Tuesday, January 27, 2015


It’s estimated that identity theft costs society billions of dollars a year.  But I believe an even bigger problem is when we steal our own identities.  When we pretend to be someone we’re not, we lose the energy and focus to pursue our own passions and dreams.  We become so busy trying to fit in or please other people that we lose sight of what really matters to us.  This week’s story is about living a truly authentic life…

Stu was born on Chicago’s South Side.  When he was seven, his family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  It was a jarring change in culture.

Stu got a hard time from some of the other black kids at his school, who accused him of “talking white.”  In truth, he just spoke with the Midwestern accent of his Chicago home.  Even so, the experience showed Stu how quickly people could focus on anything that looked or sounded different and didn’t fit their idea of what was okay.

Stu attended college at the University of North Carolina, where he played football, joined a fraternity, and worked at the student radio station.  He graduated with a degree in speech communications, and was hired soon after by a South Carolina TV station as a news reporter and weekend sports anchor.

It was there, at his first job on television, that Stu coined the phrase, “cooler than the other side of the pillow,” describing a great sports play made under pressure.  It was just the beginning.  Over the next few years, Stu’s charisma, energy, and natural rhythm on camera continually turned heads as he moved from one small station to a slightly larger one.  It didn’t even matter what he was covering; at one point, he did a piece on a rodeo, and delivered it like it was game seven of the NBA finals.  At each stop on his career path, it was obvious to his co-workers that he was on his way to the top.

At the time, American sports fans who wanted the latest scores, news and gossip got them on ESPN’s SportsCenter program.  The show's format was simple:  two anchors, almost always conservatively-dressed white guys in their thirties, sat behind a desk and reported the latest sports news in the dry style that broadcast newsmen had used for decades.  They had their own personalities, but what they all had in common was a sense of detachment, as if to say, “Everyone relax, it’s just sports.”

Until Stu arrived, that is.  He was 28 years old when he made his debut on ESPN as one of the network's few African American personalities who hadn't been a professional athlete, but what was really different about Stu was his energy.  When he narrated highlights, his voice rose.  He got excited.  He reacted to a slam dunk or touchdown with an emphatic "boo-yah!"  He used words and phrases that weren’t heard on television, and, just by being himself, began to change the way people talked about sports.

Stuart “Stu” Scott was a guy from the rap generation who used the kind of banter and catch-phrases on the air that friends used while watching games.  He’d go from channeling a Baptist preacher to quoting Public Enemy.  His demeanor and quick wit made him a star at a network whose stars were usually athletes, and as hip-hop became part of the pop-culture mainstream, he became known as the man who put the hip-hop in sportscasting.

As Stuart's star rose, so did the resistance to his presence by people who resented his color, his style, and his generation.  But despite criticism and pushback from older sports fans and personalities, Stuart Scott didn’t stop being Stuart Scott.  He was authentically himself from the time he first went on the air to his final broadcast.  In being himself, he was representing the community of people that talked how he talked and saw what he saw.  And the fans loved him for it.

Stuart Scott died of cancer on January 4th, 2015.  The previous year, while in the midst of undergoing treatments that should’ve confined him to bed, Stuart accepted the Jimmy V award for his battle against the illness.  In his energizing acceptance speech he said, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live." 

Stuart will be missed but we can all learn from his life and his words.  Discover who you are, and be the best version of yourself you possibly can.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Power of Opposite Thinking

Al was the third of his parents’ eight offspring.  A sickly child, he couldn’t attend school, and it wasn’t until he was nine years old that his family could afford private tutors.  He proved to be an eager student, though, and developed into a competent chemist by the age of 16.  His father was a businessman and an inventor, which helped fuel Al’s keen sense of curiosity.  He loved to learn and taught himself five languages!  He also figured out how to live with adversity.  Several of his father's businesses went bankrupt, but all Al saw was that his dad kept trying and never gave up.

By his early twenties, Al’s fascination with physics and chemistry had led him to start tinkering with his own inventions.  His father owned a mine, and Al started experimenting to find new and more efficient ways to blast through rock.  He initially tried gunpowder, but it was too unpredictable.  Nitroglycerine had recently been discovered, and even though it was extremely dangerous to produce, Al built a factory to manufacture it while searching for a safer way to detonate the explosive.  It was more dangerous than anyone realized.  One day, a freak explosion at the factory killed several people, including Al's younger brother.

Al was devastated, but became even more determined to create a safer way to detonate the Nitroglycerine.  After several years, he experienced a breakthrough, leading to his invention of dynamite and the blasting cap.  His product was much safer, and resulted in immediate benefits to companies working on tunnels, canals, dams and other construction projects.  Al opened up 90 factories worldwide, and soon became very wealthy as a mass producer of dynamite.  What troubled him, however, was that various government entities were buying his dynamite to arm their military forces.  It happened so quickly that Al decided the only way to keep the peace was to make his dynamite available to opposing nations as well.  He believed that, if both sides owned dynamite, neither would use it against the other.  He was wrong.

Later in his life, a strange series of events took place.  When his older brother passed away, the newspapers mistakenly thought it was Al who had died, and they ran his obituary instead of his brother's, with the papers referring to Al as, “The Merchant of Death."  Al was actually a pacifist, so of course this troubled him, and he decided to do something about it. 

A few years later, Al passed away, and his family was surprised to learn that he had created a secret will.  He died a wealthy man, but had left very specific instructions.  Nearly all of his money was to be used to create something entirely unique in the world.  It took a few years to get it into place, but eventually the wish of Alfred Nobel, the so-called "Merchant of Death," was fulfilled:  his fortune became the basis for the most prestigious awards the world had ever seen, with annual international prizes bestowed in recognition of cultural and scientific advances in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, Medicine, Literature, and, of course, Peace.
For more than 100 years, the Nobel Peace Prize has recognized individuals and organizations that are true catalysts for furthering peace and goodwill among humankind.  Recipients have included Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Jimmy Carter.  And few people remember that Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, since he used his own belief in more positive goals to become the ultimate supporter of peace.

Perhaps you can use the power of opposite thinking in your life.  When you experience difficult relationships or have a disagreement with a loved one, don't wait for the other to say they're sorry... do the opposite.  You have the power to apologize first, and if you do, you may turn grief into gratitude.  If you find yourself struggling with money difficulties, perhaps it’s time to think about how to put your passion first.  By following your passion, money becomes a secondary focus, and significance becomes the new currency of abundance in your life.

Sometimes opposite thinking is staring us right in the face.  You get to choose how you want to read this word:  is it impossible, or is it  I  M  POSSIBLE?  Just remember that it’s all about your mindsets and what you choose to focus on.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Failure is Never Final

Many summers ago, I ran an ad in a local newspaper in an effort to help me pay for school.  The ad read, “Eager male college student looking to earn money… will do anything.”  Within a day, my phone was ringing off the hook.  I’ve been married for over 20 years and have a deal with my wife not to talk about some of those calls, so I’ll simply say that I got some very unusual requests.

However, most of the calls were from people who wanted me to mow lawns, clean pools, run errands and clean out garages.  I started off charging $5 per hour and, as business increased, gradually raised my hourly rate to $15.  That first summer, I averaged a few hundred dollars per week.  When I went back to school, all I could think about was growing the business the following summer.  By the end of the school year, I had a new plan and a goal to earn $500 per week working Monday through Friday.

I ran the same ad again, but this time I told callers that my rate was $15 an hour or a flat $50 if they hired me for a weekly 4-hour block.  I made it clear that they had to hire me for the same day and 4-hour time slot each week for the whole summer, and promised that they’d love having me there every week doing multiple jobs and making their summers easier.  I signed the first customer up for Monday mornings from 8:00am to noon, and the next customer for Monday afternoons from 1:00 to 5:00pm.  Within three days, I’d booked 10 customers and had secured my $500 a week goal.

However, I had booked the ad to run for two weeks, and the phone kept ringing.  I decided to ask some of my friends if they wanted to work for me.  Two of them laughed at how ridiculous the whole thing sounded, but two others asked me how much they’d earn.  I offered them $10 an hour and, within days, I had booked each of them with full weekly schedules just like my own.  I was now paying my friends $400 a week and keeping $100 apiece from their efforts, having booked them at a higher rate.  The phone kept ringing, and when I ran out of friends to hire, I placed an ad at a local high school.  I started hiring high school students to work for me at $7.50 an hour, and, soon enough, they were making $300 per week, and I was making an extra $200 a week per person.

By the following summer, I had grown the business into a $5,000 a week enterprise.  I hired someone to run the company, stopped doing manual labor myself, and became an absentee owner. I also gave her power of attorney, which included full access to my bank account.  This proved to be a devastating mistake, as I was embezzled out of tens of thousands of dollars and ultimately lost my business.  I was embarrassed, deep in debt, and felt like a colossal failure.  It was a true low point in my life, and I had very little hope for the future.

Many years later, I still reflect on that early business experience.  It reminds me of a seed in the forest with a shell so hard that the only thing that can crack it open is a raging forest fire.  A forest fire is incredibly destructive to trees and wildlife, but its intense heat is essential to split open the shell of that seed, known as the Fire Weed.  A week after the forest fire subsides, the Fire Weed blossoms with beautiful purple flowers emerging from the charred soil.

In a way, we are all like the Fire Weed.  Sometimes, in order to get to the next level in our personal evolution, we need our own forest fire to shake things up.

I rebounded from my business failure and, upon reflection, found that I had learned some very important lessons.  As I continue through life, I face challenges just like all of you.  I’ve learned that these challenges are the “fires” I need to crack my shell and help me reflect on life, enabling me to blossom and begin again.  When pursuing your dreams, think of the Fire Weed, and remember that failure is never final unless you allow it to be.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Your Best Year Ever

Ricky had trouble paying attention in school.  He was dyslexic and struggled academically, but his mother suggested he focus on what he could do rather than on what he couldn’t.  She was always encouraging him to dream big and not let anything get in his way.  She herself was a shining example of someone who had learned to overcome obstacles.  At one point in her life, she wanted to fly airplanes in the armed services, but only men were accepted at the time.  Instead of giving up, she put on a big leather bomber jacket, tucked her long blond hair inside a cap and spoke in a deep voice.  She fooled a few people and took several flying lessons.

When Ricky was nine, he launched his first business:  He planted 200 seeds to grow Christmas trees.  He knew it would take approximately 18 months for the trees to grow and learned to be patient.  When he discovered that rabbits had eaten all of his seeds, he captured them and sold them to a local store to recoup his investment, even making a small profit.  Ricky learned that sometimes things happen outside of your control and you have to make adjustments.

At age 16, Ricky decided to leave school.  Academics had never gotten any easier for him, and he had other ideas he wanted to pursue.  One was for a magazine written by students for students.  While still living at home, he worked from a basement apartment to organize the publication.  He sent out over 200 letters to see if any companies would advertise.  It took a while, but eventually he was able to collect $10,000 to produce 50,000 copies of a magazine called Student.

It was difficult to make enough money from just the magazine, so Ricky decided to sell discount records to its readers.  He worked out a way to get records at wholesale prices, and then ran ads in his own magazine.  It worked.  Within a year, Ricky was making such good money selling the records that he started to dream of opening his own record shop.  He didn’t have the money to rent a store, so he made a deal with a local shoe store to use half of their space to sell records.  The shoe company liked the arrangement because it brought students in by the dozens, and some ended up buying new shoes.  This business model worked so well that Ricky opened more stores.

At the age of 21, Ricky opened his own recording studio as a place for local bands to practice and make demos of their music.  He often overhead his customers complaining about how hard it was to get a record label to produce them.  One customer named Mike was extremely frustrated because eight record labels had turned him down.  Ricky thought his music was great, and suggested that Mike let Ricky’s record company produce him.  Mike had nothing to lose, so he let a 21-year-old kid with some record shops and a small recording studio represent him.  Mike’s first single was called Tubular Bells, and Ricky helped make it the theme song to the movie The Exorcist.

Ricky was working so hard that he needed a vacation and decided to fly to Puerto Rico with his girlfriend.  During the trip, one of his flights was cancelled.  Everyone was standing around wondering what to do, so Ricky took action.  He found out the cost to charter a private plane, divided the cost by the number of seats and held up a chalkboard sign offering a one-way flight to Puerto Rico for $37.  He scribbled the made-up name of a company on the chalkboard to make it sound more legitimate…Virgin Airways.  No one knew that, 15 years later, Ricky would own a real airline.

Today, Ricky is best known as Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist and adventure seeker.  He named his first mail-order record business Virgin Records because he was new to the business world.  One business led to another, and after signing Mike Oldfield to Virgin Records, he went on to sign many other famous groups including the Rolling Stones, Culture Club and Janet Jackson. Over the last 40 years, Richard has grown the Virgin brand into over 400 companies in 30 countries from Virgin Mobile to Virgin Galactic, a company that flies paying customers to outer space!

Years ago, I met Richard Branson and heard his advice on how to live life to its fullest. He said, “Don’t waste a minute of your life and keep challenging yourself every day."  Branson sets seemingly unachievable dreams and then challenges himself to rise above them.  He pursues his dreams with passion and a desire to have fun.  If you’d like to make this year your best year, start dreaming bigger and don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you will do.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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