You’ve met those people who seem to have everything going their way. They are the people who appear to know how to define their dreams and pursue them without question. They seem sure about who they are and where they are going. What makes the great really great? Have you ever asked, “What does the future hold?” Have you ever wondered, “What would it take to make my dreams come true?”
There is a common thread that runs through the lives of those who have made their dreams a reality and who have stamped their mark on the events of their time. It is a quality ever present, yet so immensely difficult to harness and absent in the lives of average men and women. Here lies a trait that if mastered and nurtured would allow the least among us to climb the magic ladder to success. What is it that I hold in such high esteem? What is this magical force? Where may you and I find the keys to the kingdom? Simply put, it’s called thinking. A process so natural and yet, so easy and overlooked, few of us bother to engage in it.
Make no mistake, we are mental beings and to embrace this grand idea is our first step on the road to success and fulfillment. The world continues to take us at our own evaluation. Today, society begs for clarity and commitment, a sense of meaning and purpose, and, most important, mental fitness. We must clean up and sweep out all negative emotions and thoughts that will eventually lay the foundation for failure and complacency. If we hope to attain all that we desire and ultimately watch our dreams come true, each of us must understand that we can improve the quality of our lives by improving the quality of our thinking. Here lies the key that will unlock any door. We – you and I – are architects of our own fate. The time for thinkers has come.
The Nature of Success
Percy Sutton, founder of Inner City Broadcasting and owner of the famed Apollo Theater, told me a moving story – one that neither he nor I will ever forget. The story was told to him by the celebrated Muslim minister Malcolm X, who at the time was a legal client being sued by his former mentor and teacher, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. In a much ballyhooed, heated court case both parties battled bitterly and were geared for the worst. After one particularly grueling session, Sutton escorted Malcolm from a New York courthouse, surrounded by heavily armed bodyguards. Amid the turmoil and distress, police and the press squirmed anxiously, as faithful followers on both sides crowded the scene. Sutton and his client were militarily funneled into waiting cars and whisked away, leaving television crews in their wake. Understandably shaken by the entire ordeal, Sutton caught his breath as he was pressed into the front seat of a black Cadillac, while Malcolm X was seated comfortably in the back. Inside the car sat four dark figures – Sutton admits he was too nervous to look any in the face – with bulging topcoats. During the drive back to his office, Sutton sat frozen with his briefcase in his lap, his thoughts and pulse running wildly. His client, on the other hand, seemed unaffected by the day’s activities. In disbelief, Sutton loosened his tie, slowly turned around and quizzed, “Mr. Minister, doesn’t this disturb you?’ ” “Doesn’t what disturb me?” Malcolm X asked back. “You know, all of the guns and bodyguards, and stuff,” Sutton answered. “To be truthful, it does. But it really makes those around me feel comfortable. My own philosophy on such matters is gained from a tale regarding an old Arab slave who, like many of us, was afraid of dying. Allow me to share the story with you,” Minister Malcolm continued.
“One day a troubled Arab slave named Omar cried, ’Master, oh master, give me your fastest horse. I’ve seen the face of Death… I have seen it in my dreams, and I know death is coming. Let me ride in order that I might escape it and survive.’ Openly concerned for his slave, his master begrudgingly complied and gave him his fastest charger. Unwittingly, the poor man had reasoned that if he could ride all day and night, he could live to see yet another day. So Omar mounted the horse and rode. He rode the first day as well as the next without stopping for food or drink. Finally, just before sunset on the third day and at the point of exhaustion, Omar stopped. The road he had traveled had suddenly divided into seven trails, from which he had to choose. Hoping to choose wisely, Omar set his sights upon the center trail. After a few hours ride, he thought poorly of his decision and switched to the path on his right. From there he traveled for a few hours more before pulling his horse up short and switching to the road on his left. This wavering continued until he had rode six trails. Now, in a last-ditch effort, the slave embarked on the final path, where less than 100 yards away in the center of the road, standing boldly, was the face of Death. Glaring straight ahead, Death bellowed out, ’Omar, Omar where have you been? For three days I’ve waited for you. What has taken you so long?’
“You see, counselor,” Malcolm X concluded. “There lies the moral to the story. You can run and you can hide; you can twist and you can turn. You can waste what little precious time you have on this planet. But it won’t do you any good. Death is something that no one can escape. You cannot leave this earth alive, so there’s no use in worrying about it. Each of us should make the most of our lives. We should embrace our dreams, give life our best, and be as happy and successful as our spirit desires.” Those who hold the keys to success live by those words. Words that wipe out disappointment and embolden the heart for future conquest. Words that encourage and motivate as well as give direction to once-misled lives. Percy Sutton took this message to heart and set the cadence for his life. When I asked him for his keys to success I, in turn, found his words instructive. “You must dare to reach, to climb, to crawl, to scratch, to get back up when you’ve been knocked down, to push forward – ever forward – and to suck the very essence out of life. You must be prepared to sacrifice everything, if necessary, to carve out your dreams; and never forget sometimes it’s risky not to take a risk.
Which Path Will You Choose?
At one time or another, many of us have entertained the notion of exploiting our potential, of fulfilling our dreams: of launching a business, landing that dream job, completing our education, or just living completely engaged. However big or small, grand or simple, our hopes and desires will remain just that if, like Omar, we choose the wrong path as we forge our way to our goals. Virtually everyone would like to succeed but many simply don’t know how. We may be working hard on thankless jobs or failing to use our time effectively. Simple mistakes or omissions, perhaps, but enough to spell the difference between success and failure; between making the team and getting cut; between landing the contract and rejection; between being selected for promotion and watching someone else move up in the organization. Often what is needed is some straight, honest talk from someone who knows how to succeed. Not just any advice, but wisdom from those who have cleared the hurdles and broke out in front. What is needed most are the keys to success.
Having shared with me his moving parable, I asked Percy Sutton to share the keys. “Success is akin to happiness,” Sutton points out. “Most people search their entire life for success but never find it. Why? Because they overlook it. Success lies within. Success is that rare gem that must be mined out. Finding your life’s purpose can be one of life’s most difficult challenges.”
During my interviews with Black America’s most successful, here’s what each had to say regarding the subject of success and turning your dreams into reality: Terrie Williams, founder of the public relations firm that bears her name, views success in the same light. “Success goes beyond the dollar sign,” she says. It encompasses the total package: Inner harmony, comfort, and emotional well being. I deal with a lot of people who society would label ’successful’ – those who have all the material trappings. In a few cases, I wouldn’t be so quick to agree. “While chasing the brass ring, joy and happiness many times have slipped through their hands. The bottom line: If you are doing something that you truly enjoy, you’re already successful.”
J. Bruce Llewellyn, one of Black America’s wealthiest and holder of three businesses that rank among the “Black Enterprise 100,” seemed clearly annoyed that, even in the year 2000, so many have failed to taste the sweet wine of success. “Failure is not an overnight experience, and neither is success. Both occur over time and can barely be seen by the untrained eye. There are no shortcuts. Making your dreams a reality begins with long, hard years of concentrated effort, going the extra mile, and doing what others will rarely do. Succeeding is tough. It’s nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching and pain-inducing. However, there’s an old saying: ’Hard work doesn’t guarantee you anything, but without it you don’t stand a chance.’” When asked if he considered himself a success, Llewellyn didn’t even blink. “Actually, I’m somewhere in the process. In many respects I enjoy a lifestyle that few have experienced. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t or won’t. It’s all a matter of will and determination, and seizing opportunities. You can’t leave success to chance. You must act on it with a vengeance and pursue your dreams with a passion.”
When asked for her magic formula, Ernesta Procope, CEO of Wall Street’s E.G. Bowman Co., replied in rather traditional, objective terms: “Continuous hard work, Stubborn determination, Faith.” Is that all?” I replied. “Sure there are other factors,” Procope responded, “but success, for the most part, doesn’t deviate or vary its requirements. These are the three main qualities that have served me well throughout my career.”
Herman Russell stands in agreement. “Success,” he says, “comes not from doing the impossible, but by doing the possible every day. You only need to perform single acts of success every day, each day to produce a successful life.”
Women’s National Basketball Association superstar Cynthia Cooper was not only an early bloomer, she knew exactly what she wanted to become and had developed a plan for attaining her goal. “At age eight,” Cooper shared, “I told the Lord that, if He would give my life direction, I would do my best.” After winning back-to-back most valuable player awards, Cooper has clearly kept her word.
When I spoke with Antonio Reid, one half of the legendary LaFace record label, I worried that perhaps he would be an exception to the rule. My concerns were laid to rest as Reid drew upon a habit that he has used for years. Fresh from a 12-week executive seminar at the prestigious Harvard University School of Business, Reid showed why he and his business partner, Kenny “Baby-face” Edmonds, have become the foremost practitioners of their craft. “Success begins,” Reid shared, “by dedicating yourself to lifelong learning. Why? Because the moment you cease to absorb new information, that is the moment you will cease to grow.”
Finally, Ebony magazine’s John Johnson seemed to say it all. He told me that success is something you never attain. And who would know better than he? Johnson has a real feel for the combat that the business world of today requires. Not only has he survived many wars, but his life is an example that to the victor goes the spoils. “Success is not a destination, it’s an ongoing process, and you should enjoy every step and detail along the way. I approach each business day as if it were my last, always looking to consolidate my strengths and shore up my weaknesses. I’ve never been one to rest on my laurels. I think when you start to do that, you automatically relinquish any hope of further accomplishments.” After years of research and exhausting interviews into the subject, not only have I uncovered the keys to success, but I’ve come to realize the manner in which anyone can make his or her dreams come true.
Success is… ?
An attitude and a matter of choice. It is available to those who will take charge of the direction of their lives. Success is the process of learning and growing. It requires that the individual step away from the pack, and march to the beat of a distant drummer. Success is knowing yourself as well as what you want. Success is born by the pursuit of a goal or an idea. It cannot be conferred by one individual or group of individuals upon another. Success can only be earned through individual initiative. Success demands the use of whatever abilities and talents are available. It decays on the 40-hour work week. One must be engaged in a labor of love. Those who society will label a “success” will make their dreams a reality by doing what they truly enjoy.