Inspirational Stories: A Need To Change
Throughout my teenage years I usually found myself toeing the line between being the good student who lived up to my parents’ expectations, and not living down to my worst nightmare, being labeled un-cool. I well remember one such occasion, when my father and I were readying for a trip downtown. Realizing that my father was waiting for me, I hurried downstairs. As I headed toward the front door, my father interrupted my momentum, posing a question dripping with audible disdain.
"Where do you think you are going?"
“Aren’t we going downtown?”
"You are not going anywhere with me dressed like that.”
Well, there was certainly no need for explanation or further discussion. A change of attire would be in my immediate future, and there was absolutely no doubt about the infraction that had caused the agitation. I had been wearing a plain white t-shirt (also known as an undershirt). You see, in my neighborhood, it was common for the kids, particularly the cooler ones, to don a white t-shirt and head out to the park, around the neighborhood, wherever. I thought nothing of putting one on to go hang out on my block or to the park to play a little ball. I’d never had the occasion to wear one out in the presence of my father. And the precedence certainly wasn’t about to be set on that day.
It wasn't so much the words that left such a lasting impression as it was the look, the visible, unavoidable expression of utter contempt and disdain. Just the same, I can remember thinking he was obviously too old and simply didn’t understand. I guess that, at least from one teenager’s perspective, made my father a square.
Well, many years have gone by. Today I am what some might consider a relatively successful man, well immersed in the corporate world. Needless to say, adjustments have occurred over the decades, countless many of which have long since been forgotten.
One adjustment never to be forgotten was purchasing my first pair of Wingtips, soon after getting my first full-time job. For the uninitiated, Wingtips are inflexible, heavy, conservative business footwear that leave a little bit to be desired in the style category. Highly symbolic of corporate America, typically, Wingtips are something of an acquired taste. Purchasing my first pair represented a major hurdle, perhaps because I believed them to be about the ugliest shoes for which a cow had ever been sacrificed. No, the thin stylish models that didn't hold up long, developing holes quickly as a result of extended wear and rainy days, now those were for me. And given the fact that I was just out of college and didn't have a car, believe me, I had my fair share of soggy-sock-bottom bus rides. Still, that didn’t prevent me from window-shopping for the Wingtips on multiple occasions, only to leave the shoe stores empty-handed. Apparently, somewhere along the way, common sense and maturity won out, as I eventually submitted to the corporate image. Today, an integral component of my image, my Wingtips and I are virtually inseparable.
Looking back on that day with my father so many years ago, I have come to appreciate something. You see, what prompted this particular trip down memory lane was, as I was making my way back to my current rung on the corporate ladder one morning, Wingtips comfortably encasing my feet, I noticed a young man. As I approached a traffic light, he was standing there, waiting for the bus to take him to that morning's primary destination. In years, he appeared to be just a little older than I had been so many years ago. Not only was he wearing a plain white t-shirt but he completed the ensemble with a blue wave cap.
At that moment, it again became apparent to me just how blessed I am, just how blessed I've been. I was fortunate enough to have a father who was concerned enough, knew enough, and was enough of a force in my life to make it crystal clear my attire was unacceptable that day. I was fortunate because he, and others alike, made what I believed to be my business their business, seeing to it I presented myself in an appropriate way.
As I considered all of this, the young man, and the potential prospects that lay ahead, a simple yet fundamental realization, the product of my father’s shared perspective emphasized by countless enlightening experiences over the years, made its way to the forefront of my mind. On that day so many years ago, my father wasn't so much a square as I was naive. Whether we like it or not, the image we have matters in this world. The way we carry ourselves, the mentality we have, the goals we set, the communication we have within, everything goes together to determine who we are and will be. From that, our very own personal self-fulfilling prophecies are born and nurtured.
Our personal self-fulfilling prophecy can be empowering and uplifting, suggesting that if we present ourselves appropriately, people will more likely see us as successful. If people see us as successful, they will see each of us as someone to be respected and looked up to. If we carry ourselves in an appropriate manner, we will more likely be perceived as individuals with manners and decency, in turn causing others to more likely treat us the same way. Because others treat us that way, greater and more numerous opportunities will be fostered. Because those opportunities are fostered, our respective immediate futures will yield enhanced choices. Knowing ourselves will facilitate our making the best choices. Making the best choices will bring optimal success.
Both empowering and uplifting, that’s an incredibly powerful self-fulfilling prophecy to have. But, unfortunately for the young man at the bus stop and countless others not yet fortunate enough to have gotten the message effectively ingrained in me over the years, the harsh reality is, it’s not very likely you’re going to get there when your starting point is a t-shirt and a wave cap.
What I now understand is that day was a turning point in my life. My father didn't explain all of this on that day. He didn't need to. For it to really sink in, I had to get it for myself. His responsibility was to plant the thought. His responsibility was not to let me out of the house dressed that way. It was up to me, open mindedness, years of living and experienced results to have it really take root and grow. The good news is I did change, not only my attire for our trip downtown but also so many other things since that day.
My suspicion is, the young man I saw during my drive that morning had no one back home to provide that kind of feedback, to prevent him from leaving the house that way. He had no idea that the t-shirt and wave cap likely gave birth to a completely different self-fulfilling prophecy as a result of the perceptions of many of the people encountered that day. My hope is that young man, and today's youth in general, will begin to be stopped at the door, that they will get that message before it's too late. Their only real hope is responsible adults like the ones many of us had growing up.