To Grow Into Ourselves, We Must First Embrace The Unknown
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I always think that the only benefit to looking back over your life is to be able to see the growth that had led to where you have ended up now. On reflection, I have achieved a few great things, but the hunger inside of me makes me determined to keep moving the needle forward, and achieving all that’s within me.
My childhood was not the most easy or comfortable, but I do believe that when we hurt the most, we grow the most. I am even thankful for the childhood I had, because it’s shaped me into the man I am today. In fact, it’s often said that at the heart of most entrepreneurs, the majority had a challenging or difficult childhood.
When you come from a broken family, it is tricky for children to adapt and I was no different. As a child, I comfort ate- it was my way of dealing with the challenge of Mom and Dad not being together. I love both my parents very much, but as a child, you have limited knowledge of how to deal with some of the more intricate and complex challenges of life.
During those young years, as I began to put on weight, I was unfortunately bullied, both physically and emotionally. I believe that’s one of the reasons why I’m so sensitive towards those around me, and why I seek to include and validate each and every human life, because I know what it feels like to be isolated, cut off, unaware of your value or worth.
As an overweight child, it did cause me some amount of emotional pain- after all, it’s never nice to be abused or bullied in any situation. However, my turning point came when a new teacher arrived at our school. His name was Mr. Aldridge, he was 6”6’, and he loved the game of basketball.
Now, my first love was football, but since a few of my bullies played in the football team then, I wasn’t too keen to be a part of it. I decided instead to sign up for the after-school basketball practice, and after attending each of its sessions for six weeks, I fell in love with the game- and as a side-effect of sorts, my excess weight started to pour off me.
This shouldn’t come as too much of surprise, especially considering that basketball is a highly intensive sport. What happened to me then was as my dedication to practice and my new-found health reached new heights, Mr. Aldridge saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself: leadership.
After one after-school practice, he called me to one side and said, “Mark, I have seen your dedication to this team and to yourself, I have seen the weight pour off you, and I have seen confidence in you like ever never seen before. You have the respect of your peers, they look up to you- and so, I want you to be the school basketball captain.”
That moment in my life stands out to me even to this day. Mr. Aldridge saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself- at that moment in my life, I didn’t feel like anybody. I always felt on the outside of things- some teachers even compared me to my more academic sister. Indeed, I think I found life was tough until this very moment.
The beautiful thing with Mr. Aldridge seeing a leader in me is that it gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of hope and confidence I had never had before. I ended up being the top point guard scorer in my final year of school, and it gave me the confidence and respect where people stopped hating on me, and started to respect me.
Indeed, Mr. Aldridge gave me the confidence to eventually try out for the football team, and I ended up becoming the only boy to be in both the basketball and football teams of the school. This is something I wish for leaders today to do: we must continue to call out the potential that we see in others, especially for those who don’t see it in themselves.
I believe that this is one of the reasons why I want to impact the world, why I want to impact my own life, so that I can impact those around me. I want to be Mr. Aldridge to those I come into contact with, whether that’s at the food store, or in my workplace. I want them to be in a better position, energetically, than what they were before our interaction.
The beauty of each of our journeys is they give us empathy and contrast. I often say we can’t lead anyone away from a path that we’ve not taken ourselves. We also have a responsibility to those around us to see the good, as well as to include and to value each and every human life.
We have to learn to also call out that which we see in ourselves, which at times needs development, progression, and a willingness to continually grow and learn. Our ability to accept the path we are on, especially when much of that path feels very unknown and unfamiliar is going to determine if we keep growing.
The unknown is a territory I do not overly enjoy- I like to know details, facts, what is, and what isn’t. However, I have realized that my ability to be comfortable in not knowing every detail, not having all the answers, and not having everything my own way, is what is going to keep me expanding, and increasing my own wisdom and skill.
This is thus what I wish for you as you read this today. First, I want you to challenge yourself in being mindful to see and hear each and every person around you (regardless of whether they can give you something or not), to see them for who they are, to call out, appraise, and affirm the gifts you see in them, while also letting them see it for what it is.
Secondly, hold yourself accountable to your own growth and leadership of yourself. We need to realize that what got us here isn’t going to get us to where we want to go next. When we grow physically, we often have growth pains- it's inevitable then that as we grow in our character, wisdom, and emotional intelligence, it will be a little uncomfortable too.
As my good friend (and fellow Entrepreneur contributor), Daniel Mangena, says: “Push your edge, not your buttons.” Growth doesn’t happen through freaking yourself out by trying to take a giant leap into the unknown. It is done in increments that don’t overwhelm or risk shutdown, but instead reinforce confidence in your ability to expand.
Personally, I am determined to grow, and I hold myself accountable to this as well: to face the uncertainty of life, and still have the courage to look it in the face, and accept it for what it is and be okay with it. We have to become comfortable with the unknown, in order to keep expanding, extending, uncovering, and unveiling all that’s within us.
So, if you are like me, and don’t like the unknown, make an effort to just embrace it all the same- because it's the only way we are going to grow.