What is Service?

Yesterday was the day that America honors the life and sacrifices made by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the world’s most impactful leaders. As opposed to being a day off, it is supposed to be a day of service. But that leads me to ask a question of us all: What are we doing to help humanity on a regular basis? Could you imagine what your relationship would be like if you only celebrated your significant other once or twice a year? How would you feel if your parents had only acknowledged you quarterly? They would just be meaningless displays from people looking to check off a box.

Just as people need to be loved every day, we should be doing something good for someone else on a daily basis. Maybe it’s letting the person at the stoplight know (s)he left the gas tank open. Maybe it’s stopping by your local co-op to grab a hot meal for the homeless person on the corner. Maybe it’s donating some money to keep Bennett College open. But we have to do something if we truly want to honor the legacy not only of Dr. King but the spirit of what America claims to be. And everyone shouldn’t know you did it. Just do it. If you are recognized for it, great. If you’re not, great. Either way, you did something beautiful for someone who can do nothing for you except pay it forward.

Oh, and, by the way, I found that cool graphic by following one of my favorite accounts on Instagram, The 9 to 5 Podcast. Check them out by clicking here.

 

Make embracing a spirit of service a priority.

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Is It the Voice or the Volume? (Or Something Else)

Today, I have to ask you a critical question: Are you offended by my voice or my volume? This morning, I had a breakfast meeting with my friend, fraternity brother, and photography client Greg E. Hill. Now, I’ll admit it, Greg’s voice carries. So does mine. So do the voices of a lot of people when they’re discussing things that they are passionate about. Greg and I were talking about goals for 2019 and how we could work together to accomplish something bigger. Toward the end of our breakfast, an older white man stood up, and, as he walked by our table, said “I guess I’ll move to a quieter section.” It was obvious he said it with the intention of being heard by us because he glared at us after he said it. He proceeded to move to a table about 25 feet away, directly beside a fairly loud group of older white women who were laughing about whatever joyous stories they were sharing. Needless to say, he didn’t choose to relocate again.

My question to you is, whenever you choose to boldly stand and relocate, do you do it because of the voice or because of the volume? Do you find offense in the blackness of my voice? Keep this in mind as you move because, if it is the voice that offends you, maybe you should bite your tongue because, if it’s not coming from a place of love and it’s not constructive, you should likely keep it to yourself. But, if the issue is actually volume, which most people can adjust much more ethically than their voices, we’re all adults and it’s very easy to approach someone and say, “I’m trying to enjoy my coffee. Could you speak a bit more quietly?”

Then again, looking at the side of town we were on and the demographic make up of the restaurant, maybe the “Black Lives Matter” and “Stop Killing Us” patches on my jacket combined with G’s black-on-black attire and natural hairstyle was more problematic than anything we said at any volume.

 

Make taking an honest inventory of your motivation a priority.

Ethics Still Matter

As human beings, we’ve all made decisions that we are not proud of. It’s inevitable; We decided to operate in grey areas instead of moving into more black-and-white territory. To be candid, people have done that for millennia with hopes of getting “away” with it (though I believe you always pay for it in one way or another). The problem (or maybe the good thing) about today is that there is a record of everything and people are out here with the goal of putting the pieces together.

As I do my daily read of the headlines in the WSJ (until my $0.99/month trial period ends) and NYT, the same glaring story jumped out at me: WeWork’s CEO is double dipping. He allegedly bought buildings and then rented the space to his own company. Now, as smart as that may seem, in the era of such tight fiscal oversight, I’d strongly recommend checking with both an attorney and business ethics expert before making such a move.

Now, I’m sure a lot of people would say, “Well, when he started this, he probably didn’t know WeWork wold get this big so he didn’t think it’d be an issue.” And, to those people, I say “You’re probably right.” No one who is immensely successful ever knows that their ideas will take off like they do. But they hope. And that hope/faith/belief is what should drive your ethical behavior. When you begin your business, act as if everyone is already watching you. Act as if your name is on the front page of the New York Times. If you’ve made poor bookkeeping/ethical decisions in the past, nip them in the bud immediately and move forward with integrity. Because that is exactly what happened to WeWork. Don’t tell me you’ll have to learn the hard way, too.

Here’s a tip: If people tell you that you have enough money/power and you’re going the extra mile to get more, take a step back and look at how you’re trying to get more. Then ask yourself, “Would someone else see this as greed?” If the answer is yes, STOP!

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Make learning from the mistakes of others a priority.

It’s Not About Money

“It’s never ’bout the money ‘cuz I burn bread. It’s the principalities like Big Worm said” — Fabolous

Some people get so caught up with the dollars. I could care less about what my bank account said if I knew I lived in a nation that cared enough to make sure that I didn’t ever lose it all. I’ve been there and I can say that pursing happiness can be pretty tough when you can’t pay your rent/mortgage, don’t have health insurance, and are working a job you hate just to make ends meet.

Bankruptcy and poor credit don’t only affect those whose names they are attached to, but also the people attached to those names. Families get evicted, children lose memories as a result of going from home to home, and those things that could’ve grown to mean the world to a person end up in a storage auction never to be seen again. Or, worse, uninsured people enter a hospital only to be told they will be helped only to a certain level and, after that, they’re on their own. What makes any one human more or less deserving than another to receive quality medical care, housing, or nourishment?

America, if you take anything at all from this blog, know that it’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money. Money just provides security. But what if (imagine this…) community provided security? What if we didn’t let our neighbors slip through the cracks? Or if we buy things to fill the voids we created by not giving our family time? What if we taught integrity before integers? We shouldn’t be privatizing education. Actually, we should be doing the opposite and equally distributing the resources that elite institutions (private and public alike) have.

If we want to make America great in the truest sense, we have to teach love and empathy. Yes, we have to take care of our own households but who will really want to kill us when we show them love? Proposing a truce (within reason) isn’t weak in the eyes of anyone who doesn’t subscribe to a toxic school of thought. I am a vocal proponent of self-defense but let’s have a little faith in God’s ability to put the humanity in mankind. And, in our everyday lives, let’s exhibit that humanity. We should not let anyone be homeless or hungry. Our children ought not learn untruths that the school system teaches. We can change this world together, one neighbor at a time.

And if you think me telling you to love your neighbor is too political, you probably don’t understand the denotation of the word “politics.” But there’s a wonderful book someone put together once that’ll explain that to you if need be.

 

Make money an avenue to improve the world as opposed to a goal in and of itself.

You Owe the World Your All

Today’s post has been compiled from a series of reflective tweets I posted yesterday while I researched my family’s past.

Doing research on my family tree and, as I look at census records, it is easy to see how we, as Americans, are where we are today in terms of race relations. I’m looking at Eastern NC records from 1870 (naming my great-great-great-grandfather), which recorded 40 people from 9 households. There were two landowning families, both who are white. The remaining were black famers, undoubtedly sharecropping at that point in time. So, when certain American citizens say we must make America great again, I disrespectfully object to that sentiment.

As I look back at my family’s records, stretching well into the 1800s, I can truly say I am my American-born ancestors’ wildest dream. Many of them were sharecroppers, enslaved humans, or domestic workers. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of. But imagine how great America could’ve been had it given a damn about their imaginations. Imagine if those black women and black men had been respected. Am I perfect? No. But I am a college-educated free man. I am entrepreneurial, a homeowner, a freethinker, and a heck of an artist.

Seriously, many of my ancestors, as recent as grandparents, didn’t make it to high school. I’ve spent years conversing with and sapping wisdom from family members who never saw the 9th grade (or even the 6th). And I’m thankful to have had them see me graduate from HS and college. Sometimes, I wonder what I did to deserve this. And then I realize the answer is, “Nothing.” But I’m here at this point in history b/c that much more is expected of me. My success isn’t about me. It’s about setting my legacy up for something greater in honor of theirs. They didn’t have the opportunities I’ve had. They didn’t have the access to education. They had to stop going to school in the spring in preparation for harvest season. Their childhood and teenage summers were spent toiling in fields while mine were spent learning math and science at the Summer Institute at Durham Academy.

 

Make making your ancestors proud a priority.

The Law of Diminishing Returns… Kind Of

So, I don’t remember what math class I learned about the Law of Diminishing Returns. Probably Pre-Calculus or Calculus. That’s a moot point. The point is that, today, while I was driving, I realized that speeding is pretty pointless. I was driving to a place 46 minutes away. I’m often the kind of driver who tries to figure out how to beat the clock. Where can I cut corners (either in speed or backroads) to get where I’m supposed to get anywhere from 2 – 5 minutes earlier?

Today, I did the math and it hit me. By speeding, I’m not really making a sizable dent in my time and I’m risking a lot more. In order to go 20 more miles in an hour, I have to consistently drive 20 miles over the speed limit. That 20 mph could very well lose me my license, ultimately costing me in insurance and Uber/Lyft fees. That being said, anything above 10 mph is a risk that isn’t really worth it.

Apply that to your life: Are you staying awake just to stay awake? Are you in the gym just to be in the gym, hours pas the point of productivity? At a certain point, you’re putting out more bull🤬 than quality thoughts. That bull🤬 is a liability to your brand. So, do the responsible thing. Push yourself to a reasonable point, get some rest, and go at it hard again. But make sure you go at it after you rest.

 

Make efficiency a priority.

Bet on Yourself

What if we all invested 100% in what we’re supposed to? What if you believed in your ability to start that business instead of leaning on that job you hate? Or gave your all to your marriage instead of sliding in someone’s DMs? Or worked out 4 days a week instead of just using “I’m 30 now” as an excuse to let your health deteriorate?

Bet on what you said you believe in. We are called to do more than we actually do and this is the year that I call you do do exactly what you’re called to. Let’s actually commit. Write that book. Apply for that EIN. Go for that promotion or that new job. Save that defined amount/percentage. Invest in your growth, don’t spend on your survival. Don’t be afraid to tell yourself that you’ll do it. You won’t disappoint yourself because, even in starting, you’ll be further than you are now.

 

Make making the jump a priority.