This is a true story.
Meet Mike. His father left his family when he was only a few months old. Mike could never understand what he could have done to his father to make him disown his own son.
Mike grew up poor. There was barely any food in the house and, during his childhood, they had to move between cities a lot. Every couple of months, Mike would get enrolled in a school, try to make friends and be “normal”. As soon as he did, they would move and he would have to start all over again.
This made him socially awkward and an easy target for bullies. At age 12, when his family permanently settled, he was physically and mentally abused on a daily basis. He was often beaten and injured, hit with objects, and ridiculed. One time, the main bully even came from behind Mike in a bathroom and beat him within an inch of his life.
Mike was filled with a lot of emotions, just as any of us would be. He was angry, sad, felt alone and depressed. The world was beating him down and nobody was on his side.
To cope with his emotions, Mike decided to start writing poetry. Of course, this was only reason for people to ridicule him further. They would make fun of the fact that he writes poetry, they would say his poetry sucks, and the bullying still continued. But every day, Mike would bring his notebook around and write poems. During class, in the hallways of the school, in his room; he would keep scribbling in his notebook, drawing from his own experiences, and using them as an outlet for coping with his emotions and abuse.
One day, on his way to school, he saw someone handing out flyers to a local talent show. He decided to participate, knowing it would probably cause more ridicule.
The talent show ended up going really well. In fact, it inspired him, He decided to join more contests and compete in various poetry events. Not only would he compete, he would even win sometimes. This inspired him to write more, improve his writing, become even better, and win even more as a result.
But Mike being Mike, his life was still a tragedy.
At 23, still poor and struggling, he had a daughter with his high school girlfriend. He was working multiple minimum wage jobs in order to support his family, while still living at home. To make this worse, he was regularly fired and often had fights with his girlfriend, to the point where she left him and denied him access to his daughter.
The combination of his struggle in personal, financial, and family life, combined with failures with poetry and substance abuse, caused him to attempt suicide.
The attempt was unsuccessful and Mike decided to get his life in order. He realized he needed priorities. He cannot juggle jobs and family and poetry at the same time.
So he decided to go to a big poetry slam competition on the other side of the country and give it one last final attempt. If this doesn’t somehow work out, he’s out of options and will have to stop focusing on becoming a real poet.
He came. He saw. He conquered the competition and made it to the finals.
Then he lost.
Once again, the world fucked Mike over. He turned around to go home, but on his way, someone who was impressed by his poems asked him for a copy. Distraught, angry, and disappointed, Mike violently threw his notebook full of poems into the person’s direction, not caring anymore.
Mike had officially lost all hope. And by the simple act of throwing his notebook, Mike’s life had profoundly changed and he became one of the most influential people of his era.
How to thrive in harsh times
If the story above sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you can relate to Mike in some way.
Maybe you are bullied. Maybe you have financial struggles. Maybe you have family or relationship drama and it’s weighing on your conscience. Maybe you feel like the world won’t stop fucking you over and will never give you a break. Maybe you feel angry, depressed, or hopeless.
Maybe you became addicted as a result. Maybe you feel such pressure from your surroundings that you cannot take it anymore. Maybe you thought about or have tried to commit suicide as well.
Maybe you have a passion for something. Maybe everybody around you is telling you that you’re crazy. Maybe your friends and family keep telling you it is impossible. Maybe they don’t understand it… or just don’t want to.
Maybe you feel like giving up. Maybe you already have. If you really cannot take the pressure and you’re not really sure if you want to do what you want to do, then maybe the best option really is to give up and find something with less stress.
But maybe, just maybe… you’re like Mike. Maybe you are willing to push through all of the shit. Maybe you are not ready to give up despite having little to no support from people around you. Maybe everything in your life is going badly but you are still finding ways to make it work.
The reason you keep pushing is that you have a vision of what you want to achieve. Not only do you have a vision, you are working very, very, very hard to make it a reality. While people around you dream and hope and contemplate, you are focused on working on your future.
In other words, this is how Mike put it:
Let’s pretend (Mike) never picked up a pen
Let’s pretend things woulda been no different
Pretend he procrastinated, had no motivation
Pretend he just made excuses that were so paper-thin
They could blow away with the wind (…)
Pretend he just stayed outside all day and played with his friends
Pretend he even had a friend to say was his friend
And it wasn’t time to move and schools weren’t changin’ again
He wasn’t socially awkward and just strange as a kid
He had a father and his mother wasn’t crazy as shit
And he never dreamed he could rip stadiums and just lazy as shit
“Fuck a talent show in the gymnasium, bitch,
you won’t amount to shit – quit daydreamin’, kid!“
Now pretend they ain’t just make him angry with this shit
And there was no one he could even aim when he’s pissed at
(…) ‘Cause he never risked shit, he hoped and he wished it
But it didn’t fall in his lap, so he ain’t even here…
Who is Mike?
Mike’s real name is Marshall Bruce Mathers III. However, he is known to most of us by his stage name Eminem. One of the most famous, influential, and skilled musicians of his era.
As you’ve seen, Eminem was dealt every bad hand in life. Sure, he made many, many bad choices along the way but he was still in a much worse off position than the rest of us. But all of those negative experiences are exactly what made Eminem so popular.
Bullying, abuse, suicide attempt, drug addiction, abandonment issues, relationship troubles, financial struggles, constant failures and ridicule are what made him work harder, be better, and push way past the point where most people would give up.
The final “poetry slam” in the story refers to the 1997 Rap Olympics in Los Angeles, where Eminem lost the final battle. This was a final blow to his confidence and he had officially given up, throwing his demo CD to a bystander asking for it.
The random bystander turned out to be an employee of Aftermath Entertainment record label, founded by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre, one of the most notorious and influential people in the history of hip hop.
Dr. Dre heard the tape, signed Eminem, and the rest is history. He made it.
I love the way he described it in his lyrics as people often attribute his success to “luck”. It was lucky that some guy happened to get his CD to play it for Dre, yadda yadda yadda. Those people see others as “overnight successes” who were at the right place at the right time, and think that could be them is they had better luck.
What they don’t see are copious amounts of failure people like Eminem have endured before that point. They don’t see all the shit experiences that made him change his rhyming and improve over time. They don’t see that Eminem published his first album himself and sold it out of a trunk of his car. They don’t see the part where nobody liked that album and told him to “go back to rock ’n’ roll”.
They don’t see all the shows and competitions he lost. They don’t see all those times he handed out his demo tape and never got anything in return. They don’t see the work and dedication, the blood, sweat, and tears of being worse off than most of us are and still not giving up and pushing through.
I get emails all the time from people wanting to do something or be something or achieve something… they just don’t have “that thing”. Support from their family. The money they need. The citizenship they require. The means to do it. They talk about how much they want it and how badly they desire it but they can’t get started because they lack that “one thing”.
And I agree. They do lack “one thing” and it’s impossible to succeed without it.
But it’s never what they think. It’s not the money or connections or the tools or the support. It’s that they are too privileged. They aren’t willing to get their hands dirty. They aren’t willing to take in failure day in, day out, and not give up. They aren’t willing to think of their own solutions. They aren’t willing to motivate themselves; they need YouTube videos and motivational articles for it. They aren’t willing to go after what they desire even if they have no support from people around them.
In short, they don’t have a Mind of Steel. And until they get it, they will always have excuses that are, in Eminem’s word, paper-thin.