The Advantages of a Disadvantage

My gang of friends.  I'm on the top step.
One of my early childhood tribes, Rochester, NY  (I’m on top step)

I re-connected with an old friend last week.  We hadn’t seen each other in 43 years!  Other than my family members, I have known this friend longer than anyone else in my life, except for one other.  But we hadn’t been in contact with each other, until a few months ago.  We’ve had  a wonderful exchange of emails and a bit of serendipity that led to an in person reunion. It’s been a cathartic experience for both of us.

We were teenagers, who used to “hang out” together. We went to different schools and we lived in different neighborhoods but for a couple of quick years, he, I and a few other friends, hung out together, on the warm spring and summer evenings of our youth. Until I moved…..again.  It was probably the tenth time that I had moved and changed schools, and I was only 16 years old and mid-way through my junior year of high school.   I suppose you could say that I had lived the life of a rolling stone. But it was what I knew.  In one of our dialogs, I reminded him about that move, and he looked at it, as tragic.

In a way, I suppose growing up in a transient lifestyle was a bit tragic.  Just when I would make friends, and feel like I was part of my “new school”, we would move again, to a new community. My dad was climbing the “corporate ladder” and with each promotion came a series of moves. I was the perpetual “new kid” and I guess I was always in search of a “new tribe”.  I grew up, a product of change.

I recently finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants”.  He talks about people who have turned the disadvantages  that they’ve had in their lives, into advantages.  Each chapter unfolds into a story about a highly successful person who had to overcome obstacles or disadvantages in their lives – everything from losing a parent to being dyslexic.  One example Gladwell cites is about a high profile Hollywood producer who had worked his way from his impoverished beginnings to fame and fortune.  His children had everything, but he was worried about their future.  He knew that if they didn’t have to “work” for something, they wouldn’t know the feeling of accomplishment and success.  They would not have the “advantage” that he had growing up, the advantage of being poor.

I realized after reading Gladwell’s book that what I might have looked at as a disadvantage, my nomadic life, was probably the biggest advantage I had.  It has made me take chances in my life and not be afraid to initiate an interaction.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have made friends.  It made me love school because I knew that was where I would connect to people in my new community. I learned to adapt to change.  If I didn’t I would have been miserable all the time or afraid – or both. Instead, I have lived my life, continually exploring my curiosities, whether it is visiting a foreign country, embarking on a new creative project or expanding my craft.

Would I have wished my nomadic life on my daughter?  Probably not, it wasn’t easy. But it certainly had its rewards.

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