Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eyes Wide Open

I recently received a letter from a former student, so this week I wanted to try something different and let her tell her story. 

“My name is Amelia.  I am a twenty-one year old marketing student from the Dominican Republic. Two years ago I attended the Ultimate Life Summit, which is where I learned the 7 Mindsets.  I currently study at my town's community college, just three blocks away from my house.

“On Tuesday October 1st of this year at about 8:00 p.m., I was walking home from school with my sister.  Less than a block away from our house, two thieves on a motorcycle attacked us.  They were trying to take my purse, which held my schoolbooks and notebook as well as my ID, insurance card, college documents, cell phone and wallet.  In the middle of their attempt to rob me, my sister started defending us.  I was in shock, not fully getting what was actually happening.  She hit one of the thieves repeatedly, so in order to take my purse, he cut the straps and stabbed me in the hand.

“The thieves got away with my things, and I was bleeding like crazy.  People nearby noticed what had happened and came to help us.  I had to go to the emergency room, but once there, the doctor on call realized that two of my fingers weren't moving, and sent me for emergency surgery.  When I had been stabbed, it had cut two tendons and an artery, putting my entire left hand at risk.

“Surgery finished at 2 o'clock in the morning, and it was successful.  The next morning, people were calling my family like crazy. I was discharged that day, and later that evening, all my friends came to the house.

That was four weeks ago.  And now I'm going to tell you some valuable things I realized during this past month:

“- I can die any day.  As horrible as that may sound, it's true.  So, if I die now, what was the meaning of my life?  Have I done something amazing with my life?  No.  Have I accomplished my dreams and goals yet?  No.

“This raises the question:  Why the heck are you waiting to give your life some meaning?  The time to create an awesome life with what you are doing is NOW.

“- Be GRATEFUL.  Grateful that you are alive and well.  Grateful that you have the things you have.  I’m grateful that I am alive, when lots of people involved in situations like mine end up worse, even dead, while I got only a stabbed hand.  

“- Work on your relationships.  I actually didn't know that so many people would worry about me the way they did. I’ve learned that I have the most awesome friends because I picked them wisely and worked on those relationships.
“And last but not least...

“- Find your passion!  Passion is the only thing that will make you get up every day and face this roller coaster we call life.  Embrace that passion, and live as if your last day is today.  The reason I am not depressed over what happened is that I have no time to be depressed – I am busy focusing on what I love and am learning in order to get what I want!

“Scott, why is it that only difficult situations make us see what is in front of our eyes?  How can we be so blind?  I’m sharing my story with you in hopes you might share it with others.  What happened to me made me open my eyes and reflect on my own mindsets.  You can be certain that I am proceeding with an Attitude of Gratitude and intend to put my Passions First. The Time is Now to start living my dreams!  Your former student, Amelia José.” 

Well Amelia, to answer your question:  I believe difficult situations are an opportunity for us to re-examine our lives and learn something to help us grow.  There’s an old saying that the measure of a great teacher is not how many students they teach, but rather how many masters they create.  It seems to me that the student has now become the teacher.  Your life experience and words of wisdom are being shared with the millions of people who receive these weekly stories.  Today, you have reminded us to keep our eyes wide open and live life to the fullest!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Speak Your Mind

Malala was born into a Sunni Muslim family in Pakistan's Swat Valley, where she grew up in a house with two younger brothers, her parents, and two pet chickens. Malala and her brothers were educated by their father, a poet and school owner. From a very young age, he saw something special in his daughter, and allowed her to stay up at night to discuss politics after her brothers had gone to bed.

When Malala was just eleven years old, she began speaking locally about education rights. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist political movement, was increasing its military presence in the Swat Valley, and had begun destroying schools for girls in an effort to keep female students from attaining proper education. For Malala, the threat of losing her chance for an education was too serious to accept without standing up for it. So, when her father was approached by the BBC in search of a girl willing to anonymously submit reports about life under Taliban occupation, he suggested his own daughter. Despite the possibility of Taliban reprisals if her identity became known, Malala agreed, and started submitting her handwritten notes to the BBC.

Shortly after Malala's BBC blog began, the schools in the region closed for winter vacation. However, no one was excited, because the Taliban had set forth an edict to ban girls' education completely. This meant that, once they left, the female students had no idea when they could return to school. During the coming weeks, Taliban militants continued blowing up schools to enforce the education ban. And, even after the ban was publicly lifted, many families continued to keep their children (boys and girls alike) home from school. Finally, government forces began clearing the region of Taliban militancy in an effort to avert further violence.

Throughout all of this, Malala's blogs continued, attracting growing interest around the world as she reported openly on what she saw: "It seems that it is only when dozens of schools have been destroyed and hundreds others closed down that the army thinks about protecting them. Had they conducted their operations here properly, this situation would not have arisen." When Malala's identity became known, her profile rose, and she met world leaders, spoke to international news sources, and received numerous international youth peace awards. Unfortunately, this heightened profile also made her a more visible target.

Threats against Malala's life from the Taliban, who claimed to be targeting her for promoting non-religious and westernized education, were published in regional newspapers, through social media, and even slipped under her door. When Malala showed no sign of reining in her vocal activism, members of the organization decided to act. In a secret meeting of the Taliban's leaders, they unanimously agreed to kill her.

On October 9, 2012, a Taliban gunman entered the bus that Malala Yousafzai was riding home after taking exams at school. The masked gunman, after identifying who she was, shot at her, hitting both Malala and two other girls.

Malala was hit with one bullet in her left brow, but instead of penetrating the skull, it was deflected down and lodged in her shoulder. The doctors who treated her stated that the chances of such a wound from a point-blank gunshot not being fatal were astronomical. Equally unlikely was the presence of a team of renowned British medical specialists in Pakistan at the time of the shooting. Brought in to consult on Malala's condition, they were not optimistic due to swelling in her brain, and made the decisive call to move Malala to a facility in Birmingham, England.

Despite all odds, Malala recovered. She underwent physical therapy and a series of surgeries to repair skull and nerve damage, ultimately regaining her speech, movement, and, most critically, coming through the ordeal with no brain damage. Instead of the Taliban turning her into a martyr, they made her a symbol. She was alive and still able to speak, which she continues to do, upholding the rights of young women everywhere to receive proper education. In 2013, at the age of 15, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest individual ever to receive such an honor. This month, her autobiography, I Am Malala, was published.

Educators teach students all about life, but sometimes it takes a student to teach us what life is all about. Malala does more than speak her mind; she speaks for the rights of women and children. She speaks for the world. Thank you Malala! We are listening.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Seeing is Believing

Chris grew up with a large family of eleven brothers and sisters in Long Island, NY.  I met Chris and his twin brother in high school, when I gave them a tour of the military academy I was attending. They decided to enroll, and Chris and I became good friends.  A few years later, we both graduated with the rank of Captain, and it seemed our friendship would continue forward when we both decided to attend Fordham University in New York. 

When Chris arrived on the first day of college, they didn’t have a room for him, so he shared my dorm room for a month.  After graduating, Chris and I rented an apartment together in the Bronx. The place was a slum, and one night the ceiling collapsed, missing Chris’ bed by just inches. We complained to the superintendent, but he gave no indication that he was going to fix it.  A few days later, the kitchen ceiling collapsed while I was cooking dinner.  This time, we told the super that we wouldn’t pay the rent until he repaired the place. Living with two huge holes in our ceiling for months, we saved our rent money until we could afford a new place in Manhattan.

We both married girls we met in college, had kids, and moved forward with our lives.  While we remained friends throughout the years, we didn’t see each other very often, primarily because I had moved to Atlanta. It was during our 20-year college reunion that I learned Chris had divorced and was looking for a career change. I invited him to Atlanta to work with the 7 Mindsets team.  Here is where the story gets inspiring.

After flying to Atlanta for an interview, Chris walked around a bit to see if he liked the neighborhood. Stumbling onto a small street, he spotted an old house that was in need of a lot of work. Chris had always wanted to live in a turn of the century home that he could restore, and he immediately envisioned himself living in this house. However, the sign on the front lawn read, “Condemned due to black mold.”  The house was for sale, but no one wanted to buy it because the city had marked it for demolition.  This didn’t dissuade Chris though, because at one point in his life, he had actually been a mold remediation expert. He decided to make an offer.

Although his offer was accepted, it was not going to be an easy transaction, because finding a bank willing to approve a loan to buy a condemned house is next to impossible.  In fact, it took more than a year, something Chris never expected.  However, as the loan process dragged slowly forward, Chris began to visualize his dream home.  He pictured what it would look like after he restored it and moved in, even adding an image of meeting someone special to share his new life with.  To help with his visualization, he rented a room in the house directly across the street.  In the evenings, he would sneak into the condemned house to work on removing the mold. On the weekends, he cleaned up the yard.

Realizing that he needed a small truck to transport supplies and haul away trash, Chris purchased one and began parking it in the driveway of his dream home. Every morning he would wake up and look across the street to see his truck parked in the driveway of the house he was trying to buy.  Now that’s visualization!

One evening at a fundraising dinner, Chris met a woman that took his breath away.  After just a short conversation with her, he told me that he wanted to marry a woman just like her.  When I heard this, I looked at Chris and told him that she was actually the sister of the woman he was renting his room from.  He laughed at the coincidence, but I couldn’t help but think of the serendipity of it all.

This weekend, I attended the wedding of my long-time friend Chris to his beautiful new wife, Maria.  After the reception, they returned to their dream home that Chris ultimately purchased and has been restoring.  It’s a fairy tale ending that has been in the works for decades, as Maria and her sister always dreamed of someday living across the street from one another, which they now do.  But something tells me this fairy tale is just beginning…

What’s this week’s message?  Dreams come true when you can see them in your mind, believe them in your heart, and passionately take action.  I hope I get to write your story someday!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Raise Your Flag

Born in Washington, D.C., Henry was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was three.  As a teenager, he suffered from depression and low self-esteem.  He was diagnosed with hyperactivity and prescribed medication to help him focus.  Henry was regularly beaten up, being the minority white kid in a black D.C. neighborhood.  He also endured physical beatings and mental abuse from one of his mother’s boyfriends, further contributing to a deep, suppressed anger.

Dropping out of college after one semester, Henry began working a series of minimum wage jobs.  At twenty, he had become manager of a Haagen-Dazs ice cream store.  He was sharing an apartment, had a small record collection, and drove a (mostly) functioning Volkswagen.  His mother had instilled in him a love of literature, and reading provided him some escape and release.  In considering his life, he felt that it was as good as it was likely to get for him.

That’s when Henry and his friends discovered the blossoming hardcore punk scene, which was especially active in D.C.  Suddenly, they were seeing shows in places the size of living rooms.  Caught up in the emotional rush and energy, Henry joined a local punk group.  Around this time, an acquaintance introduced him to the music of the relatively popular Southern California punk band, Black Flag.  He became an instant fan, especially after seeing one of their ferocious live performances.  It was one of the most powerful things he’d ever witnessed.

One night, after a shift scooping ice cream, he drove all the way to New York to see Black Flag perform again. During the show, he yelled for them to sing “Clocked In," a song about work, because he was dreading the long drive back to New York and returning to his minimum wage job. The lead singer looked at Henry and motioned in a way that implied, “do you want to sing it?”  Henry hopped onstage and nailed the song. The band and audience were both surprised at his talent.  A few days later, he got a phone call from the band at his job.  Their singer wanted to switch to guitar, and after having played with Henry that one night, they asked if he wanted to audition to sing for them. 

Looking at the ice cream scoop in his hand and his chocolate-spattered apron, Henry considered, once again, his future in the world of minimum wage work.  What was the worst that could happen?  He would miss one day of work, maybe put on a poor showing in front of his favorite band, and then everything would go on as it already had.  But he never considered that his choice to go and audition would put him where he is today.

Henry successfully auditioned for and became the most famous and recognizable singer for Black Flag, one of the most iconic and influential punk rock bands of all time.  His output with them consisted of literate, idealistic lyrics over the band's harsh, grinding assault.  With Black Flag, Henry took ownership of who and what he wanted to be, neither adhering nor bowing to the tenets of any scene:  first he shaved his head like many punks to confuse uptight America, and then grew his hair long just to aggravate the punks. He also wrote frenetically about his experiences in the band, eventually starting his own publishing house to print and sell his writings on life, singing, touring, and whatever else he felt like saying. 

Today, Henry Rollins is a brand in and of himself.  He is an established spoken word artist and tours the country (and sometimes the world) performing to huge audiences.  He appears in movies, shows, and has hosted both radio and television programs based around his signature humor and strong opinions.  His publishing house has gone from putting out hand-stapled pamphlets of his writing to publishing works from world-renowned authors and musicians.  Above all, Henry Rollins remains singularly himself.  His sense of individuality, drive, and passion has helped him reach a level of success he never would have anticipated for himself based on his upbringing.

You too can rise to your own level of greatness if you hold on to your dreams and embrace your authentic self.  Raise your flag of individuality and do everything you can to put your passion first.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams