I woke up motivated to write a most scathing article about the breathtaking chutzpah of the New York Times. The need to blast the hypocrisy of the “Grey Lady” was inspired by a most mendacious lie that the marketing department of the Times tweeted out last night where they tried to position themselves as independent journalists. The New York Times is to independent journalism as Lil’ Kim is to a nun living in an abbey. Claiming independent while being dependent on the paychecks of plutocrats and being addicted to the revenue of multi-national corporations is the height of duplicity.
But then a chance encounter that took place at work this morning changed my mind; I realized that a wiser investment of my time would be to inspire others by sharing a bit of my story than to rail at the excesses of the debased—no longer do I call them the elites. This is not to say that we should not condemn acts of treachery and mendacity, but gazing into the navel of outrage is exactly what the status quo wants us to do. There is a broader truth we are missing as we glom on to the latest hashtag in our quest to make ourselves trend; the struggle we have to overcome is to find stillness within our hearts before we can demand better of the world. If each one of us committed to mending our broken places and encouraged others to do the same, the change we all want will happen through osmosis instead of force.
Let me circle back to the reason that I was moved to scrap my initial idea to write about the New York Times. I make no secrets of the hardship I’ve endured as I went through a long bout of homelessness in the not so distant past. I share this story not as a tragedy but as a testimony; if not for my stint in the abyss of hopelessness, I would not have found my voice and the ability to write with purpose. During this two year journey, I drifted across America wrapped in a blanket of loneliness and distress. It was during this season of penury that I witnessed the irony of the way success begets accolades to those who were once greeted with ridicule. When I was living a life of a high priced consultant, popping bottles and living a life of rank materialism, people could not get enough of me. Suddenly the floor cracked at my feet and I lost everything only to be the object of scorn and be ostracized by the very people I took care of.
I don’t write this out of bitterness. In honesty, the greatest blessing of my life was going through adversities I could have never imagined I would suffer while working as a defense consultant at the Pentagon. I spent a career skulking in resentment that I was not getting paid enough and dismayed that I was not making a lot more than six figures during my tenure at Booz Allen Hamilton. I stopped chasing my tail and seeking validation on a farm in northern Colorado where I lived rent-free for fifteen months while making $7.00 a week working as a chef of the community kitchen. The paradox of life, it was not until I lost everything that I learned to be grateful for the small things I gained back—hardship truly is a stroke of good luck.
Finding meaning in what was at first a meaningless dance with distress is why I am able to talk about my past without feeling remorse of anger. Though I was initially livid at the cards life dealt me and cursed God for landing me in a circumstance that I could not share with others, in time I realized that I don’t have to be proven right and learned to put away my quest to be vindicated. I just picked up my cross and decided not to look back; what would have broken many, I was fortunate to emerge on the other side of darkness with my spine steeled and a faith that is unshakable. If I write articles that touch people and my pen encourages others who are broken, it’s because I too was broken—I earned wisdom through hard kicks.
Yet, irrespective of how much I have healed from my past travails, I have taken but a few steps in a thousand mile journey of redemption. I write this in light of the chance encounter that I had this morning. You see, it would be easy to paint the picture of my current situation as one of success and wealth as if my life is a Hollywood movie. The truth is that I’m still rebuilding my life after being mugged by indigence. I moved back to the Virginia last year from Wellington, Colorado after a most serendipitous meeting changed my life and made me believe in love again. When I mention Birabiro in my podcasts (look below to see a dedication to her), I’m talking about the one person in my life above all who believed in me and restored hope in my heart. She is the one who prodded me to launch the Ghion Journal instead of writing on Facebook all the time.
She took a chance on me, I took a chance on love, the rest is still being written. But fairy tales only happen in Disney films, I did not go from concrete pillows to a best selling author sleeping in 1,500 thread count sheets. Far from it, I’m a writer who is scrapping by to make it. My work space is no longer an air conditioned office but a restaurant where I’m currently bartending as I pursue my dreams and most importantly act on the purpose I feel in my heart. Parenthetically, this is why hardship is such a blessing. I was the same person who used to be upset when I got “only a $5,000 raise” when I was a white collar associate, I finally feel thankful as I bust my ass with my fellow blue collar laborers.
It’s funny though how old habits die hard. I say this considering the run in I had with my friend Chuck that have not seen in two years. But there is a twist to that statement; in actuality, this is the second time I saw him in the past two months. The first time I saw Chuck was when he came into the restaurant I work at when I was initially hired as a prep. My initial reaction was shame; I avoided saying hello to him because I felt a tinge of humiliation. He and I used to talk about business and finance all the time; he knew me when I used to wear dark suits and red power ties. To see him was to be reminded of my fall; my instinct was to hide in embarrassment rather than greet him and feel judged.
Today, when I walked in and saw Chuck in the corner of my restaurant, my reaction was not humiliation but relief—the burden was off my chest. I went up to him and said “what’s up Chuck” and he looked up like he saw a ghost. We talked for a while and I told him about my travels and how I moved back to the area. We caught up as much as we could given time constraints, not once did I feel any sense of judgment from him. The fear of stigma that I felt he would exude was actually a projection of my own feelings of insufficiency. I did not talk to him like I was the lesser nor did I hold court from a place of piety, I just talked to him like a friend and told him that there is a purpose to all things even if we don’t understand.
When it comes to going through adversity and being broken by life circumstances, the hardest part of overcoming is the fear of being labeled a failure. We live in a time where too many gladly oblige and feed these fears as more and more people make it their default mode to lead with snark and contempt. We retort with blowtorches, return slights with sledgehammers and pretend like we are Imhotep reincarnated while surfing Google to enhance our clap backs—social media is medicating us to act like adolescents. What is being lost is the human to human connection, the need to pretend to be what we are not becomes the anvil around our necks that drives us to depression and anxiety attacks.
This is why people avoid the uncharted and hold on to the security blankets of what we already know. We find it easier to hang on to the 9-5 bustle even if our job is the source of ennui—better misery than to chase dreams and risk being marked failures. This is the same reason why people who choose a different path are often met with sneer at the outset of their journeys. Society loves to whip people back into line; those who refuse to fit into the lanes that are carved for us are often rebuked and ostracized. It is not until the same establishment that indentures humans into property of capital proclaims risk takers as visionaries that people once dismissed as failures are deemed champions.
I was talking to my friend Ariam about this same thing a few hours ago. She shared with me a story of her friend Hillary who also chose to pursue her dreams. “Hillary had aspirations of becoming a makeup artist”, noted Ariam. “Even though she went to college and could have chosen an office job, she elected the harder path.” Hillary took on odd jobs, she floated between being a waitress and a bartender all the while trying to find a niche and make it in the world of cosmetics. Her family and friends alike were adamant that she was doing the wrong thing; too often she was given advice she did not ask for and was judged naive for daring to chase her dreams.
Hillary started off selling makeup on Craigslist. Through hard work and determination, she built a steady clientele that enabled her to expand her business and start selling her brand to local beauty salons. What started off with a seed eventually grew into a thriving business. Hillary is now earning enough money to provide for the very people who once questioned her wisdom. The same folks who were telling her to do something else are now the main ones singing her praises and applauding her accomplishments. The source of our struggles eventually become the root of our success. Many a people who were determined enough to pursue their dreams and succeed in their quest can attest to the path traveled by Hillary the makeup artist.
There is a reason I used the picture of Abebe Bikila above as the feature picture for this article. He was the first Ethiopian to win a gold medal in the Olympics. He is famous in the circle of marathon aficionados and a beloved hero to countless millions of Ethiopians, but before Abebe became an icon, he was an unknown runner jogging on bare feet. He was given countless advice to run with sneakers and modify his routine in order to make it, he chose to remain authentic to self and ran on his bear feet in the 1960 Rome Olympics. He was initially greeted with mock and derision from his peers and onlookers alike. One by one, his fellow runners and scoffers from the sidelines faded into the background as he smashed a world record to become the king of marathon runners. The very same thing that people laughed at him about became his badge of honor. He succeed because he stayed true to himself instead of trying to become someone else.
There is a connective tissue between my initial aim to castigate the New York Times and what I decided to write about instead. Two days ago, I wrote about Oprah and her speech at the Golden Globes. That article shattered all previous records here at the Ghion Journal and caught fire on social media. Yet I can say with a scientific fact that this article will not garner anywhere near the eyeballs the write up about Oprah garnered. Therein lies the rub, we are so caught up staring at the glitter we think is gold that we discount our own treasures as trash. Perhaps the onus is not necessarily on mainstream media but on us; until we arrive at a place where we value our stories and our journeys as much as we covet the narratives of the rich and famous, we will keep getting the “independent media” of the New York Times and their ilk in corporate media we deserve. As for me, I’ve learned at long last that success is not in the quantity of likes but in the quality of life. We have been conditioned to view success through the amount of money we accumulate and the number of accomplishments we check off. But what we miss in this enumeration of life is the journey of discovery we all go through as we try against all odds to find meaning beyond the rat race of rent and making ends meet. We are looking outward to find purpose within. What if the answer is to just be and appreciate each moment instead of trying to control outcomes and let our need to impress others be our compass. The reason that incivility and harshness have become routine is because we are really bashing ourselves. Project less and love your broken places and maybe then we can find peace. In the end, know this one thing. Stars are born through scars; one day your troubles will be the success that inspires others. #SuccessBegets
“What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
The Ghion Journal is a reader and viewer funded endeavor. We disavow corporate contributions and depend only on the support of our audience to sustain us. The tip jar is earmarked to go directly to the writer, the link below is customized to directly to the author’s account. This is done to ensure that writers are getting a fair exchange for the work that they are contributing to the Ghion Journal. The “contribute as you can” model was emulated from one of our favorite restaurants in Fort Collins Colorado called FoCo Cafe (read a business case for kindness). We thank you in advance for your kindness.
Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discussed how sharing our stories and humanizing our struggles can help others and lead to the change we all yearn.
Check out this Ghion Cast that I recorded last year while I was in the midst of my hardship and uncertainty. If you are in your season of adversity, just know that eventually there will be a season of harvest.
A Dedication to Birabiro
DC Event Alert!
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.