For my entire life I have been what you would call the “black sheep” of my family. I have owned and run a successful business for almost a dozen years, am married to a wonderful woman but I still feel like a disappointment to them. Is there any solution to feeling this way?
I have good news and bad news and as I can’t really ask you which you would like first, I’ll just put all my thoughts on this out there in no particular order. First and foremost I want you to know that being the “black sheep” is a shockingly common affliction among entrepreneurs. So at this point in my life, if I was to look at the herd of sheep that I spend my days amongst, the vast majority of them are not of the white as the driven snow variety. Entrepreneurship is still seen as the road less travelled. The path of the impulsive and the occasionally unwise. It still caries images of uncertainty and lacks the stability of the good old American dream of eventually working your way toward a sunny porch and a pension. Is this picture changing? Every Enron brings us a bit closer to the true story. Corporate America is not who and what you should be trusting your fate and your future to. But the fact remains that in the here and now, entrepreneurs are still the risk takers, the unconventional pursuers of dreams and destiny and more often than not their maverick nature earns them the dubious distinction of the family “black sheep.”
I think we all share a basic definition of the “black sheep” as being the one in the family who doesn’t follow suit, toe the line or fit in in ways that feel expected or presumed by others in the family (usually mom and dad). They are the “rebels” among a group of family members where the idea of being normal, and living up to expectations, be they spoken or assumed, is part of your obligation as offspring. To be fair, I think that there are times when a family’s expectations begin as a lovingly misguided attempt to see their children grow up and be happy and successful. But rarely then is the bridge gapped between wanting good and right things for your children and realizing that they will only be happy and successful if not just allowed, but encourage to pursue that which THEY are passionate about. If our children are allowed to follow their own intrigue, curiosity and heart’s desire, then happiness, the ultimate “success,” is sure to follow. It is one thing to expect things such as honesty, kindness, responsibility, work ethic, etc. from our kids. Those are character traits that every human being should value, practice and aspire to. But to suggest that we can predetermine the path that best suits another human being is throwing effort after foolishness.
I remember years ago in a post-graduate psychology class learning of the term “identified patient.” This referred to a family counseling scenario where the family would present the trouble maker, the black sheep, the rebellious child in the family as the source of angst, frustration and conflict. But ironically this “identified patient” was often the only one in the family that was showing or acknowledging the FAMILY’S dysfunction. Often times, the issue wasn’t the problem child. Rather, that child was akin to the canary in the coal mine pointing to a dilemma far more complicated than the fact that little Joey keeps sneaking out the window at night. I share this not to take an emotional issue and make it academic, but for what it’s worth, there’s a darn good chance that your “black sheep” label is a moniker that speaks to the fact that you’re likely the most authentic, honest, and “normal” person in your little clan.
For reasons that I have yet to thoroughly understand, nearly all children seem to have an innate desire to want to please their parents and win their approval. To a certain degree I think this is our instinctive wiring that guides us toward learning good and right behaviors. However, this goes well beyond bear cubs learning to mimic exactly what berries mama bear eats in the woods. Too often we are afflicted with our own complexity and any parent that denies their children love and acceptance if they don’t fit a certain mold or live up to predetermined expectations should be ashamed of themselves. Every time I see this scenario I wish I could take the weight of this terrible burden off of the innocent shoulders and place it squarely back where it belongs. With the parents who never gave their children the peace of mind and heart of knowing that they are loved NO MATTER WHAT. To know that you are not being measured, graded or compared. To know that love and acceptance are your birth rite, not your task to go about winning and achieving. To know that the uniqueness of you will be honored and embraced, rather than judged and condemned. This SHOULD be the way of things. And if unfortunately it’s not, find a way to realize that this is not about your responsibility to measure up; it is about every parent’s responsibility to revel in the wonders of who their children, no matter what their age, truly are.
So spend your time around those that encourage and embrace who you are. And ultimately, if you can work your way to that enlightened place of loving your parents freely and unconditionally without the taint of hurt and frustration, then you have just put something unspeakably precious back into this world and that is a thing as pure and white and glorious as I can imagine.