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This business coaching lesson tells a personal story of overcoming adversity.

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Featured Coaching Excerpt - Notes & Transcript, Part 1
  • Segregation: The enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment.
  • Editor's Note: "Once Upon a Time... When We Were Colored" is a film adaptation of Clifton's book.
  • Ask Yourself: Am I living in a healthy environment that encourages my dreams and goals, or one that keeps me from them?

udacity for business, business mentors


-My name is Clay Clark. And I'm America's most pale man. I've been in such feature films as-- a lot of them. I just really can't name them all. But the point is I am joined here today with the best-selling author, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, a guy whose life was made into a movie, a guy who's gone from the cotton fields all the way to the board room, where he actually owns his own bank.

And he's going to be teaching us a little bit about his early years before he was a business mentor. We all have to start somewhere. And he's going to be teaching us about how he grew up into this mogul, what we call it today. But he started somewhere. And he's going to be walking us through his early years how he did it.

Remember, at Thrive15.com, our business mentors all believe that knowledge without application is meaningless. So as you are watching today's episode, just take the time to ask yourself, what do you need to do to specifically apply these principles that Clifton Taulbert teaching you within your own life and business. Otherwise, today's episode may just be more meaningless than taking a shower before hopping in your own pool.


Well, Brother Clifton Taulbert, how are you, sir?

-I'm good.

-Hey. It is an honor to have you here. For those of you watching at home who don't know this, this guy's been putting up with my harassment for, I believe, a decade. You've known me since I was a little boy. So let's dive right into it here. Where did you grow up, my friend?

-I grew up in the Mississippi Delta during the era of legal segregation, when cotton was basically still king. It defined many of our lives, what we did, and what was expected of us. It was a different world and a different time.

-I'm going to work off the assumption that maybe somebody out there doesn't know what the word "segregation" was. Can you maybe explain to me what that was literally, and then maybe what that felt like?

-When I think about it, Clay, it's-- and it's good that we have to explain it. Because that was a time in America's history when there was no need for an explanation. But it simply meant that the races were totally separate. White people did their thing. Black people did their thing. And there were some few people in the middle that could kind of move in and out. But for the most part, it was the separation of the black race and the white race.

-So what was your childhood like growing up amidst this segregated culture?

-I think about this often. How does one grow up in an environment that has already been predetermined by someone else, an environment that already tells you how high you can jump, how far you can fly, and even where you're going to land.

It can be really a very challenging environment. It can be daunting. Because there's something inside of you, but there's so much on the outside of you that seem to be there to orchestrate your life, like there's another maestro outside of you that's really calling the shots about your life. And it really hampers one's ability to really grab hold of their own dreams. At least, that is what it was designed to do.

-Were you really born on a cotton field or on--

-Did you see the movie?

-Oh, yeah. Was this just the movie? Was this just made up for the movie?

-All right. Well, the one thing I can tell you, that when you write a book and you sign something over to a producer, you have really given him or her the right to do whatever they want.


-And I remember being on set. And I saw that scene. And I told the producer, I said, I wasn't born in a cotton field. He said, but you are in this movie.


-That's it.

Featured Coaching Excerpt - Notes & Transcript, Part 2
  • Ask Yourself: Am I living in "sameness?" Can I see myself moving past where I am today?


-Well, as far as how you grew up though, in all sincerity, you didn't have air conditioning, right, it was-- how big was the house you grew up in?

-It was a small house. We lived in a number of homes. We lived in two room houses, there was a time that my parents-- we all lived in one room, in my aunt's house.


-So it has been a journey of stretching rooms and watching rooms closing around you. It was not a four bedroom bungalow with the white picket fence.

-Were you are raised with a mother and father present, or who raised you?

-That's a good question and an important question, because rearing is such an important part of all of our lives. It helps to create the culture that shapes our thinking. I was not raised in a home with a mom and a dad. I lived with my great grandparents, and when my great grandmother passed away, I went to live with my great aunt. And that's where I spent literally all of my life.

-Where was your mom?

-My mom was really in close proximity, and this is really interesting in the South, because there's a little bit of a cultural difference that maybe didn't happen in the Northern cities or Western cities. My mother lived right across the street. Now, I ate three meals a day at my mother's house, but I never stayed with my mother.

-Really? Now where was your dad?

-My dad was there, but my mom was divorced, after, I think, maybe 15 years of marriage--


- --or so. And then she was on her own with all of us, so I didn't have that constant father there to give me that fatherly guidance that one would really need.

-Now, you grew up with a lot of adversity. I mean, you obviously financially weren't that well off, and you were -- but you were raised by a family, a family that was help-- with you growing up with-- in a financially impoverished situation, how did you deal with that adversity, or what was it like knowing that your life basically consists of working on this-- in this cotton field? What was that like?

-You know, when I think of sameness-- that's what I call it, because even in the 21st century, there are people that deal with sameness. It never changes. You sit on your grandpa's front porch, you look for as you can see, and all you see is the same thing, over and over and over again.


-And you can believe that this is literally all that you will ever see. So growing up in that environment-- it was one of this extraordinarily sameness.


-There wasn't these moments of great jubilance, anything like that. You knew what tomorrow would look like--


- --because that's how it had looked for your parents, your grandparents, and your great grandparents before them. But at the same time, Clay, it's important to understand that even though that sameness was there, there was always that glimmer of hope that shone through that sameness. And that's what made a difference.

-So what are these things? How does this relate to your past. I know you brought some items with you--

-You know, picking cotton for most people is something that never happened. It happened on page 56 in a book.


-But this is not page 56, this is not a book. This is a weight. This is how you would pick cotton morning till sundown, put your cotton in a sack, it goes out to the trailer to be weighed. This determines how many pounds of cotton you had in your sack, and most teenage guys were required by their parents to at least pick 200 pounds of cotton a day.


-And what I tell people in the 21st century, that's a lot of white pinpoint oxford shirts.

CLAY CLARK: What time were you getting up in the morning?

-In the morning?

-Yeah, to pick the cotton. What time did you start, to get 200 pounds?

CLIFTON TAULBERT: The moon is still out.

CLAY CLARK: So it's like 5:00 in the morning, 4:00 in the morning?

-No, it's like-- I think there was a complicity between the Big Ben clock, and the people that own the fields, because the clock went off and the rooster went off, all about the same time--


- --like around 4:00 in the morning.

-So you're getting up at 4:00 in the morning, and then how long did you work every day?

-Until the sun went down.

-So maybe until 6:00 at night?

-It could be.

-So 12 or 13 hours?

-It could very well be.

-And-- OK. And did you have an option here, I mean, could you do something else, could you say hey, I opt out, I'm not really into the whole cotton thing.

-You know, options did exist--


- --but they were very rare.


-For most of the people in my world, especially at the age that I was at the time, the only option you had was working in the fields. Even kids from the city, African American kids, would come into the country where we lived to work in the fields. It was the choice.

Featured Coaching Excerpt - Notes & Transcript, Part 3
  • Ask Yourself: Do I have dreams beyond where I am today?
  • Lesson Nugget: Whatever situation you are in, there will always be something you can do to change it.
  • Lesson Nugget: Success looks different in every person's life; it's all about achieving your specific goals and dreams in life.


-Did you, because there are a lot of people who are watching this who grew up in poverty, and I've heard people say-- I remember meeting with a man years ago. And he had mentioned to me he'd never actually left this downtown urban area. His whole life, he'd never actually left. Did you, in your mind, envision leaving this place at some point? Or did you even know there was other options? I mean, did you think that, or?

-Two things Clay, there are those people today-- young people, adults, whomever-- who feel that they are absolutely stuck in time. They're held captive by culture and geography, and they can't move beyond that. I was very fortunate.

The culture surrounded me. It was there for generations. The geography surrounded me-- the Mississippi Delta and the cotton fields. But there was something inside of my head that lived beyond that.

And I can remember being in the cotton fields dreaming of a different place in time, dreaming of something different. And, to me, that's the big difference in my life. And that can be the big difference in the lives of others as well.

-Now, I've read as many books as you will write. And I've tried to, I just, I love studying successful people and asking how did they do it. And with your life, it's just been inspiring. At what point was there a turning point where you discovered entrepreneurship?

-You know-- and it's good that you brought entrepreneurship, because, to me, that's a way of thinking. That is definitely a way of thinking. And there were those people around me who even though there were limitations there were a few people in that community that lived their lives slightly differently.

There was one guy named Mr. Walter. He owned his own little business, and that was taking us to the field. I often think about that. He made his living taking us to the field.

-So one day he just decided, I'm going to take you guys to the field and I'm going--

-Well, he knew someone had to do it. So he said, I'll take everybody to the field, and I'll get paid for that. But what I saw, there was something about his countenance. There was something about the way he handled himself that always made me think. You know, wait a minute, there has to be a little bit more than what I'm currently doing. There has to be another side to this coin. And I was always searching for the other side of that coin.

-Do you remember anybody sitting down with you, and saying hey, Cliff, you can do this. Or hey, there is a bigger-- anybody who came in your world, and told you that there is a different way to do things, or that entrepreneurship was possible, or anybody who kind of came into your world to tell you this.

-I doubt that many the people who I group with actually knew the word entrepreneurship. They called it gumption in their world. They say, you've got to have gumption.

And that word encompassed this whole idea of thinking, this whole idea of I can accomplish something. I can do this. And I can remember education was a main thing to them. And so, get an education.

-You heard that-- get an education.

-I heard that constantly-- get an education. Because they saw that as the highway beyond the fields of the Mississippi Delta. So they would sit with us. They would talk with us. And we would be left with the idea that wait a minute, in spite of everything that I see around me, there's still something that I can do that can change the situation. And, to me, that was the greatest lesson I got.

-So how old were you when you decided, OK, I'm leaving. I'm leaving the cotton field. I'm going to do something different. How old were you when you left?

-I was about 16 and 1/2, almost 17.

-So you were 16 and 1/2, 17. What was your plan?

-My plan was to be successful. And I think that, to me, has to be the foundational part. Why do I want to do something else? Why do I want to do this? I wanted to be successful. I had no idea what success could look like. I had no idea how it would show up? I Just knew that it had to be different than what I was currently doing.

-Did you define success as having enough money to afford air conditioning, or having enough money to buy a house, or having enough money to-- how did you define success? Did you have any idea when you're-- if you kind of go back to that 16-year-old, 17-year-old mind. Did you say, man, I want to do this?

-You know Clay, when I think about how I defined success, there was something inside of me that was restless. There was something inside of me that was in search off something-- didn't quite know what it was-- but I felt I would recognize it when I got the chance to see it. And for me, at that point, success was being able to do what I felt I could do. Whereas before, I was doing what everybody else wanted me to do, told me to do, and expected me to do.

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