Catching up: Part III

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By Danette Vernon

If we start out behind in life, due to a poor childhood, or a wasted youth, or both, can we ever really catch up?

It depends on the story you tell yourself and your staying power.

For example, if you develop the idea early on that you are smarter than everyone else, it may take a catastrophic upheaval to pull that idea down and even then it may creep back up. If your parents passed on to you the idea that you will never be good enough, every time you feel happy, depression may knock at your door and whisper, “How could you possibly be happy here?” The result? You’re stuck in bed and avoiding life for yet another year.

The story we tell ourselves about the world and our part in it is pretty much set by our third decade in life. We will believe ourselves and our stories even to the contrary of reality now.

Our coping methods — sheer drops into depression, or the heights of arrogance — can become our worst enemies if we aren’t willing to re-write the original story that is marching us along.

It’s the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue,” all over again. The song, “A Boy Named Sue,” tells of a father naming his newborn son “Sue” on his way out the door, hoping to strengthen the boy in his absence. Naturally, it worked. The boy became a fighter. The boy became a man, but he never understood the gift in his name until a blood and guts fight with his Pa, wherein the intent is revealed.

So it is with our own darker moments until we see the gift in each one, we can only be defined by their severity.

As for the power to be found in commitment and roots, Meg Jay in her book, “The Defining Decade, Why Your Twenties Matter — And How To Make the Most of Them Now,” further fleshes out the old saying, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Meg tells us that you need to struggle in order to develop a sense of mastery or accomplishment. She says that, “If you’re in your twenties and don’t feel anxious and incompetent at work, you are probably overconfident and underemployed.”

If you exit a difficult situation or call your moma every time things get a little messy, you may fail to develop inner self-assurance, and you may ultimately become disillusioned with yourself and your abilities. You become a character from “Who Moved My Cheese.”

There is hope, however, for many of us who start out behind. Turn that “Boy Named Sue” instinct for resistance into poetry, crusades, or advocacy for others who have fallen along life’s path. If you start now there is at least the possibility that because of, rather than despite your struggles in life, you may become more, rather than less, than those who picked up life’s basic lessons early on.