“Does Mike Brown have any idea of just how lucky and just how fortunate he is?”
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For every member of The Undefeated’s staff, it is an honor and a privilege to provide our fans with the latest insights and developments in the world of sports, race, and culture. You may already know some of our staff members from their frequent appearances on ESPN, or by reading their work on our website. But, we wanted to introduce you to the staff members who make things happen behind the scenes. Here they discuss what inspired them to join The Undefeated.
“Youth must be the worst time in anybody’s life. Everything’s happening for the first time, which means that sorrow, then, lasts forever. Later, you can see that there was something very beautiful in it. That’s because you ain’t got to go through it no more.” – James Baldwin
’Tis that time of year again: Across our fruited, Photoshopped plains, the young people are graduating. Clutching, in both hands, their diplomas and ravenous ambition, the next generation is ready to seize the day, because in these United States of America, the true measure of a person is their success … or lack thereof.
For the millions of young people trying to make sense of the whirlwind of emotions within them, not to mention their rapidly maturing debt load, ’tis the season when an avalanche of advice descends upon them.
We want to believe that success brings clarity to our world … or, at least, to the worlds within us. We want to believe that success is what rewrites the melodramatic scripts of our confusing psychodramas, giving us the standard happy ending of American exceptionalism. Success puts a strut in our step, clears the complexion, makes us popular, gets us laid. Success, baby — it’s the American way!
But read the biographies, blogs and Instagram feeds of famous men and women, and for all those moments in the sun, there are still plenty of dark days. There’s still a surfeit of day-to-day pain and regret, even as actions influence generations. There’s still reality. Our bruised, lonely world puts such a premium on success while refusing to admit that true success is knowing yourself, knowing what makes you happy and knowing your values so as to construct a life that makes sense to you.
Therefore, young people, as you march through your commencement ceremonies and people ask you what you’re going to do next and what you want to do with your life, realize that their questions are more redolent of their fears and concerns than anything to do with you.
I so clearly remember being 21, about to graduate from Wellesley College, with no plan whatsoever. I had been a child actor (#redundant) on Sesame Street, a produced playwright at age 18, and was graduating with academic honors. But how any of those “advantages” — as if spending your childhood chatting up Oscar the Grouch about favorite letters and numbers was technically an achievement, per se — added up to gainful employment …? I couldn’t quite figure out how any of my eclectic experience was supposed to come together and earn me a regular paycheck. And yes, I had internships. Yes, I worked on campus. As a child actor, I had been earning a paycheck since I was about 4, so I knew all about hard work. But wasn’t college supposed to explain everything in my so-called life?
Perhaps I was naive; I was, after all, majoring in history, with a concentration in Russian area studies. But I studied history because I loved history. (Still do.) Even at 21, when people “helpfully” suggested I make a living out of history, I thought that was hilarious. I studied history because I found it fascinating. What could my obsession with Russia’s experience in World War II have to do with paying rent, and making a career?
And yet, it was exactly my love of history — and the fact that I studied something I cared about, without expecting it to bring me any immediate financial gains — that allowed me, over time and effort, to build a successful life on my own terms. I attribute a large part of that attitude to being a voracious reader as well as child actor and learning, at a very young age, to not put much faith in the man behind the curtain. You’re 4 years old, and you see Snuffleupagus hanging from the ceiling — it’s all downhill from there, Sunshine. You gotta make your own way.
Is it the young people who need advice … or the rest of us? We who are watching the next generation graduate and hoping, worrying, that they’ll do all the things we weren’t able to do? Are we worried for them … or for ourselves? Do we want to give advice … or receive it? Are we perhaps hoping this time around we’ll know the secret: the secret to finding a job, to making a career, to successful networking, the secret to success? The secret to bouncy hair, to true friendship, to getting a boy to ask for a second date, to democracy, to parallel parking, to good pie crusts, to better credit scores. The secret to making our parents proud. The secret to life.
We older people know how good life is at devouring our joys and slurping, hungrily, at our courage, leaving us frightened and alone. We’re all wounded now. We know that the rules of life are, in large part, a formulaic construct meant to soothe the babies and cue the politicians as to when they should be shocked and outraged. We know that the majority of our lives seem to be shoddily constructed Potemkin villages: taxes, parking tickets, bad sex and worse wine. We love to mock millennials, but perhaps we should admit that we’re somewhat jealous. They are, after all, only on the cusp of this destructive knowledge. They still believe in their power, if not their responsibility, to have a meaningful impact upon life. They are very lucky.
And when the young people come to me seeking advice, of course, for many of them, their greatest fear is failure. Many of them, understandably, have no idea what it is they want to do … but they know they can’t afford to not be successful. Because success is the point … right?
In America, we use the talisman of constant, unrelenting success to wash ourselves clean of the confusing years of childhood, middle-school proms, our subconscious, dead pets, news you can use, eating disorders, failed friendships, divorced parents, loveless families, sexual abuse, weight gain, recorder lessons, touch football, date rape, the loneliness of life. All of that will be, must be solved by SUCCESS. SUCCESS must make us whole again.
Add to this toxic witches’ brew the real-time psychopathology that is social media, and think about what it is to graduate from college nowadays. Consider the impact of being constantly barraged by friends’ and enemies’ (#samedifference) Photoshopped amazing, unicorn-filtered lives. And now perhaps you may begin to grasp that our young people are under constant emotional attack. On the cusp of making their own lives — a journey that necessarily entails small successes and huge mistakes, taking risks, breaking your heart, challenging yourself — our young people are indoctrinated to the cult of success: i.e., the cult of fear, the cult of your permanent record.
When I graduated from Wellesley, I decided to return to Russia; I had spent my junior year of college there, and I was curious as to whether or not I could make a life. I told my parents and a few dear friends … and I hit the road. I had no audience watching, waiting, to see if I’d fail. I had no audience to make me feel that I owed them an entertaining journey, sprinkled with inspirational quotes. I had some savings, my boyfriend and a vague notion that somehow life would find me.
Life — as it is wont to do, as it’s been doing for millennia — did its thing. I was fired from my first job, got drunk, indulged in masturbatory self-pity and eventually found a much better job that launched me on a much more exciting career. Don’t worry, it wasn’t all days of wine and roses.
Here’s what I know:
Believe in yourself and your dreams.
The pressure on new graduates to achieve and be worthy of their debt load is suffocating. Take a deep breath and relax. You owe nothing to anyone but yourself. Be respectful to your elders … and then go ahead and do whatever makes sense to you. (It’s what the rest of us did.) Have empathy for yourself and resolve, here and now, to fight for your dreams. Fight for them … even as you’re still not 100 percent sure what they are. By “fight,” of course, I mean allow your dreams to happen.
I experienced so much success by simply going to Russia because I was interested in the experience. To this day, when things get difficult, I think, “Well, I survived Russia … I’m sure I’ll figure things out.”
If I hadn’t gone, I would have learned the lessons of fear and self-doubt, and those are very damaging lessons. Those are very potent lessons. They don’t just destroy your professional dreams, they attack all aspects of your life, from the love you want to the very life you allow yourself to lead. You have to believe in yourself, and your worth, to fight for what you want, and that’s very difficult to do if you keep letting fear be your guide. Fear has only one lesson to teach you: more fear. Fear is greedy. Fear wants everything you have. Fear is insatiable.
Fake it till you make it.
When I began this business in 2008, I was coaching myself as much as clients. Coaching myself that I still had something important to contribute. I had to talk big and present myself to outsiders as the success story that, trust me, I did not feel like inside. Inside I felt like a fraud, a hack, a disgusting failure. And yet, I still had to pay the rent, keep the lights on and feed the damn cats. I had to pick up my dry cleaning. I smiled for the world, cried in the shower and coached everyone, anyone I could. And s-l-o-w-l-y, things started turning around. Like the client who called me screaming to brag that she had been offered the job we had fought for, saying, “Carlota, I never doubted you!” Well, thank God, since I had doubted myself plenty.
I doubted myself, but I also knew that giving in to that doubt was a luxury that I simply couldn’t afford. I knew that doubt, if allowed to mature and fester, would lead to more doubt. In the midst of despair, I gave myself ruthless permission to hope. And I was ruthless: I surrounded myself with people who supported me and cut off friends who even implicitly encouraged me to give up. I was fighting for my life. So are you.
You can’t give up.
In the early years, people would say to me, seeing my poverty, exhaustion and other fun stuff, “When are you going to give up?” And I would glare at them. Give up? People say “give up” like it’s a one-size-fits-all remedy. Unhappy in life? Oh, hell, just give up! But giving up is a process: When you give up on one part of your life, you end up giving up on everything. And then what? You still have to live within the remains of whatever you’ve allowed yourself.
On the other hand, when you refuse to give up, you’ll have your own heartaches and regrets, lost loves, bad days and all the rest. I didn’t take a vacation for seven years. *shrugs* On the other hand, over those seven years I created a life that doesn’t require time off; I get to wake up in the morning and love what I do. (Do you believe that you deserve a job you love? You damn well better if you want any hope of creating that job.)
Be extremely wary of those people who encourage you to give up. Somewhere along the line, they gave up on their own dreams; therefore they absolutely hate to see other people doing what they didn’t have the strength to do themselves. Your dreams are as unique as you are, so don’t ask others for permission or approval! Do your dreams make you feel alive? Great. That sound you heard was you giving yourself permission to create a life you love. Ding!
Use what you have to create what you need.
How hungry are you? The men and women who shaped, for better or worse, our world, the people who inspire you … trust that they endured countless, brutal rejection. They lived and died alone. They affected humanity within the prison of their own suffocating loneliness. They created joy within a vale of private tears. But they had the courage, or desperation, to believe in something bigger than themselves. It’s hard, yes … but the alternative is far worse. The alternative is giving up on yourself. But spoiler alert: You still have to live with yourself.
Do what you believe in.
Do what makes you feel alive.
Do what makes your heart beat faster.
— Alec Ross (@AlecJRoss) May 15, 2017
When I grow up, I want to be like Cahree Myrick.
I didn’t know who he was until this morning when this crossed my desk. I have no context for this photo other than what’s tweeted. Alec Ross, by the way, is running for governor in Maryland. But his political career aside, let’s talk about the sport.
Chess, for years, was the purview of dudes on park benches and European dudes who took things extremely seriously. Over the past decade, it’s grown quite a bit in the black community, with after-school programs being the primary vehicle. Here’s a story about one in Ferguson, Missouri, for example. As a concept though, the effect of teaching black kids to play chess is such a marvel that it’s been the subject of pretty serious academic study, too. You might be familiar with Maurice Ashley, the first black chess grandmaster, who’s been at the forefront of this movement.
But let’s talk about this kid. I have a kid brother in middle school. He dresses exactly like this every day possible. When I was his age, I dressed exactly like this, every day possible. It was my outfit for walking to the gas station to get snacks, maybe hitting the mall with a friend or lounging at my cousin’s house. This young man decided to rock it to a chess championship. And he won.
I have no clue what any of his competitors wore, but I like to imagine that they wore the kind of stuff your parents forced you to wear to Sunday school — you know, just in case someone took a picture. My man Cahree rolled up in some slides, banged a couple of checkmates and walked away with a trophy.
This is black boy joy.
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If I only watched the commercials, I’d assume that Beats By Dre was worn only by professional athletes warming up for games or trying to ignore the public. The company, started by rap mogul Dr. Dre, became popular with players a while back, but the company does not seem to have branched out from that marketing tactic since it took hold.
Back in 2014, as part of the “Hear What You Want” campaign, we got ads with LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Colin Kaepernick doing just that. In the latest commercial, we get more of the same, to an extent. This time, to the tune of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” we get focused dudes headed to the arena, ready to show their support. But you’ll notice, they’re not actually wearing the headphones while driving — but they are when the power walk starts.
Good to see that Beats is promoting safety first, as distracted driving is a real threat. Ask Gregg Popovich.
I don’t know how you feel about avocados. On Monday, they became a very intense topic of conversation when some rich guy decided that they and millennials were to blame for everyone’s housing problems. So, I had to write about it.
So, let’s review how things went down when Russian officials came to the White House. Openly mocking the media because the head of the FBI had been fired the day before, President Donald Trump then decided to let Russian media into the Oval Office unfettered while he didn’t allow American media in at the same time. Then he rolled out Henry Kissinger, of all people, for U.S. media, a troll job of epic proportions. Now, in a major bombshell, it turns out that Trump actually shared intelligence with those officials. Wowzers.
Tonight: Trump plagiarized his commencement speech from Elle Woods in Legally Blonde pic.twitter.com/EScE4B02F8
— Fallon Tonight (@FallonTonight) May 16, 2017
Speaking of the president, remember when Dave Chappelle defended him? It was a strange moment in pop culture when a guy who spent a reasonable amount of time mocking other commanders in chief suddenly decided that the guy he wanted people to remain open-minded about was, of all people, Donald J. Trump. On Saturday Night Live, no less. At the time I was seriously shocked but thought, when you’re that rich, you can be lenient with people. Well, how’d that turn out? Now, Dave is saying he regrets making those comments.
There are a few shows that are watchable no matter when or where you see them. These days, programming fits such specific spaces in our lives that not many programs are easy to just flip on and enjoy. But one show that definitely fits that mold is Shark Tank, for my money one of the best things we’ve got going in this medium. I love it. A few people I know have been on it, with a modicum of success, which is part of what makes it so cool. It feels pretty accessible, in general. Anywhom, guess who’s joining as a judge next season? Alex Rodriguez.
Is James Harden a goon? I don’t mean that in a jokey way that folks use now for people who operate in a shady manner and uphold an otherwise good standing in the community. I’m talking about an actual goon who’s willing to hurt someone physically for embarrassing him in public. Moses Malone Jr. is accusing Harden of having some associates jump him after he posted on Facebook about how the Rockets star was charging a lot of money for his basketball camp. If this is true, not a good look for the bearded one.
Coffee Break: If you know me, you know that I love to collect vinyl. Whenever I go on a road trip, I make sure to seek out a record store to at least look, if not certainly to buy something. It’s a fun way to explore places and build my collection. Here’s a TED talk about the culture of record digging. Great idea.
Dessert: We’ll just leave you with this.