I see how my struggles can benefit others
Today I had the privilege to listen to Chris Herren as a guest speaker at Weber State University. I had read a little about his story from an ESPN article not long ago and thought it would be a great opportunity for my speech class to listen to him. It was even better than I had hoped for and I have been thinking about it all day.
Chemical addiction robbed Chris of his professional basketball career and nearly cost him his family and his life. You can hear more about his story through several articles written about him, his book Basketball Junkie: A Memoir, or the ESPN Emmy nominated film Unguarded.
After detailing the fourteen year nightmare of his addiction I was struck by some of Chris's statements regarding his recovery and why he now speaks so openly about those difficult experiences. He told a story about one of his first speaking engagements, which was in front of a crowded gymnasium of High School students. He was incredibly nervous but prayed that he could have an impact and make a difference for just one person. At the end of his speech he opened it up for questions and there was one girl sitting at the top of the bleachers all alone who had raised her hand. She was quickly hushed by the crowd and she told Chris she no longer had a question. Sometime later he received a message from that girl. Every day she was ridiculed and bullied at school. She had difficulties at home as well and each night she would shut herself in her room, pull out a razor blade and cut on her arms. They were so scarred that she now had to resort to cutting on her legs instead. She thanked him and said that because of his willingness and courage to tell his story she had gained the courage to tell hers. She explained to him that after hearing his story she had walked into the cafeteria at lunch time and sat next to some of the other girls that teased her. When they asked her what she was doing she responded by lifting up her sleeves and showing them the scars on her arms. She told them she cuts because of the cruel things they do to her everyday and that from that day on the teasing stopped. She thanked him and told him it had been several months since she had last self mutilated. He remembers that one girl every time he speaks.
What is moving about the way he speaks is not just the stories, but how candid he is about those experiences. By being real and open his story validates struggle. I struggle. I think we all struggle. I am not sure of anyone that is immune from struggle. Why is it that it seems so few of us are willing to talk about them? I know for me some of those reasons are fearing that others will judge me, misunderstand me, or that they will reject me and pull away. That fear and shame keeps me guarded and hidden. But if I am not real about my weaknesses and struggles how can I possibly expect to have an impact on others? How can I expect the kind of connection that comes from people who are willing to be fully transparent with each other?
I am not inspired and moved by stories of ease and privilege. It is the authentically courageous stories of struggle, pain, and doubt that draw me in. Those stories give me hope, they validate my own experiences and encourage me to continue on the difficult path of trying to reach my full potential.
Thank you Chris, and to each of you that are brave enough to be vulnerable, real, and open with me and others about your weaknesses and challenges. I take hope and courage from your examples. The courage to be who I am, and that through being open I can connect with and help others.