Never Surrender

Plant busting through asphaltMy 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.

A New Light

Light thru crack in groundColonel Sanders chicken recipe was turned down 1,009 times. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. Abraham Lincoln failed in business twice and lost in seven political elections. Walt Disney’s attempt to secure financing for Disney World was turned down 302 times. Albert Einstein was believed to be mentally handicapped in elementary school and was later expelled from high school.

Life is a process, not a single event. And a process is always marked by successes and failures. That’s important to know because it’s easy to get down whenever you experience a setback from your dreams. But being resilient and bouncing back higher demands that you take ownership of who you are and what you do—the good and the bad—and keep moving forward. That means that while you must always strive to improve, you should also give yourself room to fail. I’m not talking about making excuses or setting your expectations low. I’m talking about setting your standards high and pushing yourself as hard as you possibly can while maintaining the perspective that you will still make mistakes, sometimes big ones.

The key to reaching your dreams is not avoiding failure; it’s going to happen no matter how talented or mindful you are, and especially if you’re going after something big. The key is knowing what to do when you fail. The first thing you should do is not panic. Every successful person has failed numerous times. The second thing you should do is take ownership of what you did and determine what the results revealed about you. Finally, you should take immediate action in a better direction. A higher direction. That’s how you fail forward. You don’t wait to feel better about yourself. You don’t wait for the dust to settle or the situation to somehow fix itself. You do what you have to do right away, whether that’s apologizing to someone or redoing the work or practicing another hour until you get it right.

Remember that the key to success is in rising higher each time you hit the floor. In fact, you couldn’t learn to bounce if you weren’t thrown down once in a while. As long as there is breath in your lungs, you need to hold onto the truth that failure is not fatal. The greatness of your life is in direct proportion to your willingness to keep fighting for what you believe in despite the missteps along the way. Do that consistently, for long enough, and your success will far outweigh your failures.

It’s a new year. If you haven’t already, now is a perfect time to begin fighting for your dreams. No matter what happened last year or any year before. By this time next year, your life will be seen in a new light.

The Power of Your Dreams…

We all have dreams when we are young and resilient and capable of extraordinary faith in our future. It’s a time when we still believe that whatever we desire from life can become a reality one day. The truth is, that reality never changes. What does change is that as we grow older, we begin losing our faith in our dreams.

Somewhere along the way, this thing people call “reality” hits. Suddenly you realize that your circumstances are not connecting the dots to the future you imagined. Maybe your parents are divorced and you have no money or you’ve been abused or you are not the right size or color or gender or…fill in the blank.

For whatever reason—and there are always reasons—what you dream of doing and what you believe you can “really” do become two very different realities. Others’ comments often fuel this belief.

They begin asserting things like, “You can’t do that,” and, “You need to live in reality,” and, “That’s impossible,” and, “Maybe in your next life.” The comments are occasionally from a place of good intentions, especially if family and friends are just trying to protect you from disappointment. But such comments do not convey the truth about you or your future.

The fact is that all dreamers, including the greatest achievers in history, have heard these same comments:

Harrison Ford was told he couldn’t act.

Oprah Winfrey was told she was unfit for television.

Michael Jordan was told he couldn’t play varsity basketball.

Amelia Earhart was told she was the wrong gender.

Albert Einstein was told he would amount to nothing.

Anne Frank was told she didn’t matter.

Elvis Presley was told he wasn’t going anywhere.

Rosa Parks was told she was the wrong color.

The difference between those who realize their dreams and those who don’t is simple: Those who realize their dreams refuse to accept someone else’s “reality” for their lives. They dare to keep pursuing their dreams despite the unfavorable odds and constant objections.

DON’T SETTLE

Everyone who has ever lived can find a reason to settle for less than what they are capable of achieving. Life is very hard at times. We get burned out, tired, exhausted, afraid, frustrated, defeated, lost, scared and hopeless. We all have these feelings at some point. They make us want to give up, stop fighting, settle for something less than the best.

I’ve been there. I’ve been kicked, beaten and bruised by what this life dishes out. I have scars and wounds that may fade with time but they’ll never completely go away.

So do you.

Despite all the doubters and difficult circumstances you may face, settling for less than what you are capable of has to be your greatest enemy in life because it’s the only enemy you can personally defeat. You can’t always control the forces around you – Things like who your parents are and what choices they make or where you live or whether or not you have any money. But you can control your response to the forces around you. It’s not always easy, but how you react remains your choice. You can let the forces shape you, or you can refuse to let something or someone else control who you become.

Your surroundings often act like a funnel, trying to squeeze you into a clone of the others around you. The pull of peer pressure is to fit in, dress the same, act the same and even misbehave the same. But the promise of peer pressure – that you will be successful if you fit in – is a lie. It is a lie because the people who go on to achieve great things are never clones of those around them. They are unique, one-of-a-kind individuals. That’s because every dream inside a person is unique, and if your dream is unique, you must be too in order to see it happen.

 

 

Bouncing Back From Adversity

One of my biggest challenges growing up was learning to own the life I’d been given. That may sound like a no-brainer to those of you that have heard my story. After all, I had no choice in all the experiences of those early years. But the truth is that everybody experiences things they didn’t choose.

Many people spend the rest of their lives protesting and rebelling against the injustices of their past. They fill their minds with a long list of excuses for not chasing their dreams.

Others choose to own their lives and rise above their circumstances regardless of what happened.

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 admit, “Nobody but me can make something of my life.” It’s ultimately an admission that you have no excuses for not giving your all to be successful.

I know because I’ve been there. There were so many days that I had every excuse to strive for nothing but survival. I could make a compelling argument that life was out to get me. Yet, instead of finding excuses for not succeeding I realized that I had to find a way around them and do whatever it took to be successful.

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. You might too. But you can’t let your reasons for quitting dictate what you do. Instead of spending time wallowing in your past, you have to spend your time finding a way to a brighter future.

In the end, excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure. It’s OK to acknowledge they are there, but to be successful and achieve your dreams you have to learn to not pick them up. People who succeed do what they say they’re going to do. People who fail make excuses for falling short.

Excuses are a sign of weakness, and they pave the road to failure. Excellence is a sign of strength, and it paves the road to success.

Drop the excuses and embrace excellence at every turn.