What Makes You Unmistakable?

I spent the first 12 years of my life dirt poor (that’s how it felt anyway)

I didn’t grow up in the poorest part of the world, mind you. I’m sure others have been through worse.

And perhaps there are a few who can relate to living in a place where it feels like the walls meant to protect you are always on the brink of collapse and your world could come crashing down at any given moment.

That was my life.

There was a time when I was too ashamed to talk about it. I would dodge inquiries into my childhood and skipped to the part where conditions had improved and there was nothing hair-raising that would expose me for what I really was.

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon. Mine was more like a dull aluminum alloy. From where I started, the only thing bright and shining was the sunlight that pierced through the cracks of our house and beamed us out of bed prematurely.

I would exile that dark period of my life to a place where things I didn’t want to deal with were kept, shut-off from the world.

I was an escapist; on the run from a reality I didn’t care to come face to face with.

I spent those early years believing I was dealt a bad hand in a rigged game. Like I was in the control group of some kind of social experiment.

It was the only explanation for why families facing the same abysmal circumstance appeared to have been better off than us.

I felt cheated of the simple things a boy needed to grow — things that could have put my well-intentioned parents in in the slammer for child negligence. No Nintendo. No Sega Genesis. No remote control cars, nothing with wheels that could be pushed, pulled or could even pop a wheelie.

No boy with any hope of a promising future could possibly navigate social circles without being able to relate to his peers in the language of Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda. I would end up trading video games for neighborhood friends with friends at school to be accepted among the denizen of kids who actually had a fucking life.

My parents’ aberrant approach to raising kids supported their screwball idea that toys and friends were a waste of time. They believed the friends I imagined from my time travel through reading would likely be the only lasting friendships I’d ever make anyway.

So they attempted to placate my miserable life with books.

Books. When we didn’t have food, we had books. When the rent-free squatters that occupied the crevices of our home didn’t have food, they had books too.

It is one thing to read and bring the characters to life in your mind, but it requires an entirely different level of imagination to fill in the blanks from half-eaten chapters.

My early childhood was a crucible of sorts. Those 12 years were testament to that. They have shaped who I am more than any other period in my life. I didn’t understand what was happening back then. I cursed the very trials that would become the fodder for my growth.

But it was those 12 years that kept me going every time I felt like giving up.

Those 12 years that cultivated my love for books and taught me the importance of reading.

Those 12 years that showed me the power of imagination.

Those 12 years that taught me to treat everyone equally and with the same respect due.

Those 12 years that reminded me never to take anything or anyone for granted and to appreciate everything.

Those 12 years that gave me the courage to invest in my dreams and to place all the bets on myself (until my kids are old enough to inherit my wager).

Those 12 years that showed me how to reach back and pull others up.

Those 12 years that gave me the vantage point to relate to people from all walks of life.

Those 12 years that armed me with a resilient sense of optimism.

Those 12 years that showed me that all the “stuff” in the world matters little in comparison to the love and support of family and friends.

Those 12 years that shaped who I am as a father today

Those 12 years that ring louder than my alarm clock in the mornings when I want to hit snooze and sleep a little longer.

Those 12 years that taught me to treat every challenge as an opportunity.

Those 12 years that kept me straight when I was headed down the wrong path.

Those 12 years that reminded me not to compare myself to others because things aren’t always how they appear.

It’s because of those 12 years why I keep God in the midst of everything I do

In the end, we are the total sum of our experiences. Some experiences plant roots and take hold — and some test our resolve and make us stronger.

Paradoxically, the 12 worst years of my life, were also the most important years of my life.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved — Helen Keller

What makes me unmistakable is that I am a construct of my past, and maybe even more so those 12 dreadful years have made into a better human being.

The inspiration for writing this blog piece came after a couple failed attempts at trying extemporaneously to tackle the question, what makes [me] unmistakable? A question that Srini Rao, host of the podcast Unmistakable Creative, asks his guests at the end of every show.

Being “unmistakable” doesn’t mean never screwing up. In fact, the word has nothing to do with your making mistakes (but you already knew that). Instead, it means incapable of being misunderstood or mistaken.

Sort of like being in a crowd of Mary Janes, it’s that thing that makes you MARY F******** JANE!

Ok, maybe the Mary Jane scenario wasn’t the best example. But you get the point, hopefully.

I have been listening to Unmistakable Creative for over a month now — ever since I traded in Pandora for podcast during my workout sessions. I’m always fascinated with how each guest dissects this question. In my opinion, they’ve all nailed it.

So I set out to find my unmistakability. I believe there’s something about you that makes you unmistakable. I think we owe it to ourselves to find out what that is even if we never share it with anyone else.