The end of the year is usually a time of reflection for me. What went right this year and what didn’t go so well. Where have I grown (hopefully not just my midsection)? What have I received? What did I give? What did I experience? What lessons have I learned? What have I accomplished? What would I like to accomplish in the future? Have my priorities changed? Should they change? I don’t have an answer for all these questions, but I like to ask them because they keep me focused on growing and becoming more of who I want to be.
The interesting thing about asking these questions is they often turn me back to those people that have left the greatest impression on who I have become and who I want to be. Some folks say that you can tell a lot about a person by who they spend their time with. I agree with that, but a better way of saying that is you can tell a lot about a person by who had their ear. I’m a Christian and a follower of Bishop T.D. Jakes, but we don’t play a lot of 1-on-1 basketball together. I enjoy studying American history but that doesn’t mean I can sit with Benjamin Franklin over a Philly cheesesteak. Past time and distance, it’s possible to receive and be influenced by virtually anyone past or present via reading and the Internet. There are more voices, opinions, beliefs, and thoughts available to us now than at any time ever in human history. It can be a challenge to focus on the voices that best speak to you over the din of all the other voices. It can be a struggle to block out the voices who try so hard to get inside you (news media, political pundits, reality TV, televangelists, facebook, twitter, reddit, pinterest). So it’s a relief to me that when I take the time to reflect, I can hear those voices that best speak to me and remind me of who I am and who I am becoming.
As a growth challenge to each of you, take some time and think through who are the 10 most influential beings in your life. I use the word being instead of person because it can also include a deity or a fictional character. However you define the source of that voice, that is your being. When you come up with that list of 10 beings, think about why they were chosen and what do they speak into your life?
I won’t ask you to do anything I’m not willing to do myself, so here is my list of 10.
- Jesus of Nazareth (Christ Jesus) – As the Savior of my soul, he is my Lord but he is also my Rabbi. The ministry of Jesus was to teach us the greatest commandments of our God: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind; 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. I am still working on both of these.
- My mother – As the deliverer and caretaker of my life, she is my rock and also a teacher. In her example and in her teaching I see sides of the world in advance of experiencing them for myself. She prepares me for paths I have not yet walked and her life provides examples of how navigating through circumstances may or may not work. I find that as I go further in my walk as a parent, I find more of the truth about my experience from eyes that finally align with what my mother must have been seeing. In some ways, I’m still learning her lessons from when I was a child…just from a different vantage point.
- Bishop T.D. Jakes – While I grew up seeing televangelists like Apostle Fred Price and Pastor Robert Schuller, Bishop Jakes has been a voice that has helped call me out of some of my darkest places. There are some things that I have learned from him personally (through his books or his movies or simply his life) but the greatest contribution he’s made to my life, and to so many other people, is to break-down and illuminate the Word in such a way that the full import and meaning hit me.
- Bob Ross – While Bob was an amazing painter, he was an even greater coach of personal philosophy. If you listen to his words, not just his punchlines he gives you a message that says you can do anything, you can handle anything, and we don’t make mistakes, just happy accidents! Believe in yourself and you can do it! I am not a painter and I have very little experience with physical art, but I have always been fascinated by the process and passion of creating art. Watching a blank canvas be transformed into another world is an amazing process, must like witnessing someone do improvisational music or dance. It is creation. It also helps that his voice and brush strokes evoke an ASMR, almost hypnotic response for me.
- Les Brown – My mother was an avid follower of public speakers who have a message of personal growth. Among my earliest memories of these folks was Les Brown. He spoke like a sidewalk salesman but his words were more like a practical monk. To come from so little and come to so much was an inspiration to me and still is. He was also among a select group of positive Black males influences that I had growing up, so it was good to see a well-spoken, successful, and community-building man like Les and let his words marinate in my developing mind.
- Robert Kiyosaki – I first came across his book, Rich Dad Poor Dad in 2003 and it forever changed my thinking about what I could do with my finances and with my life. When the IT bubble burst in 2001 and all the new-rich folks came crashing down to middle-class lifestyles, it put a real damper on my prospects about my future. Then I read Robert’s books and saw that there were other ways to build wealth and I became determined to use these principals to invest in myself and build something more in my own life.
- Jack Welsh / W. Edwards Deming / Kiichiro Toyoda / Eliyahu Goldratt – These gentlemen built upon personal insights and practical application to create Six Sigma, Lean and Kaizen. These platforms build the basis for core tenets of my personal strategy…Define,Measure and Analyze the problem, then Improve and Control the outcomes, remove Wastes, and Continuously Improve. When I first came across this way of thinking in 2005 I knew that it would inform and infuse my personal and professional life going forward.
- Abraham Maslow – As a student of psychology, I was introduced to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it put so many of the things I have observed into context. One can’t truly do the work of higher needs without addressing the lower (base) needs first. So many times I found that my higher-level efforts were drained, thwarted, or even sabotaged by my own drive to address my base needs. Without that base, the higher level efforts can’t stand. It’s when I learned to tend to my base that I was best able to address the summit.
- Creed / Kirk Franklin – I was not always a fan of Christian music. Most of what I heard growing up was too “churchy” and just felt completely out of touch with modern life. Music had always been something that drew me to God, but when that music became something altogether different than my musical tastes it became a separator. Then I heard My Own Prison and Human Clay and Weathered. Then I heard God’s Property and The Family and the album that has spoken life into me since it came out Hello Fear. In all of this music I heard God in music that spoke to me. I heard the Word spoken through music and it pulled me back to God in a way that very little else had.
- My Soul – It has taken some time to unlearn the various things I was taught in my teens and 20s about who to listen to and what is important, but I am getting there. As I continue this journey of life I’m learning to listen more to myself when it comes to big decisions. Every positive indicator can be present, every incentive and every benefit, but if it’s not something that is for me, it ultimately won’t satisfy. It took a long time of trying to do things the way people have taught me for me to realize that the only author of my happiness is me and I won’t find that happiness in other people’s dreams. Inside me is a knowledge of my path and passions well beyond anything I can consciously express. When I listen to it, I find that I grow and gain faster. When I don’t listen to it, I find that my stress and dis-ease grows.