Make Adversity Your Sparring Partner
Rural Northern Ontario, 2016. As I stepped into the dark, dingy, and smelly confines of the boys change room, my heart rate quickened. The narrow space echoed with the cutting banter of the older, bigger guys who comprised most of my workout class. "Shut up, faggot" one said to another. I faced the wall and began to undress. The next remark was directed at me... "you know, girls who hang out with guys are sluts, and guys who hang out with girls are queer..."
Temple Grandin is a philosopher and scientist who inspires me to think differently about circumstances that feel unfair. As a young Temple walked through the hallways of a New England middle school in the late 1950s, her autism made her subject to daily taunting and ridicule that was probably worse than anything I experienced in four years of high school. Later, as a graduate researcher studying cattle behaviour, Temple faced discrimination because she was a woman trying to change a man's industry. Temple went on to revolutionize farm animal handling in favour of better animal welfare. If that weren't enough, her ideas and her story have helped countless young people on the autism spectrum realize their full potential. Temple Grandin's life, which has been beautifully portrayed in a 2010 film bearing her name, is an inspiring example of grit, passion, and purpose in the face of many things not 'lining up.'
To say that I didn't fit in where I grew up grossly understates just how much of an oddball I was. While most of my peers were satisfied with hunting, fishing, and off-road vehicles, I spent my time raising monarch butterflies in my bedroom, researching the behavioural motivations of laying hens, and tinkering with balsa wood airplanes. Like in many small communities, homophobia was alive and well beyond just the locker room, and it drove me away from authenticity, deep into my overthinking mind. The person I was and the place I was in weren't just misaligned, they felt at times like different planets.
In a world with solutions for everything, it's easy to want to 'fix it' when circumstances don't feel right. When we don't fit in socially, we try to change ourselves. When a partner doesn't meet our every need, we either try to force our will or leave them for the next one. When we're not noticed at work or school, we turn to social media for recognition instead. I think approaches like these are missing the fact that difficulty, friction, and misalignment have value.
For me, a rural upbringing was at times painful, but every aspect of my Northern Ontario life instilled toughness. Further still, my childhood circumstances gave me an early and strong connection to my greatest passions. For Temple, facing ridicule because of her autism and later because of her gender must've been disheartening and infuriating, but her story now inspires millions to create and discover in spite of adversity.
No matter how much circumstances change, there's always going to be something that feels out of whack. Perhaps we can treat these challenges less like pests to be exterminated and more like great coaches or friendly sparring partners. After all, what good ever came without a little struggle?