Looking back on my life recently, I startlingly came to the following realization:
I don't like doing what's expected of me, or taking the easy way out.
As I focused on this concept and really thought it through, it became increasingly clear just how much of my life has been dictated on this principle. It's actually scary, and it forces me to examine a lot about motivation, ambition, and drive -- or at least why I don't seem to have much of any of these things anymore. It's a sobering realization to come to, I must admit, and may even be my undoing.
Basically, it starts with my father. Yes, that old chestnut. Look, I really don't want to kick a dead horse. I've covered this subject many times on this blog already, so I won't be rehashing any of that. Most of you already know the most salient point, to wit: my father was a lazy bum who couldn't stay true to one woman, nor be there for the three boys he had with her.
Typical deadbeat dad scenario, no?
What does this have to do with me? Well, knowing this about my dad, from a very early age I made it my goal in life to never be like him. Where he was lazy and uneducated, I strove to be the best in my class and to always be a hard worker. I was quite good at my studies as a kid, even math. It was easy, actually. Whenever I felt myself slack off in school, I remembered my dear ol' dad -- and, boom! Suddenly there was my motivation to be different. And the thing is, growing up as a mixed Caucasian/Latino kid in the South Bronx, whose mother was on welfare ... see, no one ever expected much of me. In school I was the quiet, unassuming kid. I interacted with NO ONE! I simply did what was expected of me and went home to where I could just be myself and no one would bother me. I was the UNSEEN in class, and so this had the consequence of everyone around me underestimating me and writing me off.
Lo and behold, I thrived off of this misjudgment of my worth by others. Where everyone expected me to be slow, I was quick-witted with a laser focus. I was tested at a genius level IQ when I was only in the 2nd grade. My teachers were always quite taken aback by my heightened awareness of the world. They expected much less from the quiet, shy kid with a Hispanic last name that ended in a vowel. Where kids picked on me assuming an easy target, I surprised them, too, by reacting with a quiet but deadly rage, winning every single fight I was ever unwillingly pushed into by the would-be bullies of my childhood (and, boy, were there plenty of them!).
It was always so easy for me, to do all these things. And why? Because I fed off the low standards everyone had of me. Even my closest friends would misjudge me. One time a friend in 4th grade assumed I would not fight back because she was a girl, and so she thought she could get away with taunting me about my mom, who I had just lost only 3 months earlier. I popped her in the face so swiftly that she fell to the floor like a dead weight. I can never forget that image, nor quite believe that I allowed myself to lose control like that over what was just a misjudged attempt at a joke from my friend. It's been one of my deepest regrets ever since, my reaction. I'm tormented by it to this day, in fact. I was pushed over the edge, and reacted poorly. And it makes me ashamed of my 9 yr old self.
In high school. another friend assumed that because I was so quiet and reserved that, when we signed up for weight lifting class, he would easily best me in all the strength exercises. But I grew up constantly having to fight other boys who thought they were better than me, and that kind of inner fortitude goes a long way when push comes to shove in the physical sense. I easily held my own among even the athletes of that class.
My worst class was Spanish. Partly because it was the language my father spoke, and once again I wanted as little connection with him as possible. It was bad enough that everyone who ever knew him would tell me how much I resembled the loser. Arrrgh! I hated that *SO* much. I wanted to look nothing like him! I even dreamed of changing my last name some day, just to rid myself of the last vestiges of his tainted legacy. But, of course, the other even greater reason I hated Spanish class was because everyone expected me to excel at it. Even the teachers assumed I was just slumming it there, looking to score an easy pass and fulfill my high school's language requirement in order to get through to college. Everyone assumed that because of my looks and my last name, that my family spoke Spanish at home. Yeah, don't I wish! No, home for me was my white mother and no dad. The only language ever spoken there was English.
I shouldn't have excelled in Spanish class due to this expectation, but I did. Only because I seem to have a natural affinity for languages, I suspect. Not because I tried my best. I really didn't. Still, I scored an A-minus on the national exit proficiency exam. No one congratulated me. They all thought I had it in the bag. What did they know?
However, by this point in my education there was no mistaken that I was not like my peers. I gained a reputation among the faculty and some students as being a bit of a nerd -- a super focused intellect who did nothing but read all day and study all night. Wasn't exactly true, but close enough. I did have an unusually sharp focus on academics, and it served me well toward getting into the prestigious college of my dreams.
But at this point everything changed. All of a sudden, everyone *EXPECTED* me to succeed. Everyone was so sure that I would become a doctor someday. Or a famous writer. Or, like Michael Crichton -- BOTH!! They believed it so much, that I believed it. Not so much in myself, but that because my family, teachers, and friends all thought I would succeed, that it must come true. On its own accord, as if by holy decree on high.
And therein was my undoing. Once in college, I found myself extremely unmotivated to do any of those things everyone was expecting from me. I dropped out of my pre-med courses very early on, and pretty much floundered about for a while trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. But the problem was, of course, that everyone was so damn encouraging of me! I was told how I was just soooo smart, that anything I picked I would be GREAT at! And I remembered thinking: well then, why would I want to do these things? If it's so easy for me to accomplish -- if it is what everyone in the world expects of me -- where's the challenge in that? Where's the FUN? I learned at that moment that I really thrived on surprising people. To put it more specifically, I reveled in surpassing others' expectations of me. And the lower their opinion of my chances, the harder I worked to prove them wrong.
It's no surprise, then, that I chose to major in Chinese. A useless course of study lacking any real world application after college, but at least it was a challenge for me. And more importantly, no one in my circle could ever imagine that I could master such a complex language. And that doubt only fueled me on. It lit a fire under my ass, and I practically soared through the remaining semesters! Where before I was barely squeaking by with C-minuses, I was now on the top of the Dean's List and Honor Roll with B-pluses and, for one year at least, straight As across the board.
It was that simple, you see? Tell me that something is too difficult, or that it's a task which not many have accomplished, and I'm motivated! But tell me that it's something someone of my intellect and talent can easily achieve, and next thing you know it's a goal I'm no longer interested in obtaining.
And this is the sad realization I've come to. That my entire life has been based on proving others wrong. But when the only people left are those who think the best of me, where is that fuel to light the fire under my ass? At this point, shouldn't I be lighting my own fires?
I suppose I should. I feel like I've been living in a fog for the past couple of years. The divorce really took the wind out of my sails. And even that's a severe understatement. As it stands today, I lack the confidence to do anything right. I feel as if I've not lived up to my full potential. I feel lonely. I feel ... alone in the big, bad world. Those who used to cheer me on ... their zeal has waned, and their ideal of me has lessened. In some people's eyes, the abrupt end to my marriage was a colossal failure of a magnitude they previously thought could never happen to the David they knew. It changed the way a few of them looked at me. Now I was the guy to be pitied, whereas before I was the one everyone envied.
And so I feel as if I'm back to the basics again. Back to David versus The World again. Not since my mother died have I felt this way. It's an interesting, heady mix of emotion I find myself in right now. I feel a time of rebirth is near. I'm starting to feel my back's against the wall, and it's fight back or be put into the dirt.
And, my friends, when that day comes where I truly feel cornered ... when all bets are against me? That's not when I quit. No, I don't call it in when the collector comes knocking at my door. This, instead, is when I wrap the tape around my fists, square my shoulders and look fate in the eye with a hunger that could shame a timber wolf in the dead of winter. This is when I FIGHT BACK!!!
So, don't ever count me out, people. Or, rather: do! Because I love every bit of that doubt. It's how I thrive!