Last year I financed a new car. It was beautiful. Pearl White, Heated leather seats. Wood grain steering wheel. And a pretty reasonable car payment. Nothing overwhelming but still, an additional expense.
But I had a plan. The new vehicle would actually be an investment and make me money! I would sign on with Uber and or Lyft and earn my car payment money and then some.
My plan was perfect except for one little thing.
There's this saying; "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched."
I couldn't pass the background check.
Motivational speaker and success guru Bob Proctor said
"The average person tiptoes through life
hoping to safely make it to death.
What a dumb game."
Keisha Simons wasn't average.
She didn’t play that game.
And the game whicg she did play, was played by her own rules.
Typically there is a portion of a memorial or homegoing celebration is called “words of comfort”.
And usually, a person of religion, a pastor, a rabbi, a priest or imam delivers a message of faith pulled from scripture.
Many times, that person doesn’t have a personal relationship with our loved one or us the family but yet, they still do their best to comfort us.
As Keisha’s big brother, I offer four simple words of comfort from Keisha, herself for those of us struggling with our loss of our sister, daughter, mother, niece, aunt, cousin, wife and friend:
Don’t get stuck here.
She was happy.
She lived a happy life.
A life full of happiness.
I know this because, a couple of years ago I began recording interviews with people whom I admired and were inspiring me through the lives they were living,
the goals they which set and how they went about achieving those goals,
I wanted to know who and what inspired them
and what they wanted to share with the world to inspire others.
Keisha was killing it.
So I asked her to share her story and her insights
about life, happiness and success with me
and boy, was I impressed with the jewels of wisdom she offered.
In the lessons she taught, she laid bare a treasure map,
with the treasure being happiness.
Keisha talked about how, when she found herself and her life in a place of negativity, she stopped --
and actively defined and wrote down what is was that she wanted out of life.
Her list included:
A better relationship with her son, Aiden.
Successful careers in real estate, modeling & fitness and as an entrepreneur.
She wanted a really cool car and happiness in general.
Then, rather than being overwhelmed by her ambitious desires, she simply made goals for each one and step by determined step, she walked toward achieve them.
She identified and eliminated the mental obstacles
she had to overcome to achieve the success she wanted,
like negative self talk and self doubt.
She eliminated “I can’t” and “shouldn’t” from her vocabulary and embraced the belief that she was able and deserved to be as successful and happy as she wanted to be.
Keisha affirmed herself -- as most of us should do -- by saying “Look! I can do it! I can do it!”
She acknowledged she still had some shortcomings which she needed to improve upon, like time management, but she didn’t let those hold her back
from creating the happiness that she wanted for Aiden and herself.
She celebrated her wins and achievements both big and small.
This made her life FUN!
And helped her build both motivation and confidence
to set more ambitious and fun goals for her life.
How many of us can say we’ve ever set goals to have fun?
Whether she was competing in and winning bodybuilding championships or jumping out of airplanes or taking Aiden to Monster Truck rallies; Keisha was building and living a life where she could be and was happy on purpose!
Keisha built that life on her unbreakable belief that “What you put in your head is definitely what’s going to come out. If you keep being negative about everything
then everything negative is going to happen and all you’re gonna see is negative.”
So to keep herself focused she built a team and surrounded herself with people who mentored her through
When I asked Keisha what was her favorite quote
she offered the following:
“Nobody’s gonna pay your bills but you!” she said with excitement in her voice.
Then she blew my mind when she explained
how she used that advice as a catalyst for her success.
“Everything falls on you.” she said enthusiastically
“What you bring in. Your energy, your vibe, your circle,
your goals and your dreams.
It’s you! So grow up. Put your big girl panties on
and go for it!”
Nobody’s gonna pay your bills but you!
It was that sort of encouraging advice and go-getter attitude that drew people to Keisha.
She saw and believed the best in everybody.
She wanted to help those who needed help and tried fix those who needed fixing.
She judged not -- for she remembered the times when she was at her lowest and embraced the lessons which she learned then.
“It’s okay to crash and burn.” she told me.
Keisha shared a story with me
A couple of years ago her real estate business wasn’t going as well as she hoped and she was struggling with bills and financial obligations.
She told me “I sat down in my kitchen and had a glass of wine, a good cry and screamed and yelled and then just decided to leave that there and I moved on and grew from it.”
“It’s okay to crash and burn.” she told me.
“Just don’t get stuck there.”
To most of us,
with our loss of Keisha,
it probably feels as though, we’ve crashed and burned.
With all the love and happiness
that Keisha brought into our lives as a sister, daughter, mother, niece, aunt, cousin, friend and wife, we feel the vacuum and void that her absence creates.
But at the same time, we must honor and celebrate her life.
A happy life.
A life full of happiness.
That life was a treasure map which she gave us so that we can follow her lead, her example and her advice
“Don’t get stuck there.”
A $10 Million Dream
World famous comedian Jim Carrey told a story about writing himself a check for $10 million for “acting services rendered”. He gave himself three years, Thanksgiving 1995, and placed the check in his wallet. And sure enough, just before the deadline expired, he found out he was going to be paid $10 million for his role in Dumb and Dumber.
Of course, the time between him writing that check and the visualization manifesting, was filled with a lot of hard work. The fact remains though; him visualizing achievement of a very specific goal focused the energy and efforts needed to make it a reality.
A Better Than Average Dream
A little over three years ago I decided I was going to create a curriculum to teach young black men the principles of being Better Than Average; goal setting, positive mindset, and masterminds. I pictured myself standing in front of a classroom working with boys and helping their parents, teachers, and involved community members build the foundation upon which those boys would grow into successful men.
Better Than Average Results
Within weeks of forming that clear picture in my mind, I was facilitating my first "Be Better Than Average Boys" workshop at a local elementary school. I constantly experienced that feeling of deja vu because my reality so clearly aligned with the vision I had of my life's goals.
At the end of the 12 weeks, the boys had an incredible graduation ceremony attended by the school staff, community members, business and community leaders and their parents.
Since then, I have made steady progress toward my goal. I've written and self-published two books that detail the philosophies and principles by which I live my life. I have made alliances with many community leaders and programs whose mission aligns with mine. I've won multiple awards and received recognition from civic and political leaders. I have spoken at community roundtable events, and to groups of teachers. I've even begun an after-school workshop to teach goal setting and achievement skills. Within the next few months I be holding a workshop for parents and teachers to learn the information and techniques to teach their kids.
If You Can Conceive It And Believe It - You Can Achieve It
If you want to build and live a better than average life for yourself and others, two of first things you must do is idealize visualize what you specifically want. If you set vague goals you’ll get vague results if any at all. The more detailed the picture in your mind of what your goal looks like once achieved, the greater the energy and effort you will exert to make it a reality faster.
You must be able to see yourself achieving and living your dream.
A tried and true technique of any car salesperson worth his commision is to have the customer test drive a car. They encourage you to tune the radio to your favorite station and to adjust the seat to your comfort level. They know that it becomes increasingly difficult for a person in the market for a new automobile to resist purchasing once they’ve seen themselves in the car and experienced the exhilaration of driving that new car as if it was their own.
In effect, the salesperson is manipulating the customer into setting a goal of buying that car by introducing him or her to, and letting them experience, new compelling reasons to buy.
Make and take time to visualize what achieving success looks like to you. Is your goal to have a new car by the end of the year? Go to the car lot and sit in and even test drive that car. Is your goal to write a book? Go to Barnes & Noble and imagine your book on the “New Releases” table. Is your goal to start your own company? Create a business card with your name and title as the owner and put it somewhere you’ll constantly see it.
Close your eyes and picture what life looks like for you after you achieve your goal. Where are you? Who’s around you? What do you do everyday as a result of achieving your goal?
Help Is Available
On December 2nd the Black Business Initiative, Dream Culture and Be Better Than Average will help you prepare to leave your Comfort Zone in 2018 by hosting the 3rd Annual Vision Board Party: Leaving My Comfort Zone!
A vision board is a tool used to help clarify, concentrate and maintain focus on a specific life goal.
It serves as a guide to your goals for the future. It is a visual representation of your dreams and your ideal life.
At this FREE community event you will get all the supplies you need to create an amazing vision board for 2018. We encourage you to bring images and other supplies that are meaningful or personal to you and your vision.
Jonathan McMillan is a success strategist and inspirational speaker. He specializes in gang intervention, desistance strategies, community service, goal setting, identity building and interpersonal relationship development.
Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for booking information
Have you ever lost your cellphone and spent five or ten minutes looking for it before you realize it's been in your hand the entire time?
I had that experience recently, only, instead of losing my cellphone, it was my purpose.
Because September is Suicide Prevention Month and a recent New York Times report shows suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in 30 years I want to share with you my story about a song.
There's melody seared in brain from countless nights when I would try to stay up late and watch TV with my grand-dad after he came home from the dog track or driving his taxi cab.
If you're at least 30 years old chances are you have the same tune in your head. The theme song for the 1970s television show M*A*S*H was the sign that is was past your bedtime.
The flutter of the helicopter blades behind the acoustic guitar's signature four note intro is part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Typically, my grandpa and I would both doze off by the end of the episode.
And all was good with the world.
It was many years later, as a pre-teen, that I learned the catchy song that was practically my childhood lullaby, actually had lyrics and an actual title besides just being the "Theme to M*A*S*H"; It was surprisingly named "Suicide Is Painless".
I was still too young to fully comprehend and appreciate the story behind the name and lyrics of the song.
It's supposed to be ironic. In the context of the movie, which is considered one of the great Hollywood comedies, the song doesn't seem as morbid and depressing despite lyrics like:
"The game of life is hard to play/
Over time, as I grew into a full fledged teenager, the song, the lyrics, the melody, and especially the title seduced me like the aroma of expensive perfume. 39 years and 9 months later I can still remember it looping in my head as I tried to kill myself the first time.
I was 14 years old, lost, confused, lonely, and hopeless. I felt like I was a burden. I felt unappreciated. I felt misunderstood. I had little emotional intelligence or psychological maturity. I was naive, impulsive and frankly unconcerned with the consequences of my actions.
And I sincerely thought suicide would be painless. At least in comparison to the emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical pain I was suffering through at the time.
Come to find out, what I was feeling, thinking, and experiencing wasn't at all uncommon for my age group. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, suicide was the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15 and 34. Specific to my culture, the suicide rate among black children has nearly doubled since the early 1990s.
Now almost 40 years laters, I find myself in a much better place mentally, emotionally, spiritually but also in the most at-risk group to commit suicide, again. Men in their early 40s commit suicide at a rate three times higher than women.
I feel compelled to share my story and this information for the following reasons.
For one reason or another, people have begun to look to me as a leader. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with that title and the expectations with which it comes but I welcome the opportunity to help those who I can.
Being transparent and honest about my experiences is the only way I know to reach out to those who have the same struggles. Information and affirmation is helpful and comforting. Many times, people who are dealing with depression or other mental and emotional disorders feel as though they are weird.
They feel like no one understands how they feel or can comprehend the chaos in their minds and spirits. Mostly because they don't understand it themselves. Additionally, the perception of mental illness is stigmatized and no one wants to be labeled as "crazy". A recent controversy erupted on Twitter when a person shared a commonly held misunderstood opinion of depression as being "not real" and "just sad."
The truth of the matter is, depression is one of many types of mental illness on a spectrum that includes mild disorders like anxiety to extreme, illness like dementia and schizophrenia.
And of course, Black America is more prone to some of these disorders. According to a 2014 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 6.8 millions Black Americans have a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. and Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites. And while Black/African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent).
The second reason that I feel obligated to speak out and up on mental illness in my community because generally speaking, Black people, particularly Black men are not very open to acknowledging psychological problems.
We don't like to talk about it. We tend to accept stress and trauma, which are clinical mental disorders, as just part of our identities as Black men.
The topic of suicide is especially taboo. Many, many Black celebrities from star athletes to beloved singers and revered actors and comedians have taken their own lives and we still treat their struggle with mental illness as an anomaly.
I recently facilitated a breakout session at a summit addressing men's mental health, In it I asked the group the following questions:
That hopelessness tends to lend to a recklessness (especially in our teens) that may not be always be as overt as suicide attempts or completions but are self-destructive all the same. Disproportionately high substance use, engaging in high risk sexual activity, short term incarceration, and other behavioral health matters are disturbingly common amongst Black males.
Thankfully, the awareness of the problem has become more common. There are more and more people studying to become qualified mental health professionals, including men and women of color. A simple Google search will bring up the most common coping strategies to address and help mental illness in yourself or others.
I would like to offer an obvious and simple, if not so common solution. Be kind.
In an era where being bombastic, sarcastic, opinionated, cruel and self-centered is encouraged by social media, people who may be emotionally hurting or mentally in distress, may be hesitant to be vulnerable and seek help. A hidden struggle may be exasperated by a snide comment on Facebook or unthoughtful tweet or meme. Everyone has an issue in life which no one else knows about and a little bit of kindness could be all that is needed to make their lives better and safer.
If you are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to anyone. All calls are confidential.
Jonathan McMillan is a success strategist and inspirational speaker. He specializes in gang intervention, desistance strategies, community service, goal setting, identity building and inter-personal relationship development.
A few years ago I was at the store with a friend to buy some cheese. Simple enough, right?
We walked to the back of the store to the dairy section, located the cheese bin, and I grabbed a package of individually wrapped slices of the brand which I was most familiar.
"You're gonna get that?" My friend asked with disgust.
"Uhhh, yeah." I replied. "Why not?"
"'Cause that's not real cheese. Look right here on the package." he said pointing to what could only be described as fine print which I had never noticed before.
I couldn't believe my eyes as I read "Imitation Pasteurized Cheese Food Product" on the label.
Suddenly I felt like my friend was Morpheus and I was Neo in "The Matrix" right after he took the red pill. Was everything I knew a lie? How deep was the rabbit hole?
Good enough is good enough until better is required."
I immediately began to search for "real cheese" among the imposters and was shocked at what I found -- it's expensive when compared to the other stuff. But it was also noticeably better. Like, "I can't eat that other stuff" better.
OK, I know that makes me sound like a bougie cheese snob but what can I say? Once my taste buds experienced quality - not even gourmet - just simply quality cheese, the other stuff tastes cheap and artificial.
It was fine and good enough when I (literally) didn't know better but now, I do and it ain't.
The same goes for leadership. Good enough is good enough until better is required.
Last week I was the humble recipient of the "Legacy and Leadership" award from an organization called Urban Leadership Foundation, which prides itself on developing civic and economic leaders from the urban community. In preparation for the ceremony I was interviewed and asked "How do you walk your leadership?"
The question, itself, was simple enough but my answer was even simpler. "I've set a goal of helping people, especially the traditionally disenfranchised build and live better than average lives and I just do what I'm supposed to do in order to achieve that goal."
And that's what differentiates good, authentic leadership from the fake stuff -- your intention. Is it to really help people or to just look like that's what you do?
In today's fast paced scrolling social media world expressing an opinion (even if it's someone else's) about the latest societal ill or social injustice is encouraged, accepted and expected. This has created an environment where people aspire to influence others and literally get followers as a form of social currency. Being recognized as a "Thought leader", a much sought after, respected lucrative job title becomes the goal rather than actually leading people into thinking critically or for themselves.
Often times, these thought leaders achieve their goals by simply manipulating people's emotions. Specifically fear and anger.
A prime example of this tactic successfully working is the 2016 United States Presidential campaign. Donald Trump and his campaign (and probably Russians) did a great job of manipulating the fear of economic uncertainty, loss of privilege and the anger born out of bigotry held by white middle to lower class voters.
Despite the evidence that the economy was stronger than it had been in decades and that a Black man could successfully run the county, an inexperienced, failed businessman who unashamedly bragged about sexually assaulting women and promoted violence ran a campaign of making America "great again". And won.
He is a poster child of inauthentic leadership in a digital age. There is very little critical thought given to very complex matters. It's become chic to be reactionary revolutionaries who quickly express outrage and protest via tweets, status updates, memes, and hashtags. However, it's uncommon to be focused on creating or contributing to practical, effective solutions and even more rare to encourage people to think for themselves and become problem solvers.
Most all of us who aspire to achieve more in life have heard the advice "Fake it 'til you make it". That's usually excellent advice for a person who knows what they want but isn't quite sure of how or where to begin.
In my Be Better Than Average Leaders workshops I facilitate I encourage people to think of a leader they admire and identify the qualities that makes that person a good leader? I then challenge them to think of ways they can practice those same characteristics in their own lives. It's a grown up game of follow the leader. I, myself have built my platform by following in the footsteps of the people I admire like Les Brown, Jim Rohn, Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy.
I've studied and implemented their best practices in my life and business, forever with intention of becoming a beacon of hope and a practical example of how you can be successful no matter your background or perceived obstacles as long as you develop critical thinking skills and focus on solutions.
When I first moved into this leadership space, I was mostly regurgitating things that I had read or heard or seen in the books and workshops I studied. I quoted heavily and I mimicked the motivational speakers who inspired me to begin my journey. But then I found that I wasn't very good at being a second rate Les Brown. If someone wanted to hear what he had to say they could very easily check out one of his books from the library or watch a video of him on YouTube. However, when I crafted my own speeches, and wrote my own blogs and eventually books, I was an expert on being a first rate Jonathan McMillan. At one point, I had almost half a million people following my blog!
Leadership is is a lifestyle which can be authentic, impactful and rewarding or artificial, superficial and inconsequential."
The lesson to be learned is this: Leadership is is a lifestyle which can be authentic, impactful and rewarding or artificial, superficial and inconsequential. When starting out on your journey to leadership, you must determine which lifestyle you want to live and then find mentors and role models who demonstrate the characteristics you admire and emulate those persons until those skills, habits and leadership traits are authentic to who you are.
As the late, great poet and author Maya Angelou stated "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." In other words -- fake it until you make it and then keep it real.
Be better than average!
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou
Do you agree or disagree that leadership can be faked? Do you think social media has watered down what leadership is?
Jonathan McMillan is a success strategist and inspirational speaker. He specializes in gang intervention, desistance strategies, community service, goal setting, identity building and inter-personal relationship development.
There's an image I can't get out of my head.
It's of a mother silently sitting beside her 15 year old daughter's body as it lay in the casket. The girl's life was violently taken in a drive-by shooting just a week before her 16th birthday.
Just eleven months after her 10 year old brother was killed in an accidental shooting.
I strongly believe that America is the Land of Opportunity. There are more millionaires per capita here than anywhere else in the world. 8,008,000 to be exact.
Only 35,000 of those are Black.
Colin Kaepernick is one of those few.
And he risked it all to make an unpopular political statement criticizing "America, the Great".
He chose not to stand during the playing of the National Anthem because he felt it would have been selfish of him to look the other way while this country continues to oppress Black people and people of color.
I can relate to and respect Colin Kaepernick and others who use one of the biggest platforms in the world and risk their entire professional careers to remind privileged Americans that people of color are treated like step-children in a family where Patriotism and White Nationalism are kissing cousins.
I'm not offended when professional ball players exercise their constitutional rights and draw attention to the fact that while they are privileged enough to make millions of dollars in a country which affords them that opportunity - the general playing field in America isn't even for everyone. The fact of the matter, those athletes are a miniscule fraction of those who make it out of the economic disenfranchisement that is sustained by the racist infrastructure which built America.
I am very appreciative that celebrities like Kaepernick and others have brought to light the maddening hypocrisy which many privileged Americans demonstrate and call Patriotism when I, as a Black man in America, know that same country which we celebrate with the Star Spangled Banner, was built on the backs and with the blood sweat and tears of slaves, my ancestors.
At one time, the Constitution which proclaims "All men were created equal...with liberty and justice for all" also declared that slaves were only 3/5 of a person. (Google "three fifths compromise"). And while I, personally, am grateful to live in America, I find it extremely presumptive that some people who are privileged enough to have never experienced racism believe I and other Black Americans should feel an innate sense of patriotism for a county that kidnapped my ancestors, abused, raped and killed them and continues to systematically oppress us educationally, geographically, economically and socially.
I still find it amazingly ironic that the last sentence of the National Anthem reads "...land of the free and the home of the brave." when at the time it was adopted as the anthem, it would have been more appropriate to say "where the black man's not free and the home of the slaves." And while those aren't real lyrics, the anthem, which was written by a self-admitted and confirmed slave holder has a third verse clearly mentions slavery specifically.
"No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,"
For many years I chose not to stand during the singing of the National Anthem, for all of the reasons I mentioned. It wasn't until post-911, in my late 20s that I changed my mind. I remember realizing then, that no matter how messed up things were in this country for Black people, there were people who would kill us indiscriminately, just for being born American, in a land of opportunity, rights, and privileges.
One of those privileges is being able to choose to stand, or not at the for the National Anthem. That privilege becomes an inalienable right of free speech when that action is a political statement.
And that's what makes this country great.
The Christian bible says in Isaiah 55:11 -
"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it."
In other words, you get what you ask for.
There is even a belief that the magical" word "Abracadabra" may derive from an Aramaic phrase meaning "I create as I speak"
Again, in other words, you speak things into existence.
I say all this because, on this date 20 years ago hip-hop legend Tupac A. Shakur died. He was gunned down at age 25.
During his short life he spoke, wrote and sang prolifically about dying young.
Just a few examples of the titles or lines of his extensive catalog of songs and poems are:
"In my mind, I've always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y'all just didn't know yet."
I regularly speak about dangers of telling young black men that they are part of an endangered species and suggesting to them that they are undervalued in society's eyes because it creates a hopeless paradigm which leads to underachievement and recklessness.
Last school year I facilitated an after-school goal setting workshop with 4th and 5th grade boys of color. At the rite-of-passage ceremony, each young man stated his name and declared "I am better than average! I am destined for success!" because I empowered them with success skills like goal setting techniques and personal development training. Each one was awarded with a certificate of accomplishment recognizing them as being "Better Than Average"
A couple of school years ago I facilitated an after-school goal setting workshop with 4th and 5th grade boys of color.
At the rite-of-passage ceremony, each young man stated his name and declared "I am better than average! I am destined for success!" and was awarded a certificate of accomplishment recognizing them as being "Better Than Average"
I have continued that affirmation ritual at every single workshop and seminar which I have facilitated since.
Each time the young men emphatically announce "I am better than average" they are empowered with a strengthening and resolve of their identity . That is the first step in changing how they perceive themselves, what they believe they can and deserve to accomplish, what motivates them to achieve and how willing they are to do what is necessary to be successful.
We as parents, teachers, pastors, mentors, community leaders and as a society in general must teach our young people to think and speak about themselves with their ideal success at the front of their minds so that they breathe life into those futures -- not death. We must teach them to think of themselves as capable architects of the lives they want to live because when it comes down to it; they are what they think, say and do.
Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is one the most inspiring songs I've ever heard.
I usually listen to it once or twice a week because it's like a personal theme song for the journey I've been on.
Frequently I recite the lyrics "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but our self can free our minds”.
I say those words to replace the self-talk which sabotaged me for many, many years:“I can’t.”
I don’t remember what the task was. I don’t remember how old I was. All I remember was my mom yelling at me to “never say that” phrase.
“Don’t tell me what you can’t do.” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t do.”
I am a simple man who has lived a complicated life. The lessons I've learned from the experiences I've been through and the challenges I've conquered have helped me develop a philosophy that life is meant to be lived at a level better than average.