No matter where you come out on Kanye West, Graduation is a good album.
I was a little late to the party with this album. It dropped on September 11, 2007, but took almost two years for it to land on my iPod Shuffle in late spring of 2009. This iPod was my best friend as I mowed grass for one of my many summer jobs that year, and it housed several records that would become some of my all-time favourites. This was largely due to the fact that when there is no internet connection on a device, you listen to whatever songs are on it on repeat until you connect it to a computer to update the songs on it. And almost everything good becomes better with repetition.
Ah, the good old days.
I listened to about a dozen albums as I mowed acres that summer. When it was all said and done, Graduation was at the top of the list.
Out of all of the songs on that record, this lyric from Everything I Am struck me deeply, and it hits even harder today.
People talkin’ shit, but when the shit hit the fan, everything I’m not made me everything I am.
This has always resonated with me because I have spent much of my life being hyper-aware of the ways I’m different from most people. For a long time, I didn’t feel good about being different. But something changed in my life in the last few years and helped me appreciate the wisdom in this lyric.
A lot of the struggle I went through as a kid came from being homeschooled from preschool to the end of high school, feeling alone, and struggling with social skills. While there are many things I’m not, we’ll use this as the case study. We’ll look at the bad, then the good, then I’ll speak my shame and challenge you to go deep with this idea.
When I was 10 years old, I didn’t have a best friend. This was tough because every kid was supposed to have a best friend. Dennis the Menace had a best friend. Henry Rowengartner had two best friends. The kids in The Sandlot and Mighty Ducks had a whole crew of friends. I could relate more to Kevin McAllister, a lone ranger of sorts.
I remember my parents praying with me that I would find a best friend. Then I met my first best friend in our homeschool group’s art class. Finally, let the good times roll!
I would go hang out with him at his house almost every week (he had a pool, I didn’t). We both loved Legos, video games, nerf guns and swimming.
The bummer was, less than a year later, we both moved away.
It wasn’t for another three years that I felt like I was getting close to having someone I could call a best friend again. I got to know one of the popular kids at my youth group. I thought we were getting pretty close. We would go biking, have sleepovers, and talk about bands and girls on the phone. The next year when he went to high school, he ditched me for a new group of older, cooler people.
This one hit me pretty hard, but I finally made some lifelong friends later in grade ten. A few friends I had known for a while became best friends, and I started dating my wife Bethany. In spite of all of that, however, this pattern persisted in different ways and would show up every few years.
I would find myself asking, where are my people? Why don’t I have any friends like me? What’s wrong with me? Why does no one like the music I like or the books I read (or read period)? Why do I feel so worthless and alone?
There were lots of dark days, but there were many good days too.
So many good things came into my life from being homeschooled. Here are just a few.
I love my dad. He was the property manager for a gigantic Salvation Army resort called Star Lake. And several afternoons a week after finishing my schoolwork, I would go to work with him for the afternoon.
I spent hours and hours in the shop, adjacent to my dad’s solid leadership of a crew of incredible hard-working men. Most kids don’t have great relationships with their dads. I had the best kind, and spending time with him at work left an indelible mark on how I live life as a husband, father, and leader.
I fell in love with reading. Starting at age five, I would go to the library once a week and check out at least ten books. Those hours of reading, coupled with my mom’s focus on the importance of being able to write well are big reasons for why I’m writing this today.
I became an expert self-teacher. I taught myself how to become a whiz on the computer. We had a floppy disk with games on it, and I played Monopoly on it over and over until I had taught myself how to play it (and win!). I remember the first time my dad couldn’t answer one of my computer questions, and I ended up figuring it out on my own later. I think I was 12. I could go on, but I’ll summarize.
Every career job I’ve had since college is a result of me teaching myself the technical skills I need to know.
Oh yeah, and while it took a while for me to find my best friends, I got really good at making friends quickly. When you’re homeschooled and you move, you need to how to make friends quickly. When you don’t see your friends often and live outside a neighbourhood setting, you take the opportunities you can get to hang out with other kids.
I lived at a camp, so every summer and weekend, there would be new kids to meet every few days. I had to learn to be able to make friends quickly. If I failed, no worries- there’d be a new group of kids at camp next week. I could take what I learned from my failed friend-making attempts and try again. This has helped me my whole life, and it helped me make deep lifelong friendships that finally happened in grade ten.
My journey had lots of bad and lots of good. Here’s how shame played a part.
Speaking My Shame
Brene Brown says to share the thing you’re ashamed of to disarm the power it has over you, so here goes.
In my experience of trying to make friends, I quickly realized that most homeschooled kids were so weird and socially awkward, and everyone knew it.
It is so hard to go through life knowing the stereotype assigned to the label you wear is the opposite of who you are.
No one wants anyone to think of them as weird and awkward. And no one wants to feel alone. This made me feel deeply ashamed. I didn’t know how to deal with it, so it kept coming up in a big way every few years.
I was so afraid of someone labelling me as weird and awkward if they found out I was homeschooled. When people asked what school I went to, I would say I did correspondence. At all costs, I would avoid using the phrase “I’m homeschooled.”
Every now and then, someone would get to know me and find out that I was homeschooled. None ever say anything bad or mean. Most of the time, people would remark that they had no idea I was homeschooled because I was so normal. Hearing this was a relief and reinforced that I was learning how to fit into society.
And after reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, I started to realize that by being homeschooled, everything I was not gave me significant advantages in life. Much good has come from not being a part of the typical education experience, and there is still more good to come from it.
I am finally comfortable with telling people I was homeschooled. While the scars from my pain will never completely fade, my shame about this is gone.
There are a lot of things I am not that define me deeply. Being homeschooled was one of many.
What are you not that makes you who you are? In a good way? In a bad way? What shame do you need to confront so you can embrace the uniqueness of who you are?