Let’s just say I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Not too long ago, I thought I knew how to gauge success. It was easy really, success was tangible and quantifiable. Success was based on attaining an MBA at Hopkins or getting a promotion at Booz Allen or attaining some credential or another.
But funny thing, the more I accomplished, the more I was left yearning for more. When I first graduated from George Mason, I was convinced I would be set and would realize the “American dream” once I made six figures. But each successive year, as I climbed the corporate ladder from my first job at Sprint making $36,000 to $65,000, with each raise and promotion getting closer to my six figure white whale, the further I fell into the rut of emptiness.
Finally I attained my quest, six figures I’ve made it! But the mountain I was climbing all along was nothing but a façade. The money chase was just a big old waste, years and years on a quest only led to the dead end of chasing my own tail.
But then a funny thing happened, I guess maybe God leads you to your destined path not through easy street but through roads least traveled and paved with hot coals. I make no secrets of the hardships that I have been through the past two years, I am not ashamed of my story, if I once accepted the veneer of success I will pick up my cross and accept the times of distress as well.
To be honest, the present misfortune is not really what beguiles me at the moment. What I struggle with is how to define success going forward. There are many facets of this conflict I go through. Primary of these conflicts is trying to figure out my purpose and in the process trying to make sense out of this two year journey I’ve been through. Even as I was enjoying the perks of working in corporate America and making bank in the process, there was a part of me that always felt uncomfortable for I knew in my heart that my paycheck was coming at the cost of someone else’s heartache.
But what I fought against in theory a few years ago has become all too real. Injustice is no longer a hypothesis, I see the faces of the broken daily whom I once fought for from a distance. So then what I am supposed to do exactly, am I supposed to dust myself off and get back into the money chase and accumulate fortunes as I forget about the endless distressed souls who are now forever stenciled in my conscience? Am I supposed to remain with them mired in indigence?
Success was easy as long as it was something centered on the pillars of materialism and self-pursuit. Making x amount a year or getting a degree from an elite university was easy because at the end it was measurable and doable. But the objective I have set before, fighting for universal justice, how do you measure that? This is like trying to repel the morning tides; homelessness and poverty sadly it seems will always be with us. So am I supposed to accept this paradigm or do I keep speaking up for an ideal of equality and equity that seemingly will never come to fruition?
But then there is another facet to my dissonance about how to go forward in life. This one is less about the outward quest and more about the inward grace that I know I should strive for. I know at some point in life I need to forgive; forgive those who induced this journey of mine either out of “good intentions” or intentional malevolence. I mean if I go on to accomplish the things that God ultimately wants me to accomplish and if I indeed find success in ways that will satiate my need to make a difference, well then I should be thankful to those who were part and parcel of my exodus.
But this seems a bridge too far at times, to forgive those who I once helped and in return paid back my kindness with the greatest of maliciousness—how can I be saintly when I’m inherently sinful. I mean let me give you an example I guess, if someone whacks you on the back of the head with a baseball bat and as a result you go to the hospital only to find out you have a tumor, it’s not a stretch to say that the person who hit you in the head saved your life. It was their action which caused you to go to the hospital right? So their ill intentions actually ended up saving your life.
Except for one nagging thought that will stick with you, their intention when they hit you with the baseball bat was never to save your life. Their intentions was to injure you and if the doctors found a tumor because you had to go to the ER as a result of the gash that person gave you—well that was the derivative result and not their primary intention. So then how can you thank someone for visiting an injustice upon you even if that action ultimately benefited you knowing their deed was never based on good intention?
So these are my reflections for now, defining success on one hand as I try to balance my personal goals with the goals I have of fighting for others and concurrently forgiving those who have perpetuated the unkindest cuts to my soul. But regardless of these contemplation and conflicts, I am thankful to God above all, I can complain about a lot of things in life, but I can never say my life has been dull.
I used to joke not too long ago that I was the Ethiopian Forrest Gump; my life is full of the most serendipitous bends and journeys and it seems each successive year gets more unpredictable. But through it all, I have kept my smile and continue to make others smile.
Yeah, life truly is like a box of dabo kolo.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.