To believe that success comes without stress or pain is inaccurate. In fact, there are times when success comes with more pain than loss itself. It would be inaccurate to believe that success comes naturally or that success is easy. No. None of this is true.
I go back to my first published piece of work. I think about the punishing reviews that followed. I think about the people that told me I never had a chance. I go back to the older pieces of my writing, which are unreadable to me now. I am miles away from that time. I am years away and I can say that good or bad; hell, at least I’ve improved. At least I continued. I kept going. I kept writing. I kept learning and I kept trying.
I think about my first chance of speaking at a school. This was on my own steam. This was not connected to an organization or with anyone else. No, this was all me.
I was asked to speak by a teacher who believed in me. And it’s not that it didn’t go well. The presentation itself went fine. However, there were things that I would have changed. If given the chance to repeat my presentation, there are things I would’ve never said or done. My interaction with some of the more troubling students would be different. I would be different but then again, I am different now.
To think that dreams come easily or to believe that what we want most will come without hard work is not real. No, there’s work ahead. In fact, there’s work ahead of me now. There will always be work ahead because this is life. Life takes work. Love takes work. And success is work too. Then again, life, love and success are all relative terms. Moreover, the ideas of life, love and success are ever-changing, ever-evolving and ever-expanding.
I can say that my version of life, love and success at the age of 20 years old is not the same as my version of success when I was 30. My version of these things is not the same as when I arrived at 40.
And here I am at the age of 48 and 49 is closing in pretty fast. My version of life, love and success is still changing. My version of all the above is different now than from last year. Everything changes. We all evolve. And this does not come without fear. No, be advised that I am afraid. Not all the time, but still. I am afraid. And sometimes, I am very afraid.
I’m afraid that I won’t reach my goal. I’m afraid that I’ll never find a way to pull off my trick. I’m afraid that I won’t find my place in the circle. There are times when I am afraid that my goals are unrealistic or unreachable, and yet, pain or not, fear or not, I keep going. I don’t stop because the one thing I know is that rise or fall, pass or fail, nothing I dream about will come to me if I quit or give in.
There is always a way. There is always an outlet and there is always a platform. This is where we start from. And sometimes, we have to start over. This does not mean the platform we have is as lucrative as we had hoped. This doesn’t mean everyone is going to buy in, invest or support us. All this means is there is a platform. The audience might be thin and few or far in between, but yet, a stage is a stage. And that’s all the world is; it’s just a stage.
There was a young man with me the other day. His job is somewhat simple, but yet, it’s a job and an honest living. The two of us had the chance to speak for a moment. I had asked what he planned to do. He told me he was going to go back to school for radiology.
I told him this is a good idea. I explained that at 26, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I explained that I lacked vision. I lacked the confidence in myself, which prevented me from ever daring or trying to reach my goals.
I figured that at some point, I would eventually figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
I told him about my age when I joined the union. I told him about the idea of working and passion and the difference between the two.
I explained how it took me a long time to realize what I want to do with my life.
When I began as an engineer’s helper, I figured this was only temporary. I figured I would do this until I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
The one thing I shared with the young man is how precious time is. I told him that I used to think that time was almost endless. I never thought about ideas like retirement or health insurance. This was only something old people think about.
I was young and healthy. I could eat anything I want and not gain an ounce. I could be up all night and go to work the next day. I could do all these different things because for me, there was a plethora of tomorrows. But tomorrows run out.
Time is not endless. Not at all. There are limitations that I did not predict. There were challenges that I did not expect to face and plans that did not go as expected. I had downfalls and setbacks. There was life on life’s terms and there was no other choice but to face it.
It wasn’t until four years back that I woke up and realized an unfortunate truth. The life I had was not the life I wanted. So therefore, I chose to make changes. And sure, sometimes I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I chose to late. I’m afraid that I missed my window. I missed my chance. And of course, there’s always someone looking to say, “It’s never too late to change.” I get that. But clichés like this are not able to stop fears or pain. I know they’re supposed to. I know all about the best foot forward answers.
I told the young man, “Please do me a favor.” I told him, “Find what you love to do and go at it with everything you have.”
“Kick the shit out of it,” I told him. And don’t stop!”
“If it doesn’t work, look for a new direction. Keep working, keep looking, and keep taking shots.”
He agreed to do this favor for me.
Back when I was 18, I received a letter from a man named Kenny. He knew me before treatment. Kenny was a friend as well as a former employee at The Old Man’s shop. And like me, Kenny had an addiction. However, Kenny’s addiction lasted nearly his entire life.
Kenny sent this note to my Mother and asked that she deliver a message to me. He said, “Tell Benny I think he’s doing the right thing. Tell him my hair is cut shorter than ever.” He said this because long hair was something we both had. Then Kenny said, “Tell Benny that I think he’s doing the right thing and for him to do whatever they tell me,” And lastly, Kenny said, “Tell Benny that it took me dying to understand what it means to live.”
I never forgot this . . .
Time is not always a friend. And neither is success. Money doesn’t buy happiness (or time). Nothing substitutes. And nothing worthwhile comes easy.
I suppose I see more of what Kenny was trying to say. I suppose I’m at the age Kenny was when he died from the AIDS virus.
I was thinking of line from Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. Either get busy living or get busy dying. My friend Kenny told me to live. This is a lesson that cost him his life.
What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t listen?