Brenton Weyi offers a personal anecdote on how poverty can teach you about what is truly important in life.
The modern man has a lot of weight on his shoulders; providing for himself and his family, contributing to society, being active in his community and the million other obligations that he pledges himself to.
But in this day and age, it’s so easy to get caught up in your image, in social media, in every day frustrations that you lose sight of what’s important. For me, that lesson came through poverty. And after a few years, I realized that going through periods of having nothing can show you just how many gifts are present in your life.
One day in my childhood, I came home from elementary school in tears. I had a small hole in my shoe and everyone is school had made fun of my incessantly, adding the fact that I didn’t have Air Jordan’s like everyone else as insult to injury.
I told my father about what had happened. My father was a strict disciplinarian, but he was also loving and especially compassionate whenever I or my brothers were truly upset. But on this occasion, things were quite different.
“I don’t care!” he shouted. I still can feel how much my eyes bulged as I suffered from sheer shock.
He continued. “I don’t care what people say. Those shoes are fine; and when you are man, you will learn not to compare yourself to other people. As long you have clothes and food—which I will make sure of—you need to focus on your education. Maybe one day you will lose your house. Maybe one day you will lose your car. But your knowledge is something no one can ever take away from you. You don’t need $150 shoes to prove anything to anyone.”
Two things happened after he finished. First, I hated my dad in that moment. I thought he was insane and that he didn’t care about the ridicule I would suffer each and every day. Second, I realized how much less my family had compared to everyone else. In addition to the third generation hand-me-downs I found myself wearing, I figured that most people didn’t have to worry about whether or not they would eat that night.
I kept going to school every day. And I kept getting teased every day. But soon, something strange happened. A strange feeling started to well up inside of me. I started working harder; a lot harder.
I knew that I could excel in school and prove that I had just as much worth as everyone else. And so I did. I got statewide honors and a multitude of accolades. My parents could not have been happier, and actually, neither could I. I would confidently walk about the school, being kind to people, and the teasing stopped—long before I had cared to notice.
But I didn’t fully realize the impact of my father’s words until the end of high school. Knowing that the only way I could get into a good college was to get a full-ride scholarship. So I worked harder and longer and smarter than most other people. And I got into one of the best schools in the country—on a full ride.
And I fully adopted the sentiments when I found myself in Southeast Asia—out of college, and completely out of money—scrounging with other poor people who were incredibly kind and generous with little they had.
So many moments of having nothing have in many ways shaped the man I am today, but more importantly—have taught me lessons about what being a man means. There will be a time (or many) where you will have every reason to give up. When your world gets turned completely upside and no one is there to pick you up but. And it’s in those times that you become a man, and in those times that you become a better man.
There is nothing more intrinsically motivating and valuable than knowing that you are working for your very livelihood. That you are working to create a brighter future for yourself and anyone else who may come into your life.
I find so many men worrying about keeping up appearances and fretting over petty problems. So perhaps these men could benefit from a little poverty and struggle. Having nothing could be a valuable and transformative (theoretical) exercise for any man.
It reveals to you the important things in life—relationships, kindness, hard work and humility. It also reveals the nature that you as a man were blessed with—resilience, steadfastness, and creativity. And finally, it shows you the cyclical nature of life. It’s the constant ebb and flow taking you from peaks to troughs that we all must accept.
Once men learn to embrace the struggle, to fall in love with it, they are able to ascend to new heights and gain new insights that they never thought possible.
No, I never got those Air Jordan’s. But I what I did get that day is something that no amount of money could ever buy. And something that I believe every man could profit from.
photo: in digo photography / flickr