“The victim mindset dilutes the human potential” – Steve Maraboli
“Difficulties break some men but shape others. Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” – Nelson Mandela
As is so often the case, the inspiration for my leadership messages come from my travels and interactions with others. Thus is the case in this message. A random business meeting to discuss the possibilities of working together turned in to an open sharing of personal passion and motivation, leaving me with a positive and lasting imprint to shape my future thinking and inspire the best in my behavior. I want to share some of this discussion in hopes it will similarly inspire you.
The discussion began as so many business meetings do – introductions, a presentation of the company’s service offerings, and some exploratory discussions where those services might be of value to us. But in the course of these discussions a moment of vulnerability was revealed. It was simple and innocent, but the impact was significant.
Kalan R. Haywood, Sr., the President of Vanguard, was sharing insight in to both his success in building his business, and the impact his storied past had on that success. And to be clear, it wasn’t a rosy past. As an African American male, he grew up in a section of Milwaukee that was at the time essentially a ghetto. Raised by his grandmother and absent a father in his life, he was the epitome of so many other young males raised in similar circumstances.
As he told this story Kalan sat across from me a polished, successful executive. Articulate. Dressed in a suit and tie. The President of a real estate development company that has developed numerous low income and market rate housing projects. Far from the young boy that once roamed the streets of “the bad side” of upper Milwaukee.
I give you this background as it provides context to his other passion in life. That passion is to help similar young men and women break free from the barriers of poverty and gain purpose and value in their own lives. And among his activities in serving this passion is to speak at local schools to youth about their own potential.
Here is where it gets interesting. When he speaks to these gatherings, he uses an interesting tool/technique to bring these conversations to life. He calls it “The Truth About Me”, and it’s a rather simple approach. He asks these young boys and girls to pull out a sheet of paper and write their own truths. He instructs them to focus on those truths that are not necessarily positive, but are in fact the very obstacles that should hold them back. To help start the conversation, he shares a few out-takes from his own past. Here are some of his own truths:
THE TRUTH ABOUT ME….
• I grew up a poor, disadvantaged African American in the bad side of Milwaukee
• I was raised by my grandmother, and never knew my father
• I never graduated from college
• I was arrested and went to jail at age 21…
These factors stand in stark contrast to the successful executive standing in front of them sharply dressed in a suit and tie. The contrast is impactful and often motivates the youth to share revealing details about their own truths. He shared some of the truths those youth have disclosed in these sessions, and it literally made me cry.
As part of this exercise, he allows the youth to share those truths openly with the group. Voluntary of course, but once the process begins many are eager to participate. When the exercise is done, he gathers all of the papers together and holds them up. “These may be the truth of your current situation, but they do not control you” he says. “They may shape your past, but they cannot prevent your future”. Kalan then puts them all in a trash can and in a symbolic gesture literally burns them.
How many of us have “truths” that we let hold us back? I dare say there are few of us who could match the obstacles many of these youth face at home and in the environments they live. To be fair, you may share some of the same struggles these youth do – didn’t come from money, raised in a broken family, limited educational background. But for many of us our “truths” are far less constrictive.
The “truth” is it doesn’t matter. We decide whether they will hold us back or spur us forward. We decide what value those “truths” bring – positive or negative – and how we will use them to shape our own futures. We can either give them power over us, or we can choose to have power over them.
Maybe it’s time for us to write our own “Truth About Me” and burn them in a symbolic gesture of freedom. I’ll supply the matches…