime is laughing at a lot of my jokes. And not just laughing, but laaaaughing. And, while I’m a fairly entertaining guy if I do say so myself, well, I’m not that funny. But, Lime was laughing at my jokes like she was out with Dave Chappelle and not Asante Haughton. This is where I start to clue in, thinking to myself, “uh oh…am I on a date…and is Lime starting to like me?” But again, “Nonsense! Baloney! Poppycock!”
Or maybe not.
Because later that night, after we had left the restaurant with the gourmet pizza (which deserved not only a stamp of approval from Naples but also from God), I drove Lime back to her apartment and then this happened:
Me: “Okaaaaay, so we’re here.”
Lime: “We are. Thanks Asante for driving me home.”
Me: *Smilingly* “No problem. Anytime.”
Lime: “And thanks for everything else tonight, it was all really sweet of you.”
Me: *Thinkingly* ‘oh snap, did she just call me sweet?!’ and I finally reply, “…ummm…thanks, uh, not a problem…at all.”
Lime: *Looks down, then up at me, then down again, as if waiting for something.*
Me: *Looks at Lime, then looks past her through the passenger-side window.*
Inside the Car: SILENCE.
Lime: *Continues to look down and then at me, again, as if waiting for something.*
Me: Trying to break the awkwardness, I say, “so, um, uh, it’s getting late, what’s the plan?”
Lime: “Oh, uh…yeah, you’re right, it is pretty late…”
Lime: “Yeah, I guess I’ll go upstairs now.”
Me: “Okay, sounds good.”
Lime: *Waits some more.*
Me: “Well, I gotta get some sleep. Thanks for inviting me out tonight.”
Lime: Presumably now done waiting, exclaims, “Okay, bye!” as she exits the vehicle.
Me: *Watches Lime enter her apartment building before driving away thinking, ‘well that was a little weird…why was she taking so long to get out of the car…like, what was she waiting for?’
And then I drove home.
This is why I’m still single.
It occurred to me, pretty much as soon as I put Scarlett II in gear, that in the car after dinner and in front of her apartment, Lime was most likely waiting for a kiss, or for me to at least make some kind of move. And I completely missed all of the signals! I didn’t even catch one of them, like a football player who didn’t read the playbook. *Whoosh!* It all went way over my head. Then I started getting flashbacks.
This was not the first time this situation had happened to me.
This scene–of me dropping off a young woman at the end of the night, with the awkward goodbye, the waiting, the longing looks, and then the looks of disappointment that scream, “dammit boy, why don’t you just kiss me!”–has happened quite a lot. More than I’d like to admit. It happened with Orange, and with Clementine, and with Tangerine, and with Lemon (though it wouldn’t have worked with her anyway, her attitude was too sour), and countless other women that I won’t name because, well, I don’t know the names of any more citrus fruits. The point is, this situation, where I have seemingly gone on what I thought to be a platonic outing with a friend of the opposite sex, has happened quite often in my life.
It appears that I’m completely oblivious to the signals that women give when they like a guy. It’s a wonder I’ve ever even had a girlfriend at all–or so many of them. Even my most serious girlfriend, S.K., whom I referred to at the very beginning of this post, well, her and I first went out as what I thought was platonic friends. Then after we had seen Zombieland, the film of choice that night, we headed back to S.K.’s crib after the movie to play video games. Hours later, we’re still playing video games and it’s too late for me to get home comfortably on public transit and I’m too far from home to call a cab (I didn’t drive at the time), so S.K. invites me to stay over for the night. I say, “cool, I’ma just hold down the couch right here.”
Which is what I did.
I woke up the next morning on the couch and went home. About a week later, S.K. and I hung out again, and a similar scenario transpired (we hung out, then she invited me back to her place for video games), except this time, she ripped the Wii-mote out of my hands, grabbed me and started making out with me. And the whole time as this was going down, I was thinking, ‘well, this is a surprise…but I’ll go with it!” as I was completely oblivious that she was even interested in me romantically at that point.
S.K. and I ended up dating for quite awhile, and even lived together for over a year. It was all a very beautiful experience. And once, during our relationship, we reminisced about that Zombieland date (which I didn’t even know was a date), and she explained to me how frustrated she was with me that night as she expected me to make a serious move on her, because, really, as she said, “what woman invites a guy to stay overnight if she isn’t interested???” And I shrugged and mumbled, “…um…I dunno…” However, in my defense, I will say that six weeks before Zombieland with S.K., I had just broken up with a girl whom I was deeply in love with that cheated on me. I was still heartbroken, stuck in that damp and dark pit of low self esteem that happens after being cheated on, and certainly not looking to hook up with, sleep with, kiss, make out with, date, or be in a relationship with anybody at that point. After all, I was too busy writing sad poetry and listlessly watching the Toronto Raptors lose basketball games while listening to songs about depression by Joe Budden (his tape, Mood Muzik 2, is a terrific project in this regard).
With all this being said, yeah, I was completely oblivious to S.K.’s interest in me (because texting me throughout the day everyday, talking to me at night every night, and inviting me to stay overnight after a movie doesn’t mean a woman likes you at all in my head, it just means she’s a nice person). And yeah, I may have gone out with a lot of female friends and acquaintances over the years who, like Lime, invited me out and then waited awkwardly for me to make a move at the end of the night. And then many times I haven’t. Because I didn’t think I was on a date. When in fact I was. And tonight, it really hit home for me that I’m very often completely oblivious to women’s signals of romantic interest, that I probably unknowingly have led a lot of women on, and that this must have been incredibly frustrating for them.
Tonight I realized that I go on a lot of inadvertent dates with women.
These are a few of the words I often hear being used by others to describe me. And I’m very grateful. Growing up desperately lonely, frequently yearning for social contact, it’s nice to know that people like me. This doesn’t mean, however, that I always believe it. The truth is that sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.
Which is ridiculous.
Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m unfairly judging myself. Maybe this feeling is something a lot of people feel but don’t express. Okay, so it’s not ridiculous that I feel this way. However, I’m sure people who know me personally, or those who I’ve worked with, would never guess that I sometimes am afraid I won’t be liked be others.
I’m pretty outgoing. I have a lot of friends. I work directly with people and I believe I’m well-liked by my coworkers. And I believe I’m well-liked by my clients. I’m also a public speaker with the ability to make crowds laugh, cry, and introspect–all in 30 minutes or less. I’ve gotten my share of standing ovations and I’ve literally experienced rooms shaking with applause. Sometimes when I go out with friends, I get loud and make the strangers around us laugh. So given all this, it would seem that I’m pretty good with people and that I’m a *gasp* likeable guy.
Yet sometimes I’m still afraid people won’t like me.
Where then is this all coming from? The place where all nagging insecurities are born, from the irrational bowels of naive and self-absorbed misunderstanding, a place called childhood!
Again, this would seem strange because, at least until I was about age 11 or 12, in a lot of ways I had a pretty normal childhood. Yeah, I was poor and food was sometimes scarce, but I was pretty happy as a kid. At least I think I was. No, I’m sure I was. I had a lot of friends at school. I was good at sports, made every team, and was always a starter. I was literally the smartest kid in my school and not in a pompous way, but in a whimsical, “yeah, I’m smart I guess *shrug*, can we talk about baseball now?” kind of way. Other people cared more about me being smart than I did. For them, being smart meant I was going to *drumroll*…change the world!…and for me, it meant that I could spend more time daydreaming and drawing in class. Teachers liked me as well and I was never bullied. So, I was in that rare position where I was well-liked by teachers and peers, despite being super smart and kind of nerdy (my school crush in grade 6–Scarlett–nick-named me ‘computer geek’ and then she asked me to dance at the end of the year party). So, then, where is this feeling that I won’t be liked by others coming from? Certainly not from what was happening at school–school was a pretty positive place for me. What’s that other place you spend a lot of time when you’re growing up? What’s it called again? Oh yeah, I think it’s called…
Now, my home life wasn’t bad. I was just alone a lot. And not by choice. My mother, having to feed three sons who shovelled food down like they had wheelbarrows for stomachs, was doing her best to improve our lives–or just to keep us well-clothed and fed. She did this by going to school full-time and working full-time. So when my mother was done with work, school, and cooking, well there are only 24 hours and the day, and for most of those hours, my brothers and I, we didn’t have the luxury of receiving meaningful attention from our mom. For me, that meant that my mother didn’t show up to any of my games, it meant that she left school performances immediately after my part was done, it meant that she didn’t have the time for long (or short) conversations about my day, that she didn’t have the time for me to analyze for her the drawing that I drew or the story that I wrote. She just didn’t really have the time to always engage in the social aspect of parenting.
The problem with single-parency is that it often turns that parent into a provider while leaving little time for nurturing. This a problem because after basic needs are met, what a child needs most of all is attention–and unfortunately my mother just didn’t have a lot of that to give me. And that’s not her fault. As a kid, though, you don’t really get how tired, how exhausted, life can make you. Instead, you just wonder, “why doesn’t my mom want to talk about my drawing?” or “why doesn’t my mom want to read any of my stories?” or “why doesn’t my mom come to any of my games?” As a child, your mother might say, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m really tired,” but then what you hear and what you feel is, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m too tired to care.” That’s how I felt. A lot. I get that she was busy and tired. But it still hurt. Because as a kid, you don’t understand, “busy” and “tired,” what you understand is, “mommy, you’re not there.”
And then there was my father. Well, to make a long story short, at the time of my childhood (even he would admit) he wasn’t a good dude. He, despite having much more free time than my mother, simply wasn’t there. By choice. His music career was more important. That’s where he spent all of his money and that’s where he spent all of his time. And forget child support money, what he needed to do was to give his child support with his time and his presence. But instead, I was given broken promises, phone calls to my pops that were never returned, late arrivals to the meet-ups he would schedule, or no arrival at all. I spent a lot of time crying because of my father. I’ve probably shed more tears because of my father than for all of the other events and people in my life combined. There were a lot of tears.
I felt unloved.
So, to recap quickly (as I gotta go to work at some point), with my mother, I felt like she didn’t care about me or my life outside of my grades, and I just didn’t feel like my father cared about me at all. When a kid feels like this for the large majority of his childhood, it’s easy to understand why he might feel like others won’t like him…
Because he never felt like his parents did.
And that my friends and anonymous readers is why I sometimes don’t return phone calls from people who teeter on that thin line between friend and acquaintance, or why I don’t ask potential friends who I’ve just met to hang out, or why I generally wait for others to introduce themselves first when I’m meeting people, or why it takes me such a long time to bring my walls down and open up to others, or why it seems like I don’t care or check-in enough, or why I don’t reach out to friends I haven’t heard from in awhile–it’s because I’m sometimes afraid people won’t care.
And I know that’s not true. I know that people do like me, and I know that people care. But sometimes the residue of childhood experiences aren’t easily washed away by the insight and maturity of adulthood. That’s why the fear is still there, that’s why I have to talk that fear back down when it tries to surge its way to the surface. That’s why I have to force myself through my social anxiety, to say hi to friends and strangers alike, to press send on that text, or to get on stage to talk to hundreds of strangers openly about my life.
Because sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.
About six months ago I drove home thinking, “what life is my direction going in, and am I happy?”
Well, after contemplation, yes I was indeed happy, but there was still room for improvement. As for my life’s direction, it felt like I was navigating with a broken compass. Then I thought to myself again, “what can I do better and what can I change?” Then my mind time-warped back to childhood and the moments when I was most carefree. And then I explored those memories of carefreeness (which is apparently a word, something I have concluded based on my Macbook’s absent attempt to autocorrect it) and what the most foundational element was to feeling so…free. And what I found was this:
As a kid, I just didn’t give a sh*t.
That’s not to say I was a rebel, unruly, or a problem child, it’s to say that when I was a child I had not yet developed the ability to self-judge, and I had not yet learned how to be afraid of failure and how to be afraid of success.
When you self-judge, you end up spending a lot of time focused on how you are being perceived by others, and internally, how you’re perceiving and judging yourself. What you’re not devoting time to when engaged in self-judgement is the moment. How much fun can you have if you’re not present and in the moment? How much can you enjoy your favourite song if you’re afraid to dance to it, sing to it, or bop your head to it, for fear of judgment? How hard will you smile and how deeply will you laugh if you’re afraid that someone else will think the source of your amusement does not warrant such mirth, thus creating embarrassment? Well, you might enjoy your music, and you might smile and laugh a bit, but the experience will be like eating pancakes without the syrup–nice, but nothing like enjoying some warm, delicious, fluffy pancakes, dripping in real maple syrup, bite by bite, as if every mouthful was ambrosia from the heavens delivered directly to your fork by food angels. Now, which pancakes would you rather eat? The second kind, of course! What I’m trying to say here is let go of self-judgment and stay in the moment. Be a kid. Live your life with maple syrup.
Now, what about the things I feared–failure and success? Let me break them down each in turn.
With my fear of failure, I was simply afraid of what people would think if I did not live up to my “potential” (I hate that word). See, the thing is, I was always told I had tons of that thing called “potential,” which is a good thing to have a lot of–to a point. When it starts not being good is when you’re obviously smart enough and talented enough to warrant the descriptor, but when you lack the resources, mentorship, and opportunity to make the most of your potential.
This was precisely my situation.
Yes, while it was great that I had a high IQ, it really didn’t mean very much when I was getting bad grades in grade 8 because I was too hungry or too depressed to focus on my studies. However, I didn’t have anybody around to explain to me that I might not be getting A’s anymore because when I went home at night I wasn’t thinking about the geography of Canada, I was thinking about the geography of my cupboards, how barren they were, and where I might find some food. I believed in the hype of my own “potential,” which meant that when I wasn’t living up to it, I believed it was because of me and not because of my circumstances. I started internalizing my failures. I started thinking that I wasn’t good enough and that those who had labelled me as having “potential” would be disappointed if I didn’t live up to it, regardless of the completely justifiable mitigating circumstances. I began fearing failure.
As for success, well, I had a lot of that growing up (they didn’t say I had “potential” for nothing!). Throughout elementary school, I was generally the best (or at least very very good) at whatever I tried–I made every sports team and was a top player, was in the advanced reading club, was asked to skip two grades (I didn’t), was good enough at drawing that other kids would pay me in candy to draw for them, I was popular, girls had crushes on me. Etcetera. The thing is when you’re good at stuff, even when you’re not trying to be good at stuff, you tend to get a lot of attention. This is really cool at first, but there are downsides. One, is other kids begin getting jealous, like Anisa did when she could not get better grades than me even though she worked hard and I…didn’t. Two, success and attention soon become…*screen blackens and lightning strikes*…expectations.
Let me tell you about expectations–they suck! Because now, when you don’t do well at something it’s not good enough, and even when you do do well at something, well it’s still not good enough. So, basically, being good can become a lose/lose situation once successes become potential and potential becomes expectations. Now, unless you’re superb every single time you do anything, you’re not good enough, and the spotlight is on you (there’s that attention again) so everybody notices and everybody starts talking about it. So, all this is to say that because of my successes as a young student, I garnered so much attention that everything I did became heavily scrutinized, even when it was good! So, I became afraid of success because I didn’t like the attention that came with it.
But, again, when I was a kid, I didn’t really give a sh*t.
When I was a kid, all I knew is that I liked success and I didn’t like failure–however, I was not afraid of either of them, and I accepted both success and failure when they happened. Success? Failure? Potential? And expectations? What were those? I was too busy lathering my pancakes in maple syrup to care.
So, when I got home after that drive on which I wondered, “what direction is my life is going in and am I happy?” I endeavoured to ignore the question, flipped the proverbial page over, and started doodling, because that’s what kids do. That’s what it means to be carefree.
With all this being said, I’m not stating that you shouldn’t care about whether or not you fail (or the direction of your life), but rather I’m endorsing the view that you should stop allowing the emotions you attribute to success and failure to become so strong that you begin to self-judge, that you being to fear failure and success, that you live in the past and the future, and thus stop living in the moment.
That’s eating your pancakes plain.
Don’t do that.
Be happier. Stop eating plain pancakes. Be a kid again.