All throughout high school, I went to the dances “stag,” which means I went by myself.
I was a strange one. I still am. But I was never afraid of being “strange,” or “weird,” or “stag.” Growing up, “weird” was always a compliment. Being the third of four kids was like being in a club where the weirdest and the most unique flashes of personality were marks of belonging, to be worn with pride, in lieu of tribal tattoos.
I am only beginning to appreciate how much support I received from my siblings just to be myself. It takes courage to be yourself openly, flaws, deformities, and scars all exposed to the light where everyone can see them. Open to your greatest critic: yourself. My siblings, without my knowing, slowly inculcated a deep-rooted sense of courage in me.
In her TED Talk, Brene Brown recalls the definition of courage as being “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” This rang like a clarion bell throughout my memories, whether it was throwing myself against the sky attempting to express with my body my frustration with gravity, learning to sing for the world, or standing face to face with a thunderstorm. All my life, I knew that my advantages, whatever they were, amounted to one thing: Courage.
Yesterday, I ran a few miles in the rain. A tornado warning had been issued, so people were rushing frantically through the rain to get to their homes and safety. I had been through worse. But the real reason I was running was because I could hear Nature slamming against the rooftop, demanding my tribute. So I went.
Just before I left my apartment, I paused and tried to think of someone who would go with me. Names and faces rolled through my mind, but I could not think of a single person crazy enough to defy a tornado warning, willing to get dirty and wet for the sake of exhilaration, a breath of fresh Life. I left without a partner in crime.
Outside, I wondered what kept people inside. Fear? Of what? Truthfully, the only threat was falling branches. A lightning strike is one in a million and the cold and the rain are bearable, if not enjoyable. If you keep an eye out for trees, then the likelihood is that you’re perfectly safe. I’ve done it enough times. As the bass rumblings of thunder rolled through Frat Row and across campus, I wondered – did our ancestors’ hearts race as this primordial bass line prompted them to find shelter? To run from true danger? Pitch black, gale force winds, and confusing rain could have separated families. Today, we have street lamps, jackets, and GPS to help guide us back. But we still dance to the sounds of thunder.
I realized as I ran that it was much like starting a business. Most of today’s population believes that starting a business is too risky. And yet, entrepreneurship is the basis of value creation. Without entrepreneurship, there would be no jobs to work. Every big company began with a simple concept and a handful of people at best. They started out small. And if they can do it, so can we, if we just watch out for falling branches.
I also came to realize that, with running in the rain as well as with starting a business, I will be alone.
After so many years, and so many close friends, I’ve found that very few are willing to entertain the thought of going into business. Fewer still, are willing to entertain the thought of going into business with a partner. And none, none at all, will jump at one of my ideas, no matter how compelling. I understand this. No one will do my job for me. No one will create the visions that I have. That responsibility is solely on me. It takes a leader to follow, and I would not follow promises of something good until I saw the product with my own eyes. And until I create something, I should expect nothing more from the people around me.
I had heard that new ideas need to be shoved down peoples’ throats, but I had never understood, viscerally, that nobody cares about your ideas until now. Theft of an idea is hopelessly vain, because nobody cares enough about your concept to steal it or buy into it. Not even your friends.
Truthfully, we are all alone. Life is not cut and dry. At best, it is a game, but it is a game in which we decide what success means, and it means something different for everybody. We are constantly creating our own game and playing it by ourselves. When you throw out all the rules but your own, the game you’re playing is a work of art. The canvas is blank. You may not even be using a canvas, but raw marble, or a brick wall. Life is art. It is up to you, and you alone, to determine what that piece of art looks like, feels like, smells like. What it means. How you want it to be received. Where you put it. Where you take it.
We are always alone in this. If you rule out death, then we have no choice but to continue alone.
Someday, we may be lucky to find close friends to share our art, our lives with, but the struggle of creation is still ours.
So be brave. Tell your story. Run in the rain.
We are all struggling, united in the torment of solitude.