Last Saturday, my business partner, Sandra and gave a keynote at the AISNE Middle School Student of Color Conference to over 250 middle school students across 50 schools in the New England Area and our topic of discussion was... you guessed it, "How to Use Your Difference to Make a Difference in today's world?"
It was a meta experience experience for me because I was the same age as my audience when I dreamed of doing what I am doing right now. Teaching people how to communicate across cultures and speaking to audiences in different parts of the world about the importance of embracing their identity. A lot of what we talked we about were centered on what's going on today and how in many cases history is repeating itself today. It was incredibly humbling seeing and hearing how progressive people are at such a young age. They all wanted to use their voices to make an impact. Bottomline, you can make a difference if you want to. Here are some steps to doing just that.
It's never too early or late to start making an impact
"You can't make time; so those who waste the least, achieve the most." - Tim Fargo
"The secret to success is doing the stuff other people won't do & doing it for a really long time." - John Jantsch
The world we live in today is one that has several complex problems going on simultaneously so what that creates is a situation where several people are looking for solutions that answers problems they have. That fact alone never goes away so while you're still living you can make an impact. Don't take THAT for granted. To give up the task of reforming society is to give up one's responsibility as a free individual.
"The world is a complex place, and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions."- Tariq Ramadan
One of the most important things I witnessed was the power of representation. My business partner is a Latina from Colombia and the United States and I am a Nigerian black male. The number one thing seventh and eighth graders came up to tell us was how cool it felt for them to see a possibility of what they could be in us. There isn't one singular voice that represents all people so sharing your story and raising awareness about things that affect you and people that look like you is bound to impact someone's life.
Always be positive
"Successful people make the most of the best and the best of the worst." - Steve Keating
Every day you wake up you have two options and those are to either be positive or be negative and what you do with that choice has the ability to impact your whole life. At the talk, I shared stories of me being fired twice, getting turned down by 85 companies, being $20,000 in debt, surviving a near death experience, getting a conditional admission to my MBA program. All this happened before I was 25. The easiest thing would have been to give up on life but I chose to make the best of the worst. Mark Twain once said "don't do around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first."
What choice are you making daily? That choice has a direct impact on whether you become a difference maker or not?
Discover who you are
"Find your spirit, and no challenge will keep you from achieving your goals." - Christopher Penn
Before you can truly help anyone in the world, you have to be able to help yourself. To help yourself, you have to be comfortable being yourself. To help yourself, you must be yourself. Be the best that you can be. When you make a mistake, learn from it, pick yourself up and move on. Too many establishments have determined what success should look like but don't let any one or group tell you who you should be.
Commit to daily improvements
"Your life will never improve unless you start making daily improvements." - Lewis Howes
To go off the last point, you have to live in a state of constantly challenging yourself. That's what gives you the confidence to remain in a room where you're not the smartest. That's what gives you confidence to explore your curiosity and be comfortable being uncomfortable. If you're comfortable being uncomfortable, then you're one step closer to being able to facing the challenges that life will throw at you when you're trying to make a difference.
"Consistently investigate what gives other people energy. Be the fan that fuels it." - Darren Rowse
A lot of people sometimes feel like the only way they can make an impact is if they are the first to start a movement. False! In fact, a lot of the great leaders that we revere today fanned movements of previous philosophers. Find a cause you resonate with and amplify that movement. Followers are leaders too.
Seek to understand not convince
"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said." - Peter Drucker
As a world, we have lost the art of hearing people truly out. If we truly want to communicate across cultures then we must learn to go beyond listening. HEAR people out. Go into every discussion making sure you're informed of the other side. Even if it is a ridiculous point, just understand the premise of the other side. This way you will be more than informed with the best ways to attack problems from a macro and micro level.
Live Your life to the fullest
"You have one job. And that is to live an extraordinary life." - Umair Hague
For much of the early part of my life, my biggest fear was fear itself. Now, my biggest fear is not achieving my fullest potential. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. Don't take the bait. Just like Umair said you have one job and that is to live an extraordinary life. Create a list of all that you want to do and spend your life knocking down every one of those goals. You might not achieve all of them but you'll have one heck of a ride along the way and you'll learn so much about yourself.