If you can only reach two percent.

If you can reach only two percent you’ll be successful. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. Two percent will make you a fortune.

Consider the global marketplace. It’s vast. 7.4 Billion people is an impossible market to reach. It’s unrealistic. You’ll never sell to everyone. And it doesn’t matter. Two percent is still a huge crowd. Exchange even one dollar of value with that crowd and you’re in like Flynn.

Say you can’t reach that many people. Say  you can’t create value for them all. Simple, don’t try to. Just increase your value offering. Up the ante to $10 of value created. Voila! You’re filthy rich, and made the world a better place by hundreds of millions of dollars.

You might say that’s simple, unrealistic computation. I don’t disagree. Figuring out one perfect equation would be immensely difficult. But you don’t need the perfect equation. In life, like algebra, there are plenty of ways to solve for x. You only need one of them. Just plan on showing your work.

The success of your product, idea, business, or service has never been about the number of people you reach. It’s always about the amount of value you can feasibly provide to the people you do reach.

Want a sure route to success? Don’t try to save the whole world. You’ll fail 100 percent of the time. Only throw life preservers to the drowning. For every person you can’t reach, increase your value offering to those you can.

It’s a simple as that. Now go do it.

 

Break Free From Your Nest.

“Step away from that edge, young bird!” The teacher’s stark, reprimanding voice sent me catapulting from my  day dream. “You’ll fall to your death.”

“Oh! But what if I fly?” I boldly replied.

“That’s nonsense. Get your head out of the clouds,” she said. “No one’s ever done it before. You weren’t made to fly. Now sit down, you’re disturbing the class.”

I challenged her. I was not about to give up so easily. “How do you know I won’t soar?”

“Sit down and shut up,” the teacher, not in the mood for a debate, exclaimed. “You’re putting ideas in the other students’ heads. Do you want them growing up believing myths?”

“What if staying nested is a myth?” I asked. Her lectures could not stifle my inspiration.

“Class, listen up,” she started in–the teacher did love an audience, “Let me make this explicity clear once and for all. You were not made to fly. The stories you’ve heard are simply tall tales passed down for ages. Make believe fables. There is no flying. If you leave the nest, there is only dying. Nest life is the best life. What lies beyond the edge of this kingdom is not suited for birds. One foot over the nest’s wall and you will plummet to the earth, meeting a most dissatisfying doom. You must stay here and learn. That is your only hope for survival.”

I could not take it anymore. No teacher would stifle my dreams.

“But I don’t want to survive! I want to glide! I want to feel the wind rushing beneath my wings, to sit atop clouds, to chase lightning bugs on the breeze, and to greet the morning sun with a song from the heights! I must fly! I just must!”

I ran to the edge and threw myself over, hearing gasps followed by an uproar. Then, only the violent rush of wind filling my sinuses and ears.

I hurtled downward picking up speed. Everything around me, a blur. “I might not make it!” The thought rushed to the forefront of my mind. “What if the teacher was right? What if I die?”

“NO!” A roar unlike anything ever produced from my lungs erupted. I don’t even know where it came from. The startling noise ushered from my beak caused me to flinch and toss my arms out beside me.

Everything slowed. I could see. Was I not to die after all?

“Wait a second…I’m flying!” I chirped as loudly as a young bird could chirp. Today was not my day to die. Today surely was my day to fly!

 


When a bird flees its nest for the first time, it has no backup plan. It doesn’t slink to the edge and assess how far away the ground might be. It doesn’t fall from the nest.

It jumps. It spreads its wings. It becomes what it was meant to be.

It flies.

You were meant for more than the safety of your nest.

Take flight today.

 

 

What You Can Do Today

Worry not what the future may hold,
It’s present day that is yours to mold.

In the far off land of days yet to come,
You’ll arrive only by where you came from.

It matters not what tomorrow may bring,
Today alone can you change anything.

Future value does not yet exist,
Cherish today’s before it is missed.

Create what you can wherever you are,
Pack up your bags; it will take you quite far.

Though much of this life lies beyond your control,
Embrace the uncertain and create your own role.

What you do today will be solely your choice,
So go out there boldly, in your labor rejoice!

The Weapons With Which You Wage War

Mine is a pen. Or a keyboard. Or for that matter any method for capturing words and thoughts.

I write. I talk. I ramble. I fall into an unconscionable stream of consciousness.

It’s not a flight mechanism. It’s my fight response.

Whenever I face difficulty be it in work, in relationships, or any walk of life, I fight my way through it by recording and meditating on my thoughts. Sometimes it’s more word vomit than anything else. Sometimes it’s regurgitation of ideas I liked that came from someone else. Whatever the case may be, unless or until I work things out for myself I consider surrender as a non-option. Until I’ve formulated a response from my own mind I’ve not been true to myself.

It’s not just post hoc rationalization or a closing argument of justification. I fight with my ideas. Even the ones that aren’t entirely formulated yet. Sometimes you’ll find yourself amidst a battle with only a dull sword and that’s okay. If that’s all you’ve got just swing harder.

I often equate the creative process to war through use of metaphors and similes. It’s the most appropriate description I can fathom. I’ve never fought in the war. I guess I’ve been in a few fist fights. Feel free to ask how the other guy faired sometime. But in my mind creating is like war. The most significant difference is that it’s a war against self.

Within us all there are features of creativity, of optimism, of hope. There are also the features of destruction, pessimism, and worry. Call it the Angel-Demon complex if you will. I feel that I always have two competing interests constantly doing battle. One drives personal evolution. The other settles for mediocrity or even self-defeat. At times I feel it’s okay to give in to either. At other times I feel there’s a clearer path for choosing.

But just like any war, when creating there will be casualties. There will be victors and there will be losers. These are simply different, competing versions of yourself. One version of yourself will emerge heralding its success. The other can skulk defeated or it can promise a better rematch down the road.

The choice is yours.

If you choose to make the most of your life you’ll be constantly pitted against yourself and not only external forces. You will be faced with the constant decision to choose which voice you wish to follow. One will beckon you toward self-actualization. The other will beckon you toward the status quo, or worse.

It’s all about how you choose to assess the battle. You can fight on through ’til the end. You can go home because you ran out of ammo. In your day-to-day it might feel of no consequence. In real war the choice might not be granted. In the war of creativity it’s not granted either. Unless you resolve to live an uneventful life, you’ll always be forced into action.

Whether you like it or not, if you want to make a dent in the universe, you’ve got to go into war with the weapons you’ve got. Sharpen them when the enemy retreats. Otherwise do the best you can with what you’ve got, where you are, when you are there.

It’s not so much about what you walk into battle with. What’s more important is that you walk out at all.

So pick up your sword–whatever that is for you–and start hacking away.

Unmarked Graves

The most horrendous thing to me would be to die without having made a dent in the universe. To have led an insignificant life. I choose one that’s monumental…one that’s worth living.

You can live this way if you want. It’s no easy feat. But it’s not as difficult as everyone lets on either.

You’re uniquely equipped to change the world in a way no one else ever could. You were born possessing your own unique genetic makeup, personality, point of view, perspective, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet societal pressures emphasize assimilation and conformity. It’s no wonder many of us lead lives of “quiet desperation.” But you don’t have to.

When you adhere to these standards, you quash the best offerings you hold for transforming the world as it is into what it could be. These value offerings are the ones that can only come from the fullest expression of your unique traits. When you assimilate to this average of everyone else, you denounce your best abilities to live impactfully. It’s like watching the beautiful panorama of your life on a black and white television set instead of in high-definition color.

On the flip side, properly harnessing the unique traits inherent to your own personality increases your value to the world. It allows the fullest expression of yourself free reign to imagine and create. It’s this version of yourself that produces things entirely novel, authentic, and original which would never otherwise have been birthed the same way by anyone else. Dismissing those traits is like committing an abortion. It’s like killing your best opportunities to change the world before they’re given a chance to breathe.

This is why your individuality must be embraced and unleashed instead. If you’re going to make a mark on the world you can’t do the same things everyone else is doing.

Forgive the sweeping generalizations, but I highly doubt anyone wants to live unhappily, poverty-stricken, or oppressed. Deep down, just like you and me, everyone holds a desire and drive to improve their circumstances, to acquire a better hand of cards, a “pissed-off gene” that drives them each out of their caves to go hunt their own proverbial wooly mammoths or to carve wheels from stone. It’s a longing that everyone burns to fulfill, yet one that, if pursued, would look entirely different for each individual.

Given the chance to pursue this longing, whatever it may be, life might look a lot different for everyone. Consider how yours might differ. It might dramatically alter the course of the world. Or it might just dramatically alter your own world. It’s difficult to say how significant the impact could be. There’s not really a metric for measuring ‘what could have been.’

I see really only two options. Embrace your uniqueness or don’t. Live passionately or be normal. Unleash your individuality or imprison it.

Harnessing it to create the products and visions of your mind sends a ping out into the great big nothingness declaring, “I am up to the challenge. I will slay the dragon. I will scale Everest. I will live a life of meaning!” Refusing to heed this calling stifles that better version of yourself. It donates your best value offering for the world to the wind, blowing it away like chaff.

Don’t live that way. Choose to live with historical significance. Refuse to be buried in an unmarked grave.

Abstinence & Voting

I’m saving myself for a better world.
 
Someday when I find it I don’t want to have to explain how I gave myself up to George Bush. Then John McCain. Then to Donald Trump.
 
I want to be pure for it. So I took a vow of abstinence.
 

I stopped voting years ago. I’ve been frequently challenged to provide lengthy explanations for my decision. It never ceases to amaze me how affected others are by the news. Like I’ve betrayed them. Like I’ve committed some kind of Grand Treason.
 

Sometimes these conversations lead to realization that I share many of the same frustrations as voters. I hate taxes. I’m repulsed by war. I don’t trust politicians. Prohibitions and licensure laws are tyrannical. Government should stay out of ____________ (everything). Blah blah blah.
 
I participated in these conversations for years (as a non-voter and as a voter). I punched my ticket at each election. Which was maybe 3. I stopped voting not long after I was “of age.” One day I just got bored.
 
I started to see the whole thing as one giant circle jerk. A new guy would come up for election. He’d make promises. He’d secure some votes. He’d be stonewalled in office. Nothing would change. Repeat. That’s not progress. It’s madness.
 
When I began reading more broadly into political philosophy and economics I found I wasn’t alone. There were tons of theories about why voting isn’t particularly useful. There were as many about the incentives politicians face for acting in their own interests over the interest of ‘the people.’ None of this surprised me. It simply abhorred me.
 
I never stopped hoping for a better world. I just couldn’t buy into the fairy tale that voting would accomplish this any longer. I had new information. But my experiences and observations had confirmed the same.
 
It inspired me to empower myself to eliminate my frustrations. Voting seemed too passive. I wanted to be active about making my world better.
 
I started by educating myself. I wrote a lot about what I read. I engaged others. I challenged. I argued until I was blue in the face. It didn’t matter. Other people couldn’t envision the world as I saw it. They didn’t want to.
 
That no longer bothers me. Everyone should do what makes them happy I think. If voting has value to you, then vote. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
 
I think a greater issue is at the root. Every person is an individual actor in his or her own universe. We’re all just trying to go out and get what we want according to what we know and believe.
 
This idea was revolutionary to me. It made want to stop changing others and start by changing myself. Hoping 51 percent of people agree with me was disempowering. Voting for that world was just not enough. If there was a better world to be had and I wanted it, then I must take action.
 
A great explanation of this comes from Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action. To summarize he posited three requirements must be present for individuals to take action: 1) unease or dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, 2) a vision of a better state, and 3) belief that they can reach the better state.
 
The three requirements are contingent upon one another. The first two conditions are nearly always satisfied for me. Yet, in the context of the political establishment the third criteria ceases to be satisfied for me.
 
I abstain from politics not [only] because I hate politics and not because I’m apathetic. One significant reason stems from the third criteria above. It would be illogical for me to cast a ballot knowing I don’t believe it will effect any desired change. Why should the burden of proof be on me anyway? Make the political system prove that it’s invaluable to social progress. It hasn’t yet.
 
My belief that a better state can be reached rests on the creation of that better state. Not by governmental mandates but by individuals who set their vision into motion in the world.
 
It is not through handmaidens of the political establishment with their waving pens and  crummy rhetoric that the standards of living across the globe have ever been raised. It’s by the sweat, blood, and commitment of men with a vision for a better world and a bias for action to create that world.
 
If you’re dissatisfied with the present conditions of the world; and you possess a vision of a better world; and you believe that world can be achieved…it’s time to act.
 
Don’t rely on the ballot box to create a better world. Just go build it.
 

 

Fix It Before It Breaks.

I  bought into fear of innovation and change until I found a loophole. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to embrace with the right mentality. Just focus on the reason innovation matters. It’s something we all know. Every improvement makes our lives better.

“Don’t fix what isn’t broken,” they say. How broken does something need to be before we replace it with something better?

Take the iPhone for example. I’ve heard sentiment expressed about the rapid release of newer technology.  Just ask around some afternoon. Before long, you’ll meet someone who expresses contempt that a newer version comes out every year. This frustration illuminates a common misconception about innovation.

Profit-motive might drive the innovation or it might not. The innovator might or might not have sinister intentions. It doesn’t matter. The product matters. So does the improvement the product yields for everyone who uses it. Every advancement, big or small, raises standards of living. Every advancement moves the world forward from where it was.

Innovation finds no satisfaction with the status quo. Intrigue prevails over frustration during gaps in performance or errors. Innovation figures out why these occur rather than damns them.

Innovation examines the whole world as a puzzle waiting to be solved rather than as a problem or nuisance of fate. Under this microscope possibilities to create and build a better one become endless.

Innovation and its entrepreneurial counterpart are at their core anarchistic. No set structure or central plan governs the moves. They testify of benefits from the chaos prevalent the absence a system.  In such chaos, harmony and spontaneous problem-solving arise.

Don’t believe me? Look around at any group. Be it work force, team, or committee, etc. In absence of guidelines for solving problems people spontaneously generate solutions. People naturally solve problems according to the information they have. I guess you could say there’s an innovator within us all.

That innovator needs to be unleashed. It needs to be given the proper fuel to enact change.  And it needs something to practice on. Lo and behold the world is full of problems waiting to be solved. The innovator needs to be given the driver’s seat.

Innovation doesn’t glimpse out into the world and witness problems. It looks at challenges as opportunities to create valuable solutions. It knows pessimism doesn’t solve problems. It arraigns criticism through speech as a hollow approach. Innovation attacks failing systems of thought by providing alternatives.

Innovation debates through the products of its ideas. It begins with a resolve to create. Innovation has little time for thought experiments. Innovation runs field experiments, instead.

Innovation and entrepreneurship witness harmony where once before only chaos existed. They see potential in everything rather than conflict or destruction. They trade in a doomsdayer perspective for hope and belief in ingenuity’s ability to solve problems.

Innovation recognizes alternatives as possible even if they don’t exist yet. That’s the essence of entrepreneurship and I believe it’s the foundation toward achieving a freer, more prosperous society.

How A Stranger Taught Me To Love My Neighbor.

Take-Home Message: Spread hope, not hate. Focusing on all the bad in the world can make you lose sight of the good in it.

Writer’s Note: This is based upon an actual conversation from Summer 2015. I have preserved the integrity of this to the best of my memory.


 

It was a normal day and I was headed to get a haircut. Since I was from out of town and driving around the city, I pulled up Yelp and searched for the nearest barber shop. The closest result showed up just a few blocks from where I was and it was on my way back home. So, I pulled in and walked up to the door.

Immediately after walking into the building, I began second-guessing my decision. In the barber’s chair sat a large Mexican man covered in tattoos, carrying on conversation loud enough for the whole building to participate. But there wasn’t anybody else but the hair dresser and me. Towering over this man was a large black woman working on a high and tight for the customer. She was humming a few bars of what she later told me was one of her favorite Billie Holiday tunes.

I thought I should leave. I pulled up Yelp again and refreshed my search for a haircut and found the nearest one almost 7 miles away. On a Friday afternoon around Atlanta, GA, 7 miles is a several-hour-long commitment, and for some reason I felt like I was being frozen in place. For some reason, I thought, I’m supposed to stay here.

So I gulped my preconceived prejudices down and waited. After a painful amount of time, the Mexican man stood up, politely thanked the woman, paid her, and headed for the door. A few paces before he exited, he flashed me a smile and asked, “How are you?” shattering my earlier notions that this was a dangerous man. “I’m fine, thanks,” I replied, disgraced by my stereotyping.

“You’re up next, Sweetie,” the warm, inviting voice of the hairdresser beckoned to me. “What can I do for you, today, young man?” she said politely awaiting my instructions. I told her how I liked it cut and she said, “Oh, that will look great on you.”

She asked me where I was from and how I made my way to her shop. She asked me what I did and how I had found my way from Oklahoma to Atlanta. I told her what I was doing in Georgia and how [at the time] I was about to go back to school. I was interested in studying law because I had a passion for helping people live more freely, I told her.

“I can already tell you’d be one of those good attorneys,” she said. “The world needs more of ‘em.” But she paused for a moment after that and seemed bothered. “I’ve had experiences with bad attorneys,” she said. “Someone I know (I think she said her nephew) got arrested for possession last year, and he’s been locked up ever since. They [the Public Defenders] didn’t really care about his case.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I told her–and I really was. I could tell that this was really troubling her.

“What do you think about marijuana?” she asked. “Do you think it should be illegal?”

A rare moment with a stranger had arrived for me. Here I was, simply wanting a haircut, and my prejudices had almost driven me out of this shop. But her kindness and sincerity had sent my smugness packing. “I don’t have a problem with it,” I told her. “In fact, I think it being illegal does a lot more harm than good.”

“Why is it that so many people don’t think that?” she asked.

“I couldn’t tell you for certain, ma’am,” I said, “But I think the world could be a lot better place if the government and law enforcement stopped interfering so much with people’s lives.”

At this she stopped cutting my hair altogether and I saw a tear stream down from one of her eyes. She took a deep breath and wiping it away said, “Young man, I think you were supposed to come into this shop today to get a haircut.”

“Thank you,” I told her. But I didn’t reveal to her that I had felt that strange sense of assurance earlier that I was where I was supposed to be.

“You know, I look around at the world and I see so much hatred,” she said. “It’s all black versus white and cops versus people and the news all riling everybody up. But here you are and here I am. I love you and I don’t even know you. I want the best for you and I just met you. I don’t think people hate each other as much as the media wants us to think,” she said. “But this ain’t anything new, Sweetie…”

When she said that, she sort of drifted off, her eyes got misty and she let out a couple of more tears. She had set the scissors down at this point and was looking directly at me.  “I’ve seen this story all my life,” she said, “People don’t naturally hate one another,” she said. “Their circumstances and the way the world treats them teaches them that. I want to share a story with you if you don’t mind,” she gestured to me.

“Of course!” I told her. I was intrigued by this point and had entirely forgotten I was even there for a hair cut. And then she began narrating a story that has forever changed me.

 

“I remember the day those men in black suits came rolling through our neighborhood,” she said. “I was only about five or six at the time, and my sister and me was out in the front yard playing when we saw this big, new, fancy car roll up to the house at the end of the street. That was back in the ‘60s, though, just a few years after Mr. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and we hadn’t ever seen a car like that before. Then these two men climbed out all dressed up, they had them a couple of black suits and white shirts, with the black tie on, looking all official and such. They just marched up to the first door and disappeared. My sister and I went running into the house hollering at Momma and Daddy telling them all about the sight we just saw. Then, one by one, them men just kept making their way down the block, one house at a time, until they got to ours. Momma and Daddy said we had to wait outside seein’ as we wasn’t old enough to talk business yet, so we did, and I tried peeking through the window the whole time. I never could make out what they was saying, but Momma and Daddy seemed a bit troubled by it.

Just a street over at the time was a huge lot surrounded by great big, tall fences. We never knew what was going on inside there, but we could hear the banging and hammering around the clock. All of us on my block kept guessing what it was that was going up, and whether or not we should be afraid of it, but the walls stayed up and the banging kept on a’ coming. Until one day, it stopped. The walls were torn down and behind them stood two great big, brand new towering buildings.

It wasn’t until Momma and Daddy told us we was moving that they explained what those gentlemen in the black suits months before had shown up to discuss. It became clear fast that the offer those men made wasn’t the best for everyone in our neighborhood, though. Momma and Daddy explained that those men were offering us one of the few spots in the shiny new apartment buildings. ‘The spots are going fast,’ they said to Momma and Daddy that day they came to our block, ‘So you’ll have to act now.’

We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, but we also didn’t have reliable electricity or indoor plumbing. In fact, almost everybody on our block still had an outhouse. So when me and Sissy walked into our new home that day, we couldn’t hold back the excitement. “Our very own toilet!” I remember yelling to my Momma. “And what’s this machine over by the wall?” I asked, as Daddy swooped me up in his arms and set me atop our very own washing machine unit. That was such a happy day.

After a few days, I started to notice that very few of the other Daddies from our neighborhood had come over with the families who had moved. I asked Momma about it and she told me to stop pestering and one day when I was older she might tell me.

Days passed and turned into months. Months into years. Until one day, I was watching the news in the apartment building, an older girl now, and I saw this fancy pants man get on the screen talking about all the homeless blacks that were causing problems with drugs and violence and vandalism. He talked about how the cops were roundin’ ‘em up for disturbing peace or something like that. Most of the problem, fancy pants said, was coming from over just a block or so where we used to live. The problem was, none of those houses that used to be there was standing any more.

Just a few months after we had moved out, some wrecking crews came in and tore down all the houses. They said it was the city who had bought all the property up preaching about eminent domain or the likes of some law. They said it would be better for the whole city and that they had built the apartments and offered them real cheap for all the former residents. They said the ones who didn’t take up the offer were lazy criminals and deserved to be snatched up by the law. Some of those men were my friends’ daddies.

So I mustered up the courage to ask Momma and Daddy again about what happened to the other Daddies and why they never moved over. They sat Sissy and me down and explained what they hadn’t told us about those men in the black suits who had come knockin’ on our door for all those years ago. They said they were making an offer to move to a better life.

Those men told my parents it was $39 per month rent to have running water and electricity in the new place they’d built for us.

Daddy had a job at the time, but he didn’t make very much money. He worked long hours and Momma stayed home with us kids. Back then we wasn’t old enough for school yet. But, Momma and Daddy told us, the new apartment buildings didn’t have room enough for all the members of all the families so if the men wanted to move in with the families it would be another $9 per month. Those men in the black suits told Momma and Daddy and all the other neighbors that day that it would be a lot cheaper and just fine by them if the men stayed in the houses where they lived. They’d be allowed to visit whenever they wanted, so long as they got a permit and left by 9 p.m. And they told them the men could come and live with the families one week out of every month, too, if they got the permission from the building. But there just wasn’t enough room to fit everybody.

And so that’s what happened. Most of the families moved over to the new buildings and the men stayed put figuring they could keep more food on the table for their families if they saved the extra money per month, Momma told me. The cost of renting the houses on our neighborhood wasn’t even that much at the time, so they could use the difference to help out. Most of the men in our neighborhood worked jobs like my Daddy, too, long hours for not a lot of money, so it didn’t really make a difference where they laid their heads at the end of the night. But not my Daddy. To him, it mattered, and he told us he wouldn’t let our family be separated even if it was going to make things tight with money.

But after we moved over, the worst thing happened to those other men. When the city came in and bought up the properties, they evicted all of the Daddies who were still living over there. And some of them came over to the apartment trying to work things out but they weren’t given permission by the building to move in with their families. Maximum capacity by order of the fire marshall they told ‘em. No more room for more people.

That’s when new men in black suits came to the apartment building. The marched up and down the hallways to the rooms with a clipboard and some pens. Daddy wasn’t home when they came by but Momma told us later the men were walking by explaining how families could get assistance to help with the bills if they needed to.

“Since a lot of families are facing hard times, we want to make it known that there are options,” those men told Mamma. “We can offer assistance on a monthly rate and even more depending on the number of mouths you have to feed.”

Momma knew Daddy wouldn’t like this, so she asked those men to leave. Mamma told me that it’s because a lot of the Daddies had been arrested by the police and were out of work and couldn’t pay their families’ bills anymore.

 

She broke character after this, lightly sobbing, and began to shake her head. “After they ripped those families apart and kicked the men out onto the streets, many of them lost their jobs,” she said. “My Daddy knew a lot of them. He told me that it was like they had lost their reasons to live, so a lot of them turned to alcohol and drugs to help them escape. And then it got a lot worse,” she said, shaking her head again.

“The laws around those times that were passed were really harsh, especially on marijuana and crack rock, on the poor man’s drugs,” she said. “They’d catch somebody one time and he’d go away for a decade or more, and nobody could do anything about it. They’d just keep yelling from the news about the ghetto and drug dealers, and how it wasn’t safe unless they were all rounded up.”

“So, that’s exactly what they did. They rounded up all those men that used to be Daddies and husbands, working long hour jobs to support their families, and they threw them behind bars. Meanwhile, they were running through the families whose husbands and daddies were being jailed and they’d get them fixed up on government assistance. They had pretty much replaced the role of the husband and father with the government over the course of several years. That’s not making society a safer place. That’s destroying it. And that’s how I feel almost every time I hear about new laws for making us safe or about gang violence or any of the white noise coming out of the TV, there’s usually a much bigger problem behind it somewhere else.

And it doesn’t look hopeful still today. With all the police killings and the rioting, it’s sadness and fear and hate every time you pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV. It’s bombing other countries and wars and arrests and politicians breaking promises. It’s people hurting people everywhere you look. But that’s not the way it has to be,” she said. “That’s not how we were supposed to treat each other. Loving one another is a choice, and it’s one I choose to make every day.”

She went silent after that. I was at a loss for words, but I wanted to give this stranger a hug.  After a few moments pause, she picked up the scissors and set to finish up on my haircut. When I finally found some words, all I could muster was to thank her for sharing her story. I was too choked up and taken aback to come up with anything worth adding.

“Mitchell,” she said, “I’m going to pray to Jesus for you tonight. I hope you get to help people like you said you wanted to. Thank you for listening to an old woman’s story. It was nice to meet you, and I hope the best for you.”

“Likewise,” I told her. “I think you were right that I was supposed to be here today. Thank you so much.”

I paid her for the haircut and left her the best tip I could afford, told her goodbye, and walked out in the warm Georgia air shaken up but somber. Her story pulled scales from my eyes about my attitude and how I look at the world. It wasn’t dismay that I found from her story, but hope. She didn’t have to share her story with me. She didn’t even have to be as kind as she was. She could have just done her job. Instead, this stranger taught me what it looks like in practice to love your neighbor, and how you don’t need a grand stage or billions of dollars to change the world. You just have to be willing to use your voice, and to see goodness where others see only bad.

 

 

 

On Personal Equity: Who Owns Shares of You?

Take-Home Message: Be smart about who you let influence you.

Motivation speaker Jim Rohn famously coined the phrase, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If Jim is right, then you can probably get a glimpse of your identity by looking at your circle of confidants. However, I’ve also heard it remarked that this assessment falls short. It does not account for the other intellectual influences that might be quite prevalent in shaping your identity, like books or bloggers, or the websites you frequent.

I have a tendency to agree with Jim, that we do, to a degree, become the company we keep. Because of this, I think it’s quite important for the achievement of your goals to assess carefully the individuals to whom you grant a stake in your life and how their influences are shaping you.

In many ways, your life is a lot like a business. (Corporations are people, too, right?) Of course, there are many different types of businesses and varying facets according to each type. Let’s take a look at some of these similarities, and why the company you keep effects that.

Similarity One: If you make an income, it’s likely from an exchange of your own skills or services to someone else who wants them. How well or how poorly you provide this exchange in accordance with your price will determine your perceived worth in the marketplace to others. Of course, you might not set your price, you might work for a wage that your employer offers you in exchange for your work. How well you demonstrate your proficiency at your current wage rate determines your value to your employer–it likely determines your opportunity for advancement and continued employment, among other things, as well.

Similarity Two: You both need a PR firm. Your reputation is usually up for negotiation. Just as when you’re working, the way you deal with others in your day-to-day relationships will play a role in what others think about you. In the marketplace as a business, consumers’ opinion  can make or break you. In life, it’s not quite as drastic, of course, but, a poor reputation can make it difficult to earn an income or go about the pursuit of your own interests hassle-free.

Similarity Three: Whoever makes decisions for either, is actually the boss. In most businesses, there is a “Decision Maker” who is calling the important shots. These decisions could be reliant on many different individuals providing support like analysts, a Board of Trustees, or even shareholders. Sometimes, [in business] the decision maker’s hands are tied by the influences or opinions of these other parties. It usually depends on the breakdown of equity held in the business by each party. In your own life–much like Rohn said about your five closest companions–how you’ve granted equity and to whom can play a significant role in your decisions. This is why I believe it so important to evaluate those roles carefully.

If you’re running around letting every person whom you come in contact with influence your mindset, goals, or opinions, you’ve effectively taken out an IPO on yourself and let the world buy up shares and call the shots for you. If you’re doing this, stop now and try to buy back as much of your equity as you can.

A little less drastic example, though, can be taken by assessing those five people–or however many it realistically is for you–you’re confiding in and the ideas you’re regularly contemplating. How much ownership of your life have you granted to these? If you can’t clearly see this, then consider a recent decision you’ve made and the process you went through to reach it.

Did you consult anyone before making a decision? If so, whom and what influence, if any, did their opinion have? Did you weigh your decision against a personal code of conduct or some guiding philosophy or information? Or did you reach your own, independent conclusion, free from consultation?

I think it’s important to be aware of this process you undergo in decision-making in your life. It’s not so important who these people are, so long as you’re aware and approve of their influences. However, if your personal Board of Trustees is the deciding factor for every choice you make, and you are unaware of it, you might be do yourself a world of good by taking a minute to figure this out.

Why? Because each of them is operating under his or her own self-interest. Their advice to you is an extension of the reality they live in. If in any way thier interests conflict with yours, then you’re doing a disservice to yourself by allowing their interests to compete with your own for title to your life.

The point of the matter is that you are the only one who has to live with the decisions you are making. So, if the company you are keeping is satisfactory to you and meshes well with your values, then perhaps you have nothing to worry about. The imperative part is that you’re aware of the role these influences play in your life.  Like business as in life, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” So, be sentient of these guiding forces and be cautious to grant equity only where it’s beneficial to the fulfillment of your own life’s goals.