I’ve often heard it said that the older we get the more defensive armor we don to protect ourselves from the harshness of life. What I know from my experience is that when you’re a kid who’s not the jock or the popular one, that armor falls into place very early on in life. If you were ever teased, ridiculed, treated differently or ached to get the hell out of the environment you felt trapped in in your youth, then it’s safe to assume that you’ve gone through some pretty important spurts of personal evolution and growth.
Not everyone does. Remember that guy you knew (or knew of) when you were much younger? The guy who everyone thought was the shit? The one who looked good, always knew the right thing to say? The one who had that “it” quality that attracted the pretty girls and the envy of all the other guys? It’s safe to assume that that guy didn’t get propelled down the same road replete with spurts of personal development and growth that you did while you were struggling to make sense of your stranger-in-a-strange-land situation.
I knew some of those guys in later life: the ones who had it all as children and didn’t need to do any work because why fix what ain’t broke? Those guys who used to cheekily smoke a joint in the back of the school with their gangs of hangers-on never changed. Some of them ended up in the same towns they grew up in smoking the same weed, but the gangs dwindled until all that was left was an aging dude with a load of dead joints and some awesome memories of being the golden child. And then their life lessons began.
I was an oddity as a kid. I was drawn to other oddities. I spent time with people who knew what it meant to be on the fringe. Adopted kids, punks, rebels, orphans, geeks, ugly ducklings, prostitutes…the damaged, the isolated, the hurt and abandoned. That was who I felt compelled to spend my time with, because as I knew suffering, so did they. And I fucking trusted that, way more than the high fives for the star athlete at summer day camp.
As I know that my evolution was one of starting off feeling totally alone but certain of how I was meant to show up in the world, I have always gunned for the underdogs. For the lost, the forgotten, the runners-up and the late bloomers. For the ones who everyone else dismissed or ignored, for the second-chancers. I always have. And I always will.
The people who haven’t had it easy are the ones who typically make it happen on their own. On their own terms, using their own language, in their own time. These are typically the ones referred to as the freaks, the wrong-uns, the wastes of space. Society tends to dismiss these people, and leaves them to rot. But they don’t. They get up and they barrel forwards and they end up making something of themselves and the world around them that eventually gets everyone’s attention. And then they’re sent love and props and admiration.
I am that person who many people dismissed early as lost, disappointing, sadly not bound to live up to my potential. Guess what? I’m getting shit done. I was right the whole time. I just refused to dumb myself down or play by the rules for everyone else to be able to wrap me in a box and tie it up nice and tightly.
I want to dedicate these words, and this week’s classes, to those who have spent time on the fringe. To the belittled, the alternatives, the other ones, the freaks, geeks, emos and hippies. To the discriminated and the ostracized, the odd and the misunderstood. Know that your struggles are your education. Know that you will know monumentally more about how to navigate life than any straight-A student, and that the earlier your growing pains, the easier you’ll have it later on when life is truly yours to live with the freedoms you’ll be afforded as an adult.
To those who have and still struggle – I have your back. I know what you’re living and I know where you’re going. And I fucking celebrate you and all that you represent.
See you at class this week.