Will you choose to achieve great things or will you choose to just accept life for what it currently is. Life is what you make it. Learn how to change your reality during this powerful training taught by Pulitzer nominated and bestselling author Clifton Taulbert.Sign Up to Watch
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-My name is Caleb Taylor, and I'm one of hosts here at Thrive15.com. Today, Clay Clark is sitting next to Clifton Taulbert, who he calls "his Yoda" and one of the Thrives mentors here. Clifton is going to be talking to us about how all of us are faced with a choice. Clifton has an incredible background and story that you will hear. And I believe that it will inspire you to move from where you are to where you need to be. Here at Thrive15.com, we all walk around in circles chanting, knowledge without application is meaningless.
That's because our business mentors believe it's true. And it's up to you to apply what you learn here. If you aren't constantly asking yourself, how do I apply these lessons to my life and my business, then this episode could be more meaningless than a relationship with Taylor Swift. Unless, of course, your goal is just have a song written after you.
-Clifton Taulbert, how are you, sir?
-I'm good. What about yourself? I am doing well. I have been on a diet where I'm eating basically a vegetarian sushi every day. And I'm feeling good. So I don't know if it's helping at all, but I'm feeling good.
-Feeling good is good.
-Yeah. Well, hey, today we have an opportunity to learn about the concept of having a choice, that we all have a choice. And for people who maybe-- if you're watching this and you have no idea who this man is, one, is you're a man like everybody else. You've come from somewhere. You grew up amidst poverty to get to where you are today. But some of the achievements you've had along the way is you wrote a bestselling book, you had a Pulitzer Prize nominated book-- you're a Pulitzer prize nominated author, I should say.
You helped start a bank. You helped launch the Stairmaster into a national phenomenon product. You've had your life made into a movie. We could go on and on and on. But it all started here.
-All started here. This is the physical evidence of the world I left behind, the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta.
-What is this/
-That's the weight. And this is the scale. And this process created the scales that would weigh the cotton, that would go into the trailers, that will eventually get to the gin, that will eventually become that nice white shirt you're wearing.
-So you hang this up like this, and then you basically-- and you see how much--
-Yeah. And you put your cotton on here. And then this weight there. And that tells you whether you--
-So you got 20 pounds.
-Go up or down. Yeah.
-Makes sense. Yeah. So this is where you came from. I'm going to ask you some personal questions during this segment, and if at any point you say, that's too personal, just walk off the set and I'll start to figure it out.
-I'll figure out how to do that.
-Now, your mother and your father lived nearby, but they weren't really a part of your life growing up? Or they were a part of your life?
-It's sort of complicated. And it's probably more complicated that does not deserve a full conversation. But what I will say, I lived with my great aunt. I never lived with my mom. Always lived with my great grandparents, and my great grandmother passed away, I went to live with my great aunt. But part of the reason for that was that my great aunt lived alone. And after I left, another sister came to live with her. And when she graduated from high school, then another cousin came to live with her.
That was part of the culture, to some extent, of the south. That if you had a great aunt or someone like that living alone, you always had a young person living with them.
-And I've heard you say you got up at maybe 4:00 in the morning to start picking cotton. And you lived in house-- how big was the house you lived in? Was it a big house? How big was the house you lived in?
-It's really interesting. I grew up in a world with no money. But the house we lived in compared to the shotgun houses, which were fairly typical, was pretty big. You actually had rooms, where a lot of my friends were not so fortunate. But we did have rooms.
-Did you have air conditioning?
-Did you have air conditioning?
-You're kidding with that one, aren't you?
-Well, you grew up in Mississippi. I get a little testy if the weather here starts to heat up and the AC's not right at 70.
-No, we had fans.
-So you grew up in the heat of Mississippi. You work from about 4:00 in the morning till sundown.
-Yeah, if you look at me, you get up. If that's the start of the process, yeah.
-So maybe 12, 14 hours a day you're on your feet working.
-On your feet, getting ready to work or working, and leaving from the fields coming back home.
-And the poverty is around you to the point where you don't maybe even notice it?
-Well, I call it sameness. That culture was not designed to create monumental moments of exhilaration. Everything was the same. Cotton never changed. You knew what you had to do. The seasons where there. And they very rarely ever changed. So there was poverty. There's no doubt about that, especially those of my kin and friends that lived on the plantations that surrounded the small community where I lived.
But it was the poverty of not having the opportunity to express yourself, and to apply yourself, and to see who you could become.
-So if I'm watching this right now and I am growing up in poverty, if I'm growing up without air conditioning, if I'm growing up without the direct mentor-ship or guidance of my mother and father, a lot of people get hung up on these things. Is success a choice? If my mom and dad aren't directly raising me, and if I grew up with poverty? Is success still a choice?
-I think that ability to use your own mind to determine where you want to go and what you want to accomplish is still there.
-Even if I have poverty, even if my mom and dad aren't maybe present in the nuclear family system.
-However, there is an awakening process. And that awakening process comes about when you find your path being crossed by someone else who all of a sudden awakens something in you. You see something that's a little different from that sameness. And that catches your attention. It grabs you. And you tell yourself, I don't have to pick cotton. Why? I just saw this one guy. He came to town, and he was doing something entirely different. You don't have to do the same thing.
-So now let me ask you this-- is success still a choice if I am currently living in poverty, and I want to start a business? Is it possible for me to become successful if I currently do not have money, I'm in poverty, and I want to become successful? Is success still a choice, or how is it still a choice?
-It's still a choice. There's no doubt in my mind that it's still a choice. It's still an opportunity. But when you don't have all of those things around you to propel it, it may be slightly more difficult than for others. But that's where your own tenacity comes in. That's where your own persistence comes in. Because you're pushing. Because it's for you. You want it. And you're not going to let anything stand in the way of your getting it.
-I want to give just a couple examples here to give a little bit of context. Because this is huge here. This guy down here-- I don't know if you can see him. This is Ryan Tedder, who you know.
CLIFTON TAULBERT: Sure, I know Ryan.
CLAY CLARK: He went to Christian Chapel, the church we went to. And Ryan over here is a Grammy-winning artist. And Ryan went to college just like a lot of other people go to college. And he said, I would like to become a successful musician. I would like to become a-- he never said he wanted to be a celebrity, I don't think. But he wanted to be a successful musician. I knew him well.
And one of the things that Ryan did, though, is after college-- and I don't want to exaggerate the times. I don't have it more specifically written down here. But he basically worked at the Pottery Barn and he worked at other odds and ends jobs for about six years, trying to get his big break, interning for free for multimillionaires. He would intern for free for these award-winning artists and producers, and he wouldn't charge them a dime. Because he felt like that was his entrance into the road of success.
Oprah Winfrey started off as an intern. You look at Andrew Carnegie, the world's wealthiest man during his time, he at the age of, like, 16 basically working for free. It seems like that's the entrance for all entrepreneurs is you start by just wherever you can, even if you don't have money.
-I think that's the key thing is starting wherever you can. And sometime wherever you can can be a small job in the mail room. But the thing about it is you are on your way somewhere. The key thing is not to be stuck in time, is to have this emotional movement as well as the corresponding physical movement.
-Now every entrepreneur that I've ever met has overcome some major adversities in their life. Oprah was raped when she was young. Walt Disney literally lost every dime and actually resorted to eating dog food. At the bottom, he was eating dog food to stay afloat. Russell Simmons had a speech impediment, yet he built his big record empire on the phone making calls. Richard Bronson-- I was gonna call him Richard Branson-- is severely dyslexic. The guy who started Virgin Records-- he basically dropped out of high school. And I don't think a lot of people realize that Walt Disney dropped out of high school. Bill Gates didn't graduate from college. Steve Jobs didn't graduate from college. Richard Branson dropped out of high school. A lot of these successful people-- we all come from somewhere. How is success still a choice if I don't have a formal education?
-Well, I think in today's world technology has transformed our thinking in a great way. I think that a formal education will always be a plus, but is not always a sure ticket. The sure ticket will always be your own tenacity, your own ability to have a dream, to follow that dream and do what is necessary within the parameters of what is legal, to get it done.
CLAY CLARK: What is legal-- he throws that in. He looks at me and says what is legal.
-Yeah, because if I say to do whatever is necessary, someone's oh, wait. No, no, no. Whatever's legal.
CLAY CLARK: Now you grew up in a time when buildings openly posted the sign "no colors allowed," "no colored people allowed." There were signs that said that.
CLIFTON TAULBERT: Oh, yeah.
-In a time of legal segregation, where Caucasians and African Americans could not coexist in the same physical space. They weren't allowed to.
-Yeah, especially not-- I mean, working conditions-- there may have been some co-mingling. But in social settings, it was totally taboo.
-Now I cannot speak on this subject with any credibility given my background-- how I was raised and my skin color. But I want to ask you. You see a lot of people out there that are still upset about the stereotypes. Maybe say I'm an Asian American. I'm frustrated at the stereotypes of how I'm treated because I'm Asian, or I'm Hispanic, or I'm African American.
Or maybe I'm a Caucasian in a largely African American community, and I'm upset about the stereotypes. How have you been able to choose to have success given your skin color and the time that you were raised?
-I think I made that decision. But that decision was also reinforced by people around me who supported my efforts, who supported my movement forward. Again, the circumstances said one thing, but my dream said something else. And I was fortunate enough to be able to latch on to my dreams as almost like a rocket taking off. And I caught on the tailwind of that. And said, I'm going where it leads me.
-Do you-- do you ever have somebody say some horrible, nasty, racist stuff to you?
-When I was growing up I did.
-And did you ever move on?
-Well, you got to keep in mind in my world, that level of ignorance was commonplace.
INTERVIEWER (OFFSCREEN): So you classified it as ignorance.
INTERVIEWER (OFFSCREEN): You didn't get angry?
-I don't think I got angry.
INTERVIEWER (OFFSCREEN): Really?
-Because you know, my grandfather had a statement. He is so funny. He said, white people are sick, but they'll get well after a while.
-So we never-- I mean, if you dwelled on that all the time, you'd go crazy.
-Well, there's people who still dwell on it all the time. There's people who you know, dwell on air-- not just racism, but any air. They're stuck, and they're still talking about how their mother abandoned them, or how they had racist treatment, or how they grew up poor. They can't move on. You know, there's rappers. I know rappers who are still angry about-- there's one rapper-- he's actually a Caucasian rapper, but he's perpetually angry about how he was raised. They get stuck there. We can't move on. Why is it that some people can't seem to move on?
-Well, you know, you have to look at this. I mean, what is his records about?
INTERVIEWER (OFFSCREEN): Eh, pretty much, being mad at his mom.
-OK. And how much money is he making?
INTERVIEWER (OFFSCREEN): A lot of money.
-Why would he want to move on?
INTERVIEWER (OFFSCREEN): That's a good point.
-OK. So you think, so really, the key to being a good sellout, or to make the most records, is to actually just stay angry.
-Well, if that's what you're selling.
-That's a notable quotable-- "stay angry and sell rap records."
-That's what he's selling.
-Now, here we go.
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously wrote, "darkness: cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that."
Have you you seen this concept proved to be true in your own life?
-You know, I wrote a book called "The Invitation" which really gave me a clear picture of that reality. My paths crossed with those of a lady, almost 90, Caucasian lady. I thought she was a retired schoolteacher, but I later found out she was much, much more than that. And our paths crossed for five years. Well, she represented the generation that broke the rules that I had to live by. But all of those five years, this lady at the evening of her life, as I would call it, in my presence and in these relationships, broke all of those rules that her generation would have created, giving me a clear example of what is possible.
-So a woman who grew up in the time of segregation, where she actually might have endorsed it--
-Very easy could have--
-Now comes full circle in her later years and begins to treat you with kindness and respect.
-I don't necessarily treat me with kindness and respect, which she did. But I think she made a great discovery about something much bigger, that she had a gift that was much bigger than her color, and much bigger than her economic status, and that was our shared humanity.
-Now let me ask you this here. You've chosen to not become bitter. You've chosen to become better. How can somebody choose to be successful? How could somebody choose to become better when they feel better?
Let give you an example. I remember early in my business career, I had a guy who just wronged me. He was a young guy we brought into our business, did everything I could possibly do to help the guy. Find out one day he is still my customers' competing head to head. I wanted to surgically remove his head. You know, that's what I wanted to do. And it's been a struggle for me to not want to get even. And even to this day, I still, like, I got to tell myself, [GROWLING].
How do you train yourself?
-It's very difficult to not want to get even. Because I think that's our natural default. But I also think that we have a better self that requires of us to do different things and to respond differently in situations like that. Let the other person go his or her way, and you maintain your own sense of self, your own set of values, and be led and guided by those, rather than the circumstances. Because at the end of the day, you can leave a much better picture of what is possible. Just like the older lady in South Carolina, she left me a much clearer picture-- not a story, but a real, direct picture of what is possible.
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