I wasn’t born with my values….I chose them
Good Times, Sanford and Son, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids were the earliest images I had of black urban life growing up in Michigan in the 70’s. The sitcoms have been entertainment to many, but they were a reflection of reality to me down to the smallest stereotype.
Unemployment, welfare and food-stamps, illegal hookups, family structure breakdowns, few getting over and most overwhelmed, high school drop outs and county jail drop ins occurred to name a few. My outlook on life extended about as far as the nearest street corner.
One night while listening to the radio, an event occurred that would change my entire life. Jazz crooner George Benson’s voice floated out of the old radio that sat on the dresser in my room and I heard the following chorus to the song the Greatest Love:
“I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow, if I failed, if I succeed, at least I’ll live as I believe…no matter what they take from me they can’t take away my dignity.”
That was when I discovered one of life’s greatest secrets: we are not born with our values, we choose them. I could change my life by simply changing what I believed and that night I adopted three beliefs:
First: I adopted the belief that “God has a positive future for me.” If He said that all things are possible for me…I would believe Him. I wanted to be an engineer and that night I believed that it was possible.
Second: I adopted the belief that “life’s greatest rewards are always down the road less travelled.” I accepted that I would have to sometimes work twice as hard for half the recognition. I accepted the fears and threat of arrows that awaited anyone daring to be first. I would be content with whatever I had but never with where I was…believing that I could always be a better person.
Lastly, I adopted the belief that “the struggles of urban life would never break me down, but would always strengthen me up.” Death taught me to treasure life, poverty taught me to respect every penny, and absent fatherhood taught me to be a good and present parent.
Decades later, I still feel the chill of the Michigan wind blowing over the three blankets that struggled to keep me and my brother John warm at night. Since then, I’ve earned electrical engineering and management degrees, I’ve had a private dinner with a President of the United States, served as a site leader of five chemical plants, published five books, had a speaking role in a nationally televised commercial, served on a dozen civic boards, and started two non profit charitable organizations. Although the milestones can easily be traced back to my three core beliefs…they were conceived in the womb of the one key belief that started them all: that I wasn’t born with my values….I chose them.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.