We all have a past. Some memories are good, and some memories painful, but they all make us who we are. Adversities and lack of misfortunes shape us, like it or not. I was fortunate to grow up in a loving home in Auburn, a small town in central Massachusetts. My dad, a Veteran, worked at the local electric company, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom who made wedding cakes on weekends to supplement dad’s lower, middle-class income.
I honestly never realized we were semi-poor, which seems pretty cool. Looking back, I’m amazed at how my parents pulled it off. I just always remembered hearing, “We can’t afford that” and “That’s for rich people.” I also heard, “That’s for other people, not us.” I didn’t learn until later in life, the real reason we had franks, beans, and brown bread weekly was that we couldn’t afford any more than that. Mom and dad were of the generation where success meant going to college, get a good job, raise a family, and a gold watch. You couldn’t dream for more than that.
Mom and dad had the local ABC news turned on every morning and every evening. They loved Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson, the anchors. On the local news each night, we’d hear about the latest crimes and murders that took place in Boston. My mom fueled the fire of my growing fear of Boston’s big city with her tsk, tsk. If that is where crime and murders happen, why would anyone venture there, especially at night? Outside of the occasional class field trip to a museum, I rarely went there and had no desire to be mugged or murdered, so why go? Sounds crazy, but we can be affected by our environment. Unless we were going on a family camping trip, we rarely left Auburn. I was kind of a scaredy-cat. I can admit it now but would deny it back then for sure.
When you watch or do something repeatedly for years, especially in our developmental years, it affects us. Good or bad. It can become an asset or a liability, a victory or a challenge. The sucky part is, many people don’t realize it is a choice. They can carry that or be determined to heal and move on.
If everyone tells you repeatedly how smart or talented you are, you eventually believe it. You take it on as a deep-seated belief, it’s your reality, and you live your life accordingly. We can tend to feed into that belief with actions, good or bad. The gifted musician gets more attention and nurturing. The talented athlete gets more time, more encouragement, and more playing time to nurture that talent. They get better and stand out.
That wasn’t me. Nor is it usually any of us underdogs. I was just the nice guy who never got into trouble. I was the guy who always played by the rules. I was the kid that when my friend’s parents found out I was involved, they replied, “Oh, Darren is going? OK.” I wasn’t proud of the “nice guy” image, but it was who I was. I heard many times, “the nice guy always finishes last.” Great! What a life to look forward to.
When I moved to Vegas and started to get to know people, I realized more and more what a fortunate childhood I had even though we had very little money. I met so many people who were abused and had rough lives growing up. I almost feel bad that I grew up with June and Ward Cleaver. (If you are reading this and you were born after 1980, Google “Leave It to Beaver.”) If you grew up in a semi-normal home as I did, you’ve got issues too! We each have a past we must overcome. It is part of our path.
It took me to write this book to truly appreciate this lesson. We each have our success patterns, and we need to go back and recognize them so we may build on them. The challenges we had can be assets. The adversities we faced can be crucial to our success.
A favorite quote about incredible stories from a Hollywood screenwriting mentor, Stanley Ralph Ross, “For a great story, you need an appealing protagonist in pursuit of a worthwhile goal against seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”
As I’ve studied storytelling and learned from world-class teachers, the one thing that they all say is the hero needs to be likable. Wow, it turns out as the underdog being likable is a gift. When you are likable and pursue a worthwhile goal, people may think you are crazy, but they want to help. As the underdog, we don’t need everyone’s help, but help is crucial along the way. There is a reason people root for the underdog.
Think of real-life movies. It is the backstory that makes it a compelling story. Jim Morris, The Rookie, the oldest rookie in baseball. Michael Oher, Blind Side the homeless to being a star in the NFL. Bethany Hamilton, Soul Surfer, had her arm bit off by a shark. The challenge that they overcame was their credibility. There are thousands of people who worked hard to become comedians. Part of my story is that I was shy and quiet, and I wasn’t funny at all! The story is more compelling because of the challenge. What about your story? What part is compelling? It may help to ask friends or relatives who know you well, but it is there.
Take inventory! What were your gifts? What adversities did you overcome? How did you overcome them? Maybe you had an excellent support team. Perhaps you did not have a gift, but you were a motivator or leader. If you are committed to being the Least Likely, we need to leverage our life lessons and overcome some of our deep-seated beliefs. We have to work with what we do have, where we are, and build from there.
What do you take from this?