Let Your Story Be Because Of Your Past, Not Despite It

Let Your Story Be Because Of Your Past, Not Despite It

In trying to succeed and persist despite growing up facing poverty, discrimination, abuse, or violence, we allow external factors and circumstances to define us. But when we allow our lives to be a story of because , that we are where we are because we grew up poor or because we were abused, we don't allow those prior circumstances to control our lives.

Ryan Fan
Ryan Fan

"This league, this NBA, in this era right now? It's not about trade demands, or super-maxes, or skinny-type suits. Nah. Nah, man! It's about all these talented people — realizing together that they haven't been successful IN SPITE of being themselves. They've been successful BECAUSE of being themselves."

My hero Allen Iverson, in a riveting and moving piece in The Player's Tribune, wrote the above quote praising his peers currently playing in the NBA. Like Iverson himself, the current cohort of players in the league have been successful and "made it" not in spite of their stories and lives, but because of them.

There is no better model for life being a story of because than despite than Allen Iverson himself. Early in the article, he tackles a misconception, that he stood for anything in his time. "people really are just out here saying I stood for baggy clothes...Or cornrows? Or tattoos? Or throwbacks? Or anything like that?" He states to us that what he stood for was not any of these things, but something far deeper.

"I'd say I stood for being yourself."

AI.'s story was that he was a cultural icon, basketball myth, and larger than life figure that was often depicted as representing things he didn't ask to represent be a lesson to us all. Haters and devoted fans treated him the same, as if he wasn't a human: "my haters, they use that to pin all this stuff on me that has nothing to do with me. And my fans, it's all love..... but it's almost like they're guilty too sometimes!!"

At the end of the day, AI was just human. "Am I a good guy? Yeah, man, I think so -- ask about me. Have I made mistakes? Man, who hasn't?" It is this question and balance that strikes the core of why he wrote this article to The Player's Tribune: "It's somewhere in between my mistakes and my best self - that's the real me. That's the real AI. And I don't know if y'all have ever really known that dude."

To hear AI tell the story himself is riveting, to me. I was always drawn to AI as my favorite athlete and role model because he stood for being himself, unapologetically. He was the definition of what it meant to be an individual and nonconformist, and what struck out to me is that he respected other people for being themselves, too.

One thing I loved about AI's article in The Player's Tribune is that life is a story of because, not of despite. We are everything we are because of the shit that's happened in our lives, the good and bad things that have been done to us, and the good and bad things we have done to other people. Our identity is rooted in our community and relationships, and naturally, both good and evil will come from those relationships. We spend time with the people we care about most, and no matter who we are, no matter how morally upstanding, faithful, or careful we are, we end up hurting the people and communities we care about. We inflict evil on the people we care about most.

The last chapters of Genesis follow the last days of Joseph, the figure in the Bible who was sold into slavery by his brothers. After years serving as an Egyptian slave, Joseph becomes the vizier of Egypt, with only the pharaoh being the more powerful person in the country. When he reunites with his brothers, old in age, Joseph tells them, in Genesis 50:20: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good."

So for the ways that we have been wronged, hurt, and victimized in our lives, let our life stories proceed because of what happened to us, not despite them. Despite implies that we are trying to resist what has already been done, and it implies that we are trying to control that which is so far out of our control. In trying to succeed and persist despite growing up facing poverty, discrimination, abuse, or violence, we allow external factors and circumstances to define us. But when we allow our lives to be a story of because , that we are where we are because we grew up poor or because we were abused, we don't allow those prior circumstances to control our lives. Instead, we use those stories of evil and misfortune, stories that are so uniquely ours, as motivation, fuel, and resilience to propel ourselves forward in life.

Likewise, life isn't that simple: we aren't always the victims. Every person, innately, is both a victim and a victimizer. Look to the ways that you have hurt people and wronged others. Trust me, no matter how good of a person you are, there are ways you have done so even when you didn't intend to. The fact that we realize we have committed evils and wrongs, that we are not above anyone or anything, is a huge step to take. Let's allow our life stories to also proceed because we hurt and victimized others. That does not mean we should be proud or grateful for our actions, but instead be proud and grateful because of how we learned and grew from those actions and made right with them.

I, Ryan Fan, am who I am, where I am because of the ways other people have helped me and because of the ways others victimized me. I am who I am because of the ways I have helped others and because of the ways I have victimized other people. I will not let any labels, good or bad, tell me who I am: my story is complicated beyond belief, and there would be many chapters to each stage of my life and what I've done and gone through. Yours is, too. Again, we are who we are because of everything that's happened in our lives, not despite those things.

And so, I would like to close out this article echoing Allen Iverson's words in a documentary for The Player's Tribune: "I'm a villain to people that don't rock with me [and] I'm a superhero to the people that love me and care about me."

"I don't think I should defend myself anymore."

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10 Things You Need To Stop Saying To Girls With Tattoos

Mind your own business and life will be gravy.

What is it about other people that make them feel entitled to tell you how to live your life or what to put on your body. If it's parents or another close family member and you aren't in a state to make the rational decisions for yourself, that is one thing... But if you are perfectly capable to think and act on your own, who are they to stop you?

I have four tattoos right now, do I want more? Yes. Will I get more in the future? More than likely. Should you tell me that I shouldn't? No.

1. But you're so pretty...

Is this a roundabout way to insult me? Because I wouldn't look the same with or without the tattoos? Because having tattoos somehow makes women less pretty? Whatever you're getting at, please stop.

2. I don't understand the meaning of your tattoo.

That's okay because it isn't for you to understand. That is why it is on my body. I understand the meaning, and the ones I care enough about to explain it to also understand the meaning, therefore, you don't need to.

3. Aren't you worried about them sagging or running together or becoming unrecognizable when you are older?

No, no I am not. They do and always will hold a special meaning in my heart, whether you can tell what it is or not. I will always know. It is no secret that the older you get the more the skin sags. If you care that much, then I'll just show you pictures of what they used to look like, and it will give me a good way to reminisce about my younger days.

4. Do you only date guys with tattoos?

No, I don't. But, it just so happens that my boyfriend has one, and we have been together since before either one of us got tattoos. He did actually get a little hotter after the fact, but that is beside the point.

5. Did it hurt?

No, I just had a needle being rapidly punctured into my skin at who knows how many times per second.

YES, it hurts.

But, not for long, and to me, that might even be the appeal of getting tattoos because it is nice to feel pain every once in a while to remind ourselves we are all human and we all bleed red.

Yes, depending on the spot and your body type sometimes you bleed. I got my first tattoo on my rib cage, and I got my second tattoo a short few months later, not to say they didn't hurt but for me, the end result outweighs the pain in that moment.

Pain is temporary, but tattoos are forever.

6. What do your parents think?

Whatever they want to think, honestly. Luckily, I'm fortunate enough to have parents who love me for who I am regardless of my tattoos.

With that being said, they all have tattoos themselves.

They can give me their opinion on the design I choose, but at the end of the day, I am an adult and they aren't going to love me any less if I were to get a tattoo that is not appealing to them.

7. You're going to have such a hard time finding a job.

Actually, I have a job, I know plenty of people in their "adult" jobs that have tattoos and mine are all easily covered if the problem ever arises. Also, you don't know me or my career goals so once again, who are you to tell me about my life?

8. I'm thinking of getting [insert tattoo here], what do you think?

You do you, boo boo. If you like it, GREAT. If it has or doesn't have meaning to you, also GREAT. I don't want you telling me or judging me on the tattoos I decide to put on my body, so I'm sure as hell not going to do it to you.

I may not think it would be good to put on my body, but once again, I am not the one getting it, you are... So have at it!

9. Why would you waste your money on those things?

Idk Sarah, why do you waste money on that expensive ass bottle of liquor knowing it's going to be gone in a few hours, and you will feel like crap the next day? At least mine is permanent and makes me feel empowered ALL THE TIME, unlike your alcohol, that is temporary.

10. When are you going to stop?

When are you?

They all have a very special meaning to me. I won't get a tattoo that doesn't have meaning to me but I WILL NOT judge you for doing it. Because who am I to tell you what to do with your own body. So stop saying these things to women.

Mind ya own business and life will be gravy.

Cover Image Credit: Kayce Davis

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This One’s For Africa


Read through to the end for an amazing Toto reference.


It's now been a week since I stepped foot on the African continent for the first time in my life. I first visited Johannesburg, where my dad and I spent a day on an 'apartheid tour.'

This tour consisted of visiting Shanty Town, one of the poorest communities in South Africa. The living conditions were indeed different. They had to steal electricity through homemade wires connected to the telephone poles. They had only a few porta potties for ten families to share. They had several spickets to obtain fresh water from. There was no heating in the houses, which were made from pieces of painted aluminum.

Such inconvenient circumstances have come from years of oppression towards black people in South Africa. It was incredibly sad to know that these problems still exist and that apartheid only ended so recently.

On the other hand, the people showed very little anger. Despite their living situations, the people of Shanty Town were so kind and welcoming. Everyone we passed smiled and waved, often even saying hello or asking about our wellbeing.

It brought some serious warmth to our hearts to see their sense of community. Everyone was in it together, and no man was left behind. They created jobs and opportunities for one another. They supported each other.

The next part of the day included a tour of Nelson Mandela's old house. We then made a trip to the Apartheid Museum.

Overall, Johannesburg did not disappoint. The city contains a rich history that human beings as a whole can learn a lot from. Johannesburg is a melting pot that still contains a multitude of issues concerning racism and oppression of certain cultures.

After two days in Johannesburg, my family made our way to Madikwe game reserve, where we stayed at Jaci's Lodge.

The safari experience was absolutely incredible. Quite cold (it's winter in Africa right now), but amazing enough to make up for the shivering. We saw all my favorite animals: giraffes galore, elephants, zebras, impalas, lions, hyenas, wildebeests, rhinos, you name it. While my favorite animal will always be the giraffe, I don't think any sighting could beat when two different herds of elephants passed through a watering hole to fuel up on a drink.

Finally on June 1st, I flew to George to start my program with Africa Media in Mossel Bay. On Sunday, we went on an 'elephant walk.'

The safari was certainly cool, but that makes the elephant walk ice cold. We got to walk alongside two male elephants - one was 25, the other 18. They were so cute!! We got to stroke their skin, trunk, and tusks. They had their own little personalities and were so excited to receive treats (fruits and vegetables) at the end of the journey.

My heart couldn't be more full. Africa, you have become my favorite continent. And it sure is going to take a lot to drag me away from you.

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