If You Want to Change the World (Or When Success is Like Suicide)

If you’re like me, sometimes you’re afraid. Afraid of what? Lions, the dark, breaking a limb, it could be anything.

Some people fear the price of success.

Not necessarily personal success.

But victory for a cause. Victory for community, people, social change.

It takes a special character — or should I say a naive, confident or stubborn one — to fight the establishment, to build grassroots, to try to change the world.

Blake Jennelle says changing the world is an Olympic sport. You hurt. But you develop strength and stamina. You condition yourself to do the superhuman.

Building a movement, disrupting a market, fighting injustice, reforming politics, redefining art – these are as grueling as winning the Tour de France, physically and emotionally.

They make you feel tired, hurt and broken again and again. They make your heart scream and your mind protest that it’s okay to stop.

Every time you say no, I’m going to keep going, your heart gets a little stronger.

It learns to carry you a little farther before that pain and panic roars back. It learns to recover faster, requiring less time nursing your wounds.

The difference between Olympians and everyone else is not that they don’t feel pain and panic, because they do. It’s that they want something so badly that they are willing to feel pain and panic as the price of admission. Sometimes everyday.

Being an Olympian is a choice, and it’s not for everyone. It’s a choice to endure intensely human pain to achieve super human things.

That’s why Olympians are worthy heroes. That’s also why the world desperately needs more of them.

Soak that in for a second.

Jay-Z says success is suicide. He made my jaw drop in awe as I soaked in his words during his mashup with Coldplay at the 2009 Grammys.  When making change, you’re putting yourself out there for vulnerability, scrutiny and martyrdom. You can’t stand for anything without taking on scars.

But I’m here, you’re here because there were people with the skin to take the blows.

Watch 2:30 to 3:17 to hear Jay-Z’s take.

Don’t believe me, ask Michael
See Martin, see Malcolm
See Biggie, see Pac, see success and its outcome
See Jesus, see Judas
See Caesar, see Brutus, see success is like suicide
Suicide, it’s a suicide
If you succeed, prepare to be crucified
Media meddles, niggaz sue you, you settle
Every step you take, they remind you you’re ghetto
So it’s tough being Bobby Brown
To be Bobby then, you have to be Bobby now
And the question is, “Is to have had and lost
Better than not having at all?”

Is it better to have stayed in your shell and watched the world go by? Is it better to gaze passively as your rocket-fire potential dies a slow death? And your community withers?

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Do you have to be a martyr to do good? Do we all die little deaths for the greater good throughout our lives?

If you believe in changing the world, would the vision of victory control your impulses more than the fear of metaphorical death?

What backlash have you (or someone you know) met within your journey? Was it worth it? Any regrets?

But when I think of people I know, or people in the public eye, who took on the Olympian challenge (whether under the radar or out there in front of everyone), all I can do is admire them. You forget about the pain after you  give birth to the child, don’t you?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/spursfan_ace/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Blake says:

    You are so right about the fear of making a difference, and how truly scary it is. Jay-Z says it well too. Great stuff Sheena.

    FYI my last name is spelled “Jennelle.” 🙂

  2. Liz says:

    i like the fact that Jay-z put success in perspective. You can successfully fail too. Fear is a MAJOR factor that stands in the way of realizing victories. Sometimes I wonder if my apathy is a mutation of fear over time.

    1. Blake, thanks for your comment and your original blog post. Sorry about goofing on your last name!

      Liz, that’s a good thought. Apathy is a good disguise for fear and an opportunity cost that causes inertia. Maybe successfully failing is like jumping off a bridge with a bungee cord. You might think you’re going to smash into the ground but you don’t, and you walk away with new insight, more control over your fears and the perspective to get to the next level.

      Everyone, check out the Missioneurs movement started by Blake. It’s a new community of startup and social entrepreneurs in Philadelphia.

  3. Thank you so, so much Sheena for the Missioneurs Movement shout out. It made my day!

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