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Running Uphill Against the Wind

"I'm gonna be somebody, one of these days I'm gonna break these chains, I'm gonna be somebody, someday, you can bet your bottom dollar I will."

As the voice of Travis Tritt belted from the car radio, I thought about what those words meant to me and my life. Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to rise above the expectations that most had set for me. My parents and teachers all expected I would go to college, get a good-paying job and live out the American dream of having a wife, kids and a white picket fence. I never really wanted that.

A picture of me as a young boy wearing a pair of blue sunglasses I got for Easter one year.
I was a kid of the eighties, and these glasses say that better than I ever could!

I was that goofy little kid, always laughing and always trying to make others laugh. Life wasn't always easy, but it wasn't too bad either. I had loving parents, for the most part, and I didn't go without food or any necessity. One thing that I didn't have, especially as I got older, was someone who saw through me, to the person underneath. I didn't have anyone to nurture the creativity hidden deep down, to help me come out of my shell and become the best me that I could.

The closest that I ever came to someone who saw the real me was my high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Cheney. She was one of my favorite people in the world during my junior and senior years, and she was constantly encouraging me to stay true to myself and to not be afraid of what others might say. I spent a lot of time in the guidance office over my junior and senior years, and I was constantly playing practical jokes and working to make everyone laugh. It got to the point that the counselors and teachers were looking around corners, even when I wasn't there, waiting for me to pop out with a grin on their face.

Me holding a guitar and smiling at the camera.
I got a guitar while I was in Iraq, still dreaming of being famous, even in the hardest of times.

Outside of high school, that reputation followed me to my job at Wal-Mart, where I loved being the center of attention. Of course, that kind of personality and care-free attitude doesn't always go over well in the workplace, and it probably played at least a little into the end of my job there. Well, that and meeting my future wife.

I worked hard to make her laugh, and I like to think that was one of the reasons we got along so well. We would routinely take our lunch breaks together, which got on some of the managers nerves, but young love blinds the best of us, and I refused to listen when my manager told me I needed to stay on my schedule. One day, we went to lunch and just didn't return when we were supposed to. I got into more trouble than she did for that little fiasco, but it didn't matter.

I bring all that up because it was the start of what would become a relationship with one of the few people who has been a constant in my life for more than two decades. Over that time, she has become my trusted confidant, partner in crime and the one person I know I can count on to stand by me through everything. She believes in me like no one else does, and I would walk through fire for her.

My wife and I at the zoo, she is kissing me on the cheek and we're both smiling.
I honestly don't remember who took this photo, but I know we were at the zoo.

Back to the car ride I mentioned at the beginning, as she sat next to me, another chorus playing, she said "that's you, isn't it?". I was a little choked up, I get weirdly emotional at the times I least expect, and all I could do was say "yeah".

What she meant, and what I felt, was that overcoming the voices of doubt wasn't easy, but I am bound and determined to do it.

Just to put some perspective on this whole thing, for those who don't know what the song is about, Tritt is singing from the perspective of someone who dedicated themselves to achieving a dream. The protagonist, Bobby, was told by most of the people who knew him that he needed to "get a real job, support your family", and he just doubled down and focused even more on reaching his dreams. By the end of the song, he is up on stage, singing in front of thousands.

And that's the thing I always focus on.

See, those who chase their dreams are often discouraged from doing so. If you want to do anything outside of what is considered "normal" by society, you are laughed at, pitied, scoffed at. No one takes dreamers seriously, and most people wind up giving up on what they really want because the pressure is just too great. When everyone is telling you that your dreams are out of reach, what's the point in pursuing them?

But what about those who overcame the odds? Is it really the odds that are not in our favor, or is it that we give up too easily?

If Stephen King had given up, we wouldn't have one of the most prolific horror writers of all time. If Garth Brooks had given up when he was told he would never make it in Nashville, we wouldn't have one of the top selling solo-artists of all time in country music. If Dale Earnhardt had given up, NASCAR wouldn't have seen the excitement of "The Intimidator" winning races and championships year after year.

And, without those 'exceptions', we wouldn't have all the people who were inspired by them to chase their dreams. How many great writers, artists, singers, athletes, do we have because some young kid saw the greats and decided to dedicate themselves to chasing a dream? How many more could we have had if more of those kids had a good support structure of people around them saying "go for it" instead of telling them they would never be good enough?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Eddie George, the Heisman Trophy winning running back for Ohio State. I was told that was unrealistic. I wanted to be Garth Brooks, and I was told it wasn't possible. I wanted to be more than anyone could imagine, and I was forced into believing it was wasted effort and that I should strive for nothing more than average.

At the core of it all is fear. Fear of failure, fear of success. Some people will deter others based on a fear of that person failing, and we don't want to see those we love fail at anything. Failure, after all, is the worst thing in the world, right? Then there's the fear that the person might actually succeed, and what if that success goes to their head, and they wind up in a better place than us? The only thing worse than seeing someone fail is seeing them leave us in the dust, right?

I believe we should encourage those who dream. To that end, I try and encourage my children every day to chase their dreams, to go after what they're passionate about. They can be anything they want to be. And I lead by example, chasing my own dreams and showing them what's possible. It isn't always easy, and there are sacrifices that you have to make along the way, but if you really want something, want it so bad you can taste it, you can achieve anything.

Maybe I am running up a hill against the wind, but I'm gonna be somebody someday. You can bet your bottom dollar I will.

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