If you're wondering how to achieve professional and personal success in your life, Stedman Graham says it can all depend on who you think you are. Here's an excerpt.
I Am Stedman Graham, and This Is Why I Care
When I was growing up as one of six black children, two of whom were disabled, in Whitesboro, NJ, a small black community surrounded by a predominately white one, the catch-phrase was, “Nothing good ever comes out of Whitesboro.”
With a race-based consciousness, every day I woke up thinking I couldn't make it because of the color of my skin. This was tied directly to my self esteem, it was tied to my belief systems, it was tied to what I thought my talent was, what skills I could develop, it was tied to my habits, to my vision, and to my hopes and dreams. I had a totally self-limiting consciousness.
Picture this; I was a young six-foot-six black man in a white community. What does everyone say? Basketball player. Label. So I was that. I lived the label. I was exposed to many good people, but I was also buying into what others said and how others acted, all instead of being in better tune with my own soul. My self-esteem was too low for me to appreciate life. I was an angry person. I was angry at the system and I felt a victim in my own right. It was almost as if I had a hole in my heart.
Then one day it hit me over my head. It was not about race. It was about me not knowing a process for becoming successful. I didn’t know how successful people think and act. I'd been told it was about race. I suddenly realized that somebody had fed me a bill of goods, and I had bought into it. And if I bought into the notion that it’s about race, there was no way out, because I would be trying to solve what the problem wasn't.
If you feel you have no control over your life, you need to come to the same epiphany I did, that, “'Oh, I'm not alone.” Millions of women buy into the fact that they can't make it because they're a woman. I’m not alone. Where I came from, blacks and Native Americans buy into the fact that they can't make it because of the color of their skin. That’s their label. I'm not alone.
Folks who are entitled, who think that they are so because they're a certain race, that because they're white they're better than somebody else, they're labeled. They buy into that. Or you might be a person who bought into the fact that you can't make it because your mother or father said you're nothing, that you’re never going to be anything, and you got labeled by that.
More in books
So, you’ve got all these labels. I realized that everybody's labeled, not just me. I'm not the only person around here with a label. And I realized that the secret to un-labeling yourself is not to let other people define you, it's to let you define yourself, if you know how.
One of the key things I’m going to stress is your understanding of the difference between the internal world and the external one. This is all about you.
The most important thing of all here is that you have a choice. You can decide not to be a victim, or to feel like one. It’s all up to you.
I started to make real progress in my own life when I realized that the American free enterprise system was relevant to every single person. I was five years into my own change process when I realized, “Wow, this is the greatest gift somebody can get. It doesn't get any better. It's the greatest gift you can get, as a human being.” I said, “Oh, my goodness. That's the freedom.” I realized that you can go anywhere in the world and the process is the same for everybody. It doesn't make any difference what your race is, what your family circumstances are, where you came from, what you look like, what your religion is, what your gender is — the process works the same way.
The first step in the journey to freedom and success is to check your ID. Not as easy as it sounds, but doable. If I defined it formally, I would say your identity is based on your passions, based on what you love, based on what you care about. It includes being clear about your values and also how you personally define success for yourself. I think the question is worthwhile, to ask you what is your definition of identity. It’s different for everyone, but you may already have some idea about what it is. You may not know how to make the most of it, or how to use it in a way that empowers you. Or you may feel you have a weak or not fully formed identity. Or you’d like to trade in the one you have for a different one. Even when you have established your understanding of your identity, it's not about having one and then you're through. It becomes about redefining yourself constantly, all the time. It's the constant reinvention of yourself that determines how you begin to create your image or brand. It's about constant improvement, constant revision, constant learning.
You can also think of identity as your personal brand. When painters sign paintings they are establishing their personal brand — it’s a way they say what they have done matters. In this sense being clear about your identity is a significant next step beyond knowing who you are and being comfortable in your own skin. Building your identity is about knowing what your calling is, learning how to do it well and creating value in the world. I have learned that, for the most part, extraordinary people are simply ordinary people doing extraordinary things that matter to them. They relentlessly align all the elements of their life to support the realization of what has deep meaning to them. The message here is that you have it within you to live an extraordinary life. You have the choice to embrace a personally meaningful journey, integrating your personal and professional life in ways that make a lasting difference — for you and the people around you.
Copyright © 2012 Stedman Graham From the book "Identitfy: Your Passport to Success," published by FT Press. Reprinted with permission.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive