Breathe Through the Grind
It was an early Sunday morning--like 3 AM type early--when I felt her incessant tapping. I was slumped on the couch, and Leah wouldn’t let me be. So eventually I got up, checked my phone, scrolled down Facebook like the social junkie I am, and glanced at something unexpected. It was somewhat surreal and slightly inspiring. It was kind of a proud, “we out here” moment. It was a post shared by an old teammate, who gave his two cents via muscle emojis. It read: “Alabama’s Lakan Taylor Wins Pole Vault at NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships”. This was a slightly big deal. But it was also a reality check.
My high school in Fort Worth, Tx felt pretty average across the board. Sure, you had Dedrick, who was basically Isiah Thomas, and Brian, who was basically Michael Vick, my boy Malik who was literally Usain Bolt, Lakan, the super pole vaulter, and a couple of other dope athletes. But for the most part we were average. For the most part, you didn’t really expect anyone from Boswell High to go to a DI school like Bama and break history by becoming its first women’s pole vault champion.
But the weird part is that I wasn’t even surprised. Reading that post excited me about as much as seeing a calendar excites me.
Lakan was someone I knew of but didn’t actually know. I saw her break records game after game, knew she was serious about pole vaulting for a DI school, but I didn’t really think much of her path beyond that. And yet, if anyone from our school was gonna be a boss at the DI level, it was gonna be her. Hands down. No questions asked. Not because she was the school’s pole vaulting goddess, but because if you were on the Track & Field team, you knew and saw how real and deep her work ethic was, how seriously she took practice, meets, athletics. At that age, we really pay attention to each other’s raw talent, but for Lakan, the only thing I saw was her hustle.
Because it made me uncomfortable.
It’s funny looking back on it, but there’s something about an honest, no excuses, all-or-nothing work ethic that tends to make the lazy feel awkward, slightly off-balance. In basketball, I could connect with that kind of determination because I used to suck at it. But in class, in music, seeing that kind of grind always made me feel some type of way ‘cause I knew I was coasting by on raw talent. Story of my life. Story of your life quite possibly. Just riding on the waves talent, doing just enough to satisfy our egos, never enough to satisfy our hearts, always wondering what would’ve happened if we had just “applied” ourselves.
All this reminiscing really got me thinking that maybe the thought of grinding day in and day out for years (or decades) feels so extra and uncomfortable because (1) I really can be a sloth but (2) it’s like getting married. The shit takes a lot of commitment, a lot of pushing forth through the yuck and weakness in ourselves. Sure, I could be great at songwriting, amazing at my poetry if I “applied myself”. But what happens when I apply myself for years just to find out I’m really not all that? Really not a DI record breaker? Maybe I’m not special. You see where this is going.
The conversation in your head won’t always go that far or get that deep. Maybe the thing you could’ve been good at just doesn’t matter to you as much as you think it does, and that’s alright. We are neither required nor entitled to be special or amazing at any particular thing. However, typing that shit feels weird because 50% of my social media scrolling is telling me different. But whether you’re scared of going all in and still failing, or you’re scared ‘cause you know your dream job or path isn’t actually all that important to you, audit yourself and remember that there are things in your life that you do so well with so much passion and hunger and joy, things that your boys, your girls, your family wouldn’t be surprised by if they saw your excellence on Facebook one day.
Dig for those passions and go do them, whether it be video games, cooking, dancing, or marketing. Passions don’t come unless you try new things and stick with them long enough for them to become passions.
So stop crying about it. Stop feeling guilty or weird about it. Go write your songs (talking to myself), go take your photos, go rap or kickbox or decorate spaces if that’s what you gotta do to feel alive. Stay with it even when you suck, especially because you suck. It means you have good taste, you know what excellence looks like. Keep grinding until you know you’re a boss at that thing you love. Because at that point, it’s no longer a grind. At that point, it’s how you breathe.