‘Who Are You Uninterrupted?’
Written by Tawana Bain
The other day, I saw a video that stopped me in my tracks and really made me think. It was from entrepreneur, author, public speaker, and podcast host Felecia Hatcher, who, I’m happy to say, was a guest speaker at the Black Girl Magic brunch during Derby Diversity Week in May.
Someone had asked her, “Who are you uninterrupted?” Her response was, “I’ve worked for some of the biggest companies in the world, and I’ve never heard that question. But moreover, I could not answer it when I heard it, so I just wrote it down. I looked at that question for a full week. If nothing stood in the way of me achieving my success, what would my life actually look like? If at every intersection of your life, the light isn’t red. It’s not yellow. It’s only green, what would you build? And I think to answer that question, you also have to think through, well, what interrupted you, to begin with? And how do we carry that into pitch meetings and board rooms? It’s probably been one of the most impactful questions of my life.”
The first thing this brought to mind were all the people throughout history and alive today who just could not and cannot achieve their potential because of the obstacles in their paths. How, somewhere out there, the hands that might write the words that bring the world to a new plateau of understanding, the voice that could sing the song that melts the coldest heart, the mind that could crack the code to cure cancer, all might sit under incalculable odds, preventing the world from benefiting from their gifts. It’s a harsh notion, and to starkly reckon with it is staggering. When we hear inspiring stories of influential people who persevered, we always think about what they overcame. What about the much greater number, whom history forgets or never knows, who are not able to reach actualization? We weep not just for them but for ourselves, for we never hear their song, read their words, or benefit from their genius.
“To struggle is to live, and the fiercer the struggle, the intenser the life. Then you will have lived, and a few hours of such life are worth years spent vegetating.”
But then, there’s the other extreme to consider. What would be the incentive to do anything in a life without challenges? Is the key to achievement … perseverance? “Struggle!” wrote the geographer Pyotr Kropotkin. “To struggle is to live, and the fiercer the struggle, the intenser the life. Then you will have lived, and a few hours of such life are worth years spent vegetating.”
When I think of my life, I know I have been blessed. In so many ways. But it’s not always or even often been easy. Every achievement was an achievement because there was a challenge. I think about how Ben E. King sang, decades before Tupac’s Rose That Grew From Concrete, about a flower in Spanish Harlem:
It is a special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming
Part of why the rose was so special was because it had struggled. If whole flower gardens grew out of sidewalks…well, how unique would those flowers be?
So often, you hear that we should not wear our struggles as a badge of honor. Well, then, where should we wear them? I dare to say I don’t want to look like what I have struggled through, but I also cannot pretend that I am floating through this life effortlessly. And I can only imagine the impact I would make if I were uninterrupted. Do our struggles define us? No. But our struggles do refine us. So, for now, I am working to focus on the moments where although the interruption is looming, so long as it has not yet occurred, I will keep moving. I will keep striving and walk as though I know the interruption has the chance to catch up to me, yet hopefully optimistic… that it doesn’t.