Stedman Graham's Nine-Step Process to to Identity: Your Passport to Success
When I was growing up as one of six children (two of whom were disabled) in Whitesboro, New Jersey, a small black community surrounded by a predominately white community, the catch-phrase was, “Nothing good ever comes out of Whitesboro.”
My childhood was tough at times. My two disabled brothers seemed to get all the attention, and as a kid, I didn’t know how to deal with that. I was also teased, and my family was called names. I felt a lot of shame through all of this. People put labels on me and called me by those labels—some linked to my disabled brothers, some race-based. So, I had this internal fight going on as I resisted labeling myself, but still wondered, “What if I am?” That led to negative feelings, and I found myself struggling with another fight as I wrestled with my negativity and my anger. That’s how my low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence kicked in: I was trying to deal with my feelings but I didn’t know how. Thinking about race started to take up a lot of space in my head and left me trying to function with a race-based consciousness, which is what I had.
With a race-based consciousness, every day I woke up thinking I couldn’t make it because of the color of my skin. This was tied directly to my self-esteem, my belief systems, my habits, my vision, and my hopes and dreams. It was also directly linked to what I thought my talent was and what skills I thought I could develop. I had a totally self-limiting consciousness.
Picture this: I was a young 6-foot-6 black guy. What did everyone say I was? A basketball player. Label. So I was that. I lived the label. I went on to Abilene, Texas, where I played basketball for Hardin-Simmons University, and then to Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, for grad school. There I was exposed to many good people, but I also bought into what others said and how others acted instead of getting better in-tune with my own soul. My self-esteem was too low for me to appreciate life. As I once told Mike Kiley of the Chicago Tribune, “I was an angry person. I was angry at the system, and I felt a victim in my own right. It was almost as if I had a hole in my heart.”
Then one day, it hit me. It wasn’t about race; it was about me not knowing who I was and not having a process for becoming successful. I didn’t know how successful people think and act. I’d been told it was about race. I suddenly realized that somebody had fed me a bill of goods, and I had bought into it. And if I’d bought into the notion that it was about race, there was no way out—I would be trying to solve what the problem wasn’t.
Later in life, I faced the issue of being Oprah Winfrey’s partner. I heard myself referred to as “Oprah’s boyfriend” and saw the handiwork of the tabloid media on display at the newsstands. It would have been easy for me to feel like I was really a nobody by having to live in the shadow of the lies they printed. I don’t like being in that kind of limelight.
I didn’t know how to deal with all of this. And I would never have known how to deal with it had I not learned something else that could replace it—a knowledge of how the free enterprise system worked and a process for becoming successful. I realized that other people had become successful in the system, that they were making money and creating opportunities and making things happen. I knew I didn’t know how to do this. I didn’t even know how to define it, or what it looked like, or what it consisted of, or how much work was involved. So I had to learn to cope, and I studied and I discussed; I watched and I learned. Now I know how much work is involved, because after my time in the U.S. Army and work in the prison system, I’ve been in business or running a business. Working in the prison system, I saw what happens to people who don’t have a healthy identity or a process for success.
What I came up with is something that has helped me a great deal—and it can help you, too. It’s a process for developing your identity, improving your life, and becoming successful.
The usual case is that you’re not in a position to be able to improve your life because you haven’t been taught a process for doing this. You don’t know what to build or don’t even realize that you have to build a foundation for your life. You don’t have a starting process for living and improving and developing your life because you were taught to go to school, memorize, take tests, repeat the information, and forget it. Then you were stuck in a box doing the same thing over and over every single day. So you had no identity workshop development opportunities. Nobody came to you and said, “Let’s work on your identity today.” Instead, the external world just kind of took over and said, “Well, if you’re not going to spend time on yourself and invest in yourself to develop some self-awareness about your own identity, I’ll just take over. I’m going to supply you with music, games, food, chores, a job, and all the other things that take up your life—especially labels for pigeon-holing you.” You felt that life was acting upon you instead of feeling like you were in control. You became a worker instead of a thinker. You became a follower instead of a leader—a slave, actually.
If you look at the seven billion people in the world, just 1% understand that they are the thinkers—and therefore, they run everything. This is the problem with our society and our country. We have too many people who are not innovative, too many people who are dropping out of school, too many people who have given up their lives, too many people who don’t have the skills to reinvent themselves, too many people looking for jobs who aren’t able to control their own destinies. They feel that life is controlling them and that they have no control over it.
You may feel the same. Look, it’s not just you. When I started to figure out that a key piece was missing in my own life, I was about 32 or 33. That’s when I realized that I didn’t know who I was, and I didn’t understand the value of an education. I thought, “Man, you need a new education—and you need to wake up!”
Just as you may be, I got very frustrated and built up a lot of anger—a lot of rage. The thing that saved me in high school was basketball. Being a 1,000-point scorer on the high school team was a boost. Basketball helped me develop enough confidence in myself not to destroy myself with all of the negative energy I had built up inside. You’ve got two sides of the equation: assets and liabilities. Your success is based on your assets versus your liabilities. Now, how many liabilities do you have standing in the way of assets that you can create in your life? Positive versus negative, good versus bad, love versus hate. It’s all the same stuff.
What tipped the switch for me was the fact that, by my early thirties, I had a pretty good base. I’d played basketball in Europe and I’d traveled around. I’d been in the U.S. Army, which helped me create some structure. I was building strength. I was looking for the structure because it was structure I needed. Then I worked in the prison system for five years, and that also provided structure. Some of us rebel against any form of structure, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it. It was my good fortune to understand that I needed it.
As I think back to my time in high school again, I realize I was pretty active. I was a drum major in the band, I played basketball, and I was active in a lot of clubs. I had a great support system in church and little league baseball—all that kind of stuff. So to be fair, I had a lot of strength coming in, despite the fact that I was dealing with a lot of other stuff I felt to be negative. It was like an internal contest of good thinking versus bad thinking. I had to weigh all of that. I didn’t have a process for doing this—to get out of my own bad dream.
If you feel you have no control over your life, you need to come to the same epiphany I did, that, “Oh, I’m not alone.” Millions of women buy into the belief that they can’t make it because they’re a woman. Where I came from, people of color buy into the belief that they can’t make it because of the color of their skin. That’s their label. I’m not alone. Folks who think that they’re entitled because they’re a certain race, that because they’re white they’re better than somebody else, they are labeled. They buy into that. Or maybe you think that you can’t succeed because your mother or father told you that you’re nothing and that you’re never going to be anything. So you’ve got all these labels. I realized that I’m not the only person around here with a label. And I realized that the secret to unlabeling yourself is not to let other people define you. You need to define yourself—and you can, if you know how.
That’s why I created the Nine-Step Success Process, a structure that you can follow in everything you do. It will get you results and performance in business as well as personal life. But you’ve got to be clear—you’ve got to have clarity, you’ve got to have focus, you’ve got to have alignment, you’ve got to have repetition, you’ve got to have skills, you’ve got to have information, and you’ve got to have improvement in your own internal life so that you can build your foundation. Then you’ll able to expand that into the larger world and pull out what you need in order to succeed on a larger scale.
Traditional learning in this world works the opposite of how you actually should learn. You’ve basically learned to be a worker. The world wants workers. So the educational system teaches you how to be a worker, how to get a job, and how to prepare yourself so you can go out and do the work. You’re programmed to basically do the same thing over and over every day. If you buy into this, you get trapped because you get comfortable with the status quo. Without intervention or without some consciousness telling you that you need to do more than what you’re doing, you’re not going to do it. It’s impossible. You’re certainly not going to do it if you’re trained not to do it—or if you don’t train yourself.
You need intervention, and that’s what I’m providing through this book. I’m coming into your life and saying, “You need to wake up. You’ve been sleeping.” The majority of people in many communities just loll along and act as if they’ve been hypnotized. They don’t have any kind of goals; they don’t have a vision. They may have a daily goal that they want to achieve today, but it’s the same goal they had yesterday. Same thing, same thing, same thing. There’s no process for continuous improvement. There’s no journey. Where are you going? Where are you going to be in five years? Where are you going to be in ten years? What are you going to create in your life?
Most people don’t know they can do that. They don’t even know they can create a vision. They don’t even know what a vision is. Why? Because schools don’t teach vision. So I created a process that I could follow to reinvent myself, brand myself, and rebrand myself consistently. I needed a structure because I work best through structure, and I work through processes. When I discovered the benefit of process, I realized, “Oh, we have all of these things we don’t do because there’s no process for getting them done.” So I started to organize every part of my life and put that into a process, to build value. I realized, “This is about talent and skills. This is about performance. It’s about creating value.” And that’s way beyond the entitlement mentality of, “What is the world going to do for me?” The structure I’m talking about is, “How can I go out there and create value?”
You want value. That’s the key. It doesn’t matter whether you’re living in an affluent section of Chicago or you’re living in poverty in a Chicago housing project. The question is, how do you get beyond where you are? How do you do something more than what you’re doing? What kind of process can you develop? What can you do to enhance your value as a human being?
You have the potential to find value if you understand the process. I had to figure it out. I watched Oprah and what she’s accomplished and realized that what she has comes from an internal base. She had a different kind of thinking. We were searching for the same thing, but she found it early. She knew there was a difference. She was also smarter, brighter. She was able to process. I didn’t have the process. I probably could have gotten it earlier if I’d been a different kind of a thinker, but I didn’t understand the value of process and good thinking. I just wasn’t as good a thinker.
So, what’s a thinker? A thinker is someone who is conscious. A thinker is someone who has intent—someone who has a methodology to put things together. A thinker has been taught to think and also has self-awareness. A thinker is inquisitive, thinks in detail, and can actually put things together based on how things work. Who’s taught that—who’s trained to think? We don’t teach people to think. But I’m going to try to help you do just that.
One of the key points I stress in this book is your understanding of the difference between the internal world and the external one. As I’ve said, this book is all about you. You’re going to make your own discoveries, aided by your observations from the stories I present. I use stories because people are moved by other people’s experiences. There’s no transformation in mere information, though.
You have to focus if you are to get sustainable benefits from this. Focus is huge. Once you lose your focus, it’s tough. You’re all over the place. You have no focus? You’d better get some focus, and then figure out what you’re going to do repeatedly over a period of time. That’s the only way you can create excellence. You can’t create excellence any other way—and if you don’t create excellence, how are you going to be an independent learner or thinker? How are you going to get beyond the system if you don’t have some brand, if you don’t have some base, if you don’t have some foundation that separates you from everybody else? It all goes back to what I was talking about, which is value. How in the world is somebody going to give you value or respect if you don’t stand for something? The most important point is that you have a choice. You can decide to be a leader or be a victim. It’s all up to you.
Think you’re not worthy? That’s the biggest bunch of hogwash in the world. You’ve got the same opportunity I have. You just don’t believe that you have it. You just don’t believe enough in yourself to be able to take advantage of it. You’re afraid you might succeed, and then you can’t live with that because you’ve been beating yourself up all your life. You may be conditioned based on that mindset, but you can break free from it.
I want you to understand that this is an internal journey. Once you go external, you’d better know what you’re doing. Once you get out in the world, the world will hurt you if you’re not prepared. So I’m trying to help you transform your thinking from weakness to strength. You’ve got to become strong. You’ve got to believe in yourself, to be motivated about you. You’ve got to focus on you. Without you, nothing works. Don’t worry about whether or not somebody cares about you. Instead, say, “I’m going to take charge of my own life, because if I wait on the world to do it for me, I’m in trouble.”
The first step in the journey to freedom and success is to check your ID. That’s not as easy as it sounds, but it’s doable. If I defined it formally, I would say your identity is based on your passions, on what you love. It includes being clear about your values and how you personally define success for yourself. It’s worthwhile to ask about your personal definition of identity. It’s different for everyone, but you may already have some idea about what it is. You may not know how to make the most of it or how to use it in a way that empowers you. Or you may feel that you have a weak or not fully formed identity. Or maybe you’d like to trade in the identity you have for a different one. Even when you’ve established your understanding of your identity, your job isn’t done. You have to redefine yourself constantly. It’s the constant reinvention of yourself that determines how you begin to create your image or brand. It’s about constant improvement, constant revision, constant learning.
I’ve been teaching and writing about a Nine-Step Success Process for a long time. Along the way, I’ve come to see that, unless the person taking these nine steps is well on the way to knowing who he or she is and possesses an identity driven by vision and defined by values, the journey to success usually doesn’t end well. Nonetheless, these steps are important, and you can follow them with confidence as you start doing the work to know yourself and define your identity.
I refer back to these steps throughout the book.
Nine-Step Success Process
- Step 1. Check Your ID—Explore your identity. Find out who you really are. Success depends upon self-awareness.
- Step 2. Create Your Vision—A well-defined vision enables you to make meaningful, realistic goals for your business or personal life.
- Step 3. Develop Your Travel Plan—Create a plan of action that allows you to work toward your goals.
- Step 4. Master the Rules of the Road—You need guidelines to keep you on track, such characteristics as honesty, trust, hard work, determination, and a positive attitude.
- Step 5. Step into the Outer Limits—Make the leap. To grow, you have to leave your comfort zone. Remember, risk is a natural part of life; staying the same is standing still, and change (growth) means risk.
- Step 6. Pilot the Seasons of Change—If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get the same results.
- Step 7. Build Your Dream Team—Build supportive relationships with mentors and peers who can help you toward your goals.
- Step 8. Win by a Decision—What you are in this world is the result of the decisions you’ve made so far in your life. The choices you make now will be one of your greatest challenges. Consider carefully how they will impact your personal life, family, profession and career, and, of course, your long-term vision.
- Step 9. Commit to Your Vision—Put all your energy and effort into achieving your goals. Enthusiasm and commitment generate excellence, and that leads to success. The challenge is to develop the ability to coexist with the world as it changes, never giving in and never giving up.