What Made Me Think I wasn't Good Enough
Our children say that I am too strict. Maybe I am. I realize I am not an easy dad. Of course, our children get all the love they deserve, but I am also very driven to help them understand that not everything is a given. Countless moments in my life, I assumed I wasn’t good enough, and I never want our children to feel that way. Not feeling that I belonged or measured up to others was almost a constant throughout my youth and career. I’ll try to explain why and how the importance of owning your own story, mentorship, and focus is helping me pull through.
We all go through our phases as kids and have those specific childhood events whose impacts are still felt well into adulthood. For example, 40 years ago, my sisters and I learned the hard way that we were different from the other neighborhood kids, and that feeling of being ‘othered’ never faded over the years. While a singular event is usually not the source for the feeling of not belonging, still, I can point to a few early memories in my life that gave me a lot of insecurity.
I was around 6 or 7 years old when I had one of my earlier recognizable moments. Elementary school was a nightmare. Not because I disliked school. I even had amazing friends. It was because I was picked on regularly for looking different. Bear with me. Many kids get picked on in elementary school, but I was explicitly picked on because of the color of my skin. I remember once during class, one of my classmates noticed my skin was dry and decided to joke that people who get cremated look like me. The teacher thought that was funny and the entire class burst out laughing. But it didn’t stop there. Regularly children would chant the Shaka Zulu series theme song when I was playing soccer or would walk by. I always tried to act like it didn’t bother me, but those things stuck with me. Like anyone else, I wanted to feel like I belonged. Not looked at as if I were any different than my friends.
As I grew older, I decided that if I wasn’t going to fit in, I wanted to stand out. My objective became to be seen. But, unfortunately, my motivations were all wrong. The more I wanted to be seen, the more insecure I became. I needed continuous confirmation that I was a worthy member of a group or a community. Proof that I was worth being in the room or being heard. These insecurities prevented me from leaning into my own story and following my passions. Fortunately, my stubbornness, having amazing mentors, and a supportive network helped me find my path. Looking back, I want to try and give our children enough tools to discover their own path, build their own narrative and create their own future.
The value of mentorship is obvious. When you are completely stuck, need direction, or want a sounding board, it can be a tremendous relief to talk to a confidant with relevant experience. It is important if your mentor grasps the nuances of your background and the struggles you might face. Not every piece of advice is straightforward. Initially, it was challenging for me to explain to my mentors that I couldn’t find a feeling of belonging. Later in life, I found mentors who understood this because they dealt with similar issues earlier in their careers. This reconfirmed that representation in mentorship is as important as business or life experience.
The last two years have been another period of transformation, as I added the experience of being a social justice documentary filmmaker in the midst of a global pandemic while also making progress towards career and relationship goals. The ups and downs in personal and professional life over this period reinforced three key lessons I continue to practice every day: implement my learnings, own my story, and move with confidence.
Implementing my learnings. As I started journaling more often, especially the past year, I sometimes lost track of my thoughts. Lost track of things I wanted to see differently about myself, how I viewed personal growth and how I could achieve my goals. Instead of only journaling about my days, I started purposely focusing on what I did with the lessons I had learned and the improvements I wanted to see. Putting more time in execution and purposefully learning made a significant difference in my personal development. The most important questions I ask myself are, which improvements have I made and what is different from the last time I felt this way. Let me clarify with a recent example. Time is my worst enemy. I get really enthusiastic when people approach me with new ideas or projects. Before I can even think about the consequence or my involvement, I would say yes and get involved. The reason for saying yes was often motivated by wanting to help, wanting to feel I belonged, or pure FOMO :) After reviewing my writing, I realized I felt happier when entirely focused on one or two big projects instead of 17 things simultaneously. My biggest lesson was that I still needed to focus more and not be afraid to miss anything. Besides my work as a venture capitalist, I will only have a maximum of 2 side projects I’ll work on. In 2021 it was the launch of the Broken Chains documentary, and by the end of 2022, I hope it will be something related to supporting diverse fund managers and a project for up-and-coming artists and creators.
Owning my story is like coming of age. I am not trying to sound like an old person, but I only came to own my story at a late point in life. Having a mentor in this part of life would have made a big difference. This is something typically hard to teach anyone. How do you own your story? What does that even mean? For me, it meant that I allowed my personality to show up. Both in my personal and business life. Going back to my feeling of belonging, the moment I became part of a community, I wanted to do everything to preserve that place. If it means not fully sharing my opinion or even toning down my personality, I would. A few moments helped me break that pattern in the past years, which allowed me to lean in more into becoming Michael:
- Seeing our children grow up and mentoring them to build their own stories.
- Sharing more of my personal journey. Going through several difficult events that made my personality is not something I am ashamed of. It’s something I am slowly becoming proud of.
- Speaking up as a venture capitalist. I have learned our industry is uniquely positioned to impact a wider community. The moment you want to create more impact, owning your story, voicing your opinion, and having hard discussions are crucial.
Moving with confidence. I have become quieter but, at the same time, more vocal when I feel boundaries are being pushed. I have also become more vocal if I see a clear opportunity to progress. One of my biggest takeaways is when you are in the room, you deserve to be there, and you shouldn’t hold back. Don’t be afraid to speak your piece; the outcome will probably surprise you. You build confidence through hardship, setbacks, failures, and mistakes. So rather than hiding from past missteps, you might as well lean in, own your own story and actively learn as much as you can. Who knows, your courage to be vulnerable may even be the guiding light for someone else facing a similar situation.