On this journey through life, there have been times when it’s been impressed upon me to stay in my lane, play nicely inside of the box, and keep out of the way. But, unfortunately, the systems set up by society are designed for that purpose. My goal is to erase those boundaries, whether subtly or with shouts and raised fists.
I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a sixth-grader attending Chicago Public Schools. No, it was not part of the curriculum. But, it was part of my journey as a reader, instilled in me by my mother, who took us to libraries and bookstores and allowed us to read at the dinner table. So, from age five until forever, I’ll always have a book with me.
Anyhow, I remember being angry at the limitations Malcolm faced due to his racial background, with teachers telling him he need not dream above his station. He was told to stay in his lane in all facets of his life, and like him, my soul was sparked to prove the naysayers wrong.
There will always be someone to say what can’t or shouldn’t be attempted. Then there is the caste system which shackles dreams and hopes, and most people give up on what they want the most because the world makes the struggle to fly so incredibly difficult. Mentors are scarce, resources are limited, and the voices of the naysayers drown out the smatterings of applause. To be the best one can be, one must realize one must be their most vociferous and enthusiastic cheerleader. That could be the difference between success and failure.
I hold on to the words of my biggest doubters and detractors, storing them away only to bring them out when I need them as motivation. My high school chemistry teacher called me a “f**k-up that would never amount to anything.” I’ve had acquaintances and family members make denigrating comments about my writing; trust me, those stung. Instead of dwelling on their statements, I use them as a stimulus to keep going forward, despite the odds against me.
Boundaries are meant to be tested, expanded, and erased. I was kicked out of school during my senior year, and I had few options as a high school dropout. I became a father at age nineteen, and there were those who rang the bells of doom for my life. My first full-time job was as a custodian, and some felt that was as good as it would be for me. Added to these obstacles was the indisputable fact that I was a member of an endangered species, a young Black man.
Whether my obstacles were self-inflicted or not, I couldn’t curl up and die, especially since I had a child who needed me. So I fought through those things, recognizing that I had a higher purpose. I rambled through my toolbox of gifts and came up with a few which should see me through. I needed to win in this life because my mother sacrificed a lot for me to have a shot in this world. It’s a debt I spend every day repaying.
I received my General Education Degree and then followed that up with two years of college while I pondered my next moves. I thought about becoming a teacher but didn’t want to work indoors or wear a tie to work. Funny, right? It could have worked out, and I would have been one of those mentors kids remember when they grew up. But instead, I thought about my passions and became an over-the-road truck driver. That was the best decision I could have made, and I’ve been a driver for twenty-five years.
Fear is the most underrated boundary in life, making us stay within a space defined by others. It isn’t easy to overcome until we recognize that we have nothing to lose. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, etc. According to society, I was not supposed to win. I checked all the boxes for failure. A single mother raised me. I was a young Black male. I was a high school dropout. I was a teenage father. I did not have a college degree. Yet, my determination and acknowledgment of my fear of failure have kept pushing me to overcome obstacles and erase the lines in place to keep me within a box, not of my own design.
Driving across America helped. It inspired in me a desire to not only see the entire country but to travel to other countries. I’ve always been an avid reader, and the tales of fictional heroes and heroines in different places made me want to see where they lived. I also wanted to tell stories through poems or some other vehicle. But there was no blueprint for me to follow, which meant I had to piece together my plan as I went, subtracting and adding as needed.
I published my first book in 2013. I signed my first contract with a publisher in 2016. I became a publisher in 2020. The daughter I became a father to at age nineteen is a mother and owns her own business. I am a mentor and an inspiration to others. I have three books slated for release in 2023, and I will be a featured speaker at the Ozark Creative Writers Conference in October. I visited my fiftieth state, Alaska, in 2021, and by the end of this year, I will have experienced the culture of nineteen other countries. Those are pretty good stats for somebody marked for failure.
Boundaries? What boundaries.
Marlon S. Hayes
Marlon S. Hayes is a writer, author, publisher, and addicted traveler from Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him at marlonshayes.com and on Facebook at Marlon’s Writings. His books are available on Amazon.