Read an Excerpt
Yes, You Can Survive Adolescence and Beyond: Real Talk
By Jeffrey D. Harris
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Jeffrey D. Harris
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Plan
Possibly the trickiest part of getting what you want in life is just figuring out what you really want! And yet it is certainly the most important part of all. ~Excerpt from Creative Visualization, Shakti Gawain
Most people struggle with three basic issues in life. The first is the issue of existence: "Why am I alive?" The second is the issue of significance: "Does my life matter?" And the third is the issue of intention: "What is my purpose?"
Right now, you are probably searching within yourself to identify these answers. For some reason, you are struggling to find them. Do not feel lost. For few adolescents have reached the maturity to adequately answer these profound questions.
You can begin by exercising your mind. Follow this exercise. But before you do this exercise, get a pencil and paper handy. Oh, make sure the pencil has an eraser. Close your eyes and ask yourself the three questions: Why am I alive? Does my life matter? What is my purpose? If you are stumped for answers, then simplify the questions: What contribution would I like to give to my family, my community, my race, and/or my country? What do I want out of life? Whom would my life's purpose benefit? Write your answers on the paper. This is important because now you have (1) imagined it, and (2) made it exist. Many times, we imagine a thing and think it makes sense until we actually write it down on paper. Once we see it inscribed on paper, it isn't as clear as we had visualized. An eraser gives you the ability to write more clearly. At some point, you may rediscover who you are and decide to change your goal to fulfill your life's purpose. That's okay; it happens. You can make changes with an eraser.
Of the twelve principles that I have found to build good character, purpose is mentioned first. In this book, I associate the word goal with purpose. I have defined purpose to mean what one will leave behind as his gift to the world through one's life's work. A goal is defined in this book as the vehicle one uses to fulfill his or her purpose. So in this chapter, I will discuss finding your purpose in life, how others found theirs, and how we can use our goals to fulfill our purpose, and last, I share how you can anticipate the challenges ahead.
We are all destined for that return to the essence of life. If that is too profound for you, then let me say it this way: we all must die.
Whether you become famous, or you are just an ordinary "Joe," you will leave this planet and be remembered by someone. It is that which you leave behind that defines your life's purpose. Now there are only two ways you can go: negative or positive. It's the law of duality. If not this, then that. You can take the opportunity to be in control of your fate, or you can have your fate defined by others. So, what contribution will you strive to make?
I inherited my life's purpose from my grandfather, Carroll Marilla Sr. He and his brother Oliver worked in the coal mines in the small towns along the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania. While working as a coal miner, he went to work on his life's mission. He was active in the local coal mining union, organized voting carpools for local residents, and was founding secretary of the town's local NAACP branch. My grandfather shared those stories with me when I was a little boy. Mr. Marilla was conscious of his people's struggles in America. He became a community activist. He believed in the greatness of the black American, and "family comes first" values for his children and grandchildren. My grandfather planted the seeds for me to become who I am in my very early years of life. It was my task to find them and cultivate them.
You see, your life's purpose affects many people through many generations. I am sure many people benefited from my grandfather's efforts. I know his children, grandchildren, and great, great, great-grandchildren have. It is important that you understand the impact of what you do and how it affects people dear to you and those that are dear to you whom you may never meet.
Find Life's Purpose through Right State of Mind
Let's take a deep breath. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth several times. Each time you do it, you are attempting to bring yourself to a calm and relaxing state. After several attempts, synchronize your thoughts with your breathing and think about what you would like to be your life's purpose. Look deep inside your soul and feel the pulsation of your heart. Flow with the blood that circulates through your body in order for you to feel, touch, etc. This may not happen immediately, but do not give up. If necessary, stop and start at another time. You will eventually find your soul. So, have you decided what your purpose is?
If not, it's okay. Sometimes our purpose in life is revealed through external occurrences. But you will have to internalize these external events to accept the message. I am quite sure you have heard the expression, "Things happen for a reason." If you still find yourself struggling for an answer, then think about a traumatic experience that occurred to you or someone dear to you. For example, do you have a friend or family member who died by gunshots, a drug overdose, a fatal illness, or traumatic abuse? Look around your neighborhood or within your family. Can you say to yourself that you are satisfied with everything you see? If not, do you want the conditions to stay the same? If not, what would you like to do about them? Your life's purpose may be your answer.
One of the gifts my grandfather gave me was the appreciation and reverence for those black men and women who were the true pioneers for African American progress in America. One to name is Harriet Tubman. Our educational system has failed to provide us with responsible study of the life and times of our African American ancestors. As a result, many African Americans struggle with self-esteem, cultural awareness, family commitment, and their purpose in life. There's a saying: "If you know where you came from, you will know where you are going."
Harriet Tubman was a person with a purpose. She was a true heroine. Harriet Tubman's traumatic experience defined her life's purpose. This experience was her enslavement. First, she made a commitment to free herself; then she spent the rest of her life helping to free others. I hope this book assists you in freeing yourself. I want you to take a deep breath and internalize Ms. Tubman's struggle and courage. Because, if you want to know where you are going, you damn sure need to know how you got to where you are. To determine your life's purpose must be a soul-searching mission with a commitment.
While navigating through the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, I ran across some telling passages of the life and times of Ms. Harriet Tubman. I excerpted a passage from the site to share the life and times of Ms. Tubman's life purpose:
Trying to protect another slave, young Harriet suffered a head injury that resulted in sudden loss of consciousness throughout her life.... In 1848, she married John Tubman, a free Black man. When she told him of her growing wish to escape, he threatened to tell the master. After an aborted escape with her brothers, she learned that she and her brothers would be sold and sent to Georgia in a chain gang.... Harriet had other plans. As she later wrote, "There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted." ... Harriet navigated her way through the woods at night, found shelter and help with free Blacks and Quakers, and eventually reached freedom in Philadelphia with William Still and the Pennsylvania Vigilance Committee ... Upon hearing that her niece Mary and her children would soon be sold, Harriet arranged to meet them in Baltimore and usher them north to freedom. It was the first of some 13 trips during which she guided, coaxed, coerced and otherwise brought approximately 70 runaways to freedom. She also helped another 50 or so with detailed instructions to reach freedom on their own. The trips became even more difficult after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. That law made Canada a primary destination of freedom; Harriet typically took her "passengers" to St. Catharines, Ontario.
Another heroine is Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey had a very challenging childhood. She was on the track of a helpless life until a tragic moment. Not only has Oprah changed her life around since then, she also serves our youth well with her many charitable causes. She has a big heart. She is listed as one of the world's top philanthropic persons. She also is a "capitalist big dawg" in America and globally. Currently, she owns a cable network OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and the prominent O Magazine. Oprah walks and talks with power. She was the catalyst for Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. Her story is as follows:
At the age of six, her mother, Vernita Lee, decided that she could not [sic] care for her young daughter and Oprah was sent to live with her mother in Milwaukee. From ages six to thirteen, Oprah stayed with her mother. She was raped by a cousin when she was nine years old and later molested by a male friend of her mother's, and by an uncle. The young girl never told anyone about the abuse that she was suffering. Instead, she held her angry [sic] and pain inside and she rebelled. She repeatedly ran away and got into trouble. Her mother decided to put her into a detention home. Fortunately for Oprah, she was denied admission to the home because there were no openings. So, in what may have been her second major stroke of good luck, she was sent to live with her father Vernon Winfrey in Nashville. Before she ceased her promiscuous and wild behavior, she became pregnant and gave birth to a stillborn baby boy when she was fourteen. The death of her baby devastated her and she vowed to turn her life around. Her father helped her with her mission by strapping her with his strict rules and discipline. Vernon made sure that his daughter stuck to her curfew, maintained high grades in school and encouraged Oprah to be her best. Oprah's father helped her turn her life around. Oprah has spoke [sic] of his requirement that she read a book each week and complete a book report on the book.
We can safely guess what inspired her to start a book club that has caused many people of all walks of life to gain a great deal of self-esteem and knowledge.
Bernard Gassaway, a community leader and child advocate, had a very reckless boyhood. He snatched old ladies' pocketbooks, robbed people, and did other misdeeds to survive in the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, New York. He was placed in a 600 school for misguided youth. His reckless behavior continued. Eventually, he wound up in a youth detention facility. Then, there was the day he'd never forget-the day that changed his whole outlook on life and gave him a purpose to live. After an arrest and strip search, Gassaway rested in his cell and decided not to subject himself to these embarrassments again.
He then had a second awakening. He had accompanied his mother on a doctor's visit. While leaving the doctor's office, he saw her cheeks covered with tears. Naturally, he wanted to know why. She told him that she had malignant cancer. His initial response was disbelief and numbness. It was at that moment he redirected his path and made a commitment to serve youth and to do the right thing. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees, became a Revson fellow at Columbia University, and served as superintendent of alternative schools. He then resigned because he believed the Department of Education was not providing the best service available to young people. He is now studying at Columbia University as a doctoral candidate. He also came back to serve as principal of Boys and Girls High School in August 2009, to resurrect a failing school, which once was deemed the "pride and joy" of Brooklyn's Bedford- Stuyvesant community.
Gospel singer Yolanda Adams's life's purpose is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ through the vehicle of her music. As we know, music is a universal platform and a powerful medium. To date, gospel music is the highest-selling music form in the music industry. It can heal. Her fans include President Bush II, Busta Rhymes, and Jay Z, she says.
"I need to be in a place where my message can be heard by everyone. I understand my purpose. I understand what I was put here for. I take that on every day of my life".
"I lost my road manager, who was a dear friend. I wanted to express in a song that the thing to remember is that we're not put on this earth to remain forever. Someday we are all going to have to leave. So, how you live does make a difference. How you lived will be remembered long after you're gone"
Tupac Shakur was a controversial hip-hop cultural figure known for his hardcore gangster rap lyrics. He presented gangsterism to be his world, and it had mass appeal to the adolescent and young adult culture. Was there a purpose to his madness through his music? Was gangsterism really his world or just a front? What was his life's purpose? I have excerpted a letter his mother, Afeni Shakur, wrote in her introduction to her new book, Dear 2pac, We'll Always Remember You. Ms. Shakur asks young people to find their life's purpose and then take action. Obviously, I agree with her for asking young people to find their life's purpose.
Dear Tupac "Family": ... Tupac could not look in the mirror at himself if he did not do everything in his power to right the wrongs the best way he knew how. He wanted to fix everything broken in everyone's lives. He wanted to take everyone's pain away. By sharing not just his personal experiences, but everyone's, he made us face the evils, admit to the wrongs, and bring the healing process and find a cure. His lyrics told not just his story, but all our stories. Through all of Tupac's trials and tribulations, one thing stood firm, one thing remained unshakable ... YOU. Tupac never referred to you as his "fans," always as his "family."
Tupac believed as do I, that any one person in life serves an absolute purpose. We all fit into each other's lives no matter how big or small the puzzle piece with our name on it may be. Whether good or bad, all are necessary to make us the people we are, and help to form us into the people we will one day be. So you see that every single one of you is as important in Tupac's life as he is in yours. Knowing that, I had to find a way to say thank you.
I am going to ask all of you to use the same limitless love and never ending support that you give so freely to my son and direct some of it towards each other. If we can all follow Tupac's example and show each other a little respect, a little compassion and understanding, and maybe a little forgiveness, we will be moving closer to a better existense [sic] for all of us. In doing so, we will be lifting Tupac up with the same strength, in the same spirit, and with the same unconditional love he did us, everyday [sic] of his life.
I need to tell each and every one of you, on behalf of myself, my family, and my son, you are truly appreciated.
Peace, Afeni Shakur
Tupac Shakur is a good example of my point. Will you define your purpose in life? Will others define it for you? I believe Tupac had not truly refined his life's purpose. He may have known what he would like it to have been, but what he presented to us was not the same message he rapped about to the public. This will be argued by many for years to come. He died too young.
Excerpted from Yes, You Can Survive Adolescence and Beyond: Real Talk by Jeffrey D. Harris Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey D. Harris. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.