Friday, June 17, 2011

100% Accountable - It's not always easy to know what to do

"My 15-year old friend was just murdered by a gang member. He was like my brother and I don't know what to do next." He sat in the "hot" seat explaining his situation and seeking advice. The hot seat is a special activity we use with students to allow them to share a personal issue they are dealing with and to seek advice, primarily from their peers. Last week I was teaching a group of twenty students from a particularly rough part of Atlanta. Because of the sensitivity of this week's letter I'm going to keep the student's name out of the message as well as the name of the program.

The student continued, "He killed my friend and I'm really hurting. We were both in a gang and my friend messed with the other guy's stuff and he got shot. We're part of the Crips and the other guy's one of the Bloods. There's a code we deal with. You kill one of us then you get killed. After something like this happens, we make a kill list. All the gang members sign it and when you sign it you agree that if you see the other guy then you will take him out. If you don't do it, then you can get killed because you didn't back up your brother. But now I'm all confused. I'm not sure what to do."

This was some hot seat. This kid was dealing with a very serious situation. It was day four of a five day program and we were teaching the class all seven mindsets...Everything is Possible, Passion First, We are Connected, 100% Accountable, Attitude of Gratitude, Live to Give, and the Time is Now. The day before we really dug into 100% Accountable and how we may not be able to control all the things that happen to us but we sure can control how we respond to them. Many of our actions create the next series of events in our life and if we want to change our future then we have to adjust how we are living in the present.

One of the other students in the class asked what the student in the hot seat was confused about. He went on to explain that his best friend joined the gang when he was only 9 years old. He said that by the time he turned 15 his friend had killed 9 people. He started thinking about that yesterday during the 100% Accountable lesson and was wondering if his friend's actions and lifestyle finally caught up to him. He also started to realize that maybe revenge was the wrong action for him to take now. He signed the kill list because he was mad and upset and now what's he supposed to do. He doesn't want to kill anyone and he doesn't want to die either.

A girl in the class asked him why he joined the gang in the first place and he said both his uncle and his mentor joined so he thought it was the right thing to do. Another student suggested there was a more positive way he could respond. He said "Maybe I can become a leader of the gang and then change how we operate from the inside out. Maybe we can go back to the original roots of the gang when it was formed to simply protect people in the neighborhood." Another student said that was too much of a stretch. The feedback and advice kept flying as I watched real peer-to-peer support take place. Kids got up and gave him a hug as he broke down in tears. He was only 15 years old and I was watching a real transformation take place. He was experiencing a breakthrough. I've always said that if you change your mindset you can change your life.

This week's letter may not resonate with what's going on in your life, but I hope you can take away the same value of the message. No matter how bad things get, you are never the victim as long as you remember that you, and only you, have the power to decide what to do next. You may not be able to go back and start a new beginning but you can start today and create a new ending.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Passion First - The fuel of success

He was born with no left arm but that never stopped him from pursuing typical activities as a kid. He loved karate...everything about it. He watched karate movies on TV and asked his mom for permission to take karate lessons. When he went to sign up only the karate master was at the studio. The master looked the boy up and down and noticed he was missing his left arm. He asked the boy if he was willing to train hard, and they began private lessons. For one week straight the master taught the boy one move and one move only. They continued to practice this same move for an entire month. At the end of the first month the boy told the karate master that he loved the "move," but he asked when he would teach him a new move. The master looked at him and said, "I am only teaching you one move because that's the only move you will ever need to know. Be patient and keep practicing this move."

At the end of the second month, the master signed the boy up for a karate tournament. The kid was scared as he would be going up against teenagers with much more experience...surely they knew more than one move. The day of the event, the boy stood on the mat and stared at his first opponent. His opponent looked him up and down and noticed he was missing his left arm. He smiled and when the match started he charged the boy. Without even thinking, the boy used his move and he won his match. In fact he won the next four matches and at the end of the day he found himself in the final round, fighting for the championship. His final opponent looked the boy up and down, and just like all the others before him, he smiled and charged at the boy. Even though he was scared, the boy used his move and he won the match...he won the tournament.

In the car ride home, the boy was depressed. He looked at his karate master and asked him if the other kids felt sorry for him. Did they let him win? The master looked at him and said, "You won for two reasons. First, thanks to your patience and hard work, you have practically mastered one of the most difficult moves in karate. And second, the ONLY known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your LEFT arm!

Did that kid have a winning strategy or what? With hard work and patience, there was no way he could lose. Many of us want instant success. We expect our dreams to come true with the blink of an eye or the wave of a wand. The secret to making your dreams come true one day is to work on them every day. I've been going to a fitness center the last few months and I've been lifting weights multiple times a week. I've learned that as soon as you stop exercising your muscles, they atrophy. This means they shrink back in size. The same is true for your dreams. If you don't regularly pursue your passions then your mind atrophies and your dreams shrink in size. Keep this winning formula in mind while pursuing your dreams...Passion+Practice+Patience=Success.

In 1923, the idea to sculpt the image of four US Presidents into the side of a mountain in South Dakota was conceived. An historian by the name of Doane Robinson is credited with the idea to help promote tourism and to celebrate America's first 150 years. The location selected was Mount Rushmore and it took 14 years and 400 people to blast 450,000 tons of rock and granite from the mountainside. Often using dynamite, the sculptors carefully carved the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. In an interview, the lead sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was asked what he thought of the finished work. He commented that he thought Washington's nose was just a little too big but not to worry, thanks to erosion, in around 10,000 years it will be just perfect. Now that's patience! 

Each day, every day, keep your dreams in front of you and work toward them. Have patience and keep practicing and you won't have to wait 10,000 are perfect just the way you are!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

Live to Give - Near or far

What do old sneakers, abandoned animals and marines in Afghanistan have in common? Usually, not much. But today, they are part of a formula that I believe can transform the world. I may be putting a lot of pressure on old sneakers but here goes...

It's been rumored that Albert Einstein once said that the greatest invention of all time was compound interest. He's also been quoted as saying compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. Whether he actually said these or whether they're an urban legend I will leave for you to decide. But let's take a quick moment to look at what compound interest is. The concept is simple - invest some money properly and over time your money grows because you earn interest and you even earn interest on your interest. So for example if you invested one dollar a day ($30 a month) for 66 years you would have invested a total amount of $23,760 dollars. However, if you earn 8% annually on your money then your investment of $1 a day will compound to be worth $1 million dollars. Greatest invention ever? Maybe. But I would like to share another investment strategy that just might top this one.

As regular readers may recall, I visited Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota in April. Admittedly, these places were not on my "must visit" list. However, 19-year old Stephanie, a former student, invited me to speak to several thousand high school students. With the help of some of her college classmates, they arranged all the details. I only spoke for 90-minutes and I focused my message on finding your passion and making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. At the end of the presentation, I announced a 37-day "Live to Give Challenge" in which students could work alone or in groups to utilize their talents and passions to make a positive impact for a cause they believed in. That's it. 90 minutes and a challenge, then I left town.

I encourage you to follow this link ( and watch the two winning videos to see for yourself what old sneakers, abandoned animals, and marines in Afghanistan have in common. More importantly, you will see why I believe we have a new formula to transform the world. Instead of the formula for compound interest I believe we've discovered a formula to compound human potential.

Passion + Purpose + Action = Change the World. Identify your unique passions - what would you do for free? What are you better at than most people? What do you absolutely love to do? Then think about your purpose in life. Why are you here? What greater good are you ultimately suited for? What social causes light your fire? Once you have even the basic idea of your passion and your purpose, think of ways to combine them and take some action, any action toward pursuing them. Start today. Invest now. Let the compounding effect of your actions slowly build over time. Everything you do matters, from the thoughts you think to the actions you take. We all have the power inside of us to live our dreams and positively improve the world.

I am humbled by what a 90-minute seminar inspired. I also realize that it took a 1-week seminar to inspire and empower Stephanie to go back home and conceive the idea and arrange all the details to bring me to her home town. Stephanie took part in the Ultimate Life Summit along with 100 other teens from around the world. Our next summit is July 2-9 at Walt Disney World. Over 80% of the participants require scholarships to attend. The event is run by volunteers including me. We are in the process of raising money for the Ultimate Life Scholarship Fund. To make a tax-deductible donation, please visit

I hope you will take action today; by applying the message in this week's letter or by donating and empowering the future of a teenager at the Ultimate Life Summit. Either way, in order to compound human potential you may not need old sneakers, but you do have to make an investment.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!