My Road Map to a Successful Career in PR

This week is my first of two weeks off from my master’s program at Syracuse University. While I don’t have a blog post that’s due for a class, I figured that I’d maintain a habit of blogging every week as I’ll be doing the same starting fall semester for my advanced writing class.

Anyway, to pick up where I left off with my last blog post, I’m definitely pleased so far with my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations. Perhaps what I’ve been most thankful for is my ability to use my course projects for my portfolio to share with prospective employers. Now that the summer session is over I’m turning my attention to finding internship and job opportunities, preferably with nonprofit organizations.

tumblr_l4zu1eCcMv1qa9gi9o1_400It’s really no secret why I have a special interest in nonprofits. As you know, I’ve been telling the stories of organizations in Detroit for four years prior to enrolling at Syracuse. What hasn’t always been clear though were my ultimate career goals. However, as I’ve had time to prepare and embrace what I want from my program I’ve determined four career paths which I wish to pursue:

  1. Nonprofit PR for youth-serving organizations – The work that I’ve done with organizations in Detroit the past few years have been some of my greatest accomplishments as a professional. After I’d see an organization get published for their work in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press I’d always say to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to make a career out of this!” After all, there are few things better than showcasing youth in a positive light.
  2. Community relations for professional sports teams – This one is kind of a new interest for me. My interest in this as a career choice became clearer as I’ve thought of ways to combine my love of community and sports. Specifically, I love the work that Sam Abrams does with the Detroit Tigers as he’s constantly informing local baseball coaches of ways to get their youth involved with the team’s programs.
  3. Running my own small communications firm – With the way the economy sometimes works, it’s no wonder why people are taking control of their own futures by working for themselves. Sure, the idea of finding and maintaining clients is scary as they are your primary source of income, but it’s also just as rewarding to be your own boss and have more control over your schedule.
  4. Teaching at the college/university level – I’m really intrigued by the idea of being able educate and train the next generation of communications professionals. With time, I think it’d be cool to develop a PR program from scratch and turn it into one of prestige. Pursuing this as a career path may require some additional years of school, but at least Ph.D.’s get paid for by the university, and not the other way around!

As the fall semester starts it’ll be interesting to see where my grad school experiences lead me. One thing I’m confident of though is that now that I have an idea where I want to go I can use my connections at Syracuse to create a plan for getting there.

How I Survived Boot Camp: My First Semester of Grad School

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Team members from my press conference group project.

This week I wrap up my summer session “boot camp” for my master’s program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The program has been everything I’ve hoped for, but also hasn’t been without its surprises and disappointments. Nonetheless, everything I’ve learned so far has reaffirmed my decision to pursue a master’s degree in public relations.

Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

  1. A good story is a relatable story – Our biggest assignment our Writing for News and Public Relations course was to put together a media kit for a fictional event based on a partnership between a corporation, a nonprofit and a celebrity spokesperson. Each student then had to pitch their media kit idea to their class, where only two or three would be chosen to conduct a press conference. I noticed a common trend among the projects that were selected: each of their corporations had strong brand recognition. Among the corporations that were chosen were Bank of America, Disney, Build-a-Bear and the Green Bay Packers. Having a strong brand name, along with some genuinely creative event ideas, is what I believe allowed these students to garner enough votes from their classmates to be selected.
  2. Be humble – One of the reasons why I decided to enroll at Syracuse over my other top choices was my confidence in being able to land a coveted graduate or instructional associate position based on my prior work experience. These positions were particularly attractive to me because they offered tuition credits, which would limit the amount of loans I’d need to take out to cover remaining expenses. While I was granted interviews for two positions, it was disappointing to learn that I wasn’t selected for either. The rejections taught me that while I’m great at demonstrating my abilities on paper I still have room for improvement when it comes to sealing the deal in interviews. I’ve also gained a level of respect for the students that I’ll have to compete against for jobs.
  3. Wordmark largeTrust your instincts – In addition to completing my PR course, I also took a graphic design course learning how to use Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. My first assignment in the class was to design a wordmark for my resume. My professor hated my first ten drafts, but when I came up with another ten she saw some that we both really liked – even though it was in a typeface that she admittedly wouldn’t approve of for most people. As it’s pertained to completing other projects, I’ve found that I produce my best work when I’m not concerning myself too much with how my professor will judge me. The more I’ve trusted myself, the better my work has turned out to be.

It truly has been a great start to my master’s program here at Syracuse. I’m looking forward to what the fall semester holds, right after enjoying two weeks off!

When Tomorrow Comes

For those of you who actually take time out to read my blogs, I would like to apologize for being away so long.  Usually, you could expect to see a post from me every month.  However, I have to admit I’ve lacked the motivation for my 12th post.  There was a lot that I was unsure about, and I’m not in the business of doing something halfway, you know?  As much as I can, I try to give you all quality posts every time I write.  I understand that your time is valuable, so I try to make the best of my five minutes of fame every time you stop by.

What’s happened to me since my last post?  Well, where do you want me to begin?  How about some positive highlights!

  • I became a citizen philanthropist for Citizen Effect’s Detroit4Detroit movement – I’m #35!
  • Baseball is back!  And, I’m assistant coaching the 12 & under Indians on the city’s west side.
  • I checked out two Tigers games in one weekend, courtesy of free tickets!
  • I’ve been accepting into an online Integrated Marketing Communications graduate school program (but I have to figure out how I’ll afford it now without increasing my debt).
  • I’m alive and in good health (as far as I know).

Sounds like I’m living the good life, right?  That’s because it always warms people’s hearts to hear good news.  But, in spite of all these blessings, these past two months have been the toughest experience of my 2012 so far.  And trust me, paying my taxes was hardly the half of it.

It all started on Thursday, March 22 at my job.  I get an e-mail late in the afternoon from my supervisor asking for me to meet with him privately.  Long story short, I apparently had not been performing up to my publishers’ standards.  So, as negative reinforcement, I entered a 30-day performance review period.  Man, were those some roller coaster days!  There were days where I felt like I would pull out of this.  After all, I’ve had my back against a wall seemingly all my life.  I never failed a grade after my pre-school teachers told my parents I needed to be held back.  I was honored as an Outstanding Senior Leader in college after an angry outburst with one of my RSOs my sophomore year – an organization that I eventually became president of, even with an advisor who secretly doubted me.  Surely I could make it through another trying time, right?

Or, at least that’s what I had hoped… First came Tuesday, April 24, where I clearly mistook a set of directions via e-mail.  Then came Wednesday, April 25, when I reported my incident to my supervisor, holding out a glimmer of hope for brownie points for acknowledging the situation before my publisher reported me.  And then, there was Tuesday, May 1, 3:12 p.m.: a call from the HR manager.  And a few minutes later, it happened – my supervisor gave me my death sentence – “we’ve gotta let you go.”  This was officially my last day of my first job out of college.

News that brings your world crashing, and I’m not talking about the crash that happens to your house of cards.  It happens to the best (and the worst) of us.  When it comes to your health, it’s your doctor diagnosing you with “the Big C.”  When it comes to your marriage, it’s your spouse calling for “the D-word.”  For me, it was that one statement that sent me home with my things halfway depressed, my head hanging with an anchor of failure wondering what would be next, not exactly looking forward to it.

When tomorrow comes, there is no procrastinating on its watch.

Perhaps the worst part of feeling like your world has crashed is knowing that it actually hasn’t.  You find a friend named “Tomorrow” on your doorstep asking you to enjoy the day with them.  And as much as you keep turning Tomorrow down, it keeps knocking at your door the next day, and the next day, and the next day (reminds me of a SpongeBob episode).  Finally, you have no choice but to give in to Tomorrow just so it’ll leave you alone.  But once you and Tomorrow start to hang out, you start to realize how glad you are that your world hasn’t actually ended.  That’s because little by little, tomorrow gives you the strength to rise above your own ashes.

If you’re blessed enough to get a visit from Tomorrow, enjoy it the best way you can.  You could be a day removed from your worst day or even a few years, but the worst thing you could ever do is take Tomorrow for granted.  While you were wishing your world came to an end, someone else was enjoying theirs when Tomorrow suddenly stopped showing up.  So celebrate tomorrow as long as it comes, whether it’s by yourself or with a group of your friends and family.  Eventually, you’ll realize that you’re stronger than you thought you were.

Money Talks

Somebody made an interesting remark to me via Twitter a while ago.  He asked me and a few of his other followers this million dollar question: “They say you’ve got to pay your dues, but when do you get to cash the check?” My first thoughts on that question were something like, “Huh?” But, when you really take some time to think about the question’s meaning, it really makes you wonder what it really means to “pay your dues”.  I’m hoping the question doesn’t still have you lost.  If you’re finding yourself drowning in confused thoughts, allow me to call the U.S. Coast Guard to your rescue. Or, I could just explain what the question means instead.

Simply put: everyone should know that “paying your dues” means to do your due diligence and put in some hard work.  Some would even argue that working hard is not the answer, but rather working smart is one of the keys to being successful.  Whatever your stance is, “work” is the key word that it takes to truly “pay your dues.”  And there’s a variety of ways to pay your dues.  For some, it may be applying yourself to your academic studies.  For others, it may mean actually paying your dues literally out-of-pocket to invest in yourself, either through networking events or professional organizations and clubs.  And while we’re on the topic, you may have to pay your dues to your church, too (hey, it’s a deductible expense come tax time)!

All this talk about paying dues and cashing checks has me wondering: Is this what y'all want?!?!

But, what about “cashing the check?”  That, is what has us all wondering, and in some extreme cases, sending us into a mid-life crisis.  Not that serious?  Well, if you’re thinking like me (and that’s impossible to do), cashing your check is when you finally say without a hint of doubt in your mind: “I’ve arrived!”  When you arrive, you get that invincible feeling that no one and no thing can take away from you.  While this feeling can be somewhat misleading (since at any moment everything can be taken from you), it still feels great to say that you’ve obtained everything in your wildest dreams and have earned the right to strut your Kanye West attitude – because we “can’t tell you nothin’, right?”  Let’s face it, there’s no greater feeling in the world than being successful. But, how do you “arrive?”

As I ultimately answered my friend, you cash your check when you do something that’s special.  Not special in a sense that people are worrying about your well-being, but special in a way that you’ve changed that landscape you’re involved in.  Landscape can refer to your industry, your environment, your league, your profession, or anything that has an impact on how you achieve success.  How do you know when you’ve done something to change your landscape?

Exhibit A: Chiddy Bang, the rap duo who introduced us to their new album “Breakfast” this week (it was introduced last week to the lucky iTunes subscribers).  Have you listened to their music lately?  You may be familiar with the hit single, “Opposite of Adults” which came out late in 2010. They’re mixture of techno-indie pop production with a hint of old school hip-hop flow makes them stand out in a rap music genre that many would say is heavily commercialized and lacking in depth.  Actually, if you listen closely to Chiddy’s lyrics, they talk about some of the same things most rappers do; however, it’s the creative and child-like feel to their lyrics that makes their music truly unique and fun to listen to.  Together, Chidera “Chiddy” Anamege and Noah “Xaphoon Jones” Beresin are on a mission to alter the landscape of the hip-hop industry.

Exhibit B: In a way, I’m also out to alter the landscape of the public relations/marketing industry with my freelance services.  Remember in my last post how I talked about taking my first major criticisms to abrothanamedCed?  I’ve had some time to digest the blows and work on healing my wounds.  While I admittedly have a long way to go before I’ve arrived, I still believe I’m on the right track.  Just think: if I were to brand myself as a publicist, that would leave me hanging to dry when it comes to starting conversations.  There’s a ton of publicists out here, and branding myself as such adds little value to anyone.  But, by branding myself as a “marketing communications artist”?  That gets people curious (for better or worse).  While essentially I am a freelance publicist and marketer, being a marketing communications artist is my way of attempting to change the way people think about my profession.

They say this is a small world.  I would also argue that it’s a very monotonous world, where everyone is trying to fit in and mimic the methods of others just to get their 15 minutes of fame.  I say, to hell with being like everyone else.  The world’s most remarkable people are those who are different. They’re people they don’t get involved with doing what everyone else does, but instead they’re trying to change the way everyone else does what they do.  And that’s what it takes to truly stand out in this world: people who change the landscape.  Like Dr. Seuss said, why fit in when you were born to stand out?

For taking the time out to read another one of my long posts, enjoy the video below!

It’s Just Business As Usual

What’s the deal with retail stores lately? In the past several weeks I’ve read about the likes of retail giants like Sears and Best Buy potentially going out of business.  Okay, so maybe I can understand about Sears.  In case you didn’t know, Sears Holdings purchased K-Mart a few years ago (why?).  So essentially, Sears took on the baggage of K-Mart and it has effectively managed to sink the retail giant’s operations.  Since Sears hasn’t reported a profit in who knows how long, they’ve announced that they’ll be closing nearly a hundred stores nationwide. Needless to say, it’s a far cry from their heydays in the early 20th century.

Best Buy is more of a shocker to me.  Maybe I’m the only one, but I usually have a decent experience when I shop there.  Sure, some of their associates come off as incompetent sometimes, but I’ve had a number of friends work there and they’re some of the coolest people you’ll meet in retail.  Apparently Best Buy’s problems stem from this holiday season, where they had to cancel orders due to running out of inventory – seems like a promotion that worked TOO well.  Maybe their executives needed to take a lesson from this blog post in straying from promises you can’t keep.  Still, I’m hoping the rumors aren’t true; where else am I going to buy my CD’s? (Yes, I still prefer hard discs. Don’t judge me.)

So, here we are in the second month of 2012.  How many people do you know who made resolutions to be “a new person” or a “new me”?  My Facebook feed was filled with those, and it mostly seemed to be females (no offense).  The real question is, how many people do you know who are actually doing things to follow through on those resolutions?  Not a ton, huh?  Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me either.  It’s probably because those people woke up and realized that achieving those ill-fated resolutions involved something I call the dreaded “c word.” Sorry, but I’m not referring to cash, or credit.  What I am referring to is change.

Like it or not, we've got to embrace change, or we'll be going the way of the retail store...

Change: we all fear it in some way.  We as people fear being without the things and people we’re accustomed to more so than the prospect of something new, even if we know that new thing is going to be better for us.  It’s all really a matter of our comfort zones when we think about it.  You’re more receptive to the change when you know what to expect. Yet, you’re also reluctant to change because you fear what you don’t know.  Sometimes though, if you knew the changes that were coming your way, you would alter your path so that you avoid the change altogether.  But, I’m sure that if no one else does, Forrest Gump would agree with me that change (life) is like a box of chocolates – “you never know what ya gonna get!”  That’s why we have a love/hate relationship with change.  We long for it when we’re tired of the routine, and we stray from it when it takes us out of that comfortable space.

I’ve been involved with my freelance services for around seven months, but some recent events have me wondering if it’s time for a change.  For the first time since I started I’ve taken a shot to my chin (and somewhat my confidence) today.  I received advice from someone in my industry who wasn’t too impressed with my work thus far.  Reading the e-mail only twice, the criticism painted a picture so dark that even night goggles couldn’t recognize a light of hope.  My feedback criticized everything from my perceived strengths to my brand name.  Okay, so I knew that I still had a lot of work to do in terms of making a significant difference, but today it seemed like I don’t even have the surface in sight, let alone scratching it.  You could say that this feedback was my way of being humbled by the real world (or me simply taking a real-world beatdown).

So now, like Best Buy and Sears, I have some decisions to make in order to stay afloat.  I could make the suggested changes and reap the rewards, or I could stand pat and wonder what might have been.  It’s the same way for all of us when change brings us to a crossroads.  When can choose to adjust to the times and potentially becomes game-changers like Apple, or we can be stand still until our backs are against the wall, where we’re forced to action in order to suffer the same fate as Borders.  Ultimately, change is a necessary part of our growth process.  And when it comes down to it, if you’re not growing, what are you doing?

What’s With All That Noise?

Can I just be honest with you about something?  I really don’t care what your New Year’s Resolution is.  If I had to put money on it, I bet it’s something that’s centered around yourself.  I know the story: “I want to lose 10 pounds!”  Or, something more subjective as, “I’m going to be a better person!”  Every year on the last day of the year, it’s all you ever hear about. People don’t talk about “how” they’re going to change or lose those ten pounds.  Most of them just say it and don’t even think about a plan to achieve what they say they’ll do.  And then when the new year comes and goes, they find themselves subconsciously making the very same resolutions that they did the year before.  I like to think of this as the New Year’s Eve noise.  And it’s just as loud (or even sometimes louder) than the celebration at midnight.

Before you hype us up with your resolutions, just be happy you even made it to this point.

Don’t get me wrong.  My problem isn’t you making resolutions.  By all means, I could never be mad at someone who makes goals for themselves.  After all, you know the changes you need to make a hell of a lot better than I do.  But what is a problem is when you don’t even make an effort to do what you’ll say you’ll do.  Don’t hype up others with your nonsense about how you’ll be a changed person yet turn around and you’re going on a tirade on the Internet about how some chick stepped on your shoes at a New Year’s party.  Spare us: you live in a world where some people can’t even afford to spell “shoes”. Despite what you may think, the world will not care about that one centimeter scratch on your shoes that you paid your life’s savings for (you could probably afford to get them fixed if it’s THAT serious).

You think I’m still talking crazy, huh?  Well, since you insist on making New Year’s resolutions can I give you a suggestion?  In 2012 and beyond, I want you to be a man/woman of your word: do what you’ll say you do.  Face it, the world is full of people who are all talk and no action.  And that’s what makes me indifferent about people and their resolutions.  You hear about it all the time from the government (we will not raise taxes) to your children (Mommy, I promise I’ll keep my room clean if you get me a puppy).  How many relationships have you been in that were full of promises that weren’t kept?  Or, how many people did you lend money to, only to never get it back?

People who don’t keep their word have really became one of my biggest pet peeves this year; like this unpaid internship I worked in May.  I only was interested in it because of the marketing and PR experience I’d gain.  I didn’t have a job yet, so I was just looking for more practice .  And this seemed like a good place to start my freelance work.  After all, how could I go wrong working with a start-up productions company dedicated to serving non-profits in metro Detroit?  By working with people I barely knew who obviously over-hyped their “internship program.”  Sure, recording video for an event as inspiring as the Race for the Cure is fun (it was even cooler to interview the mayor of the city).  But after the event, what was next?  Apparently nothing.  I never did any of the marketing and PR I was supposedly brought in to do.  And I still don’t have that “lovely portfolio” I was told I’d get.  I guess all they wanted were some volunteer videographers; I just wanted some experience.  You see how this doesn’t match up?  But hey, this example is much more tame compared to some of my other disappointments this year (please don’t get me started).

And that’s why keeping your word is the best thing you could do for next year.  Start small by making promises to yourself.  I bet you’ll find it hard to keep over-promising the things you need to do.  When you start being honest with yourself, you’ll find it easier to be honest with other people.  If you believe in treating people the way you’d like to be treated, you’ll find yourself staying away from over-promising.  Do this long enough and it’ll become a habit that’s part of who you are.  You’ll also find that because people give words meaning, you’ll watch what you say a lot more closely.

Keeping your word is the best way to make your resolution stand out.  Anybody can make noise on New Year’s Eve, but if you really want someone to care about your noise, keep your word.

Thankful, But Greedy

I saw an interesting status on my Facebook page earlier this week.  One of my friends said something along the lines that people who hustle do it because they don’t have a real job.  I’m pretty sure she was referring to what people consider your typical “hustla” – usually the stereotypical young black man who does “odd jobs” that may or may not be legal.  Believe it or not, my freelance work is a hustle.  So I disagreed with the status and got into a brief, but not heated, argument.  Ultimately, this person just considered me to be greedy.

Since this past week we celebrated Thanksgiving, allow me to reflect on what I have to be thankful for; however, I must admit that I really don’t like talking or bragging about myself (despite what may be reflected in my previous posts).  First of all, I’ve been blessed enough to have a solid-paying job for more than five months.  What’s better is that I’m working in the field I spent my hard-earned money at Northwood University for (marketing/management, if you didn’t know).  Not only that, I’m fortunate to work with a patient supervisor while still utilizing the skills I use in my freelance work.  If this were Twitter, I’d consider myself #winning! And I didn’t even mention my supportive family and few friends.  But, this post isn’t for me to brag about all my blessings. I told you, I hate talking about myself!

With all things considered, I still want more.  Don’t get me wrong, things could be a lot worse than they are now.  I knew some other recent college graduates who are still looking for jobs as we speak.  I’m humble enough to understand that I could lose it all, and yet, in a sense, I’m “greedy” enough to know that there’s more that I can do.  I’m not satisfied with just climbing a corporate ladder when I know that there’s more that I can do.  I mean, who wants the pressure of always reporting to someone? Am I asking for too much?

These guys are greedy, but not thankful...

In my first post, I stated that the most successful people succeed because they do what they love to do.  Another trait of successful people is that, they too, are “thankful, but greedy.”  Once they achieve success on a small scale, they start to believe that they can achieve more.  This isn’t the same greed that’s associated with Wall Street investors.  The most successful people desire to achieve more because they truly want to stand out; the investors on Wall Street just want more money (now that’s just GREEDY).

Think about students who attend graduate school.  What are the main reasons for actually wanting to spend thousands of dollars to write 20-page papers and read hundreds of textbooks they won’t remember by the end of the semester?  Because, they believe that an advanced degree will help in their career advancement.  If you’re an athlete, why do you continue to practice when you’ve already been dubbed “The Chosen One”?  If you don’t suffer from a LeBron James-sized ego, you keep practicing because you want to be more than just the next great athlete.  Even musicians are greedy!  In this age of stuperfying overly-commercialized music, it’s not good enough to have one single that went platium.  To be considered a legitimate icon, you’ve got to dumb down millions of more minds with your music.  Either that, or you’ll be the next MC Hammer; and you know all too well that nobody wants to “touch this!”

Just admit it: even though you spent this past Thursday being thankful for your blessings, watching your favorite football teams, and stuffing your face with all the best of your family’s dishes, you still want more.  You may not be still stuffing your face with Thanksgiving leftovers.  You may not be making your Christmas list of demands that you expect to have in its entirety.  And you probably may even have too much pride to ask anyone to help you out on your way to achieving your goals.  But, most of you are still not satisfied with where you are now, and therefore, you’re making moves to make things happen for yourself.   In the end, the most successful people always want to be more. So, just like the concept behind The Roots’ new album (“undun” coming next week on December 6), you’re the boy who “becomes criminal, but wasn’t born criminal…Just some kid who begins to order his world in a way that makes sense to him…”  When you think about it, isn’t that what we all do?

BONUS: Click the link below to watch a video from The Roots new album, “undun”

The Roots – “Tip The Scale”

Life Lessons Learned from Video Games

I used to have a friend during my college days named Michael Stille; everyone called him White Mike though. White Mike was my freshman year roommate and one of the coolest people you could meet.  The more you knew him, the more you thought, “man, this boy is ghetto!” Looking back at it, I could see why Northwood paired us as roommates: we were both low-key guys who were somewhat selfish mama’s boys that just so happened to major in sports management.

Michael Stille: March 11, 1989 - September 29, 2011.

White Mike was an absolute pain to play video games with!  Whether it was Madden, NBA Live, or Fight Night, he always gave me (and mostly everyone else he played on campus) the business.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I beat him in anything.  What would be more shocking is the margin of victory he had over me; I really think it exceeds the number on my paycheck I hope to get this Friday.  And it wasn’t like Mike would ever ease up.  You could be losing by several touchdowns, and he’d go all Bill Bellicheck on you and run up the score until the clock ran out.  I would shake my head in frustrution and leave his place thinking, “jerk!”

Judging from my previous posts, you could probably tell I really don’t like losing.  White Mike’s video game beatings had a way of humbling me.  Whatever confidence and skill I may’ve thought I had when I started was usually diminished by the time I finished playing him.  White Mike humbled me in another way recently (and unintentionally).  On September 29, he died in a car accident along with his sister’s fiance.  So unfortunate, because things were starting to pick up for him.  He was due to see his sister get married two days later, just interviewed for an internship, worked an Indianapolis Colts game, and even had him a girlfriend (you go Mikey!!!).  And yet, a freak accident took that all away.

In my last post (which seemed years ago), I talk about avoiding a sense of entitlement.  The best way you can do this is the same way White Mike beat me down in video games – staying humble.  Humility is a tricky concept to master.  Sometimes it’s confused with low self-esteem or putting yourself down.  Although to be humble is to lower yourself in importance, humility is not the absence of confidence.  Rather, humility diminishes our egos (which can also be an acronym for “edging God out) and allows us to keep an open mind.

You want to know what lead me to start abrothanamedCed?  Most of it stems from a humbling experience that came in the summer of 2009.  It was the summer going into my junior year and I had nothing going for me.  So, I thought to apply for this new government-funded Summer Youth Employment Program.  The first day I try to apply, I find that I don’t have the proper financial information; so they tell me to come back during Saturday.  I get to the office around 7:30 in the morning to see a line of what seemed like thousands of teens and young adults waiting for the process to begin.  I could go on for days about how unorganized the registration staff and process were!  I even saw a kid from Northwood working for registration.  That’s when my frustration turned into embarrassement.  There I was, standing in hours worth of lines, halfway finished with college, a nice GPA and a decent resume, with kids as old or older than me, who haven’t worked a legal job in their lives and some who didn’t even graduate high school.  The process took five hours, and I still had to catch the bus home from the southwest side.  But for all that unorganized chaos, I never got a call telling me to report to a job site.  Nothing.  Nada. Zero.  Just another boring wasted summer in the D.  That’s what I started to realize that I never want to feel so “not in-control” of my destiny again.

When I look back, I needed that summer to happen to me.  I had gotten too comfortable with my own skills and felt so content with my skills that I knew that someone out there would bend over backwords to hire me.  Having a friend like White Mike was something else I needed.  When you live long enough and surround yourself with new people, you’ll live to realize that someone, somewhere, is always better (or working to be better than) you.  And that, is what makes us humble – lowering your own self-importance and gaining respect and admiration for those who compete on the same, or grander scale, than you.  Memories of White Mike in his casket will always humble me, as well as the video game butt-kickings.  I hope that you too, will use your moments of humility to overcome your sense of entitlement.

No Rights? No Problem!

How many of you have ever given your all to something? Maybe it was a big corporate project that you hoped would get you that big promotion. Maybe it was toward your schoolwork.  Heck, you may’ve even given your all to a “special someone”.  So, if you’re anything like me, I bet it hurts you to your core when all your time and effort fails to reap your desired results.  In fact, I bet it’s even worse when your end result is on the exact opposite side of your desire spectrum; something like the large talent difference between MC Talib Kweli and rapper (although I consider him a gimmick) Soulja Boy.

You've got to do to your rights what the music industry needs to do with this clown....."YAAHHH, TRICK, YAHHH!!!"

One of the most memorable sermons I’ve been in attendance for occurred a few summers ago.  I took notes on it, but can’t remember the scripture the sermon came from (maybe if I cleaned off my computer desk filled with old receipts and other useless paper I could find something).  Regardless, the pastor talked about the one thing keeping us from receiving blessings and experiencing joy: the mindset that we have rights.  And the thought from that message that still sticks with me to this day: the minute we let go of our rights is when we’ll begin to receive our blessings.

Don’t think I’m trying to preach to the congregation on this one! Believe it or not, this message can reached out to believers and non-believers alike.  You see, we’re not talking about giving up your constitutional rights (of whatever country you hail from).  We’re talking about rights in the sense of entitlement, for it is the mindset of entitlement that keeps us narrow in our thinking.  And when we’re narrow in our thinking, our opportunities become as limited as an illiterate person in a bookstore.

Allow me to reminisce on one of my previous relationships.  For those of you who know me personally, this isn’t about “you-know-who”, but about my longest relationship to this day.  Although it was a long-distance thing, and it was on-and-off, the early years of my relationship were pretty much smooth sailing.  We were content with each other because we were all that we needed to make it through the day.  When we finally got to see each other for the first time, it made us even more sure about where we were going.  I don’t know about “love at first sight” or all those other silly terms people use to describe love, but for the first time I believed I had a “sure thing.”  Sadly, after that week things starting heading downhill, and by late November I found myself alone, knowing there was an almost certain chance that it was going to be this way for me for a while.  A lot of things happened for me to end up that point and we both know the blame is shared equally (even though when it gets argued about, we always make it seem like it was ALL their fault…funny how that always works).  It sucks to admit that I started approaching our relationship with a sense of entitlement.  In my case, I started becoming verbally abusive and being more negative than usual among other things.  I felt I could get away with these things because after all the hard work I put towards making this work I never saw her leaving me as an option.  There’s other factors that led to the end of this, but I can’t help to think what could’ve happened if things didn’t change after that week we met.  I think it’s part of the reason why I try not to get too high about anything, because I know I can lose it quicker than a poker player’s life savings.

So, if you don’t want to end up single and content like me, avoid the mindset of entitlement.  Matter of fact – avoid feeling entitled to anything all together.  As I mentioned before, when you allow yourself to be entitled, you narrow your thinking to see things only the way you want to, becoming close-minded.  And when you become close-minded, you stunt your own growth, lock the doors of opportunity, and create roadblocks that prohibit your success.  Think about it: how many truly successful people do you know that are close-minded?  Other than a few politicians, most of the close-minded people I know are always struggling for something.  If you ever find yourself feeling entitled to something, think about people who come from third-world countries.  Because many of them come from having nothing, they pursue opportunities as if they’ve got nothing to lose.  That’s the mindset we should all have; let’s give up our “rights” and humble ourselves.  Kind of funny how humility plays in to all this.  But of course, that’s a topic for another day…

Fear: The Stuff of Champions!

Let’s just be honest with ourselves here: we all hate to do homework!  In grade school, it kept you from hanging out with your friends.  In college, it kept you from going to what everyone called that one “party of the year” (and if it was at Northwood it probably sucked anyway).  And in your career, it can keep you from spending quality time with your loved ones at home; unless you’re that one guy who hates his wife.  Yet at the same time, you know it’s just another one of life’s many speed bumps that you just have to go over, just like taxes.  Why? Because you know that if it doesn’t get done, you’re the one who suffers the consequences.

Not sure if this kid's parents put enough fear in him...

So in a sense, the thing that motivates you to do your homework is the f-word.  No, I’m not talking about the one that relates to x-rated action.  And I’m definitely not referring to it as a homosexual slur (I’ll leave that kind of language up to James Harrison for now).  The word I’m talking about is fear.  Think about it: as a little kid in elementary school your parents always stressed to you the importance of doing your homework.  More than likely, they often scared you into doing it by threatening to ground you, or giving you a piece of the leather (belt, that is) to that backside.  So there you were, running home as fast as you could. Not to watch the next episode of Pokemon or Jerry Springer, but to that table or to your room to do that evil homework assignment.  The sooner you got it done, the sooner you could be outside with your friends, breaking your neighbor’s window playing ball, or harassing that little girl from the other block (who’ll likely grow up to be your wife).

Many people downplay the trait of fear.  We often hear it associated negatively, and usually those who show it are taken advantage of in today’s society.  You hear phrases like, “you have nothing to fear but fear itself,” or, “I fear no one!”  But what many of us fail to recognize is that fear plays a part in our motivations.  In all actuality, having a small dose of fear is actually essential for doing the things you need to do to live out your dreams and accomplish your goals.  Don’t believe me?  Consider my personal example.

As some of you may know, I came from Pershing High School in Detroit.  I started going there when I was in 10th grade after we moved from Georgia due to my mom’s retirement from the Navy.  It was here where I started to turn the corner academically and mentally, making A’s and B’s in 10th grade, then settling for nothing less than an A afterwards.  I graduated from Pershing with a 3.65 GPA and was known for being one of the smartest kids in the class (they even nominated me for Class Nerd; an award I didn’t win…but should have if you really stopped to think about it…).  But the months before coming to Northwood, I read in a packet that even scholarship students flunk out of college.  Add that to the knock that my school was known for poor academic standards (on top of being in arguably one of the worst big city school districts in America) and needless to say I had a bit of fear coming in to college. So to start out my first term, I made a point to stay committed to my schoolwork first and worry about everything else later.  The end result, I graduated in four years with a 3.64 GPA, easily among the top 10 percent.  Not bad for a kid from “The P!”

Anyone who tells you they walk without fear is probably in denial worse than Roger Clemens.  Fear exists in everyone, whether it be penny-sized or twice your own size.  The key is to not allow it to debilitate you, but to utilize it and ingrain it into your motivations.  Using fear this way allows you to stay humble and keeps you on your toes.  I use my fears to give 110 percent into anything I set out to do.  Keeping a mental picture of the worst that can happen allows me to think of ways that I can avoid those situations.  Question is: how will you use your fears?