Go to school they said…get a job they said…
Proud. The feeling that I felt when I received my first job offer as an anxious (and broke) high-schooler in Columbia, South Carolina. I was proud to be able to financially contribute to a household that I felt I had always taken from. As one of 5 children born to Jamaican parents, the plan was always straightforward: Go to school, get good grades, get a good job. The plan was set — I was on my way to grabbing my piece of the American Dream.
I began with the end in mind. Anyone that knows me will tell you how calculated I am when it comes to the “reason” things are done. I was so into reasoning that I decided I would major in Economics. As I matriculated at Clemson University, I found ways to submerge myself in organizations and social circles that I thought would better prepare me to be upstanding, contributing member of society that my parents raised me to be. I always had issues with our education system though, often bucking authority. We are force-fed a homogenized, generic knowledge for 12+ years (now that formal education starts Pre-K now), and then thrust into the most competitive environment in the country — regardless of where you go to school — being forced to choose a specialization only to become a cog in a wheel of some massive corporation. I followed the plan and found the best company I could’ve imagined as a newly minted debt…I mean, degree holder.
After years in Corporate America — checking the final box of my marching orders — I grew a lot. I witnessed first hand what great/bad leadership looked like as well as what happens when a process is efficient/inefficient. I left a good job with great people to try something new…to forge my own way as a leader and an entrepreneur. This decision puzzled me. America was built on — stay with me here — entrepreneurship at it’s core. Revolution, Industrialization, and Globalization has shaped generations and generations. However, as a black man in America, I have often seen my peers, family, and those who look like me WORK for things they will never OWN [pausing for moment]. My decision to start my company did not grow out of desire to make more money (Lord knows that’s now how it works). My decision came out of an insatiable desire to OWN something. Not owning for the sake of owning but owning something that will contribute to a legacy that will stand long after I’m gone. That will stand tall and high enough to provide shade and comfort for those closest to me as our ancestors were often beaten down by the heat and rays of the sun.
Go to school, they said…get a good job, they said…It works! It works for sooo many people that trying anything else is often met with discouragement, jeers, and criticism. I think about the AWESOME people that I’ve met in my travels through these 29 years who are either bottling their creativity or (possibly) worse, taken the road most traveled simply out of a transparent obligation to the things we were taught as children. DISCLAIMER: There is NOTHING wrong with working for someone AS LONG AS you are working for yourself [pausing for a moment]. “Working for yourself” means working on yourself. Whether it’s education, leadership development, or simply gaining experience, I made sure to work ON me while I was working FOR them.
I don’t know what kind of legacy I’ll leave behind as I’m still passionately writing my story (co-starring all of you), but I want to be remembered for living a double life. For leading, as I followed. For teaching, as I learn. For building up (people, businesses, communities), as I destroy (biases, glass ceilings, barriers). For being unapologetically me, as I strive to understand others. For living a double life (being a round character, not defined by any singular label), as I follow a single mission — to create opportunities for those who will come behind me, whether they look like me or not. Go to school, they said…get a good job, they said…
…Impatiently waiting to become “they”. There’s so much more to be said….