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Between Hubris & Humility

Growing up, I used to think I was not good enough; I constantly second-guessed myself whenever I tried my hand at most tasks. Somewhere along the way, I became full of myself.

Too many people that may have once lacked self-esteem learn to over-compensate in some senses with inflated egos later in life.

In order to help others who suffer from occasional arrogance, I decided to write about how I transformed from a shy, soft-spoken loner to a sometimes "reckless" playboy.
I went from an earnest and loyal companion to a terrible friend.

I began to be an inconsiderate douche over the years.

Our home life tends to create our personalities first. Then, the choices our parents make regarding which schools we will attend impacts what friends we make and how we interact with our peers.

Since it all begins in the home, I must admit that I was teased by my siblings at a very young age because I had a "lollipop" shape, meaning a large head paired with a stick-thin body.

Moreover, I had a very high-pitched voice until I was about thirteen years old. Before the teasing, I was always being marked on my report cards in elementary school for "not using class time effectively."

Although intelligent, I would socialize a great deal and thus I sometimes did not pay attention to what the instructor said in class.

I was just naturally gifted with an ability to connect with my peers, but, that started to change as I became increasingly teased for the sound of my voice; a trait I could not help.

Slowly, I went from being very talkative to quiet, shy, and nervous.

I became self-conscious early on about every syllable I uttered and the way in which my words were constructed.

There were times I was too embarrassed to open my mouth and speak when I knew the answer to a problem or disengaged completely and did not volunteer to read because I was paranoid of what others might say.

The teasing took a toll on my performance.

I suffered in silence because I did not want to be a "tattle-tell" on my own siblings and peers who had definitely lowered my internal sense of value.

Even though I was very quiet, I managed to make friendships, but, of course these began to wane as I continued to lose confidence.
In addition to being teased for my voice and very thin frame, I was called a "nigger" several times by school mates. I remember vividly the first fist fight I partook in at the age of eight.

The kid I fought called me a nigger after we both got off the bus. The vicious way in which he said the word genuinely enraged me, I was angered beyond belief. I whipped that white boy's ass. I vowed to never let someone outside my race tease me for things I could not control.

I wish I would have made that rule applicable to everyone I came in contact with over the years.

I was called a host of slurs from that age onward in the town where I grew up. Naples, although in South Florida lies in one of the most conservative counties in Florida, Collier County.

Collier County is still mostly white and much less diverse than Miami-Dade County. Although I lived in a community that was more racially mixed than most in the county many people in more expensive suburbs termed my neighborhood "the ghetto," when it was just a neighborhood full of hard-working immigrant families from Haiti, Mexico, Cuba, and other parts of Latin America.

The whites in my neighborhood were often super racist probably because they felt that "their" neighborhood had been stolen from them by minorities.

I encountered racism from older white people in my neighborhood, when they rudely referred to me as "boy" and even "coon."

I was taught that I had to let these insults roll off my back and take them in stride, but, this was easier said than done.

I refused to let white people mistreat me for my complexion.

Nevertheless, I began to let my own black peers call me some screwed up things such as, "blacky, darky, charcoal, tar-baby, blue-black," and other derogatory slurs because everyone in my family said these terribly damaging things already, I was almost expecting the mistreatment based on a color-caste system among people of color.

I saw my dark complexion amongst a sea of lighter black peers as some sort of deformity.

I was "so black" and wanted out.

Blacks who attended my church and school were, of course, just internalizing all the crap that they learned in their homes from their parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and siblings and from the white people who ostracized us.

"Light-skinned" blacks would make statements such as, "well, I am lighter than you" to many darker-skinned blacks. Now I understand that we all wanted to be in the position of power that most whites were given at birth (for no reason other than the legacy of white privilege).

Light-skinned blacks would also contend, "I would hate to be as dark as you," because to be as dark as I was meant to be an easier target for society. I was a target in white and black circles because I could never "pass" as Cherokee, mixed-ancestry, or any other racial classification other than Black.

I thought I was the ugliest one in my family for years because whenever I went to family functions I was compared to my younger brother, who happened to fall into the "red-bone" category, meaning he had a much lighter skin tone naturally.

As a result of my brother's lighter complexion, one of my cruel sisters would say, "You were adopted" to me and claim that my brother was "so cute" while constantly reminding me of how "dark and ugly" I was.

I hated when people outside of my immediate family compared me to my younger brother and said, "Wow, you're brother is much more handsome" or "he has such good skin, what happened to you?"

Uncles, aunts, and cousins would say, "if you were light like your brother, then you would be cute."

I used to cry myself to sleep on a regular basis. I often wondered why I had been cursed with such dark skin.

The same cruel sister would maliciously say, "your brother got all the looks and you got all the melanin."

The insults just tore at my core.

I found a temporary solution when I was twelve. I began to apply a lightening soap on my entire body.

I bought it one day from a Haitian grocery store in town. It promised to lighten my skin. I began using it.

I got lighter and for a while, I got happier.

But, then the soap started to discolor my skin, particularly my face. My mother noticed the change first and scolded me for using such a detrimental product.

She asked, "What are you using?" When I told her the truth, she did not necessarily stop me from the self-mutilation. She said, "nothing was wrong with you." Her words and her actions were inconsistent.

My mother used to say that my brother was born with a "beautiful skin complexion" while I was "just born dark, the only one of all the kids that was dark from birth." She said these things with such disdain that I felt like an ugly duckling all the time and never thought my parents harbored an unconditional love for me as their first son.

I asked her, "how can you tell me it's wrong to use, when you put me down for my skin tone?" After the question, she was silent. I realized that the silence could only come from a place of shame and guilt.

I continued to use the product until my seventh grade class portraits came out. It was then that I realized how foreign I looked.

I no longer recognized myself.

It was awful.

I decided after that day to never use such a disgusting product.

I also vowed that whenever I had kids, I would not pollute their minds with such degrading filth about their complexion.

My confidence soared in eighth grade because I no longer obsessed over my skin tone. I started to love myself more.

I was actually happiest when I got darker and the effects of the soap faded.

I now loved my skin for what it was.

Even though I was still teased for my dark skin complexion by my black peers.

I let the teasing go in one ear and out the other.

I was still stick thin, however, no matter how much I tried to gain weight.

I entered the sixth grade weighing less than 90 lbs and left middle school weighing 125 lbs.

Most of my peers were about 130 lbs at the age of twelve and at least six inches taller than me then. By fourteen, my peers were nearly adult-size, some were even 6'0" and over 160 lbs.

I was weaker than most of the boys in physical education and therefore the locker room was an awkward setting.

Often I would get messed with and dudes would like clockwork try to pick fights with me for no reason other than the fact that these wanna-be thugs wanted to prove their "manhood" by picking on someone much smaller than they were.

Of course, all of them were insecure about their masculinity. Most were cowards, if not, all of them. And yet they degraded me habitually, calling me "faggot" and other hurtful, juvenile nicknames such as "bitch-nigga" and "sissy."

I sometimes took my frustrations out on those who I cared about the most. I started developing a meaner spirit because of the torments.

I learned to be a scrappy fighter, I used my agility to my advantage. I think I learned how to really be a sprinter back then, and I also learned how to out-smart the bullies.

I used sarcasm and wit to get out of potentially messy situations.

Further, I became inspired to be a bit of a comedian because the melancholy I harbored made me more self-deprecating, which allowed others to laugh. The humor was what really empowered me, it was my weapon against a deep-seated sorrow. I was able to construct my identity through humor and wit.

My quick-wit helped me make friends and these friendships proved long-lasting and life-changing. I had to learn to be clever in order to combat my physical weaknesses.

Finally, high school rolled around and I was finally 130 lbs; however, by that time, most of my peers were already tall while I was only 5'2" as a freshman.

As a fourteen year old I had started developing bass in my voice. People no longer made fun of the high pitch, but, they clowned on me for being short, skinny, and nonathletic.

Most girls who had already undergone puberty overlooked me as a potential mate. But, I remained clever.

I left my middle school friends, not because I was arrogant, but, because high school was a new opportunity for me to re-invent myself, I needed to develop my personality and had to find a place where I fit in perfectly.

Needless to say, I found the nerds quickly. I was the only one in my socially-limiting middle school clique to be enrolled in Advanced Placement courses as a freshman.

Most of the other black kids were in remedial classes while I was in all honors.

All of the nerdy friends I met were much nicer to me than my old friends and I still keep in touch with them today.

I love my nerdy friends.

We could sit and talk for hours because we have so much in common.

We all are not really into sports. We all enjoy reading. We all enjoy being studious. The list goes on.

My self-esteem began to flourish by the time I was a junior in high school.

By then, I had joined a bunch of extra-curricular activities. I especially learned that I had a knack for Varsity Quiz Bowl or, as we termed it, the "A-team."

I realized that those years where I had to use rhetoric and wit in middle school made me a skillful debater and eventually joined the Debate Team.

I began to mature gracefully. I adapted to high school through discovering my niche as an amateur historian, philosopher, and comedian.

Then, I entered college and began to mature even more.
I was still undergoing puberty, I grew my first real mustache in the fall of my junior year.

I grew another inch and a half.

Now, I am 5' 9"
I began to get more physically fit.

I was still a nerd; however, my school---Carnegie Mellon---fostered my nerdiness and made it "cool" because I was no longer the only one.

I was literally in a sea of other nerds. For example, there were musical theater nerds...drama nerds...computer science nerds...history nerds...math nerds...science nerds...creative writing nerds...economics nerds...finance nerds...policy nerds...and engineering nerds. I really got in where I fit and it did wonders for my self-esteem.

But, I started to let the good feelings go to my head.

I started "knowing" I was a certain list of attributes. People no longer had to give me reinforcement.

Whereas years prior to college enrollment I was extraordinarily bashful and uncomfortable whenever anyone gave me a sincere compliment.

Nevertheless, I eventually became smug; my sense of self-worth grew exponentially and I felt entitled to good treatment even when I was not always deserving.

I anticipated people to sort of bow down and kiss my ass when speaking with me because I was at a "New Ivy."

These feelings of entitlement were not helped by the fact that many of my college peers had attended Northeastern prep schools their entire lives, or renowned boarding schools in the Northeast and Mid-West, or that I had "yes" people all around, including many professors, who complimented me all the time on how excellent and gifted I was.

I no longer felt inferior to anyone or anything.

I was mentally convinced that I was the stuff.

I started becoming used to getting my way more as if I were on a non-stop high on power and life.

My experiences were markedly different from those I had experienced as a young, middle-income, Haitian-American child in Southwest Florida.

The allure of the high-flying, privileged, world-class life led me down some marvelous paths, and sometimes not-so-exciting ones.

Attending a so-called, "global university," with a pricey tag and many extravagant people connected me with awe-inspiring international students from India, Indonesia, Singapore, Qatar, Venezuela, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, West Africa and South Africa.

Being in the presence of such cosmopolitan people proved rewarding because I learned a fair amount outside my policy classes just through conversations with friends.

I learned about the way in which other cultures and institutions governed their populations. I philosophized and debated policy initiatives and tried to envision a world where the United States actually practiced useful diplomacy with so-called "enemy" nations.

I learned from Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists, and Agnostics.

At times, I might have partied too much, but, the parties were a learning experience. I was not only able to network with some momentous individuals, but also see how dangerous a cosmopolitan existence could be, especially one in which the norm consisted of first-class flights to Europe and Asia, vacations in the Swiss Alps, five-star dining, and other amenities that were outside my grasp.

Sometimes, I experienced the excesses of drinking. I projectile vomited at a lounge, blacked out, passed out, smoked until I could barely walk, and experimented with some powerful substances.

But, all these experiences were worth having. I learned more about myself through having these experiences.

Although, at times I felt that my world was imploding, if not becoming increasingly self-centered.

Oftentimes, I thought my life was much more interesting than the average Joe's and developed an elitist mentality.

Many of my friendships became fickle, superficial, and business-oriented.

My sense of entitlement continued to grow exponentially.

I had graduated from fries, subs, pasta, cheeseburgers and pizza to salmon, lobster, steak, mussels, shrimp, frog legs, rabbit, pike, snapper, lamb, and other elaborate cuisines.

At times, when life's obstacles came I found myself with few 'true' friends to rely on, or simply those who could be honest enough to quell the load of excessive partying.

My weekends were always eventful.

I went clubbing in different cities, I sat in VIP, received bottle service, and met many very influential individuals such as, Sen. Bob Casey, Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Chris Guillebeau, Naomi Klein, Indira Nahir, CEOs, Former Governors, Retired/Current Army Generals, Foreign Ambassadors, Dr. Beverly Tatum, Bill Cosby, Mark Wahlberg, Franco Harris, Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Tom Corbett, The Red Western, and Bill Gates and so on and so forth.

I learned to hold my own in conversations with some incredibly powerful individuals.

I saw many live performances such as, The Roots, Lil' Wayne and the rest of Young Money Entertainment, Blink-182, The Pine Leaf Boys, Three Doors Down, Reverend Raven and the Chain-smoking Altar Boys, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Pittsburgh Pirates, a string of award-winning DJs mixing house and hip-hop at the coolest clubs.

I attended jazz concerts featuring multi-Grammy winning performers, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra shows featuring world-class conductors and listened to my peers perform elegant classical music, sing Operatic melodies, watched masterful theater productions in Purnell Hall, attended poetry clubs and hip lounges.

I drank champagne, fine wines, liqueurs, rums, cocktails, especially martinis and had 36oz tropical fruit cocktails on a breezy afternoon overlooking Ocean Drive on South Beach for New Year's.

I partied like a champion.

I lived for the "scene." I started making statements such as, "everyone will be there," when convincing my friends to attend a social event.

Further, I was always up for a social event.

I even developed a sophisticated sense of style and became fashionable.

I started to live a fabulous existence.

People started asking me, "Where's the after party?" and made statements such as, "You are the party."

Unfortunately, my head size grew immensely.

I desperately needed to get a dose of reality; a taste of the simple life.

So, I came back where it all started---home.

I was grateful to come back because it reminded me that I was once pretty normal.

My life used to be simple.

I found comfort in knowing that in my parents' view, I still had to clean my room, run their errands, and answer occasionally to their very strict rules.

I was still that little kid with the great big smile and the promising future.

To some people, I had become arrogant, vapid and one-dimensional; however, I knew that my nerdy friends from home appreciated every part of me---the good and the not-so good.

I had to remind myself of what I was like before all of my dreams began coming true.

I came home to re-acquaint my increasingly complicated existence with a setting that was hopelessly black and white.

I had to think back to the time when the more diligent and awkward eighteen year old...the kid that was too busy working, volunteering, maintaining a high GPA, and leading four organizations, while also chartering a new one, and taking several online courses, in addition to all AP courses senior year.

The kid that was, in fact, too busy to even think about dating and rarely had time to sleep well or even reflect and enjoy the fruits of his labor.

I never even sipped alcohol in high school. I tried weed once, but, vowed to never develop a habit; in fact, I felt so guilty after that first time that I swore it off until I tried it again during Thanksgiving break freshman year of college.

I was the buzz-kill in high school. The kid who only cared about academic performance, extra-curricular activities, and civic duties.

I had no desire to party back then.

I remember almost missing an award's night my senior year.

I was working as a waiter at the time and had made up my mind to not attend because I felt the night was full of useless pomp and ceremony.

When I told my boss that I was missing it more than halfway through the shift he yelled, "What the hell are you doing here?"

I meekly replied that the event was an unimportant one and he vehemently disagreed, much to my chagrin.

He replied, "No, you go now! Get out of this restaurant and go get your honors."

I rushed into my red 1991 Toyota Tercel with no air-conditioning and got on I-75. I arrived late to the ceremony and was still in my work uniform; but, I was glad that I made it to the event.

That night in April, I started to think that maybe I could achieve my dreams.

I started to envision a life outside of Naples, Florida and outside of Florida altogether.

Before that night, I never honestly thought I had a shot at success.

I constantly felt like I had as a child...ugly and inferior.

I realized then that I could be something greater than a waiter at a fancy restaurant.

I think I had avoided many opportunities for self-aggrandizement during my senior year because I never felt deserving.

I was beneath meek and humble.

Even though people saw wonderful things in my future I never internalized their visions of grandeur.

It took me years to even begin to agree with people who suggested that I was going to be successful, and that I was very mature for my age, as one teacher suggested, "you are 18 going on 40."

If I were wise back then, I feel it was because I had the good sense to avoid hubris.

Life was much simpler when even the smallest amenities and polite gestures brought a genuine smile to my countenance.

My self-esteem was notably lower, but, my virtually non-existent ego made me concentrate on others' needs before my own, it allowed me to be empathetic, to avoid socializing and devote myself completely to my studies and to living a purposeful life.

I always felt inadequate in some way, shape, or form. However, these feelings came because I felt I was never doing enough to make the world a better place.

I went from geek to chic, but, the change happened too quickly, in some senses...overnight.

Therefore, my reaction to all the new-found attention from women, friends, and the increase in genuine offers to party with the "best" of them were too tempting to pass up.

My decisions were irrational, careless, and spontaneous.

I do not regret any of these experiences for they have molded my character in ways that I cannot begin to write about.

There were times that I will never forget because they were surreal.

But, then there were some terrible moments that I wish I could forget and I could have avoided had I been better prepared for life in the proverbial fast lane.

I am working on becoming a more modest individual; a more caring and compassionate gentleman.

I want to be honest and direct with people and confident even, but, I never want to be big-headed.

I am working on being down-to-earth this summer.

It is a difficult process.

However, I am determined that in due time it will happen.

I just need to learn how to let the compliments roll off my back.

I have to learn to let the flattery enter one ear and exit the other just as I had to learn to let the insults not get the best of me.

I have learned that I am who I am and that is all I can be; no one can force me to do anything.

I have to want to learn from my past, but, I do not have to be defined by my past.

People may judge me, but, I am going to keep on pushing forward with an alacrity that this world has yet to appreciate. 
And I sincerely hope that I can remain humble through all of life's transformations.


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