In second grade, I still didn't know how to read. I remember sitting at Sunday school and not being able to read the assignment. I tried to hide it and drew pictures instead.
My parents were concerned and had me tested for learning disabilities. They even moved us to a new city. I was so far behind, it took me years to catch up. But, the school was better. In third grade, I started to read.
There's something that became part of my ethos then. I was at the bottom. I had to do everything to work my way up. I remember constantly telling myself that I just needed to work harder than everyone. I had to hustle.
I became my story. I worked hard and I hustled.
Everyone has a story. You repeat it in your head every day. It's a story of how the world reacts to you and how you react to the world. It's a story of patterns, where things are experienced over and over again.
Just as it can be powerful and energizing, it can also be dangerous. If its a tragic story, you become a tragedy.
I remember reading East of Eden and there was a passage that I'll always remember. Cal's father, trying a new venture, lost all of his money. Cal was smart; he executed on an idea and made a lot of money. When he tried to give it to his father, his father rejected it. Cal goes to his room and burns the money, one note at a time.
His caretaker Lee comes in:
Are you taken pleasure from this whipping you're giving yourself? Are you enjoying your despair?”“Lee!”“You’re pretty full of yourself. You’re marveling at the tragic spectacle of Caleb Trask—Caleb the magnificent, the unique. Caleb whose suffering should have its Homer.
Maybe it was easier for Cal to become a tragedy. It was easier to think that what he experienced was uniquely painful. It was hard to think that many others have suffered, often worse than him. Unique pain has more meaning.
The danger is that you internalize the pain. You become someone who deserves the misfortune and can't get away from it. You expect it and it happens.
If your story is of success, of overcoming adversity, you become that story. As you try it, it validates itself and becomes more true. You expect it and it happens.
We have words for these people in the startup world: hustlers, cockroaches (which is a compliment for people and companies that refuse to die), lucky. It's the person that surprises us. It's a person that shouldn't succeed, who gets rejected and ignored, but somehow does and does it with energy.
When you tell yourself your story, pause and think it over. Be a force, be a hustler, be creative, be lucky, but don't be a tragedy.