Growing up, I was a pretty unlikely candidate for the life I’m leading today, at least that’s what it looked like from the outside. I was raised in a rougher part of the Newark, N.J. area, and I stumbled into drugs and gang-related stuff pretty early. I got deep into alcohol, marijuana and even almost arrested on drug charges.
I don’t share a lot of these details publicly, usually, but it’s important to me to honor where I came from and how my experiences have shaped me into the person I am today. As the Millennial Mentor, I connect with a lot of young people. I’m also really proud to have brought a start-up incubator to Newark, called Fownders, where I’m investing all of my energy into elevating the next wave of young creators who think a future like mine seems impossible.
I’ve heard a lot of stories.
And, we all have stories. We’ve done things we’re not proud of, we’ve overcome insane adversities, we are each a testament to the power of the human spirit in our own ways. It’s not what happens to us that matters — it’s the way we deal with it.
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Something that needs to be emphasized is that your past doesn’t dictate your future. And while this phrase may get thrown around a lot in motivational circles, I’ve really lived myself into the truth of that. I’ve heard many very talented young people voice their concerns about being held back by where they’ve come from and what they’ve done.
From violence to homelessness, you name it, sometimes we don’t get handed the easiest spread of cards to work with. With that said, the best stories are always the ones of the underdog rising to the top, making it against all odds, and putting in the necessary faith and hard work to overcome their experiences and beliefs.
We all appreciate our successes much more when we really value the evolution of them. There are a few key things to remember when moving forward and feeling held back by something in your past:
1. It's not the negative experience.
It’s never the experience that creates the pain or adversity for us, it’s the way we think about it. Sometimes this is a tough message to swallow, but the truth is that no matter what happens, if you believe you can transcend it, you will. The mind is very powerful, and it does create our experience of the world around us in a big way. So if you believe you can’t or that you’re trapped in a bad situation forever, your reality will reflect that. If you believe you are capable, that you are supported [or will find support] and that your presence is needed in the world — that’s what your experience will be like.
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2. Everyone has a story.
Fear of judgment is a big thing. Many people argue that the fear of not being liked is one of the greatest human fears. I’d agree with this, because the larger of a presence you become, and the more visibility you become willing to show up for, the more you are apt to deal with people projecting their own pains and insecurities onto you. In other words, haters and judgment. You have to become rock solid in knowing that when other people judge you or where you’ve been, it’s really not about you. They have their own stories. It can take time and effort, but if you can look at everyone in this light, you become a lot less phased by the prospect of being judged.
3. Use your story as your motivation.
It would be really easy to stay stuck where you are or where you’ve been – but it would also be no way to live. If you have a desire to create or be something, then it’s imperative that you create or be that something, and with every ounce of belief that you can. When I look back on my experiences, they make me really excited to support other millennials, because I can resonate with a whole variety of different backgrounds and stories. From rock bottom to mega-success, I’ve been there. It keeps me humble, and that’s the most important thing you can be on your way to where you’re going — other than insanely faithful to your own worth. The two can go hand-in-hand, and they need to.
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The bottom line is that no matter what your past looks like, there are tons of other people who have been there. When you share your story, it also allows people to connect with you on a deep level, which builds a lot of respect and loyalty from your community. While it’s hard to let go of the fear of being judged and it’s a constant process, the more you focus on what you have to give rather than being defined by where you’ve been, the easier it is to keep moving forward.