I‘m going to share with you a struggle I have that I am synthesizing as I’ve been on this journey of discovery and mending in the places where there are countless scar tissues. I think for most of humanity, the struggles we go through are not really about the present moments; most of our burdens happened a long time ago before we had the wisdom to understand our crucibles.
So this is me sharing what I have always struggled with and what I am attempting to resolve and move on. For life is too short to spend navel gazing at pangs and distress. For as long as I can remember, I have used the doubt and hatred of others as a means of motivating myself. This has been a blessing and a burden of sorts. I mean I have accomplished a lot in life but I also keep falling over and over again into the abyss of doubt and regret because my deeds were based on proving others wrong.
It’s like my whole life has been built on proving points and stuffing the words of naysayers right back in their esophagi. But this is a chasing pavements and utterly fruitless; instead of listening to light within me, I am intent on snuffing out the darkness of others. This is why I keep finding myself in shadows, my self-worth is measured on the scale of others and my sufficiency is determined by the approval of people. It’s like I’m giving veto power on my happiness to outsiders.
The main reason I ended up getting an MBA from Hopkins is because my cohorts during the first year of the leadership program were convinced I was not even going to make it past the first semester. The reason I went to George Mason was because my guidance counselor in high school chuckled at me when I told her I wanted to go to UCLA. The reason I got knee deep in the Obama campaign and went on to do what I did in 2008 was because someone was once dismissive of my ability and efforts to organize people. I could list endless exploits that I have attained in my life and for almost all of them, there was a “no” from someone else that served as a catalyst for my endeavors. It was defiance not desire that was the source of my resolute demeanor.
In each case, I met people’s mendacity of antipathy with my audacity of tenacity and doggedness. But each time my accomplishments were Pyrrhic victories at best; the minute I proved people wrong, the motivating force that drove me to accomplish these goals evaporated into thin air. I can point back time and time again throughout my life where I started one initiative or another only for those efforts to crumble and fall because I was building those initiatives on a foundation of quicksand. Sustainability proved to be elusive and fleeting because I was letting external factors dictate my internal self-worth.
Those who truly know me know that I’m actually a pretty jovial guy, I don’t have malice in my heart and go out of my way to give to others. But where goodness resides there is a shadow I can’t escape it seems. When I sense doubt or in any way perceive someone dismissing my intellect or ability, I see red and make it a point to prove that I am better than the fools who howl at my spirits trying to diminish my light with their judgment.
But really I become the fool for even paying attention to the nattering of nitwits. Instead of nurturing my pearls, I have time and time again discarded my pearls before swine. The folly of it all, no need for false humility, God has blessed me with an awesome gifts but I am intent on dousing these gifts with butane and then throwing chibo at them as I invest countless time proving others wrong.
Over time, I let the dimness of others rob me of my light and love. Whatever trait of insecurity I have that leads me to want to prove others wrong was magnified by a thousand when I delved into the “habesha” community. Maybe a touch to naive, I wadded into a community I had been disconnected from for a long time wanting desperately to make a difference and to help others out.
What I encountered over and over again over the past 8 years were people who lived to mock and diminish others. I thought that we could build up the community and each other in the process with a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. Instead what I found was a zeitgeist of antagonism and envy. Endless fake smiles and pats on the back were nothing more than camouflages to hide spiteful intentions and malicious motives. A village of people who keep chasing pennies refusing to see how all could be made whole if we work together instead of working against each other.
This was a toxic pool that fed into my need to prove points and boy oh boy did I let that toxicity bleed me for almost a decade. Instead of making a difference, I let the rancor of others change me. A good friend of mine once said “Teddy stop punching down, punch up because when you fight with swine you get dirty and you accomplish nothing; swine love to wallow in mud and love it when you get dirty with them”. But I kept disregarding his guidance and found myself on endless occasions incinerating and wasting my talents trying to prove to imbeciles that I was better than their judgement.
What utter folly, does the sun have to prove that he is worthy of the moon’s praise? When people mock others it is an indication of their worthlessness not an implication of our self-worth. There are those who live to destroy others, so then we revert to trolling trolls, we become trolls too. Moreover, using my writing ability to return fire against those who shoot bullets my way always ends up badly for me. I can always get the last word on others but what people see is not what caused my response but how my counter reduced others to rubble. Thus the offender looks like a victim and I end up looking like the offender.
I am trying my hardest to bleed this conniption of mine to prove others wrong, but habits are sure hard to break. I understand it though, the first step to loosening the grasp that our demons have on us is to find the source of the hurt. A long time ago, growing up in Bole and coming to America as an immigrant, there were times I was dismissed and my abilities doubted by others. The root of my need to prove others wrong is my inner child hurting when kids and adults alike a long time ago used to diminish my abilities. Having people call me “jil-a-jil” or mocking me because of my accent when I was not even a teenager built in me a chip that I dared others to knock off so that I can prove to them that I was better than their smallness.
Sadly though, responding to the smallness of others makes me small and diminishes me in the process. Moreover, I realize now that we create our universe and our existence based on the prism we view our lives through. Instead of being drawn to like-minded innovators and people who want to make a difference, I kept being drawn to midgets and then getting shocked when these Lilliputian boobs kick me in the shin.
The world is full of cynics and misanthropes who relish burning others with their insignificance and hatred. We have a choice though, we can choose to ignore the blathering of others because this world will always have room for endless goons who will cast aspersions for every one person who embraces your brilliance. And this is the crux of my burden—I keep disregarding the ones who embrace me in order to flick off the ones who dismiss me.
Love, love, love, seek it instead of being drawn to animus. This is what I have to get through my big forehead of mine. But I’m learning, I can’t keep paying attention to the asteroids who try to eclipse my luminescence because I will end up missing the heavenly gifts bright as Bethlehem’s star that God sends in my life. Life is beautiful and we will always miss out on its elegance if we keep starring into the muck and sludge this broken world has to offer.
No more seeking the approval of caterpillars; it’s time to follow a butterfly to my future blessings. No more chasing validation, may tigist (patience), tesfa (hope) and fiker (love) lead to blessings. I pray thus that God gives me incremental knowledge, to use my light not to respond to the darkness of others but to spread light to give those who reside in darkness the berhan (light) of hope. But first help first, you can’t help others unless you heal first. Shed my own cocoon and the butterfly will find me, or maybe the butterfly already has found me. Enayalen, we will see. Life. Is. Beautiful.
It’s not until the struggle becomes success that people realize a person’s progress. What is mediocre today becomes splendid tomorrow the minute the outward presentation catches up to a person’s inward grace. Irrelevance versus significance—it truly is all about perspective.
~ This is an excerpt from “Soul to Soil” , which can be found on Amazon and will soon expand to other distributors. Thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey, butterflies emerge from caterpillars through cocoons—the struggle is what gives wing to our aspirations ~
Link for Soul to Soil: Click Here or go to
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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