You are not in control of your life. You only think you are!
Do you feel attacked?
Would you rather me spew out words of benevolence, telling you that everything is going to be okay? Better yet, you are in control. You don’t have to waste another minute reading this piece. Click off at any time.
Let a lie be your umbrella.
Sitting in Mr. McManus’ Philosophy class, all those years ago, prompted me into the perplexing debate of determinism and free will.
Do we have the freedom to choose our actions? Or is our idea of free will merely an illusion, governed by external forces well beyond our scope of understanding?
In theology, Christians believe that God gave humans free will. However, the paradox lies in God’s omniscient character. If God already knows what we are going to do, how can we truly be free? By virtue, whether we accept it or not, our lives are pre-ordained.
“Religion is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”
— Stephen Hawkings
How’s everyone doing? Y’all still with me?
You cannot possibly read the statement above and not feel an unease come over you. A sense of powerlessness merged with the element of DISARRAY.
Disarray is where, or when, the unexpected occurs. It is the shadow that lurks in your hallway when you leave your bedroom door open at night. It’s finding out that the supposed “love of your life” has been unfaithful. Disarray is the sudden state of unemployment. It is the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, in a helicopter accident.
Disarray is 2020.
If disarray looms at every turn, can we actively choose to avoid such chaos?
Well, shoveling rocks onto a flowerbed at a golf course in Tallahassee, FL wasn’t my first choice. But here I was.
My colleagues and I had just come off winning a Conference Championship with Florida State University. Moreover, I had just been accepted into a very competitive MSc program in Business Analytics. With a burning impetus, fueled by careful deliberation and meticulous planning, I had cultivated the ideal bedrock to accelerate my career trajectory.
Like a surefooted fighter, I had made all the right choices. Why then, did the swelting Florida heat, a shovel in hand, and my drenched work uniform paint a different story.
How the f*ck did I end up here?
Staying The Course
Just when things seem secure, the unknown conveniently rears its ugly head. In this instance, COVID-19 had sent the world tumbling into bedlam.
You could plan all you want, there was no escaping. Again, are we in control? It does not seem likely, does it?
As the world became enveloped in smoke, I subsequently found myself without a job. Florida State University couldn’t possibly rationalize payroll without any student-athletes to cater for. As an international, this spelled ominous implications for my visa. My status was contingent on maintaining active employment.
No job, and nowhere to go? Yay!
When all seemed dire, there was yet another reversal in fortune. An opportunity to join the maintenance staff at the local golf course sprang up. It turns out “Golf” fell into the bracket of “essential” leisurely activities that were still permissible during the pandemic. Coincidently, the Governor of Florida was an avid golfer and a renowned member of this particular country club.
Very fitting, right?
I had no qualms. Perhaps, this was the universe finally aligning itself. External forces or not, I had been presented a route to keep my dreams alive and prove my choices right — Or so I thought!
On my first day, the Superintendent asked me, ‘So, have you operated any heavy-duty machinery before?’
Knowing full well I had been reared in the city my whole life, far away from such equipment, I had to come clean.
I brazenly responded, ‘Yes. Yes, I have’
What? Were you expecting me to say something else? Naturally, I strive to uphold a certain degree of integrity. Always tell the truth — Or at least don’t lie. However, the turbulence of recent events had shaken me to my core. I desperately needed some form of stability. A job? Income? Anything.
Irrespective of how I had answered, I was prepared to bend myself into knots to stay the course.
Most mornings were usually dreary and filled with the dismay of the day’s impending assignments. My colleague, Zay (short for Isaiah), wouldn’t shy away from voicing his contempt for the whole situation.
Zay had been part of our original platoon at Florida State and boasted a well-decorated career as a former shot-putter at the University of Miami. Unfortunately, multiple All-American honors don’t shield you from the cruel twists in life. He was also furloughed and his bear-like frame now had to contend with the rigors of the golf course.
Every morning, Zay would amble out his 1998 Toyota 4Runner and stroll gingerly towards the office to punch in. As the weeks went by, his stroll grew slowly and slowly. It was painfully clear that the course was beginning to take an unforgiving toll on his body. However, what was even more apparent was the clear expression of contemplation written across his face.
What life choices had Zay made to land himself here?
For the next few months, Zay and I were partners and we would work seamlessly together on the course.
Our morning assignment consisted of driving around to every sand bunker and raking up footprints from the prior day’s play.
As the responsible adults, we were, it only made sense for us to use this opportunity to concoct a game we called, “Beat the Golfers”. At 07:30 am, the first round of golfers would tee-off. This bought us an hour to drive around to all 18 holes. The objective was to stay ahead of the quickest golfer, all whilst using myriad raking techniques to create elaborate patterns in the sand.
There were some pretty fast golfers. But we became exceedingly good and would smoke them every time. Hey, could you blame us? We had to keep our minds stimulated somehow.
Roll on the afternoon and the nightmare that is, Runners — This was a colloquial term the staff gave to “weeds”. We had to drive back onto the course and handpick the weeds that were running across the edge of the bunkers. Hence, runners.
Yup, the very same bunkers we had just spent hours beautifully raking.
Zay would proclaim, ‘It’s like taking a sh*t after you have just showered’.
His daily infusion of comedy was a breath of fresh air in such a trying period. Zay became my best friend out on the course. It’s only fitting to make an “Inbetweeners” reference here — Friend. Golf-Friend.
Our paths hadn’t really crossed before, even at Florida State. But now, through a shared struggle, we gravitated towards each other and fashioned a remarkable connection. A connection that can subliminally be traced to our pedigree as young black men.
It can better be expressed as the subtle head nod you give when you encounter another black person at a predominately white function. It’s using terms of endearment like “brudda” or “fam” to describe kins you had just met 5 minutes ago. More terrifyingly, it’s psychological coercion to tighten up when law enforcement drives past, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
Unequivocally, our shared struggle transcended the course.
I never would have imagined that pulling runners would open the floodgates to some of the most thought-provoking conversations I’ve ever had?
Sure, we discussed what epitomizes our ideal woman. Rihanna took top billing for me. However, our dialogues geared towards the topics of black masculinity in a society marred by so much racial discontentment tugged on more than weeds.
We discussed how misconceptions about black men have been superimposed to such a degree that it has hindered our autonomy, and crushed our capacity to cultivate healthy self-perceptions. How can I possibly wrestle with building my own identity whilst simultaneously fending off negative stereotypes that demonize my very existence?
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a world where we aren’t encumbered by systemic racism and oppression and are masters of our own destiny?”
— Tre Johnson
We pulled on differences too.
“I’m Nigerian. Where are you from? Texas, but I was born in Cali”
Zay outlined the gaping distinction between his African-American culture and my Afro-European lineage. I could pinpoint my heritage, he couldn't. Zay was admittedly envious as he yearned for ties to a place with black vibrancy, freedom, diversity, and discourse not blighted by outside forces.
Marvels’ Black Panther offered African Americans such escapism outside of the white gaze. The film was a groundbreaking celebration of black culture, smashing box-office numbers, and grossing over $631 million.
Black Panther was the cinematic representation of the ideological debate Zay and I were having. It was a reflective moment for African Americans to reexamine their standing in this world, both in the literal and metaphoric sense.
Sh*t was deep.
On occasions, our exchanges would come to an abrupt halt when our supervisor would creep over the horizon in his bright, orange Kubota. Let’s not forget, there are still runners to be pulled.
It was Zay’s round to jab at me.
Zay described the unspoken bond he had with his father and the importance of having a male authority figure growing up. He had judged that a few tells in my mannerism made it apparently clear that this was an element I had desperately lacked.
He was right.
Prior to our conversation, I hadn’t given much thought to how this absence skewed my upbringing.
Thomas, Krampe, and Newton (2005) curated a study into father representative in black family structure — 39% of African-American children did not live with their biological father.
While the myth of the “Absent Black Father” is grossly blown out of proportion and often used to drive sociopolitical agendas, it struck a chord with me.
It sparked painful memories filled with unanswered questions. Growing up, there were certain interactions that a young man could only have with his father. This was a void a mother could not fill, no matter how steadfast and tenacious she was.
Consequently, I came to realize how this vacuum shaped the decisions I had made. Lacking any real corrective hand, it has felt as though I had been spluttering through life, unsure of my choices. Simply figuring it out as I went along. It’s been hard.
“Learn from the mistake of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself”
— Groucho Marx
Earlier, when I told the Superintendent “Yes”, this can loosely be translated to “I’ll figure it out”. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s who I am.
The Final Hole
My time on the course came to an end. A few weeks later, so did my spell in Tallahassee. What a liberating experience? Tons of blisters but liberating nonetheless.
What did I learn?
№1: Disarray and Order Aren’t Mutually Exclusive.
The two are intrinsically locked, both taking their respective turns to bask in the limelight. Through the disarray of losing my job, I forged greater clarity about others and better understood myself. Not only is disarray inevitable, but it’s arguably essential in the journey of life.
“Sometimes you must hurt in order to know, fall in order to grow, lose in order to gain because life’s greatest lessons are learned through pain.”
— Lord Pain (Nagato), Naruto
№2: Control is Overrated
Life is an eternally winding road with many seasons. Imagine walking a tightrope across its borders every day. Things can change at any given point.
The CEO of a Fortune 500 company can suddenly find himself stricken with illness, forcing him to relinquish his position. Alternatively, a struggling single-mother could land a promotion that instantaneously reverses her financial situation.
I like the second scenario a lot. It seems familiar — *Wink*
So we’re not in control then?
Circling back to the debate of determinism and free will. We may not have control over what happens to us but we most certainly can control who we are.
You can control your attitude, your beliefs, how honest you are, what books you read, how often you exercise, and what food you eat. You can control how often you say, “I love you”.You can control how kind you are to others. You can control how kind you are to yourself.
№3: Purpose Always Wins
Our choices may be out of our hands, but we all been steered towards a greater calling. Control or not, your life has a purpose.
I challenge you to look in the mirror. Really look. What do you see?
I see a Titan, on the cusp of greatness. Someone who has yet to scratch the surface of his true potential. At the same time, I see someone who has the humility to comprehend when his ego needs to die. Again, he is still figuring it out. He is still trying to determine his purpose. We all are.
So, look in the mirror and lionize your inner voice. You are in control of that much!
“The struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose”
— Chadwick Boseman