I know for a fact that there are many pathways to success. We are all made uniquely and each person has a particular skill that we can thrive in if we are dogged and determined enough to pursue our passions. Whether your talent is in the arts, science, math or enduring labor, there are literally a billion different combinations and ways that each one of us are equipped to excel in this journey called life. If anything holds us back from prosperity, it’s because we either define accomplishment through the narrow prism of money or, sadder yet, because we keep measuring our talents by the talents of other people.
Success in this way is truly subjective; just because someone is wealthy does not make them prosperous and likewise some of the most accomplished people in the world are the ones who walk in lesser shoes than most of society. In my journeys over the past two years, I have befriended many a homeless people and impoverished folk and their wealth of experience and knowledge outweighs some of the most “accomplished” principles and partners I worked for as a once defense consultant in DC. I can make a definitive statement that success is thus truly in the eyes of the beholder and whether our measuring stick of achievement is based on monetary accumulations or the wealth of life experiences.
But let me delve into another area that is a bit more objective. When it comes to acclaim, there are really only two rivers that lead to the ocean that is fame. The two rivers though are not equal; one river is widely swam upon and is as wide as the gap between Florida and California. The second river is more like a creek; for every thousand that float in the river towards fame there are but a few who dare sojourn into the lesser creek to esteem. Almost every star, politician, pundit and the rest that we as a society keep elevating to demigod status and praise have traveled the river but I am at a loss to actually give examples of people who navigated the creek.
The river that I am talking about is one where the establishment and the gatekeepers pluck a previously aspiring star and put them on a pedestal to be praised. Someone famous takes note of the man or woman who is talented in one particular area and decides to “bless” this person with an endorsement of one sort or another. Parenthetically, this is why most of us break our necks trying to get next to someone rich and famous. Even if the 15 seconds next to someone renowned will never lead to our 15 minutes, we nevertheless try our best to be gain notoriety as if we can be famous by derivative measures.
I could give you endless number of now famous people whose canal to fame was dug by someone who was famous. Iyanla Vanzant comes to mind as a prime example of this paradigm as she was once a struggling writer who lost her husband, daughter and her home and was facing a life of hopelessness until Oprah plucked her out of obscurity. Thus a sad story was transformed into an all-American success story because Winfrey touched Iyanla’s life and transformed her misfortunes into a life of glamour, wealth and status. I don’t write this to in any way devalue the work and sacrifices that Iyanla faced and overcame, but let’s be real, if Oprah did not endorse Iyanla, none beside her own inner circle would know who Vanzant is.
Barack Obama in this way owes his presidency to John Kerry for it was Kerry’s decision (or someone who pulled the strings behind the scenes) to make Obama the keynote speaker in 2004 that opened the pathway for Barack to become the “first black president”. The river is thus dug by the already rich and famous as they decide to use their affluence and status to give influence and stature to a lesser known. And immediately the rest of us flock to the very people who we once ignored and start to praise the talents of the very same people we overlooked because someone with money and class said “I am with him/her”. It’s crazy really, the same people who were nobodies just yesterday become overnight successes because a rich patron put their imprimatur on a once neglected talent.
Ah but with the river comes a bargain with the devil for the price to swim in the canal gouged by the rich and wealthy is the price of one’s soul. I don’t mean to be melodramatic in stating this; the rich and famous don’t do anything for free for their benevolence is just an investment that they can reap later. Usually, this means that the person who became suddenly renowned now has to become the lackey and stooge of the person who “discovered” them. Hollywood stars speak about this between their breath if you watch enough interview of them speaking about the hidden hands in tinsel town who have the power of fame or ruin in their palms. This is why David Chappelle’s career was nearly destroyed; he had the temerity to demand the $50 million he was guaranteed on his contract and for that the media hounds was set upon him and he was blackballed from the glamour pit that is Hollywood.
There is another path to acclaim besides the river that is burrowed by affluent soul vultures. This path is the creek I mentioned above where someone who is mega talented disavows the ways of the elites and instead chooses to forge his/her own path. This is a hard road to hoe for we as a society do not clamor for those who are doing it on their own even if their talent is awe inspiring. Sad really, a two bit singer like Katy Perry has over 100,000,000 hits on YouTube yet this singer named Isabeau (link) has only a few thousand. Isabeau is just one example of countless singers who barely get recognition on social media while we continue flocking to the mediocre just because they are already famous.
Though my aim is not to be famous, I would be lying through my teeth if I did not stipulate that I am motivated by the recognition that comes with people sharing my articles on social media and commenting on what I wrote. Every writer and artist, and in reality all people, have egos who are soothed when our work is acknowledged by others. Though my aim and my hope in the words that I write is somehow to spread the notion of unity and oneness, try hard as I might, in the end my ego is right on my shoulders no matter how I try to be ego-less. I am human after all, pride and hubris is part of all of us, but I choose to walk the lesser path and reside in the creek instead of delving in the rivers that I know in time will trickle at my door. When that time comes, may God give me the strength to refuse offers that come with strings and instead let my work be measured by its worth. I don’t seek the endorsement of the rich and famous, in fact I disavow them, I want my value to be based on its inherent value not by the price affixed by power brokers. #TwoRiversAnOcean
“Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become; and the same is true of fame.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
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.
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