When I am invited to speak to a group about the Inspiring A-Town crusade I usually focus on one key message: We all have unique talents to give back that make our community a better place. I'm usually met with two types of responses to this. The first is that of those who recognize they do have a gift and understand the importance of sharing it. The second is that of those who don't think they are anything special.
The second type of response is always a bit disconcerting to me. Somewhere along the way these adults experienced an event or series of events that left them feeling ordinary and without power. They lost their mojo - or a better way of describing it would be to say that people or circumstances in their lives have led them to believe they don't have any.
Most recently I was asked to speak at the Region VI FFA Leadership Camp; FFA is an incredible organization for high school students that builds a foundation of solid leadership development and entrepreneurship acumen. At one time I was a state officer of the organization and to say that FFA benefited my life would be an understatement. As I prepared a dinner address following the camp's topic of "Unmasking Your Potential" I started thinking about it from a different angle. The camp participants already were superstars on a course to build their potential; how could I encourage them to keep that fire in their belly as they moved through life beyond high school?
I shared a message with them that I thought appropriate to reiterate here. For those of you who believe you are just plain ordinary you're not. We all develop a purpose and passion as we move through the years. Each and every one of us has a special skill set, talent, or life experience that can help others if we are willing to share. Sometimes however, we grow to believe we aren't special and there are several ways this happens.
One of the most common is due to the behavior of the less fortunate. I don't mean less fortunate as in people with less money, I mean less fortunate as in people who haven't figured out that we all have the potential to be great and that is a good thing. The less fortunate see talent in others as threat and competition. The less fortunate usually suffer from low self-esteem, poor confidence, and a number of other psychological hang-ups. They see talent in you and employ a variety of negative measures to stomp it out including passive-aggressive behavior, spreading gossip and rumors, speaking negatively to others about you, sabotage, and perhaps even telling you that you're not good enough. These can eventually leave you feeling incompetent and worthless.
The less-fortunate are everywhere. They are accomplished business men and women, family members, friends, co-workers, and even casual acquaintances. They all have one thing in common - a hole within their spirit they desperately try to fill by making other people look bad. So how to do you protect your passion and purpose in life from these vampires? You build and maintain a coat of armor.
Your potential and your talents are desperately needed by your community and you need to share them. In order to have them to share, you need to protect and develop them. I asked the camp participants to make two simple promises to ensure their coat of armor is strong and will allow them to continue to make a difference 20 years from now.
Promise No. 1 Do not shine a poor light on someone else just to make yourself feel better. We need to break this cycle and it starts with you.
Promise No. 2 Protect your potential. Build a coat of armor to shield yourself from attacks by the less fortunate. Continue to cultivate your talents and passions. Build a network of trusted support so you always have someone to talk to when you're feeling challenged. Decide that you will not respond to people who try to break you down (whether it is another person in your life or that little voice of doubt in your head).
In a recent column I wrote that the world needs fewer people sitting around thinking about what the world needs and more people following their passion. Are you following yours? Or, have you been hit by the less fortunate? It's never too late to take it back and build your coat of armor. We need you and the special gifts you bring to the world!
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.