How I learned to live in my own light instead of my brother’s shadow

To: Those who feel like they are living in their sibling's shadow

From: Brian Cuban (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To those who feel like their living in their sibling’s shadow,

I know how you feel, and I want you to know that your feelings are normal, as I certainly have had them.

I remember when Broadcast.com, the company my brother, Mark Cuban, founded with Todd Wagner, went public. After the Initial Public Offering, Mark hosted a big dinner for all of his friends. I was ecstatic when he invited me.

As everyone drank and enjoyed themselves, I realized for the first time that Mark was at a level that most people would never reach and he was going to keep growing, which was a good thing.

Sitting at that table toasting and laughing, I also thought to myself, “Where’s my place in my world?”

With no answer to that question, I felt an emptiness inside of me. That, of course, is not my brother’s fault. It came from long-standing feelings of inadequacy that many kids go through.

Brian and Mark with their dad.

In my family, Mark is the oldest, I am the middle child and my brother Jeff is the youngest. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Mark and I were always very different, as he was very outgoing and charismatic (at least as I perceived him).  Even as a teen, he was out making money. I was shy and trended towards isolation. My bedroom was my haven.

In the early 1970’s, our local newspapers went on strike. Mark and his buddies drove the 134 miles to Cleveland, Ohio, bought copies of the Plain Dealer and brought them back to Pittsburgh. They sold them on a street corner in downtown Pittsburgh for multiple times what they paid for them.

He was also buying and selling stamps and making money doing it. So much so, that my dad’s friend gave him $5,000 to go to a stamp convention in New York City. He was only sixteen years old.

Meanwhile, I was working at Hardees, a burger place. I was very shy, and I would look at what Mark was doing and feel unworthy.  Again, that is not his fault. He was living his best life and I love him dearly for the person he was and now is.

I, however, felt like a spectator, self-imposing my existence into my brother’s shadow. On top of that, I was severely bullied at school, even physically assaulted over a pair of shiny bold, bell-bottomed disco pants Mark had given me.

The kids thought they were too tight on my obese body frame and decided to rid me of them. They ripped them off me, tore them into shreds, and left them in the middle of a busy street. They left me in nothing but my white Sears brand underwear, Keds tennis shoes, tube socks and a Pittsburgh Pirates t-shirt.

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As time went on, those feelings of worthlessness became more apparent and more destructive. In January of 2000, when I was 39 years old, Mark purchased a majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks. All of a sudden, my last name had an impact nationally and more importantly to me, around the Dallas club scene.. It was also at a time when I was filling the holes in my heart and soul with alcohol, cocaine and anabolic steroids.

Mark Cuban is an owner of the Dallas Mavericks

I had no self-identity, so the path of least resistance to obtaining one was to capitalize on my last name and live off the fact that I am Mark Cuban’s brother.

It got me into nightclubs. People gave me free drinks and free drugs. I dated girls substantially younger than me, indulging in narcissistic object choice. Those relationships more often than not revolved around alcohol and drugs. But none of that made me feel any better about myself. It was all about gratification in the moment.. When you spend your entire life hating yourself, you value any moment you can get that allows you to look in the mirror and think you are someone. – to love yourself, even if artificial and temporary. None of it was real.

Over time, I dealt with two different eating disorders, drinking probems, a cocaine addiction, major depression, and multiple failed marriages.

I had no identity. I didn’t know what it meant to walk in my own shoes.

In July of 2005, a friend alerted my brothers that I was suicidal. I had a forty-five automatic on my nightstand. That led to my first of two trips to a psychiatric hospital here in Dallas. My second trip to the psychiatric hospital was on Easter weekend, 2007, which ended up being my recovery turning point. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, came home and found me passed out in bed. There were drugs everywhere. We went back to that same hospital. Standing there in that parking lot, I decided that there wouldn’t be a third trip back. I realized that I was destroying my life.

Getting healthy was a process, which included self-exploration partially through reading and writing.

I had no self-identity, so the path of least resistance to obtaining one was to capitalize on my last name and live off the fact that I am Mark Cuban’s brother.

I began public speaking about my experiences at rotary clubs. One time, I walked into a rotary club and it was a group of 50 to 70-year-old men and women. Here I am, a guy going to talk about body image – talk about a tough audience. I thought I did horrible because I saw people with drool coming out of their mouths.

But after the talk, I received a tweet from a young girl.

Brian says for a moment in time he capitalized off of being Mark Cuban’s brother.

Her tweet said, “Mr. Cuban, you don’t know me, but my father is a lawyer and he was at your talk. We are having dinner together for the first time in a year. Thank you.”

While the speech was about body image, I discussed the role of my family in my recovery process. That’s the part that resonated with her father.

That tweet was a pivotal moment for me. It made me passionate as a storyteller and it made me recognize that everyone views a story through their lens and will incorporate it into the context of their lives. Someone doesn’t have to share your struggle to be inspired by it.

I have since done hundreds of talks and I am working on my third book. I have found my purpose, which is to live each day doing the next right thing.

Every day, I talk to people and try to give them the benefit of my lived experiences in hopes of helping them.

Finally, I built my own identity and my own life.

I have come to peace with being my own person, motivated by different things than my siblings.

We all should embrace ourselves and our uniqueness at the earliest opportunity in our lives.

Finally, I am comfortable with the man that I am and the man that I have become.  And that can happen for you too. I say that to you with a full understanding of the nature of privilege. Not everyone gets the same opportunities in life.

But regardless, living in someone’s shadow, whatever your situation, can make it very difficult to find your purpose. Living someone else’s life is living THEIR purpose.

Focus on learning what you love, which you can only do by searching within yourself.

Be happy, be you,

Brian Cuban
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