I had a totally different article scheduled for today, but I had an epiphany this morning in the shower, and this I what came out of it. I want to talk to you a little bit about motivation, the journey that I am on and the path that you are walking with me (hopefully).
We’ve talked a little bit about motivation before, but I find that as time goes by what motivates me evolves as I do. I would say the primary factor that motivated me was fear of being poor in my older age. I wrote a little bit about that in a guest post that Beating Broke was kind enough to publish for me. I also wrote a little bit about growing up poor that inspired others to come out of the closet, to speak, and share their own stories.
The combination of having grown up poor and being fearful of returning to that place can be an incredibly powerful motivator when used correctly. I’m not being superficial when I talk about poverty. It’s more than not being able to have a nice house, or a car, it’s about survival. I want to share a little bit more about that.
When I came to the United States, the crack epidemic was just hitting New York City. The part of the city where we lived was quickly changing with the influx of drugs, so my family moved en mass to another part of the city. But when you’re poor, your options are really just one bad neighborhood or another. The area that we moved to was like the Wild West at the time.
I remember walking to school trying to avoid the drug dealers that always seemed to be homeless, since they were forever hanging out on the street corners. School and the library were safe havens for me. There, I didn’t have to worry about the people living in my neighborhood. At the end of the day I would carefully take a pen and pick the crack vials that got stuck in the ridges of my sneakers out while sitting outside so I wouldn’t have to touch them. This was before I was a teenager.
I keenly remember literally having to lay on the floor as gunshots flew from rival dealers in turf wars. You were never sure that you wouldn’t end up caught in crossfire since bullets don’t discriminate. After one such night we came out to find a bullet hole in my uncle’s window from a shootout the night before.
But even worse than the crack vials; the prostitute living across the street who was pregnant every ten months; the families that had been on welfare for decades while their kids wore the latest $100 Michael Jordan sneakers; the kids being raised by their grandparents because their own parents were strung out on drugs; the people who looked up to the drug dealers driving the latest, most flashy cars; and the feeling that you didn’t know if you would be alive the next day because someone might mistake you for someone else, or a random bullet might find its way through your window was the general complacency that what they were was all they would ever be. What their parents were was the best that they could hope to be. What surrounded us in the neighborhood was the best that we could ever see. A bus or train ride was the farthest that we could go.
I didn’t believe it. I never believed it, and I always knew that I was better than my surroundings. I can’t say for sure what gave me that feeling, but being immersed in books, I envisioned the places that the authors spoke about and the world beyond my neighborhood, and I knew that I belonged there. Nothing and no one would ever be able to tell me differently, no matter what my surroundings told me.
But some kids didn’t have the benefit of such confidence. I keenly remember a classmate of mine in the local elementary school standing in the front of the class crying as his mother came to speak to the class about AIDS. In the late 1980’s AIDS was a death sentence and many people were treated like lepers. This student’s mom had AIDS, and she had contracted it from her drug using husband. She came to speak to us about avoiding drugs. All I cared about at the time was my friend, a helpless seven year old who loved his mom and thought that she was going to die.
I’d like to say that he had many opportunities, but quite honestly, he was somewhat doomed from the beginning. By the time we were in middle school his mother had passed away and he was being raised by an elderly grandmother. I don’t know what happened to his father. With no strong parental figure, he fell in with the drug dealing crowd by middle school, and was considered a bad kid. But I always remembered that little boy in the front of the class.
In our first year of high school, a friend of my brother, often considered a good kid, shot and killed my classmate after my classmate had repeatedly threatened him. I often think of how different both their lives would have been had they not lived in that neighborhood. I think of what my young classmate would have become had be believed that he could rise far above his circumstances. I wish he had had the confidence to be more, but his spirit had been broken as a little boy, and he never recovered.
I’m telling you this story because I want you to believe, and I mean deeply believe, that you have the power to completely change your life. You have within you the ability to do more, be better, be strong, go farther and rise above whatever circumstance you currently find yourself in. If you are drowning in despair, latch on to something the help you get out of it. If you are in debt and you don’t know where to turn, ask for help! There are a host of people behind, beside and in front of me that can and will to to help you all for free!
If you are out of work, and I know that millions of you are, this might be the time for you to think differently and forge a new path for yourself and your family. People always talk about thinking outside of the box, but what if there was no box. I know, it sounds a little like we’re in The Matrix, but I really want you to think in a completely different way than you have ever though before. It will take some creative thinking to get you from where you are to where you want to be.
I always say that as long as I’m alive, it’s a good day. We’ve already begun the day on the plus side. What will you do today to make it even better?
Since the song below was playing in my head in the shower, I though I’d have it play for you too while you read this. I chose the acapella version because I want you to focus on the lyrics. Enjoy your climb up.