Embrace Your Underdog

Confession time. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately by the size and entrenched nature of the social challenges facing Atlanta. From food insecurity to mass incarceration, it feels like we are fighting a losing battle. And every new fact I learn simply adds gasoline to the fire:

  • Atlanta has the highest income inequality in the nation
  • The average age of a homeless person in Atlanta is 9-years old
  • In in 4 kids live in food insecure households
  • 1 in 3 are functionally illiterate
  • And more…
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If these facts aren't sobering enough, I’ve also been conducting a listening tour among our nonprofit partners. The focus of our conversation has been about their volunteer needs, but I’ve also asked one simple question: “Do you see things getting better or worse?”  Disappointingly (but not surprisingly), the answer has been “worse”. 

How can we live in the richest country on the planet; the 10th largest city in the country; and be fighting the same problems we were fighting 29-years ago when Hands On Atlanta was founded? There I go again, feeling defeated and overwhelmed. 

Perhaps I just need to flip my thinking and embrace my inner underdog!

If you are like me, you often find yourself rooting for the underdog. They are scrappy, likable, and fun to cheer for. They are movie’s most enjoyable characters. From Ralph Macchio in Karate Kid to Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, I love to see the underdog go up against all odds, stumble, only to come back stronger to win in the end. These characters represent the reality of being human while simultaneously reminding us that the impossible can come true. 

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One of my favorite underdog stories of all time is Star Wars. The intergalactic battle between light and dark, between a misfit group of rebels and the goliath force of the Empire. My kids, Noah (12) and Eli (8) are excited to see the next installment – Solo, a Star Wars Story, when it comes out this weekend. 

It reminded me of something important. I love the underdog. It is in my DNA. Good always has to work harder, fail repeatedly, before they are able to find victory…and then, often times it is bittersweet and a fleeting victory. The hero is always on their way to the next battle.

Somehow, thinking about this today, has made me feel stronger. More like the hero and less like Charlie Brown falling for Lucy’s football gag time and time again. If I were casting myself in a movie, I would clearly be the Emilio Estevez in The Mighty Ducks (because Denzel in Remember the Titans would be too on-the nose, right?).

So, if like me, you are feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of the day, I challenge you to embrace your underdog. 

I’d love to hear your ideas. How do you maintain your energy and optimism when you are up against big challenges? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter.