Friday, September 27, 2013

Footprints on the Moon

William grew up in a very rough part of East Los Angeles.  His family survived on welfare and food stamps, but so did everyone else in the neighborhood.  Even so, William never felt poor or disadvantaged.  He grew up with a sense of pride for what he did have: family, friends, and a creative mind.

With over thirty gangs operating nearby, their neighborhood was a difficult place to stay out of trouble.  Other local kids drifted in or were recruited early, but William’s mother encouraged him to be unique and stand apart.  By maintaining a sense of himself and staying out of the life, he earned the gangs’ respect, and they not only left him alone, but even looked out for his well-being.

William’s mother also sought a better education for her son, arranging for him to attend school an hour away in Pacific Palisades.  Every morning at five a.m., she had William at the bus stop, knowing that the extra time and energy to send him so far would better prepare him for opportunities later in life.

At school, William’s energy and individual style stood out.  He looked different, dressed different, and was always dancing and rapping in the hallways.  The teachers recognized his potential as well as his attention deficit disorder.  They encouraged him to ask as many questions as he needed.  This kept him focused and on track, and he quickly recognized all the possibilities available to him that had never seemed attainable growing up in the projects.

The desire to better his family’s living situation was a motivating force in William’s creativity.  By the time he and his friends were in their early teens, they’d started both a dance group and a hip-hop trio, performing at house parties and squaring off with other crews at local competitions.  Every moment of the day was a chance for self-expression and working on their craft, from dancing at clubs to freestyle rapping while walking down the block.  At age seventeen, William entered a freestyle rap contest and decimated the competition, immediately establishing himself as the best up-and-coming rapper in LA.

Soon after, William and his group were offered their first record deal on a gangsta-rap label.  Even though it wasn’t their style, it was still a deal, and it would give them much-needed exposure.  However, when the label suddenly folded following the death of its founder, the group found themselves in limbo.  William reorganized the group, shifting the lineup and playing small events, but they received rejection after rejection from record companies and industry execs who didn’t appreciate their unique style.

Finally, they met a producer who recognized William’s unique genius.  He knew within their first minute of conversation that William was one of those rare individuals destined for nothing but greatness.  Signing with the producer, the band was given the chance to do what they’d been working toward since they were kids. Thus began an upward rise that eventually saw William and his group become one of the biggest musical outfits in the world.

William “Will.I.Am” Adams is best known as the leader of the Black Eyed Peas, a band that has sold an estimated 56 million records worldwide. They are the second-best-selling group of all time in download sales, with over 42 million tracks sold.  Their fourth album was certified platinum four times in the U.S., and, in 2009 the group became one of only eleven artists to have ever simultaneously held the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, with the single "I Gotta Feeling" topping the chart for an unprecedented twenty-six consecutive weeks.

Leveraging his success, Will.I.Am also launched a non-profit called, an organization dedicated to transforming lives through education, opportunity, and inspiration.  And he made history in 2012 by being the first artist to stream one of his songs from the surface of Mars.  The song?  “Reach for the Stars,” of course.

Will.I.Am is living proof that, regardless of what you’re born into, your tomorrow can be something entirely different, and you can make your life whatever you choose.  The world doesn’t need people who only have opinions. It needs people who take action on what they believe and are willing to pursue their dreams. Now is the time for you to reach for the stars, and remember that the size of your dreams matter. The sky isn’t the limit when there are footprints on the moon.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Permission to Persevere

September 18, 2013

James was drawn to art and design from an early age.  His father died when he was nine, leaving James feeling different than other children, as though he was on his own and had a greater need to prove himself.  At school he excelled in long distance running, not because he was the best athlete, but because he was immensely determined. 

Ignoring the advice of his career advisor to become a real estate agent, James attended the Byam Shaw School of Art for a year, and then moved to London’s Royal College of Art to finish his formal education.  Studying interior and furniture design, James was hired toward the end of his college career by an engineering company whose culture was characterized by plenty of young talent with fresh approaches to problem solving.

His first boss at the company put him in charge of designing and manufacturing the Sea Truck, a unique boat that could move cargo in difficult places.  At that stage in his career, James had never designed a product nor sold anything.  But the experience of having permission to make mistakes helped him learn much more effectively than if he was expected to get everything right the first time around.  During this time, a wheelbarrow that got stuck in the mud inspired his creation of the Ballbarrow, which, instead of a wheel, had a large inflatable ball to keep it upright and make it more maneuverable.

Several years into his career, James stumbled across a new problem, this time at home.  While vacuuming with a top of the line Hoover vacuum, he became frustrated with how quickly it lost its suction.  Taking it apart, he determined that dust was clogging the pores of the bag and blocking the airflow.  During a visit to a local sawmill, James noticed how the sawdust was removed from the air by large industrial cyclones.  He wondered if the same principle could work on a smaller scale inside a vacuum cleaner.  At home, he took his vacuum apart and rigged it with a miniature cardboard cyclone, then began cleaning a room with it.  It picked up more than his old bagged machine.

Supported by his wife's salary as an art teacher, James worked on his prototypes.  It took him five years and five thousand prototypes before he released the world's first bagless vacuum cleaner.  However, the vacuum industry was not very supportive of this new invention.  Offering his bagless vacuum to the major manufacturers, James was turned down by them all.  It seemed they were determined not to interfere with their own sales of replacement bags, an industry segment worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the companies each year.

James found himself at a crossroads, but felt that if he did the sensible thing and gave up, he would always regret it.  So, instead, he initiated sales of the vacuum himself through catalogs in Japan.  Offered in hot pink, the Japanese catalog price of James’ G-Force vacuum in his native currency was almost 2000 British pounds… and it sold.  After failing to sell his invention to the major manufacturers, James set up his own manufacturing company in England, applying for patents and continuing to improve the design.

It may not have been an instant success, but more than fifteen years after his initial idea, James’ bagless vacuum had become the fastest-selling vacuum cleaner ever made in the UK.  Notably, other major players then attempted to copy his designs with their own versions.  Forced to sue for patent infringement, James and his company eventually won $5 million in damages from one of the largest vacuum manufacturers in the world, a company who had not only rejected his original idea, but even inspired it:  Hoover.

James Dyson is the inventor of the world’s first bagless vacuum cleaner, with technology that changed the landscape of the industry. When asked for advice on dealing with adversity, he said, “A lot of people give up when the world seems to be against them, but that's the point when you should push a little harder.  I use the analogy of running a race.  It seems as though you can’t carry on, but if you just get through the pain barrier, you'll see the end and be okay.  Often, just around the corner is where the solution will happen."

Give yourself permission to make mistakes and you will be giving yourself permission to persevere.  All dreams reside on the other side of obstacles.  Find your own way through them.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

London Calling

I’m just returning from London, where I helped launch the first 7 Mindsets Academy in the United Kingdom.  Over 800 students there will be learning what it takes to dream big and follow their passions as part of their school curriculum.  At the end of one seminar, a 17-year-old girl asked me for some advice on how to deal with setbacks when trying to make your dreams come true.  I’ll share what I told her at the end of this week’s story, which addresses this very subject…

Kelly was born in a small town in southeast England. She enjoyed a happy childhood, with her family encouraging her to take up running at school.  Showing exceptional ability, she won titles at both the junior and senior levels, and began training seriously at the age of twelve.  By the age of fourteen, Kelly had declared that she wanted to be an Olympic athlete.

There was a lack of funding for British sports at the time, and as Kelly neared adulthood, she started considering a path that would provide more stability than athletics.  In a move that was something of a surprise, she joined the British Army.  Following her initial training, she became certified as an army truck driver.  She was dedicated and determined, but something was missing in her life. She had chosen the military for its career stability, but it wasn’t fulfilling what was in her heart.  After watching the Barcelona Olympics on television and seeing someone that she’d once defeated competing there, she could wait no longer.  Kelly decided to start running again.

Despite having left competitive running behind at a crucial age for most developing athletes, it soon became clear that Kelly still had the talent to compete at a world-class level.  Within a year, she held two major 800-meter titles in England, and was winning medals on a regular basis.  But despite her success, Kelly remained in the army, sometimes returning from a major competition just in time for guard duty.  In army championships, she even competed in the men's races, because none of the female competitors could keep up with her.

Kelly set new 800-meter and 1000-meter British records, but after becoming the fastest British woman in the 1500-meter as well, she experienced her first serious injury, a stress fracture.  She competed in the Atlanta Olympics anyway, but only managed fourth place, missing out on a medal by a tenth of a second.  After rehabilitating her injured leg, she reclaimed the 1500-meter record, and was the favorite to win at the world championships.  Unfortunately, she ruptured her Achilles tendon during the race, and finished far behind the rest of the field.

Kelly battled injuries, illness, and depression during the next several years.  She still raced, but struggled with consistency, and even considered giving up competitive running.  After coming so far back, it was the darkest time in her life.  But Kelly was nothing if not resilient, and she had come too far too quit.  She began managing her depression with the help of medication, changed coaches, and worked hard to strengthen her body and regain full health. 

Ten years into her competitive career, Kelly experienced a turning point.  After years of injury and underperforming, her health had stabilized, and she won her tenth national title, along with several medals at various world championships.  She was in the best shape of her life.  Building up to the Olympics, the only question on her mind was whether it was realistic to compete in two separate events.  It wasn’t until two days before the first event that she made her decision…

By putting her passion first and returning to the sport she’d envisioned herself in since childhood, Kelly Holmes gave herself permission to attain and exceed her ultimate dream.  At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she became the first British athlete to win two gold medals at a single Olympics since it was last accomplished in 1920, winning both the 800-meter and the 1500-meter, and set a new British record in the process.

Kelly faced many setbacks as she pursued her dreams, and showed that how you deal with setbacks determines whether you’ll achieve your dreams.  Those who view setbacks as reasons to quit inevitably fall short of their potential.  But those who view setbacks as opportunities to adjust and persevere have a higher probability of living their dreams and experiencing more joy along the way.

I told the young girl with hope in her eyes, “A setback is just an opportunity for a comeback. Follow your passions and don’t ever give up.”

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Always Be Sexy

Chris was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, just minutes ahead of his fraternal twin brother, Michael.  As a child growing up in Iowa, Chris lived on a farm with his brother, older sister, and factory-working parents enjoying the country lifestyle of an average midwestern youngster.  However, his carefree youth took a melancholy turn when his brother Michael was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and began suffering from recurring heart problems as well.

As they got older, Chris found the constant downswings in his brother’s health to be stressful and difficult.  He often stayed away from the house in order to avoid hearing more bad news, and closed himself off emotionally. This didn’t stop him from acting like a brother.  At school, Michael was the kid with coke bottle glasses and a hearing aid, which initially led to teasing and cruel treatment from other students.  Popular and protective, Chris quickly put an end to such behavior, and made sure that neither his brother, nor any of the other kids, was bullied. 

When the brothers were thirteen, Michael developed a heart condition called cardiomyopathy, a virus-related illness affecting his heart muscle.  An emergency heart transplant was the only thing that could save him, and the prognosis looked grim.  Distraught, Chris actually considered jumping off a hospital balcony to his own death, in order to save Michael's life with the donation of his healthy heart.  Fortunately, before he could act, a group of doctors rushed in with the news that a donor heart had been found and was on the way.  The transplant was a success.

As a young teenager, Chris kept himself busy.  His first job was with his father, carrying shingles up to rooftops.  He treated each job as a stepping stone to the next, from washing dishes to working in a grocery store deli to sweeping up at a cereal factory, and he never left one job until he secured the next.  He also played sports and ventured into acting, appearing in a number of high school plays.

In college, Chris held down a variety of odd jobs, even selling blood to get by.  So, when a talent scout offered him an invitation to enter a regional modeling contest, he had nothing to lose.  He entered and won.  Chris believed strongly in hard work, but also in seizing opportunities.  He left school and entered an international modeling competition, and although he didn’t win, he did succeed in signing a contract with a prestigious New York agency.  Appearing in a number of high profile ads for the likes of Calvin Klein, Versace, and Abercrombie & Fitch, Chris felt certain that trying his hand at acting professionally was the next logical step.

In Hollywood, Chris got right to work.  One of his first auditions was for a role at NBC, where he was told that he wasn’t right, but was invited instead to read for a new pilot called “Wind On Water” about a cowboy surfer.  Chris was unsure about the concept, but before turning it down, he auditioned at another studio for a different pilot called “Teenage Wasteland.”  He took a risk and told the casting director that he needed to know by 3:45 that day if he’d gotten the role, because NBC was expecting his decision about their show by 4:00.  The gamble worked, and he was hired as part of the cast of “Teenage Wasteland,” a sitcom that would become a huge hit during its seven year run… that is, after it was re-named, “That 70s Show.”

Christopher “Ashton” Kutcher may have gotten famous playing a stereotypical lunkhead, but he has displayed intelligence and maturity since attaining stardom.  Besides acting in numerous blockbuster movies, he has successfully created and produced several TV shows that demonstrate his keen eye for edgy, watchable programming.  He contributes financially and creatively to a number of tech startups, and in 2009, he co-founded an international human rights organization dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children.

After receiving the “Ultimate Choice Award” at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards this month, Ashton shared three beliefs he has about how to live your best life: “One:  Opportunity looks a lot like hard work. Two: The sexiest things in the entire world are being really smart, thoughtful, and generous. And three:  Everything that we call life was made up by people no smarter than you.  So work hard to find your opportunities, don’t follow someone else’s definition of life, build your own, and always be sexy.”

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams