I cried a lot yesterday. That’s a good thing. Stay with me here.
The Diversity feed over on LinkedIn is likely a lot like most other social platforms. It’s basically Facebook, with all kinds of non-business utter nonsense ranging from kitty videos to product pitches. It isn’t very pleasant, but for now, I tolerate it. Not easy.
However, a meme came through that really speaks to where I stand regarding jealousy, envy, and professional hate.
I can only recall the gist. Effectively the message was that you and I shouldn’t be mad at some successful (in this case, Black) woman for achieving something. That she did it means that you can too.
While there are a lot of places you can go with that, here’s my piece.
Yesterday I watched a bunch of folks get up on stage, nearly naked, and strut their bodies in front of a panel of tough judges. Very few young folks on stage, many in their forties and well beyond.
This was an amateur, non-drug bodybuilding championship. For the last three weeks, I’ve sat in on the posing practices, met a number of the competitors, heard their stories. Those, of course, are now MY peeps, and when they were on stage, I screamed myself hoarse.
I had watched them stumble, flub, blub, screw up and flop during practice. And I also watched their bodies tighten, improve and get show-ready. These are not pro athletes. They are everyday folks working everyday jobs, some of who are retired. Their stories of weight loss, depression, loss, illness all are wrapped into the moments they strut on stage, capture a pose while their peeps scream.
Suppose you think that trying to speak in front of a crowd is unspeakable, kindly. Try stripping down to nearly nothing, putting on stripper heels, and marching your aging tush — in some cases — all your faults and all out under the unforgiving lights in front of God and everybody.
Will you PLEASE.
Nobody on that stage was my age but two men. Of the women, the closest was perhaps ten years younger. They had loose skin from babies, stretch marks, and cellulite, and they walked like effing princesses. Posed like pros.
When those women won, I wept. Screamed and hollered and wept.
When people achieve, they take you and me along with them. Not understanding this fundamental fact of our humanity leads to jealousy, hate, anger, bitterness.
In fact, the more I know about someone who has been crowned, or who placed, or who finally screwed up the moral courage to get in shape in the first place, the more emotional I am when they are recognized.
I wrote a separate story about one young man who beat all the odds and got public recognition for his hard work despite cerebral palsy. More follows on him. It would be hard for me to underscore how powerful such stories are, for not only do they point out how frail we are when we resist taking chances but when someone with a severe disability does it anyway?
I just weep.
One way I got through lockdown was to watch Golden Buzzer moments on America’s Got Talent and other shows. Seeing all kinds of people take the roof off the house and be genuinely surprised by the audience’s reaction kept my candles lit. I wept. Lots. Those people are me, and I am them.
Do you get a little barky when others achieve, especially if you think they don’t deserve their success?
From that article:
A growth mindset looks at success and says, “What would it take for me to achieve something similar? How can I do that too? What would I need to do or learn to gain the same success?” Then, we learn from the success of others and use it to propel us forward.
My buddy Rosenna Bakari just penned another book recently. Last weekend I spent both days reading it. As with most of what she does, it’s a stunning piece of work. Part of me was so honored to have been asked to proof it, and the other part of me struggled with a combination of the responsibility I had to her to do a good proofreading job while dealing with the profundity of her writing.
I didn’t write a book this past year. I have started my third several times and canned it. It hasn’t gelled yet. Her accomplishment lifts me. It reminds me that, just like Dr. Bakari, I too have written multiple books, and they have won prizes. When it is my turn to write another, I will. What she did is not a statement about my inadequacies but her excellence.
She is not my competition. She is my complement, and my compliment, if you will. When she achieves, I achieve.
In the same way, when Simone Biles achieves, I achieve. When someone else is brave enough to start a new relationship, we are all reminded to be brave. Interestingly, Betty Goedhart, the 88 yo trapeze artist, was my inspiration to try aerial silks. When she achieves, I achieve. We all do.
Yesterday, when I saw this,
I wept. Because they all looked so incredible, and they were at the top of their game. I know some of their stories, which is part of what makes this so compelling.
Years ago, back in 1976, radio personality Paul Harvey started the program The Rest of the Story. While my family didn’t care for his style, what he did was powerful, even if his methods and accuracy were questionable. The lure of the show was finding out what led up to or lurked behind someone’s public persona or the fill-in-the-blanks piece of a big story. The point is that we have no clue what someone’s backstory is. So often, you and I make unfair and often completely wrong assumptions about others and how fortunate they may be or how easy they have it compared to our lives. Social media has put this on steroids. I regularly get accused of being so lucky, having it easy, butter wouldn’t melt.
I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on anyone else. Unfortunately, most folks likely wouldn’t have made it.
For what I achieve, you can achieve. You don’t have to do the same things. For example, Goedhart inspired me to try aerial silks, not trapeze work. The point is the willingness to become more fully ourselves in our stories, not to try to emulate or beat someone else by trying to be them.
My favorite movie of all time is Secretariat. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the final race. I cry every time, not just because he was such an incredible animal, but because the throughline of the movie was to let him run his race.
When you run your race, with all the jubilation and joy and tears and effort that it takes to be you at your best, you inspire me to run my best race. The reason I write about what I do is that I hope to do the same for others. Betty did that for me. Beryl Markham did that for me. My mentor Meg Hansson did that for me.
Who will you inspire?
Who will cry when you win, for when you win, they know they can, too?
We take each other with us when we elevate ourselves, share ourselves, and value each other.
When you win, I will weep for the permission you have given me to be more of myself.