By: Taylor Zachary ~Columnist~
Until I was 18 years old, I understood my identity, in all of its complexity and humanness, through the condensed lens of athletic ability. This lens was influenced by the expectations of my peers. Surrounded by coaches, friends and teammates who could all, with immediacy and clarity, articulate my unprecedented talent in baseball. Knowing myself through athletic identity seemed righteous.
I was affirmed and critiqued according neither to my morals nor the moral development of a Black boy and never encouraged to evolve my character into that of a more honest, conscious and less problematic human being. Rather, I was encouraged to create the illusion of morality. Developing a healthy public image created an attractive athletic image, a marketable brand. And for this reason, my brand and the brand of a team, I should not truly be morally conscious but simply seem so.
I learned success the way athletes are called to know success. We are conditioned to understand success as the end goal of an indefinite process which includes competition, failure and triumph. Every athlete carries with them an inherent desire to be the best at what they do. Quotes such as “if you are working hard, work harder” or “while you’re sleeping, someone else is grinding” are applied in sports to reaffirm a fundamental principle of American culture: Hard work triumphs.
Centered in this American principle is a certain form of selfishness which centralizes ego and me-ness. We are familiar with the language of success centered in ego. You don’t grind as hard as me. I am the best. Despite the odds, I am going to make it.
We are just as familiar with the language of failure centered in ego. For example, despite hundreds of basketball games, ebbing and flowing with successful and non-successful plays, Michael Jordan always blamed himself for the team’s loss, especially if he missed a crucial shot in the closing seconds. A burden of personal responsibility is fundamental to athletic identities.
As I evolve beyond my athletic identity, opening my eyes to many faces of myself which I have come to adore, the process of unlearning continues arising as a fundamental and indefinite project of personal evolution.
While I explore my newfound identity as a writer, truly and deeply at times, I often carry old baggage into this new terrain. Three years ago, I struggled putting a sentence together and today, ironically, I am still unable to articulate a thorough comprehension of grammar.
Mastering the craft of writing, just like any coveted art form or vocation, requires a commitment to countless hours of study and practice. Hours spent with pen to pad evidence my writer’s work ethic.
However, the lurking baggage of my athletic identity leads me to conceptualize success as a writer via a process of me-ness and ego-centered hard work. Into the terrain of writing, I carry with me the same language with which I was raised. I am the best. Despite the odds, I am going to make it.
But, I am learning that in art there is no space for ego.
It is this truth which reaffirms the importance of unlearning he whom I once was. I cannot exist, as an artist, as a writer, with any true sentiment of integrity if I do not struggle for it. It is by a commitment to the ethos of unlearning ego that I am truly learning what it means to be successful.