A Sad Story with a Happy Ending

Delivered on 4/21/17 in Stuart, FL

 
 

I'm gonna tell you a sad story with a happy ending. But if I do it right, you won't see it coming.

I've always been a very... intense person. You know how babies are supposed to start walking around age 1? My mom says I didn't take my first steps until 18 months, but I started saying words at around 9 months. So she'd be carrying around this big old baby in her arms and people would come up and say, what a cute boy. He's so big. And I would just turn to them and say, "How do you do? it's nice to meet you. I'm just a baby and my grammar is impeccable."

I learned how to read very early on too. I remember just being excited about being able to look at things, put some letters together and boom, all of a sudden a piece of paper had a story to tell—no need for pictures, no adults required. My grandma used to tell me to read everything I could. Every single sign while my mom was driving. "No Parking." "Main Street." "Ba-ke-ry." "Moooom, there's a bakery! Can we stop?"

Everyone said I was so intelligent. Precocious. A prodigy. Maybe there's truth to that. Maybe I just heard it enough times and it became true. You see, education and doing well school was never something my parents cared a lot about. They both worked 10 and 12 hour shifts, we barely made ends meet, so nagging me about homework wasn't a priority. But I took pleasure in learning. Curiosity was the fuel that kept me lit up.

Where I grew up, a local TV channel played 1-hour crash courses everyday at 5am. Each day was a different subject—math, history, etc. They were meant for blue collar workers trying to get their GED. My 4th-grader self discovered this and for a couple of years, I woke up at 5, turned on the TV, and learned about Shakespeare and intramolecular bonding.

I continued to do really well in school.  I took all the advanced classes available and graduated high school at 16. I had a lot of dreams, but not a lot of dollars. To me, back then, that meant one thing: I would go to school full time and work 3 jobs. And I loved every single minute of it.

Aprendi outros idiomas, y me gustava poder decir wo men xianzai yinggai hui shuo hanyu. Oh yeah, learned to speak six different languages fluently. By the time I was 19, I had graduated college with degrees in Biochemistry and American Literature. And I was just as passionate about work—I was making 6 figures before I could legally drink.

If my story sounds impressive, it's only because, so far, I decided to hide the ugly the came with being this one-track-minded boy wonder. I'll spare you the details, but let me show you what caused me to change.

Parents and teachers just love a 12-year-old that can do calculus, don't they? Other middle schoolers... didn't really think that was impressive. So I didn't have many friends. I was painfully shy, socially awkward, and completely isolated. Going for 3 or 4 days without saying a word to anyone outside of my family was pretty normal to me.

By working and studying so much, I cultivated a personality with no balance or moderation. I was a caffeine zombie for a while. I started to grow distant from my religion. And I had no control over what I ate. I ballooned up to 360 pounds, had a host of health problems, and no energy.

But here's what pushed me over the limit. My identity was predicated on being the smartest person in the room. That's a very fragile thing to build your self worth on. The self-doubt and all the pressure I had put on myself caused an identity crisis. I needed to know who I was, in my core, and I couldn't find a satisfying answer. So I started a long and difficult journey of soul searching.

Of the many lessons I learned, I'll leave you today with one that I remember everyday and continues to ring true.  Both the struggles and the accomplishments of the past are gone—they don't define me. And my dreams and my worries about the future—their time will come. The only thing that truly matters is the moment of now. That's the truest expression of who I am.

Being constantly en guarde, at attention, trying to be the best at everything— that was a prison I built for myself. But I found peace when I stepped outside and learned to enjoy life as it presents itself in front of me.