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Barbershop Lessons for All of Us

November 10, 2008 9:38 AM

You’ve got to be touched by Barack Obama’s election as our first African-American president, no matter what color you are or where you stand politically.

I’m thrilled I got to witness this historic election in my 30s – not in my 80s. My 11-year-olds, Emma and Jake, can’t stop asking questions. Fantastic.

On ABC’s World News after Obama’s win, a correspondent was talking to guys – all of them African-American - in a barbershop in Georgia.

One of the men said that black men no longer have excuses: "They can't say, 'Well, I didn't have a father.....because our president didn't either.'"

It was such a simple yet eloquent statement.

My colleague Michelle said that her pastor was saying the same thing. That while African-Americans had reason to celebrate an Obama win, his election would bring with it greater responsibility.

"No more ‘the man’ holding me back,” Michelle recalled. “'Of course the country won't change 100% and there are going to be obstacles, but it's up to each of us to work our way around and through them even if we must work a little harder than the next one.' It's out there for the world to see that it's possible. I still have chills.”

I keep thinking how the words of a man in a barbershop and the pastor of a church in New York should resonate with all of us in these difficult economic times.

We should all be saying no more excuses.

No more "I can't because..." -- whether it's age, gender, race, physical challenges, marital status and more.

Instead of using those issues as a crutch for why you can't find a job or get ahead, promise yourself that you'll forge ahead, regardless of the challenges. Giving up and giving in can't be an option.

I know, I know: this is easier said than done when times are tough. How do you it? You have to focus, laser-like, on what you want. Be persistent, investigate all angles, network and remember that you can and will overcome the hurdles. It won't be easy, but it is indeed possible.

That single-minded perseverance worked for our president-elect. It can work for each of us, too.

Comments (14)

You are the best commenter on the planet! I should just give up and take lessons from you

I would genuinely urge you to definitely jot down more frequently.

I don't like to make excuses for anything that happens to me. I think I've always been able to be accountable. I am frustrated though by my own ignorance where growing a free-lance illustration business goes. I am clueless about how to get started, who to call/contact. I CAN draw anything, without the use of computers. Old school I guess. I love to draw, so I would like to make a living drawing situations/people/things that bring joy, inspire, motivate people. I would really appreciate any suggestions or advice you could give me.

Mary Fish

You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative
and independence.
You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and
should do for themselves.

Abraham Lincoln

The title of your post made me think about barbershop quartets! Then I realised I was in error, and still thought about quartets.... because like the presidency, several members must be in complete and total harmony to make a beautiful sound complete. I have total confidence that this man, Barack Obama, will be in harmony with his cabinet, and will sing beautifully for his two terms!!

I don't agree with the "he didn't have a father either" statement. Black people (and I am biracial, my father was black) have a variety of reasons why some of us are not achieving as well as our white or "other" peers and the institution of slavery had a lot to do with that. (Douglas Blackmon of the WSJ speaks extensively on this topic).

But my point is to say, Obama's upbringing was still different than that of some. He may not have grown up with his biological father, but he did have a father figure in his grandfather. And what role, if any, did his step-father play in his life?

Basically, you can't compare the life of an African-American male who may have been raised by a single mother who may have been absent because she was busy working multiple jobs to support her family with the child who has two grandparents to look after him and play surrogate mother and father.

This is not an excuse to not get ahead, but merely another hindrance that must be examined when judging others.

As usual, Tory, you're right. But I think the election also showed how rampant the discrimination against women still is. In response, we shouldn't give excuses for our failures -- we should work harder to overcome them! That glass ceiling is still there, albeit chipped and cracked, and we just need to burst through.

I have a great appreciation for history but that's not because Barack Obama is our first Black President. It came from my grand parents being arrested so that I could have the privelege to vote. It's the humiliation that my grand father went through standing on the corner wearing a sign that read "I AM A MAN",(he was not struggling with his sexual orientation). The sign still sits in the basement next to the chest with all of their pictures of history that documents their personal struggle for my future success. My grand mother graduated college but still spent her days cleaning the homes of wealthy white people. They instilled in me that I can do anything and everything and that my greatest enemy was inner-me. The sad reality is that even with Barack in office there will still be those of us who are Black Americans who will make an excuse not to do, not to be and not to achive. There will be those who call him what they called my grand parents "House N's" and "sell-outs". The fact is that even in the face of great achivement men, regardless of race, will make excuses as to where they are and what they don't have. I leave you with words from my Daddy Mac, my grand father, "An excuse: Tools used by the incompetent used to build great monuments to nothing because in the end Man will do what he chooses." I only pray that Man takes this opportunity to make better choices.

Beyond color Barack showed the responsibility , accountability and leadership. I think today there is a real lack of integrity and accountability. Wall Street was beyond greed. Selling mortgages to people that you know couldn't afford them. People of authority taking advantage of their power. On and on... That was the tone set from the current administration’s leadership down to everyday foot soldiers.

Barack demonstrated that with leadership and talented people you can accomplish anything with integrity. Hopefully he will be one of our truly great leaders and not dividers. Key to his success, that should be emulated in business, is surrounding oneself with diversity of opinion, listen, weigh and then decide. Be accountable for your actions.

May we all benefit from this new tone.

Signed, Optimistic American Business Women!

I think this is a monumental moment for our country as well. Every place I read talks firstly about him being the first African-American president, which is true. However, I think his bigger accomplishment has been to bring people together and show how are differences brings us closer together.

If you don't have adequate healthcare, it doesn't matter that you are black or white. You can connect with any person without healthcare who is afraid to go to the doctor.

If you want the war in Iraq to end. It doesn't matter that you drive a Mercedes or a pickup truck. You share a common denominator. I think that President-elect Obama has done a stellar job in bridging the divide and bring people together around issues -- not differences.

This is a great blog. I am a Black woman in corporate America, and I am glad to see that Obama's election is not just a 'Black people' thing, but motivation and inspiration for all of us. Everyone who has faced obstacles because they are different, or because they were not born with silver spoons in their mouths can relate to our next President.

I couldn't agree more. It seems to me that the people with the excuses often feel "other people" have advantages over them. They are using these excuses to avoid some bigger issue--like lack of belief in themselves in the first place. What's amazing though is that when you step up and make that decision to be/do/have what you want you realize those things that used to stop you never really mattered in the first place. For me the key is to realize that the obstacles are there for you to overcome and the apparent failures are there for you to learn from so that you may in fact accomplish what your heart is telling you you must do.

The thing I admire the most about President Elect Barack Obama is his resilience. Despite personal attacks against his character and family he never lost sight of his goal of becoming president. It is truly a testament of how perseverance pays off in the end. I can personally relate three years ago I left a job without another one lined up. It was a year of rejections and hearing "Are you crazy for quitting your job in the first place?" However, I have no regrets and know for certain I would not be where I am today without taking that leap of faith. Obstacles will come to test how serious you are about reaching for the things that can often appear impossible. Great blog post Tory.

anyone who is successful has this mindset regardless of where they came from. funny i addressed this mindset in my current blog...hmmm..great minds think alike!!!!

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