I usually don't read the stories that pop up in my Facebook Feed, probably because most of my friends post articles like "50 cute pictures of baby kittens" or "the 25 Hollywood couples on their way to divorce due to a younger man". But alas this morning, this story was post on my feed. The article was about a man, who as a child was randomly attacked with Acid, which resulted in most of his face melting and the complete loss of his eyesight. You can already imagine the story arch - the terrible lows of a suddenly blind 4 year old, the bullying from his classmates and the stares from strangers, and the eventual triumph of overcoming his setbacks. Not to downplay that part of the story, which is both sad and amazing, but what really struck me is the impact that this child, had on the author, and how the article came to be. The piece was written by a journalist, who had been friendly with both the attacker and the victim some 40 years ago. In fact, he lived 2 houses down from the attack and before the accident had played with both children, at least before the attacks. After that fateful day everything changed for him. He writes it was the "crime of his childhood". As he, approaches middle age, he has often reflected on the fate of that little boy who lost his sight. So being the journalist that he is, he wanted to tell the story of that boy and showcase that you can live a normal life, despite having suffered a huge tragedy. So the journalist reached out to his former childhood friend and pitched his idea for the story. And this is where the story gets interesting to me.
The victim, now 40, married, with 2 kids was hesitant about sharing his story. He didn't want publicity for the story of his setback, but that if he was ever to be famous, it would be because of his work and his legacy. He declined multiple requests for the interview over time, but recently accepted because he finally felt like his accomplishment spoke for himself.
There are two lessons in this. 1) What do you want to be known for? How have you left this earth better than when you arrived? 2) Your setbacks is not the story.
I think lesson 1 is fairly obvious, so I will drill in on lesson #2, your setback is not the story. Switching gears from the NYT to Reality TV, I recently watched an episode of The Face, a new model competition show hosted by Naomi Campbell. Basic premise, a bunch of skinny, attractive girls, compete in a bunch of Faux-related modeling competitions to win a chance of winning a modeling contract. At the end of each episode, the bottom two girls have to plea their case, so that one of them can stay in Magic Modeland. As with all Reality shows, the bottom two have to "prove" why they should stay. Usually, this is the time where you talk about how "hard working" you are, how you have so much more to "learn and prove", how you were homeless with 7 kids, and used to be a former drug addict, a and if you could just stay on this TV show for one more episode, maybe your life could be better. (Was that too harsh?). Anyhow, Naomi Campbell, of all people, who genuinely does have a sob story of her own, couldn't give 2 rats behinds, about the sob story. In almost prophetic wisdom she told the girls, " I don't care about your setback story, don't play on my heart strings, hoping to leverage my pity for an opportunity. Let your "work be your story".
Let your life story be about what you broght to the table not about the setbacks that you overcame. Setbacks should be the footnote.