“That's how I knew, that's how I knew that I was different. I seen it, I thought it, I dreamed it / I said it, I did it, I meant it.” — “That’s How I Knew,” Nipsey Hussle

Aye Nip, how did you know your differences made you unique and not interior? From being labeled an Underachieving Rapper to nominated for Rap Album of The Year. How were you able to transcend doubt and persist in self-belief?

Metrics. It’s all about how you gauge your metrics of achievement, Nate.

Embracing one's uniqueness while in pursuit of purpose is arguably life's greatest challenge. Especially when that purpose requires navigating treacherous waters. And indulging in valley’s unknown to your comrades, kin, and educators.

An internal battle persists as I attempt to align and create some consistency amongst my thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Many times I’m left to wonder who I am? Am I the leader, daring entrepreneur, and author some perceive me to be. Or the bootlicker, wantrepreneur, and unenlightened failure that I see in the mirror during my darkest moments.  In other words, am I different or inferior?

Nathan -  A paradox. Often appearing to have two distinct personalities. At times possessing the might of a roaring lion and occasionally the insecurity of a meowing cat.


Side-A: The Meowing Cat

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. - Eleanor Roosevelt.

It feels like yesterday, I put on my dark blue jeans and black Bob Marley graphic tee, laced up my fresh Nike Air More Uptempo’s and walked to the bus stop to meet Danny. We were on our way to 7th-grade orientation. Excited and a bit nervous, I recall walking the hallways of MLK Middle School for the first time searching for my homeroom class. Hoping that a few of the beautiful women I’d seen already were in my 1st-period. I need the “bait” sitting next to me. Lol. But just as important as some pretty women to sit by, I hoped my class was lit! The very thought of being in a wack class for an entire school year was daunting.

Finally, I found my first-period classroom, I peak in and see a bunch of white kids inside. No way! Can’t be the right class, while simultaneously comparing the room # on my schedule and the # on the door. Damn, I guess it is. Not ready to face reality, I walk the hallways for a little bit more, hoping that something would change by the time I returned, but it didn’t. Disappointed, I walked to the back of the class and found a seat. Looks like orientation is off to a bad start already, hopefully, next period will make up for it. But to my surprise, here they were again. Following me to my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th period. WTF!

By 4th period, I could no longer concentrate. Only ponder how I, in a school that is 90% Black and Latino ended up in the only 7th-grade class that is majority white? This is an uproar! * in my Haha Davis Voice. I’ve been bamboozled! Luckily, from 6th period to 9th period, I caught a break. I was with my people.

Unfortunately, I could only blame myself. My inferiority complex got me into this mess. At the end of 6th grade, I took a math placement test, which determined my fate. Before the exam, my sister said, “Nathan, I know Math is your thing but go easy on the exam. You’re going to want to be in Pre-Algebra in 7th grade.” I thought, girl, please! I’m going to kill that exam. Math is my claim to fame. This is my opportunity to steal the spotlight from you finally, and there is no way I’m passing it up. So, as a result of my high math score, I ended up being in the top middle school class in the school. Damn, Nathan, you should have listened to your sister. My high math aptitude did not carry over to the remaining subjects. In fact, it was an extremely poor indicator as my reading/writing was well below grade level.

Baggage:

Unhealed wounds brought me into this mess and ultimately led to the 7th grade being one of the most challenging years of my grade-school career. By 6th grade, I was one of the smarter kids in class. I wasn’t a straight-A student like my sister, but I was now making the honor roll consistently. My new found academic success boosted my confidence tremendously. But it was short lived because I had yet to address the elephant in the room. The feelings of inferiority submerged within my subconscious. All the comparison I had faced as a child from family members to teachers still ate at my spirit.

Transitioning from being one of the smarter kids in the class to the bottom of the totem pole, reignited the feeling of inferiority within my spirit. I was not mature enough to handle the bottom so instead of rising to the occasion I folded.

In the midst of writing this article, I can across a Dave Shands IG Video, which provided an aha moment regarding what made being in that environment so challenging. He said, “There is a correlation between your vocabulary and your likelihood to go to prison. Because if you can’t accurately express how you feel in your head or your heart with words, you will more than likely act it out.”  My 7th grade class was the first time where clothes and social status didn’t matter. Above all was your ability to express yourself at a high level. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t see the value in reading. So my vocabulary was minimal when compared to my peers.

For five periods a day, I experienced mental warfare. I recall wanting to beat up some of the kids in my class even though they didn’t do anything. But deep down, I knew it wouldn’t make a difference as I desired genuine respect, not fear. And that could only be accomplished with a mental beating and not a physical one.

I believed that many of my classmates saw me as less than. I assumed it was because I was “too black,” but in reality, I didn’t meet their scholarly standard. So in group assignments, I either got the easiest part or nothing. And my teachers didn’t help, especially my English teacher who often publicly called me lazy. By the end of the first couple weeks, I shut down, developing a laissez-faire mindset in periods 1 - 5. Rarely speaking or participating, which didn’t help my case.

Twelve years later, I still feel the weight of that experience. I assumed time and “success” would heal all wounds, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Time only removed it from my conscious mind, but it was suppressed within my subconscious, waiting for the right opportunity to emerge.

Divorce Inferiority:

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

As a chain, I’m only as confidence as my lowest perspective of myself. Because similar to how “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Confidence is measured by how you respond in moments of intense pressure. Moments that would cause those lacking confidence to break like a weak link. For this reason, I’m working towards divorcing the lowest perspective I have of Nathan. Completely getting rid of any sense of inferiority within my spirit.

The Most Dangerous Stories:

“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.” - Brene Brown

In search of answers on how to divorce my sense of inferiority, I watched the Brene Brown special on Netflix, Call to Courage, hoping for some insight. And as always Aunty Brene came through in the clutch when she discussed the dangerous stories we tell ourselves.

Personally, I become defensive when someone challenges my abilities. On the surface level, my reaction suggests that I’m not open to feedback. However, below the surface, in the depth of my soul, I’m actually afraid that I’ve finally been caught. Worried I’ll be exposed for the fraud that I am. Ultimately telling myself that the old version of Nathan, the one who never seemed to be good enough is the real Nathan. And that the leader, daring entrepreneur, and author that I’ve become is a facade.

My dangerous story, like Batman, emerges from the depths in the darkest hour. However, unlike Batman, it does not come to save but to destroy. Hearing Brene’s comments led me to think a bit deeper about my 7th-grade experience. Wondering how much of it was the reality I created. Debating if the outcome would be different had I known this information or been vulnerable with a classmate and asked if the story I was making up was real. When I started this article, I didn’t believe or fully understand Eleanor Roosevelt’s comment, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent until I watched Call to Courage. It led me to realize that inferiority is not thinking or hearing these narratives that attempt to diminish one's inherent worthiness, rather the acceptance.


Side - B: The Roaring Lion

Reparations were issued in just a year for my dreadful 7th-grade classroom experience. 8th grade was the dawn to 7th dusk as I was placed in my preferred classroom setting. An environment which had the perfect balance of work and play. We were within the top 3 of all 8th-grade classes in the school but had students who like myself were committed to making the day entertaining. Personally, fun is the oil to my life’s engine. Without it, you get the 7th-grade laissez-faire, Nathan.

People who have come to know me over the years often point out these two interesting polarities. At times I can be so well put together and professional yet at other times so lax and unfiltered. Which on the surface seems like inconsistent behaviors. Leaving many to wonder who is Nathan? Is he the businessman in a suit repping BYLU or the guy on a Swan floaty ignorantly screaming Swan Prince. Well, I’ll tell you he’s both.

Potential:

“Potential is unused ability, dormant strength. All you could be but you haven't become. Who you really are but we haven't seen. It's never what you've done, it's always what you could do but haven't done.” - Myles Munroe

I’d imagine that the roar of a lion, when echoed across the jungle, strikes fear in the hearts of its prey. However, despite how intimidating it’s roar may be the lion’s strength is not in its roar rather its ability to hunt. Roaring does not provide food for its family because gazelles don’t come when a lion calls. So the lion must execute. Potential is like the lion’s roar, cunning enough to convince others of strength. So much so that people will trust without verifying that you can hunt/execute.

In fact, often the belief in someone's potential will cause people to accept less than what they would usually tolerate. Society makes excuses for people it deems have potential. Our justice system proves that daily. Recognizing that I could use my potential as leverage, I manipulated teachers, employers, women, and all the like. Selling hope but not implementing change.  

My senior year of college, I wrote a paper on The School-to-Prison pipeline -- a systemic funnel of public school children into the U.S. criminal justice system. In my research, I came across a study which found that schools gave out longer suspensions to students who performed poorly on standardized tests than to high-performing students for similar offenses. Researchers refer to the discrepancy in disciplinary action as the “punishment gap.” Aha, I thought after coming across it. A truth I had not only known for years but actually used in my favor countless times.

In my 12 years of schooling, I’ve been kicked out of class dozens of times, given in school suspension, sent to the principal's office, received phone calls home, and written up. Yet in still, I was never suspended like some of my peers who performed similar acts. I, fortunately, had a way of selling my potential to teachers in order to be issued grace.

8th Grade:

“Smart kids” are expected to act in a certain way, and I didn’t fit the mold. As I alluded to earlier, fun is the oil to my life’s engine. However, my parents and teachers saw it as a distraction preventing me from reaching my full potential. But when I’m balanced, I’m at my best. I’m a more confident person and a better student. As a result, 8th grade was the polar opposite, the meowing cat had become a roaring lion. The 7th-grade laissez-faire, Nathan was replaced with the confident sure of himself Nathan. I got back to doing what I do best, selling my potential.

Ms. Applebaum, my 1st-period teacher, unfortunately, did not realize until the last day of school when she kicked me out of class for the final time that change was not coming. Walking out of her class, she said, “make sure you stop by before you go to your next class.” Yea right, I thought. First, who kicks people out on the last day of school for talking in class? Now I’m missing the talent show! So of course, when the bell rang, I went straight to my next class, disregarding her instructions. But guess who shows up to my 2nd-period class? The door opens, giving way to light as dark room since we were watching a movie and a familiar voice. “Is Nathan here? Can I borrow him for a second?” Damn, I’m caught. I walk out anticipating a lecture, and it inevitably came.

She said, Nathan, I don’t understand you. I told you to come back to my class, but you decided to be rude and disrespectful.  You’re a smart kid with so much potential, but you can’t behave yourself, etc. I’m disappointed. I thought you were better than that. Finally, she says, “I’m going to write you up and put a note in your folder so when you go to high school, your teachers know about you. So they know you are rude and disrespectful.” I thought, really? It’s the last day of school, and you are still making empty threats? Give it a rest lady. Your not the first nor the last teacher or person to be disappointed by me not living up to a manufactured version of my potential.

Divorce Potential:

Our potential is like an uncashed check. The value is not in the piece of paper, rather what it represents when utilized correctly. My life started when I began cashing in on my potential. My 4-years at GWU mark this decision. For the first time, I accepted the challenge to hunt, and it felt great.

However, my 2 years at PwC allowed me to realize I had only scratched the surface. Our purpose represents the right bank. I started off depositing my checks anywhere it was accepted. Putting my energy anywhere and everywhere. As a result, I wasn’t getting the full value of the check because of the fees associated with using the wrong bank.

People who have come to know me over the years often point out these two interesting polarities. At times I can be so well put together and professional yet at other times so lax and unfiltered. Which on the surface seems like inconsistent behaviors. Leaving many to wonder who is Nathan? Is he the businessman in a suit repping BYLU or the guy on a Swan floaty ignorantly screaming Swan Prince. Well, I’ll tell you he’s both.


Potential Roots:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

I still recall going to the movie theater to watch Coach Carter when it first debuted. One of my favorite and most memorable scenes is when Cruz stands up in the gym and quotes Marianne Williamson. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do.” I was deeply moved by the scene’s intensity. However, lacking wisdom, its depth could not penetrate my spirit. It changed nothing about my perspective on life. But now I get it. We are all capable and equipped to be in the arena. Unfortunately, most of us play small and subject ourselves to being a spectator. Or having potential.

Witnessing the harsh remarks of the critics persuades most to avoid the arena. Wondering, is it worth it? Roosevelt challenges those that stand on the fence to get into the arena. Acknowledging that there will be critics but discounting their opinions as they are worthless commentary. Nipsey said it’s all about how you gauge your metrics of achievement, which includes whose perspective you value. Moreover, like my Aunty Brene I’ve committed myself to living in the arena and daring greatly. And I hope you will too!