Speak It, and They Will Come

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Carl’s words still run through my head like a song I replay.

“If you speak it, they will come,” he said while setting up his Mini-DVD Camcorder. “Our youth need to hear your message.”

Ironically, I didn’t believe that to be the case on this brisk October day in 2010. It was approximately three years after I had left Naples, Florida, to return to Toledo, Ohio, three years after I felt a sense of joy and excitement at the thought of beginning a new journey.

When I received the what-are-you-going-to-do-next questions from family and friends, I boldly and confidently proclaimed, “I’m going to travel throughout the world and inspire young people to discover their gifts.”

On that October day in 2010, I was forced to have an about-face with the truth. Moreover, the facts became undeniably clear. No one was inviting me to speak, not even for free. My email inbox was empty, and all I could see on my calendar were open dates.

As I laid in my bed staring at the ceiling, all I could think about was whether or not my old job was still available. Suddenly, my phone rang. Without looking at the number first, I calmly answered, hoping that it was someone calling about a gig.

It was a call from Carl. A former teacher and business owner, Carl became a close friend and mentor as I transitioned into the speaking profession. One of the few people who knew how real my struggle was getting, Carl was also one of the few who believed in my ability.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised by his encouraging words. However, I was shocked by what he wanted me to do.

“I’m coming over with my camera,” he said, “and we’re going to record you speaking.”

I said, “What? Record me speaking to whom?”

Armed with his Mini-DVD Camcorder and a Tripod, Carl walked into my apartment and said the words that changed everything. What Carl did for me that day was challenge me to believe in my message and my mission.

“What you have to say has to mean so much to you that you’ll say it, even if no one is listening,” he said.

Carl helped me understand that I was selling hope, but I couldn’t give anyone that if I had none for myself. Two years ago, Carl passed away. Still, his words and what he did for me will live on as I continue to live out my purpose and inspire young people to discover their gifts.

I want to be your Carl today and encourage you to keep fighting for your dream and believing in what it means to you. What you have to give is unique and special. Don’t be discouraged if others can’t see the value in what you have to offer.

Just speak it, and they will come from near and far to see you do what only you can do!

A Message to the Class of 2019

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Confetti fell to the ground and tears streamed down the face of the sport’s most recognizable star. Then came the FaceTime with his son, the cutting down of the nets, and the trophy presentation. When he sat down for the postgame press conference, the basketball star summed everything up with a simple sentence.

“These moments are what life is about.”

Indeed.

Championship moments are to sports what graduation ceremonies are to education. It’s the reason why a person works so hard. It’s why they sacrifice time with family and friends to practice or study. It’s why they refuse to give up, even when the going gets tough.

Despite what obstacles arose along the way, you knew it would all be worth it in the end, if you kept pushing towards the goal. Congratulations on getting your prize!

You have just completed a fantastic journey and reached a milestone. I am sure the road you traveled had its fair share of pain, and you have the battle scars to prove it.

However, wounds are the inevitable result of anyone willing to strive for greatness, and they serve as a reminder of your strength, resilience, and inner toughness.

I am sure you learned what friendship looks like, made mistakes, and chose to beat your path. I am sure you showed grace under fire and learned to be more concerned about your character and integrity than your reputation.

Now the next chapter of your life awaits. Before you begin writing it, reflect on how far you have come, spend time with loved ones, then attack your future with the full intent of succeeding.

Most importantly, take heed to those words said by the basketball star and remember the joy and excitement you felt during graduation.

That euphoric feeling is why every champion wants to repeat. Receiving your diploma was a championship moment, but life has many more to offer.

You are capable of reaching milestones. You are deserving of hearing your name called, and you are worthy of being celebrated for your significant accomplishments.

Go out and create more championship moments, make it a lifestyle and leave your mark in the world because that’s what living is all about.

Show and Tell Tuesday

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Mrs. Decker was accepting no excuses. So, as I stood in front of my fifth-grade teacher and tried to argue why I did not want to participate in Show and Tell Tuesday, Mrs. Decker just folded her arms and stared at me. “Mr. Dixon, since you’re so excited about Show and Tell Tuesday, you can go first,” she said. “But Mrs. Decker,” I pleaded. “I get nervous and sick when I have to speak in front of many people. You don’t want me to throw up on everyone, do you?”

Then, Mrs. Decker shut me down for good. “How about we just call your parents so you can let them know why you can’t participate in Show and Tell Tuesday?” I quickly responded: “No, thanks, Mrs. Decker. Have a nice weekend, and enjoy the day off on Monday, Mrs. Decker.”

Standing in front of 30 classmates to speak about something “I enjoy and love dearly,” as Mrs. Decker explained, was not the primary reason I wanted to skip Show and Tell Tuesday.

I had plenty of toys, board games, and sports equipment to show everyone, but all of that was just stuff to a shy, introverted boy who preferred reading books or spending time with family over going outside to play with friends.

After hours of sitting in my room agonizing about what to do, my door suddenly swung open. “Talk about your uncle,” my excited mom said as if she just won a half-off coupon at the grocery store. “Mom, that’s just weird,” I said. “No one tells stories during a show and …” My mom stopped me before I could finish. “Think of it this way,” she said. “You enjoyed spending time with your uncle, and you sure did love him.”

I thought to myself,” mom has a good point. However, it was still weird for me, especially since my uncle had passed away during the previous month, and thoughts of him brought tears to my eyes. Despite how awkward it felt to be preparing this for Show and Tell Tuesday, I began reflecting on memories of my uncle and writing a letter.

When I hopped off the bus and headed into the school Tuesday morning, one of my best friends caught up with me and popped the million-dollar question: “So what did you bring?” he asked. I paused for a second, then the bell rang.

Once all the students put their stuff away and settled into their seats, Mrs. Decker called me up as the first presenter for Show and Tell Tuesday. “So, what are you going to show us,” Mrs. Decker asked. Embarrassed for a moment, I pulled out the piece of notebook paper filled with words to my uncle on the front and back. “I have a letter that I wrote to my uncle,” I responded. The room broke out in laughter before I could begin until Mrs. Decker stood up and got everyone quiet.

In the middle of the silent room, I began reading my letter. Three minutes later, Mrs. Decker rushed up to give me a big hug as my classmates sat at their desk, applauding and crying. While all of the kids headed outside for dismissal at the end of the day, Mrs. Decker called me to her desk.

“Life can be like Show and Tell Tuesday,” she said. “Sometimes people worry too much about trying to fit in, trying to impress, or trying to be popular. Sometimes making a difference starts with daring to be different and following your heart. That’s what you did today, and I am so proud of you!”

When I started my speaking career six years ago, I treated every gig like most kids treat show and tell. I wanted to be like the other speakers that had gadgets, methods, and funny jokes to impress audiences. I struggled under the pressure of trying to be like everyone else, and I became that fifth-grade version of myself who tried to get out of participating in Show and Tell Tuesday.

One day, while cleaning up my house, I found a letter Mrs. Decker wrote to me. In it, she talked about how my presentation inspired her and the whole class. Mrs. Decker’s letter reminded me that all I needed to make a lasting impact is to speak from the heart and share my story.

If you have ever felt the need to compare yourself or have struggled to believe in what you have to offer, know that who you are and what you have to offer is all you need to make an impact as a speaker, teacher, coach, doctor, firefighter, secretary, or anything else.

Mrs. Decker taught me to embrace the purest form of who I am, and her letter helped me rediscover that person. Now, every day is Show and Tell Tuesday for me because I get to inspire and impact others by sharing my heart and my story.

Stop for a Moment

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It happened about 30 minutes into a keynote presentation I was giving to college students. As I prepared to reach a critical moment in the speech, my eyes connected with a student in the audience. Her head was bent over, her shoulders slumped, and even though she tried to hide it, I could see the tears welling up in her eyes.

It was apparent something I said triggered an emotional response. When she lifted her head, a big part of me felt the urge to encourage the student. The other side knew how vital this keynote was for me. I spent weeks preparing, stringing together each line word by word, rehearsing each story, and perfecting each teaching point. Suddenly, I had a crucial decision to make. Should I stop for a moment and follow my heart or stick to the script?

Ironically, I was confronted with the same decision back in 2007. I was fully immersed in my first full-time job out of college, covering high school sports for the Naples (Fla.) Daily News. Everything I spent years trying to achieve personally and professionally was in clear sight, and it was going according to plan.

Then the phone rang. It was a sunny Monday afternoon in April. When I answered, all I could hear was a young man crying, followed by these words, “That story your newspaper printed was not accurate. Thanks to you, my son might lose his scholarship to play college football.”

Mom had spoken, and my heart broke. Yes, it was her son caught in a hotel doing drugs, and yes, the story was accurate. Even though I stuck to the script and did my job as a reporter, I knew it was time to stop for a moment and follow my heart.

The young man and his tears sparked a burning desire to leave behind my sports writing career, pursue a higher calling, and impact the lives of young people as an author, speaker, and educator. That day, I vowed never to neglect a young person’s tears, heartache, and pain for the sake of sticking to the script again. That day, I promised always to be willing to stop for the moment and address the need, no matter where the path was leading me.

So, when I called the student to come to stand on the stage with me during the keynote, I knew it was what she and I both needed.

We are always going to be in situations where we have to make crucial decisions. Sometimes we chose to stick to the script in life for various reasons. But I have learned that sometimes finding your purpose and making the most significant impact comes when you choose to stop for a moment and follow your heart.

You are too Big to Play Small

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After the fifth consecutive scoreless game, Coach called his star player into the office for a heart to heart talk. When the player arrived, Coach could see a look of frustration, disappointment, and doubt on his face. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” the player said. “I’ve lost all my confidence.” Before he could continue, Coach stopped him and said the words that would completely change the player’s mindset and become the turning point in the team’s season.

“You have lost confidence because you’re playing small,” Coach said. “You’re trying to be what everyone else expects you to be instead of being what you expect to be. You are too big to be playing small.”

For some reason, the player had forgotten he was one of the best players in the league. He had forgotten how unstoppable he could be when he was laser focused. He had forgotten that the team’s success was dependent on him playing at his very best.

But, it was during that moment, Coach reminded his player of something we all forget at some point in our lives, and it’s that we are much more capable than what we tend to believe. When that happens, we usually conform to the expectations of others instead of living up to our own.

I spent a long time playing small because I did not know what I was capable of achieving. In addition to that, fitting in seemed more appealing than standing out.

I knew there was greatness in me, but I let obstacles and the negative influences of others stop me from seeing what was on the inside. As a result, I was underachieving and abandoning my true self.

Maybe you have forgotten how amazing you are. Perhaps life has beaten you down so much that you really believe you are meant to be average. It may be hard to see yourself raising the bar and reaching your potential.

I get it. I was there once before. But, my life changed when I started to believe in the power I possessed and when I realized others were counting on me to become who I was supposed to be.

You have a wealth of talent and ability inside of you. Now, it’s time to discover it, release it, and use it to achieve greatness because you are much too be big to be playing small.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Despise Life’s Detours

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It was the right path, and no could have convinced me otherwise. Since I was 11 years old, winning an Olympic God Medal had been a dream of mine; and every minute of every day, I dedicated myself to reaching that goal.

But the path I was traveling down came to an abrupt end due to an undiagnosed condition that severely weakened my muscles and coordination.

That was the first detour I experienced in my life. Throughout the years, I have experienced many more detours that altered my plans and sent me down another path. But I have learned to accept life’s detours as a blessing and not a curse, regardless of how disappointing or inconvenient it may have seemed at the time.

Years ago, I had a close friend who experienced a bad break up with his significant other. He truly believed this was the one for him and he was making plans to pop the big question to her.

Then, the unthinkable happened when his phone rang, and all he could hear was crying on the other end. About 15 seconds of silence passed before my best friend listened to the words that crushed him.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t do this anymore,” she said. The break up nearly caused him to give up on love, but less than a year later, he unexpectedly met a young woman who was new to the area. Today, they will be celebrating four years of marriage.

Often, we view detours as negative. However, detours are literal and figurative signs that we are supposed to go in a different direction. That new direction may not be a path we expected or a path we choose. But if we learn to embrace life’s detours, the new route just might be filled with the things we need most instead of the things we want.

Don’t Lose Your Stuff

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As the professor looked across her lecture class filled with at least 100 students or so, she uttered words I would never forget. “This is the most important thing I will tell you. Don’t lose your stuff.”

Everyone looked around and wondered why this professor would say something so basic, so simple, so common sense to a room full of college students. From a very young age, we all learn the importance of being responsible and keeping up with your personal belongings.

As the professor expounded upon her comments, I started to understand the metaphor a bit clearer and it all made perfect sense to me. Fifteen years later, the words carry even more significance as I live out my mission of inspiring young people across the world.

My professor knew something back then that I have come to learn over my years of working with young people. Many things will get lost along the journey in life, but you can’t allow circumstances, or trials, or adversity to stripe away the things that make you unique, creative, optimistic, and passionate.

What my professor was essentially saying is that you can’t lose sight of the greatness you possess, no matter the test. I believe we have a lot of young people who have lost their stuff for various reasons.

If you feel like you have lost some things along this life journey, I encourage you to go get it back, because it may be the thing that elevates you to a new level and brings forth your greatness.