Being Your Own Agent For Change

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”

Steve Maraboli

There are two ways to find your genius. The first is to hope and pray for the right circumstances, opportunities, and that all of the stars align in the right way at the right time. It does happen. It happened for Beethoven, Bobby Fischer, Leonardo Da Vinci, and others. The other way to find your genius is to adopt the right mind set, do the right things, and to manipulate your circumstance to align the traits that you possess in such a manner so as to optimize your potential. There are no accidents in life. The universe is governed by laws and there never has been a law of accidents or coincidence. However, there is cause and effect, the Law of action and reactions (Newton’s third law), or however you want to understand it. What’s important is that you understand that your actions have causative effects to the world around you. Therefore, deliberate actions can have a calculated and predictive effect on your environment. Hence you jump out of a moving car and you will roll on the ground. You bang your head on concrete, you’ll have a headache. I think you understand my meaning. So the key then, is to manipulate your own perspectives, beliefs, and actions in such a way so as to elicit your desired results. This mean that you become your own agent for change, regardless of what perceived obstacles that you encounter. I wrote “perceived” obstacle because this is about perspective. Let me give you an example from a lady whom I know personally and respect immensely.

I have a good friend whom I met at about 13 years old. We attended high school together. This friend was of foreign birth.  After the passing of his father, his mother left their native country with 6 children in tow and moved to Los Angeles. To put things into perspective, my friend’s mother and father were not married so she inherited nothing when he passed. She had a two-year degree from a non U.S. university in accounting from a university that was not accepted here in the U.S. They left their home nation and came to the U.S. when my friend was about 6 years old, so I met him about 6 years later. By that time, she had a house with a value in excess of 1 million dollars, drove a Mercedes SL500, and sent her youngest two children who were still in school to a private school. She, on a whim, entered into a business that is heavily controlled by wealthy White and Jewish men, yet when she would walk into that arena, everyone would stop to greet her and show her respect (at least that’s how I remember it). When I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Business, I took a Small Business Course. One of our projects was to interview a successful business person about how he or she achieved his or her success. So I chose my friend’s mother. What I learned from her was pivotal.

I drove out to their house one day and asked her a series of questions. I don’t remember the majority of the questions, but the one that I do remember was this. “Mrs. So and So, what obstacles did you encounter while pursuing your dreams.?” Her answer knocked me totally off balance. She responded “what obstacles? What do you mean?” I was somewhat taken aback. Keep in mind that I was raised by Black American parents who came of age before the American Civil Rights movement of the 60’s and I was raised being told stories of oppression, murder, racism, and hatred. My uncle had been shot twice in the chest for dating a White woman and my cousin was shot, stabbed, and lynched by the KKK in rural Louisiana just because White women found him attractive. So, though I realized that we had progress since that time, I was also aware that racism was still alive and relevant. I responded “you’re a woman, you’re Black, you’re foreign, your degree is from a foreign university, yet even before I met you, you were successful. Surely you had to face some obstacles. She thought for a moment and told me a story. Read carefully as it became the crux of my philosophy for success:

For the sake of the story and privacy, we’ll call her “Mom’, my friend “John”, and his older brother “Matthew”. To set up the story allow me to explain that Mom lived in the hills of Los Angeles and her son Matthew, John’s older brother lived a block away also in the hills. So Mom told me this story, “One day I drove up to Matthew’s house and as I approached I saw John and Matthew trying to force an ottoman through Matthew’s front door. Matthew had just bought an oversized ottoman. So there they are damaging the ottoman as they were forcing it. So I told them to stop. I stepped back and thought for a minute and told John to go to the garage and get the ladder. Matthew has a 20-foot extendable ladder. I had Matthew and John place the ladder on the hill side and the other end on the balcony (remember, his house was right against the hillside). I then had John go get some flat boards and put them over the ladder. Then I told them just to walk the ottoman right in through the second floor. You see Eric, everyone is taught to enter a house through the doors, but that’s not what was going to work for what we needed. So where everyone else thought door, I thought ‘what will work for what we need’. Eric so you see, that’s how I approach life. I guess that if someone has a problem with me, for whatever reason, I chose to let it be their problem. I see what I want to do, and find a way to do it.” But did you hear that wisdom???

It’s very peculiar when you start to write a book from a place of passion. While writing this book, just yesterday in fact, I had a coffee shop conversation with a complete stranger. Let me share with you what he shared with me and how relevant his story is to this exact section:

I was sitting in the coffee shop and a man approached me and wondered if I were someone else. I told him my name and we realized that he had been mistaken. As we continued to talk he told me that he had worked in oil his entire life until retirement. He was now in his mid-60s and was receiving social security and a pension. He shared with me that his income allowed for him to pay his bills, but in his words, it was slightly more than “unemployment”. Then he smiled and said “you know what, I’ve made more money since retirement than I ever did all of those years working. I got a lot of opportunities to travel and it was a good life, but now I’m really having fun.” Of course I thought that he was going to try to sell me on some multi-level marketing deal. So very hesitantly, I asked “how did you do that.” He conveyed that for a short period of time, years ago, that he helped out a commercial property owner on some property tax matter with helping the owner assess his building. He shared that he had some type of financial background, though I did not question him any further. He said what he started to do, for fun, was show people how to, through the depreciation of their commercial property in an accelerated manner, free anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions in capital that they could throw back into their businesses. As we spoke he shared with me each project costs him about $3500 and he charges anywhere from $8,000 to $35,000. He said through word of mouth, he’s acquiring 4-6 new projects per month. He said “that’s more than enough for a grandpa with two grandchildren. $50,000 per month is more than I need.” I asked him if he had done this in his 20’s can he imagine where he would be right now? He responded jokingly that the two biggest mistakes that he had ever made was to go to college and get a job. I understood his meaning. Usually a university education prepares for you to be a marketable and competent worker, while the employer keeps the lion’s share. It does not prepare you for financial freedom and independence. So here this gentleman is, sitting at Starbucks earning more than $10,000 per week just having fun. The moral of the story?? Work within your passion and you WILL be successful. Don’t waste your life living someone else’s dream, playing it safe, or being too timid to act. The genius is already in you, but you have to be your own agent in bringing that potential into fruition.

Very seldom will the easy road lead you to where you want to go. None of us are born with the requisite tools needed to be successful in business. We develop those traits that collectively become our genius through life experience. There will always be some degree of success and failure. It depends on the hardness of your head. If you have a very hard head, expect more failures than most. If you learn and adapt quickly, you can mitigate and minimize a lot of your losses. You also have to be willing to stand on your own at some point. There is a time for collective action, but there is a time to skin your bottom on the ground, by yourself, in order to learn life’s lessons. And there’s no time like the present. The worse your circumstance, the more opportunity that you have to learn. This is because there will be more obstacles and a steeper slope to climb. Frederick Douglass is someone that I’ve always admired. When addressing the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the mid-19th century he addressed a common question of his time, “What shall we do with the Negro if he is freed?” Here was his response:

“What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!”

While his speech was addressing a specific dialogue with a particular group within a particular context, the principle of his speech is applicable to all. At a certain point, people have to be left alone to find their own genius. Very often we only find this through struggle and necessity. Hence, the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention.” When our back is to the wall, we are strongest. Perhaps this is evolutionary. Other species become aggressive and sharp when their backs are to the wall. You may be 100 times the size of a raccoon, but I challenge you to corner one with no weapon. As human beings, our evolutionary adaptation is our intellect and ingenuity. So when we are in survival mode, our intellect and ingenuity is at its best. How many “inventors” have hundreds of inventions that will never see the light of day? Conversely, how many of the valid, well known inventions came out of a sense of necessity? You see, it’s much more difficult to try to jump start that human intellectual ingenuity at will, rather than have it jump started out of a sense of need and survival. You’ll find that when you have to survive, even when you thought that you did not have what it takes, that you’ll find a way to survive. In the same manner, having identified your genius, having thought out a business model, put your back to the wall, and watch what comes of it. You’ll be presently surprised.

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