In year-seven Derek Shankhill had it so easy. He was dyslexic, had one leg longer than the other and was legally blind. He lived in government housing with a single mother, an incalculable menagerie of cats and seven louse-infected siblings. No one expected anything of Derek Shankhill and consequently his youth was blissfully unhampered by the tyranny of potential.
Some of us will wait decades to taste the sweet freedom in which Derek Shankhill revelled. You see, unlike my classmate, Derek, I was woefully burdened with the privileges afforded one born of healthy, well-educated, middle-class parents: Three square meals a day, my own bedroom and all the Osmond Family L.Ps my pocket money could stretch to.
At school I displayed a precocious flair for English, performed solos in the school choir and held my own on the soccer field. My childhood possessed all the material prerequisites for a future of success and general awesomeness.
The inescapable downside of being given a good start in life is that you are then expected to single-handedly build an even better middle and end. By middle-age, most people have either fulfilled their cursed potential or resigned to the possibility that they never will. One way or the other, the pressure is eventually removed.
No longer indentured to conformity by the fear of failure, I suspect that I, for one, may finally be reaching my potential and it looks nothing like I expected it to. I am learning to wear purple, sit still for long periods, hike snow-capped mountains, cry more, worry less, write silly blog-posts, laugh at myself, ride a unicycle, tell people I love them, let go…Let go…Let go.
Today I am in the privileged position of being able to walk alongside others, to support them, not in chasing their potential, but in finally connecting with the authentic self they want to be in the world, today.
I recently rediscovered Derek Shankhill on Facebook. He is the CEO of a Charity that supports visually impaired children. Derek basks in the love and support of a devoted wife, three well-balanced children and…just one cat.
What on earth might have become of Derek Shankhill had he been given a ‘better start in life’.