“Go to school, get a good job, and make a lot of money.”
I grew up in a single-parent home, and like so many youth, I was given that speech at an early age. This was rooted in the hope that I would someday find that dream job and make a lot of money. Like many people, most of my family has struggled financially. So obviously, it was instilled in me to go to school, go to college and eventually score that dream job. Every month had it’s same song, “Bills bills bills”. We all know that song. And our parents do all they can to prepare us for it. They’re solution… “Education and a job”. It seems like a great aspiration, counting the simple fact that money has always been the biggest limiting factor in most of our lives. We figure if we go to school, get a degree or two, get a good paying job, then we’re all set. Start the soundtrack!
And guess what I did?
I followed that advice. Most of us do. I mean, what else can you do when you’re 15 years old. At that age, all you want to do is have fun. You leave all that serious stuff to the adults. As long as you follow their advice and stay in school, things should work out. Shouldn’t they? So I listened and followed the soundtrack. I went to school, I made good grades, I graduated with honors, and I was the first child out of my family and the first grandson out of both sides of my extended family to go to college and graduate. Now, I know you’re probably thinking I should be on my merry way to getting the dream job to make the big bucks.
Not so fast. lol.
My story didn’t play out as perfectly as you think. Something happened while in high school, and especially in college, that dramatically shifted my life trajectory onto a different course. I was exposed to what I would like to call… possibility. Now, before you leave this blog post and label me as some philosophical jerk who listens to Tony Robbins all day, I want you to hear me out. All of this will make sense when you reach the bottom of the page.
Like I said, I was exposed to possibility. What I discovered was that most people have little-to-no clue as to what they’re doing, where they’re going, how they got to where they are, and why. It seems that for most people, we easily follow a way of life without inquiring much about it. We’re told from childhood what we should like, what we should desire, how we should live, what we should do, what we should watch, where we should go, etc. Some of this is helpful, but a lot of it keeps us from thinking for ourselves. And without even thinking, we follow suit. For the most part, we expect life to figure itself out. The sad part is that this happens a lot to college graduates. We spend most of our years as students, resting on the advice we got as children. We expect life to figure itself out. Once we graduate, the job opportunities should follow. But as studies are showing, this isn’t the case for 70% of graduates. Once we step outside of our role as students that we’ve been so accustomed to since pre-school, we’re hit with a reality that’s harder than we imagined. Adulthood.
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REWIND TO HIGH SCHOOL
During my senior year in high school, I made it my goal to have as much fun as possible while making the grades to go to college. I ended up graduating from high school with honors. I was ranked #34 out of 400 graduates with a 3.7GPA. I did pretty well considering the statistics proving otherwise for most teenage African American males. Now it was time for the big leagues… COLLEGE. I applied and was immediately accepted into Georgia State University. Within a matter of months, I was on my way to the city of my dreams, Atlanta, GA. I was about to embark on a new chapter in life, and I was pumped! All I could think about was all of the freedom and fun I’d have and all of the places I’d go. I would soon carry that title of “College Student”. Coming from a small city where many aren’t as fortunate to go off to college, I was living my dream. And it felt great.
FAST-FORWARD TO COLLEGE
The life of a college student quickly became apparent during my first semester. Most of my days were spent going to class, hanging out with friends, doing school work (somedays), attending Christian events, attending school events, and coming back to my dorm room to either watch TV, talk on the phone, or surf the web. It was the college life. Honestly, it was nothing more than an extended version of high school. The only difference was that I was racking up a butt-load of student loans, I was in a big city, and I was away from home.
I had a lot of great experiences during my first year of college. I loved every moment of it. It was all I hoped it would be and more. I was on college-cloud-9. This all changed on one random day during my sophomore year. I had a life-changing epiphany. I was sitting in one of my Marketing classes, listening to the professor babble about a bunch of out-dated marketing tactics. I sat back in my seat and looked around the room at 50 other students who were pursuing Marketing as a major. They were all looking just as dazed as I was. Some were texting, some were sleep, and some were on Facebook on their laptops. It was a typical day of class. Then it hit me:
“I was well on my way to being your typical college student without a plan or much thought about what life would look like once I graduated.”
You see, I was so engulfed in life as a college student that it rarely occurred to me that this chapter would one day end. So, here I was in this class with 50 other students and I was on track to graduate with the same degree that all of these students would have. This doesn’t even include the hundreds of other Marketing students at GSU, the thousands across US, and the millions across the world. We were all on our way to getting our degrees, and most of us had no clue of what life would be like once we graduated. We didn’t care. We were college students, and that’s all that mattered at the time.
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THE EVIL PLAN
This epiphany stuck with me for days, weeks, and months. I couldn’t shake it. During this time, I started drafting a plan of action. An Evil Plan as Hugh Macleod would call it. This was my plan to ensure that I wouldn’t graduate with the stupid look on my face that most students have once they realize that those college days are OVER. This was my plan that would take me to my next step, my next chapter. It was during this time that I learned that 70% of college graduates were forced to go back home because they couldn’t find jobs. It became more and more obvious to me that this statistic wasn’t about to change soon. Quite honestly, it was getting worse. We were in the middle of a recession, companies were downsizing, most baby-boomers weren’t planning to retire any time soon (because they were too broke to), and more students were graduating from college than ever before. It was a market freeze. All of us soon-to-be job seeking newbies were being forced to go back home to mom to find whatever job we could to start paying off our student loans. This was the sad news that nobody was telling us. We were so enamored with being college students that we didn’t even know or care to listen.
It was within all of this chaos that I realized that I had to do something different. I had to break away from this matrix. I saw what was heading my way at the end of the tunnel… momma’s house. So I began planning. I started reading more books and blogs than ever before. I spent every waking moment thinking, writing, reading, praying and strategizing. It was at this point that I had to embrace my longterm dream to be an entrepreneur. I had deferred this dream, hoping things would line up on their own. Reality was proving that it wasn’t. I had always admired people who took matters into their own hands and created their own careers, but it became very real to me that I couldn’t continue to push this off just so I could keep having fun as a college student. Reality set in and I began to dream more than ever before. I asked more questions and challenged my dreams in light of reality.
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BECOMING AN ENTREPRENEUR
During the Summer of 2007, I went back to my hometown for the summer. I had no clue that this summer would lead me on a journey toward my dream to be an entrepreneur. I was hired to work at my local church as an assistant administrator. During that summer, I took it upon myself to help the church create better marketing material. At the time, they were using Microsoft Clip Artwork for their flyers, programs, and bulletins. I borrowed some cheap logo software from one of the guys at the church, and spent several days learning how to use it. I ended up creating a secondary logo, a brochure, and a few other things for the church. After spending weeks playing around with that cheap software, I wanted to venture out and learn how to use better software. I asked one of my mentors — who was also a designer at the time — to show me how to use the software he had been using. He exposed me to the Adobe Creative Suite (ie. Photoshop, Flash, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver). After getting my hands on this, I was hooked. I spent every moment during the rest of that summer, learning how to use that software. It was and still is the best software on the market for designers.
After arriving back to Atlanta to begin my Fall 2007 Semester at GSU, I started looking for opportunities to design for other people. I was able to get a friend of mine to help me download an older version of Adobe Creative Suite onto my computer. I was ready and equipped with all the software I’d need to take on the city of Atlanta. My first client was a group of guys who were starting an entertainment company. They offered me $25 in exchange for designing their flyer. I took it. I ended up doing several flyers for them over a period a months. Looking back, those designs were horrendous, but I was super-pumped! I was making my own money, $25 at a time. This led to them telling other people about my work, which brought in other clients.
After keeping my mentor updated on my journey over the past few months, he challenged me to increase my prices. I was pretty darn scared, to be quite honest. I wasn’t sure if I was ready yet, but I took on the challenge. What happened next changed my life forever! Somebody actually paid!!! For the first time, I had set my own prices and someone paid it. As a result, I began exploring other areas of design such as web, brand identity, and stationery design. I eventually learned how to design and edit websites using WordPress. Shout out to WordPress! What happened next was amazing. I was offered an opportunity to be the “design guy” for the college ministry of a mega-church that I had been attending while in college. For those of you who don’t know, New Birth was one of the largest churches in the country at the time. So, to have the opportunity to be the main designer of their college ministry was huge. The beauty of all of this was that I learned how to maintain an ongoing relationship with a client. Plus the work I did for them was pretty awesome! They were so impressed with the work that other ministries within the church asked for my services as well. I ended up designing the website for their annual youth conference and their annual youth calendar. I had created a buzz for myself around the church in regards to designing. Like I said, this was huge!
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NOW I’M IN BUSINESS
On February of 2008, something even more amazing happened. I launched my first business as a designer. By now, I was already taking on a few projects while juggling my classes as a college student. I created a simple business plan, I set my hourly rate, and I drafted a list of services I would offer. I was officially in business. I was living my dream. I spent the last years of college building a business rather than looking for a degree to be my ticket to success. I created my own success. I was doing what I loved. My time was spent planning, strategizing, and solving problems. This became my fun. I was not only designing for other people, I was designing the life I wanted. A life that was independent; free. It was during these years that I learned what I valued, what I was passionate about, and what I wanted to do. While my friends and peers were working jobs they hated and taking classes in majors they had no interest in, I was leveraging my skills and resources to create my own success. Georgia State University became my training ground. I used every class project and networking opportunity to showcase my work, my skills, and my ideas. Life became filled with purpose and fulfillment. Everything I did had some form of connection to what I valued and what I loved.
From the day I had that epiphany in my Marketing class to this very day, I’ve had more amazing experiences than I can count. I think that day was a day that I began to embrace the possibility in myself like never before. I’ve always been the type of person to step outside the box, but this time it had very huge rewards. Since that day in my Marketing class, I’ve been on an exciting journey. I’ve had the privilege of building an agency called 4THPARK with a team of design thinkers and storytellers, working with clients that have made a difference in the world, getting paid to do what I love, having friendships and relationships that I value deeply, and living a life that I believe in. Even though it’s been a few years, I still feel like this is only the beginning. I’m only 27. There are so many more experiences and opportunities that await. I want to start other companies. I have other ideas I want to experiment with. I want to travel and see the world. These are just a few goals from my 100 Life Goals.
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SO, WHY DID I WRITE THIS?
I‘m sure you’re wondering what’s the point of all of that stuff I said. There’s a lot of thought put into why I shared that story. I wrote this for the college student who needs to wake up to their own possibility instead of coasting on the assumption that a college degree will solve everything. What’s your plan? I wrote this for the college graduate who just got hit with reality and is in need of direction. It’s not too late to plan. I wrote this for the young entrepreneur who needs the encouragement to know that they don’t have to be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. Just do you and be yourself. I wrote this for all the young black males who need to know that there’s more possibility in them than what they see around them. I wrote this for myself. I wrote this for you.
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HERE’S MY POINT
What this world needs is not another generation of mindless, dull adults who’ve settled for a job. What this world needs is YOU. You are HERE! You are NOW! And the world needs you. That is why you were born. The world needs you to bring it. And YOU need you to bring it.
So, BRING IT!
Bring your gifts, your ideas, your passions, your creativity, your skills, and your energy. Bring YOU! Come to life. Live full. Live loud. Live NOW. Live on purpose. Don’t settle for being a part of another generation of mindless, dull adults who’ve settled for a job. What this world needs is YOU. It needs you to live a life of possibility and purpose. YOU have an opportunity to make your life count.
So, BRING IT!
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HERE’S MY DREAM
One of my lifelong dreams is to help awaken possibility in others: To challenge a generation of people who have — without thinking — bought into the lie that life is all about going to school and getting a good job. To disrupt their world with the idea that there is more to this life than a good job, good money, and good benefits.
We are so conditioned to answer the external questions in life…
“What school should I go to?”
“Where should I work?”
“How much money do I want to make?”
…that we overlook the deeper internal questions in life…
“Where am I going?”
“What’s my plan?”
“What do I want to do with my life, my time, and my skills?”
“What do I really want to learn how to do?”
“What life do I want to live?”
“What’s my dream?”
Imagine a generation of people who look at their future and see not only a career, but an adventure. Imagine a generation of people who see each other as possibilities, waiting to be awakened. Imagine students who view their education and their degrees not as just resume entries to get a job, but as opportunities to change the world.
I wonder, what will be said about us in the generations to come? Will it be that we hid behind our false perceptions of job security just to pay bills and make money? Or will it be said that we didn’t conform? That we chose to live a life of non-conformity? That we not only awakened the possibility in ourselves, but we helped to awaken possibility in others? That we played our part in creating a better world?
I’ve taken my pledge to AWAKEN POSSIBILITY in myself and in others.
Let’s create a better world together!