The Chip on My Shoulder Made Me Do It: On Motivation and Being the Underdog
Growing up, I had a HUGE chip on my shoulder. I always felt like I had something to prove because I never felt good enough in comparison to my older brother.
I have analyzed this from every possible angle, and have settled on the notion that this one thing about me has quite possibly been the greatest factor in determining the trajectory of my life and career as a disruptive therapist thus far.
So, instead of being bitter about that chip, I’m actually grateful for it. Here’s why:
My brother Jason, who is two years my senior, is a genius. A real one. Most people use this term loosely to describe really really smart people—that’s not what I am doing here.
Here’s a snapshot: Jason skipped first grade, aced the SAT’s without studying, went to Princeton undergrad, aced the MCAT and LSAT, attended Harvard Law, and delivered the commencement speech at graduation alongside Alec Baldwin (that was a cool day). I’ll never forget reading a recommendation letter from his Harvard professor likening him to President Obama. So yeah folks, that’s what I was dealing with here.
Because of the accolades and attention, Jason would regularly receive, I spent the better part of my childhood and teen years feeling like I was in his shadow; I was quick to attack and get defensive. My family called me “feisty,” which was putting it nicely. I also constantly fought with Jason. I would call him a “shrimp” and a “nerd” in an effort to make myself feel superior, or even just up to his level.
Obviously, it never worked; it only served to build up my resentment, hurting me, and my self-esteem. It couldn’t have felt good on his end either, though he never blamed me or made me feel bad, which actually made it worse somehow.
But here’s the bright side: having Jason as an older brother ignited a fire in me at a very young age. It’s a fire that I may not otherwise have had, and it has served as a great motivator. And, though I’m no longer a “feisty” little asshole (I hope), I believe that this fire still burns within me, always pushing me.
Just as a little anxiety can motivate us to get things done, so too can a bit of anger. However, if we don’t learn to channel it in a positive way, it becomes debilitating, and we end up allowing this to lead to self-destructive behavior, anger, fear, and lasting resentment.
Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting another person to get sick.” By resenting Jason, I was causing only myself more pain, not him. I know I could have been a happier child and young adult if I was able just to let the chip go, but I didn’t have the tools—tools that I’m happy to not only possess now but to share with others.
For me, the hardest step was acknowledging that this chip existed, that it weighed me down, and I needed to make a shift. Once I did that, I was open to learning the skills necessary to CRUSH that chip with my bare hands, reworking it into something totally BADASS.
This is how we move from the role of the defeated victim to the empowered underdog. We don’t ever forget the struggle and pain; we use it, and repurpose it into something positive, useful, and honest. I mean, who doesn’t love a good underdog story where the protagonist comes from behind for the win?
Today, Jason is one of the people I cherish most in the world. He has become an amazing friend, confidant, and older brother because I finally let him. And even after all we have been through, he has remained unwavering in his support of me. I’m not even sure that I have properly thanked him, or if he has ever allowed me to, but hopefully, he knows now and can feel proud. Because of who he is, I was able to learn the value of what I bring to the table, no longer having to compare myself to others. I think I will always feel like the underdog, and I am good with that.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t tease Jason when he tops even his nerdiness, like when he read “Algorithms to Live By” for pleasure, or plays Settlers of Catan very seriously. Only now we are laughing together, both nodding our heads…”Yes.”
Below: Me and Jas doing his signature pose standing next to a gigantic pizza. Pow Pow.
Dana Maloney is a disruptive therapist, life coach, and founder of Good Enough Therapist. GET disrupts the traditional model of therapy by making it transparent and accessible. She is based in Venice, CA.