A while back the Huffington Post released an article that featured young people who accomplished some amazing things. The list includes:
• An 18-year old who passed the bar exam and became the youngest lawyer in the history of the United Kingdom: Read more here
• A homeless 19-year old who started an online campaign to raise money so he could attend his dream school; he not only raised enough for himself, the funds were so great he started an organization that helps others pay for tuition at their dream college: Read more here
• A 15-year old who built a $3.5 million dollar technology company in two years—he was 13 when he started it: Read more here
• An 11-year old who became the youngest student to attend Texas Christian University: Read more here
• A 10-year old who runs a candle company with her dad and is Detroit’s youngest entrepreneur: Read more here
The next time anyone tells you your dream is impossible, remind them that “possible” keeps getting younger every year. Another way to look at it is that the list of impossibilities continues to shrink. Keep chasing your dream. Age is just a number.
A young man named Matt Elam worked at a sporting goods retailer called The Finish Line. He worked part time because he didn’t have the margin to work 40 hours a week. Why? He was getting ready for his second year as professional football player in the NFL.
Matt Elam was a safety for the Baltimore Ravens. He made $405,000 as a rookie and had the potential to make much more. Some insiders say he has the tools to be a star. Still, he told BaltimoreRavens.com that he knows football won’t last forever (the average NFL athlete only plays for 3.5 years). Elam ultimately hopes to open his own sporting goods store one day and he believes working for The Finish Line in the offseason will help him learn what it takes to be successful.
What Matt Elam understands is that success is never a given. It must be earned day in and day out with commitment and good choices. All successful people know that what got them there is not what will keep them there. They challenge themselves. They work harder tomorrow than they did today. They fear losing momentum. Like Elam, they remain prepared for whatever comes next. If you’re serious about success, you must take the same approach.
The latest research shows that 7% of high schoolers reported being threatened or injured by a weapon on school property; 20% reported being bullied; and 33% reporting being in a physical fight within the last year. Whether or not you’ve been on one side of those statistics, there’s something important I want you to know: being tough isn’t about controlling, intimidating, bullying, dissing or defeating another person. In fact, there’s nothing easier than making yourself look and feel good by making someone else look and feel bad. Needing to diminish the value of others in order to increase your value is a sure sign of weakness. And it’s not the path to reaching your dreams.
We live in a world where we often see and hear people forcing their way through life, leaving a trail of others behind them all in the name of success. It’s a lie that you shouldn’t believe. The success that comes with that behavior is an empty, lonely success that won’t last. While being a confident and assertive person is an important quality, being confident and assertive is not the same thing as being cocky and aggressive. If you are cocky, you don’t care about what others think or feel—you just do “your thing” with an air of aggression and apathy. On the other hand, if you are truly confident, you know how to assert yourself in a respectful, conscientious manner. While everyone may not agree with you all the time, you never devalue someone for thinking or acting differently. In fact, if you truly believe in what you are doing and ultimately know it’s right, then you shouldn’t need to say a word—the results of your actions will eventually be proof enough.
In the end, those around you are never immune to your words and actions. None of us lives in a cave. But if you choose to do what’s right, and if you choose to value the lives of others as much as you value your own, while others won’t always agree with what you say and do, in time they will always come to respect you. And earning the respect of those who are different than you or don’t see eye-to-eye with you is the truest meaning of tough. Be truly tough.
One of the keys to bouncing back from adversity is accepting responsibility for your future, in thick and thin. That doesn’t mean you remain where you are. And it doesn’t mean you downplay negative circumstances or act like you enjoyed every moment you’ve been alive. What it does mean is that you reach a point where you stand firm and assert, “Nobody but me can make something of my life.” It’s ultimately an admission that you have no excuse for not giving your all to be successful.
In the end, excuses are a sign of weakness. We all have reasons—some of them very legitimate reasons—to stop pursuing our dreams. I must have had a couple thousand before I reached middle school. So did Wendy and my mom and dad. You might too. But you can’t let your reasons for quitting dumb down your desire to succeed. Instead of spending time finding excuses, spend time finding ways to improve.
There is a critical difference between acknowledging your potential excuses and accepting them. To achieve your dreams, you have to understand this difference.
Accepting excuses is the same as accepting that you have no say in the outcome of your life. It is admitting that the negative forces in your life will always push you around and have the final word. It is accepting that your life will be defined by your circumstances and what others say about you. This is a tragic surrender because your excuses are the furthest thing from the truth about you or your potential.
There is a far better way to approach your potential excuses. Acknowledge them but refuse to accept them. It is healthy to acknowledge your potential excuses for not pursuing your dreams. Essentially, it is the same thing as acknowledging that your dreams have enemies. More than that, it is calling out your dreams’ enemies by name so they can be defeated specifically and purposefully.
Call out your excuses. Then defeat them day by day.
My mom’s boyfriend had just thrown me to the ground and kicked me senseless with his steel-toe boots, eventually cracking two ribs. When I covered my ribs he riddled my face with four of five quick punches. Once he had his fill, he drug me to my room and threw me on the bed, swearing curses over me if I tried to defend my mom again. Then he slammed the door shut. I rolled onto my side and licked the cut on my lower lip as I tried again to draw a deep breath.
“What’s the point?” I gasped.
I was fourteen years old and fighting day in and day out with my mom’s grown boyfriends when I should have been enjoying life with friends like a normal kid my age. That night my heart began crying out, over and over: “Why does life have to be so hard? What did I do to deserve this?”
I began sobbing into my covers. “I can’t do this anymore,” I choked out. “No one cares. No one has ever cared. Who would even miss me if I was gone?”
I had come face to face with the toughest fight every one of us faces—the fight within ourselves. I wanted to thrive, to live a good life, and to reach my potential, but it seemed foolish to believe it was possible. Inside, I knew I had only two options. I could wipe off the blood and tears again and keep fighting for my dreams. Or I could surrender to my circumstances and let them dictate my future. It was ultimately a decision about my potential. Most importantly, it was my decision.
I closed my eyes and thought about everything I’d been through. Then I thought about everything I still wanted to do in my life. In my head, I wanted to quit. But my heart screamed, “Don’t surrender!” I went back and forth between my head and my heart for nearly a hour, dabbing the blood from my mouth every couple minutes. Finally my heart wore down my head. I closed my eyes and made a vow to never again let quitting be an option. If somebody stole my life that was one thing; but I wasn’t going to surrender it on my own. Neither should you. NEVER surrender your dreams.