Be The Hero of Your Own Story
When we’re children there is very little in our environment that we can control. Where we live, the food we eat, where we go to school, etc. Many of these things are out of our hands when we are little kids. What is more, are the hard things that happen to us or the difficult situations that we witness, as children. For me, I grew up the first 17 years of my life in a home that was marked by stress, bipolar, and depression.
My mother was a single mom of two kids. My sister was 9 years older than I was. We had different fathers and neither one was in the picture. My older sister’s father had been a drug dealer and incredibly physically abusive. My father had left my mother for another woman. As I understand it, he began to have a religious awakening that my mother wasn’t going to go along with. It created a wedge between the two of them and I was conceived when they ended up hooking up one last time before going their separate ways.
My sister was extremely gifted intellectually but she struggled with bipolar disorder and at one point she tried to take her own life by overdosing on pills (unfortunately, later in life she would succumb to a second suicide attempt). Her and my mother struggled with their relationship. In writing this I’m only just realizing that my mother was struggling with alcoholism and clinically diagnosed depression while my sister was struggling with her bipolar disorder. When you grow up with massively stressful conditions it’s amazing how it becomes normal for you.
My mother would often have outbursts over random things: a toy not being put up, dishes not being washed, something being spilled etc. Being older, my sister often got the brunt of this energy but I got my fair share from my mother as well. I also got it from my sister. I think my sister was often frustrated with my mother and would take it out on my me in the form of physical and verbal abuse.
The toughest thing for me during this time was the fact that I couldn’t predict when things were going to be bad. This meant that I constantly walked around on eggshells at home trying not to upset anyone. This posture translated to school as well. If you haven’t read my about page, I was a pretty heavy kid growing up. When I was 10 years old I weighed 180 lbs (I walk around today at 200 lbs at 40 years old). The difficulties at home and the criticism from peers that my weight drew at school created a scenario that I describe as being bullied all the time (at home and at school).
I was 10 years old in 1992. I was obese, timid, and I didn’t have a spec of athletic ability. It’s really hard to articulate it how it felt, but I was scared everyday of who might blow up at me or ridicule me in some way. It’s a horrible feeling to walk around constantly worried about how others feel about you and your presence.
There’s a reason I’m laying all this out. Today at 40 years old I have the benefit of having lost over 100 lbs through diet, exercise, and will power. I have the benefit of graduating from college as a first generation college student with a degree in Electrical Engineering. I have the benefit of paying off $60K dollars of debt while becoming a US Army Green Beret. I have the benefit of having been to Combat and having been in an Amateur MMA match. Ownership is my default mode now and it’s easy because I have reference points. But when I was 10 years old I had none of that. All I had was my ability to imagine myself transforming into a different person through hard work and self-discipline.
It was when I was 10 that I made the choice that there was no point in hoping for some saviour to come and rescue me from the challenges that I faced daily. I believed with every fiber of my being that I had to take ownership for how I viewed myself and what I believed possible. I had to become the hero of my own story. Up until that point, my environment was writing my story. My classmates were telling me what I should think about myself. My mother and my sister were telling me the posture I should take around them and others. When I hit 10 years old, I decided I was done with others people’s ideas about who I was and I began to take ownership over rewriting my story and my beliefs about myself.
Was it hard? Damn right it was! I didn’t have any reference points. I didn’t have any data that told me I should be confident, athletic, or courageous. I remember what it was like to walk up a flight of stairs and get winded. I remember what it was like to sit at recess and watch other kids play sports because no one picked me to be on their team. I remember the embarrassment in taking off my shirt in the locker room at gym class. I remember my mother asking me if things were okay at school and I would respond that everything was fine because I was embarrassed that I wasn’t sticking up for myself and I didn’t want to stress her out. I remember crying myself to sleep at night. In the midst of all this I still managed to cultivate a belief that I was more than just a joke or an inconvenience.
It’s hard to change how we look at ourselves when we feel like we are starting from a deficit but it can be done. Owning your story might be the first step. A big thing for me was focusing on things that gave me fuel. In 1992 the internet at home wasn’t a thing so if I saw a story on TV that was inspirational I committed it to memory. In the early to mid 90’s, BET/MTV were my sources of music. I got a hold of an old walk-man tape recorder and I kept it near the TV so that if a song came on that I liked, I could record it off the TV. I watched action movies and I pretended to be the hero. It sounds very child-like but as I began my fitness journey in 1992 I imagined myself setting out on some great journey and I was the protagonist underdog hero who would save the world.
As an adult I have never lost this ability to imagine. I continue to visualize myself as something more than I currently am and it compels me to move forward. Today we have the power of the internet to feed our own hero narrative. These two things might be the first step for anyone taking ownership of their lives: Create your own hero story and feed that narrative with content. As Joe Rogan would say, “You have to be the hero of your own story…”.