I’m teaming up with my former high school student to deliver online training in nutrition and at-home exercise.
It’s been an interesting path. I’ve practiced law (corporate, prosecutor, defense attorney, U.S. Senate counsel), started and run schools and nonprofits in Harlem, India, and Africa, trained police officers in Baltimore, and run a fitness studio for women. Throughout this journey, the desire to live out three of my highest values – freedom, contribution, and creativity were always in the background.
I quickly came to see that these jobs/careers were part of a path that let me live out the values I learned from my parents. I realized that there are other people who share these same values but they’ve become stuck in a trance that someone else created for them.
I want people to live in a trance of their own making. I want them to write their own best story. To this end, I have become something of a Ronin coach. The Ronin were masterless Samurai (have you seen the movie, Seven Samurai?). The best among them traveled the country, defending the powerless. Some would say I’m unemployable. I prefer to think of myself as a Ronin. I am comfortable claiming the title of Coach.
I look for individuals and businesses that value freedom, contribution, and creativity. Sometimes I don’t even have to look for them. Sometimes they are placed in my path. I am humbled by many of the people I have been blessed to work with. Some have even been in my life as former students. That’s why I’m sharing Jessica’s story in her own words. She has grown into a fellow Ronin. It reminds me of why I do the work.
(@gorjessmakeup on Instagram)
I posted today on Facebook that I did makeup for platinum recording artist Mary J Blige and the comments from my family and friends touched my heart. They simply told me that they were proud of me. Now despite traveling to different continents and being around countless celebrities, the most fulfilling thing for me, is to know that my family and friends are proud of the woman I have become. I owe a great part of that success to the love, encouragement and guidance I have received from Hans Hageman.
I’d be the first to say that I wasn’t an easy child. I was constantly in trouble: in detention, on suspension and I was even expelled once. I’m sure at one point or another my family was scared that I would end up on the wrong path and for a brief scary moment I was; however, my future was spared when I was only sentenced with 3 years probation. Despite my turbulent years, I’ve always had Hans by my side, never telling me what I wanted to hear, but always the words I need to activate my spirit and reminding me that I was better than my actions. No, I did immediately become a changed person, I’d still mess up and got in trouble from time to time, but I was able to bounce back quicker, because I now believed that I had within me the power to be great.
At the age of 18, I was diagnosed with a skin cancer called Mycosis Fungoides. I was devastated. I was in my freshman year of college and I had my heart set on becoming an OB/GYN and just like that I had cancer. For a while I was depressed and saw my life, going forward, as bleak. After enough crying and feeling sorry for myself, Hans helped me to realize that this was now my life and not to see my disease as a curse, rather as a detour to an alternate life that could be as grand as the one I was mapping out for myself. Trying to now make the best of my situation I decided to buy some foundation to help even out my skin again and little did I know that purchase would change my life. I was never a makeup wearer. I thought it was for “Fake” girls, but it wasn’t until I realize how makeup could make me feel that I began looking at it differently and decided that I wanted to become a makeup artist. I wanted to make women look beautiful, but even more; I wanted them to feel just as amazing.
I am now a celebrity makeup artist, with 13 years under my belt. I’ve worked with celebrities such as Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Kanye West, Usher Raymond and Janelle Monae to name a few. I’ve given my clients flawless faces that have walked the red carpets at the Grammy’s, Emmy’s and Golden Globes and seen some of their faces adorn the covers of magazines. I think about how this almost wasn’t my life, how I almost sabotaged myself because I didn’t think I was deserving of anything great, but this is my life and with the life tools Hans has helped me acquire, I now that I am and will always have the power within to be great. I will always have the power to bounce back from any adversities and that I will forever be in control of my destiny.
Do you know what your life purpose is? Are you living it?
My youngest daughter had a birthday party last week. It went really well – thanks to my wife. I acted busy to cover my extreme shyness. I don’t like crowds but when it’s “Showtime” I can turn it on. I’ve heard that these kinds of people are called “ambiverts.” This wasn’t Showtime so I took my time making sure the pizza and cake were cut just right.
At the end of the party, I was talking to a very nice man who had done some wonderful caricatures – you know, those drawings where the person’s features are exaggerated. He told me that he had seen my bio and mentioned that I had an “impressive career.” That was my cue to explain that I couldn’t hold a job. I said this with humor and sincerity.
Part of my problem has been that I thought I had discovered my life purpose at the age of 6. I convinced myself that I wanted to be a lawyer. With those magical powers I planned to correct the world’s injustice. It would have been parental malpractice for my parents to talk me out of such a noble middle class dream back then.
I did the lawyer thing. I have a policy of living with as few regrets as possible so I’ll leave it there for now. I was fortunate to have some great education opportunities open up for me. I traveled in the lanes that were available to people who could play the game or were brilliant. You can decide where I fit.
There are other lanes open now. In fact, the traditional path to the American Dream looks pretty crazy right now. You can choose to “invest” in the education bubble, incur ridiculous amounts of student loan debt, and, if you’re one of the lucky ones, become a worker pretending you have a career. Another way to go is…
The life of an entrepreneur, at least the way I’m living it, has not been easy. I don’t recommend abruptly quitting a high-paying job. My family and I have very little financial security. We’ve put everything we’ve had, and then some, into the business.
While we scramble for ways to scale it up, we get to tell our kids “no” to things like eating out and expensive sports camps. We do get to spend a lot of time with them and to have important conversations. I’ll just have to wait and see where they come out on the resentment/gratitude scale.
Despite the challenges, I believe that the life of an entrepreneur can be spiritual and transformative if you remain aware. It’s kind of like how the most difficult people in your life can also be your most profound teachers.
Somebody Should Have Told Me
I wish I had had someone to mentor me in what it took to be successful. I’m still grateful that my mind and body are healthy enough to move on this path in my mid-50’s. I still think I could have learned some of these lessons a little faster with the right guidance. It now pains me to see so many younger people going numb or living with the emotional (and often physical) pain of living without meaning or joy. One day I’ll talk about the distinction I that think needs to be made between “joy” (our natural state) and “happiness” (our “should” state).
The American Dream was to supposed to mean that life would “be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social or circumstances of birth” (James Truslow Adams in 1931).
That hasn’t worked out for a lot of the people I know. People from my generation were mostly groomed to be workers in an economy that is rapidly vanishing. Some people rebelled and made art with their lives – as solopreneurs, as social entrepreneurs, and even in corporations.
I’m a husband, a father of daughters, a co-founder of a school for girls in India, and the co-owner of a fitness business that works with women. This next part is for any woman who knows someone like this…
Do You Know This Person?
You did what you were supposed to do. You paid attention in school and worked on your social and academic skills. You were told you could have it all if you just followed the road they laid out for you.
Then life intruded. You sit at a table with a mound of bills in one hand and your paycheck in the other. Like every month, you have the sinking feeling that THIS check won’t cover THESE bills. Those stupid student loans!
But you get up every day and show up to your 9-to-5. It’s boring and some of the people are jerks but you feel fortunate to even have a job. So you swallow your pride and hide your dreams.
Worse than the boredom and the annoying people is the fear. Fear that you’ll never meet your dream partner. Fear that you’ll lose your job. Fear that you’ll stay on this treadmill and never do the things that inspire and ignite you.
You didn’t go to an elite school. Your family wasn’t wealthy. Your parents didn’t give you that network that would plug you into job opportunities. You weren’t the tenth employee of Facebook.
You’d love to take a chance on finding your dream job or starting your own business but you still feel the recession. You know in your mind that you’re still young but your heart tells you you’ll soon be too old to follow your dream. What happened to that personal style that you developed in high school and really rocked with in college?
There’s something inside of you that wants to make a difference. But how can you figure out what kind of a difference you can make? The daily grind keeps question as a dull ache with no relief in sight. Wanting to have children doesn’t make this any easier.
Sometimes you think it’s about making as much money as you can and buying that car, those shoes, and the nice apartment. Is that all you’re supposed to want? Those things are what your friends talk about all the time. Is there something wrong with you if you want something else? It’s not just your friends’ opinions that concern you. Your family has expectations that you feel pressured to meet.
Your fear and confusion are not your fault. The pressures of modern life have caused us to forget that we are conscious beings with the gift of Free Will. You’ve been lied to. It’s not all about competing and doing whatever it takes.
External factors, whether they are your family or your current finances do not have to keep you from fulfillment.
Take action on your wisdom instead of other’s expectations. Attract abundance by standing in your emotional and spiritual truth.
Are you waiting for the right time, enough money, enough experience? It’ll never happen. Talk to your parents or spend time in a senior citizen’s home if you don’t believe me. We all leave this earth. What will your friends and family remember about how you lived your life? Will it be a story worth telling?
One of the things I love about my two youngest kids is that they have their own sense of style. I fight a constant battle with myself because while I love that they have such a strong sense of themselves, I know this society will try to beat it out of them. In my clearer moments, I tell myself that being overprotective is just as bad as being abusive. At my best, I pray to God that He will protect them and allow their God-given wisdom to guide them.
I want you to recapture your style, too. Let’s start with a couple of exercises I got from Barbara Sher (not personally, but I wish!).
1. Choose a color that you like. It doesn’t have to be your favorite color. Find something with that color in it and have it in front of you. It can be a picture, a crayon, a piece of clothing, etc.
You’re going to role-play that color. If you’re “orange,” who are you? How do you feel as orange? What do you like to do? What other colors do you like to associate with? I am orange and I…
When you pick your color and express who you are as that color, you are declaring yourself and making a statement as to your style. You’re taking off the uniform that other people have made you put on and you’re making a personal statement. Get in touch if you want more on this.
2. Find someone you love and trust, and who loves you. Get something to write with and set aside five minutes. Ask that person to tell you everything they like about you. They aren’t allowed to be vague and you aren’t allowed to interrupt. You might also want to switch roles. Being both a good praiser and praisee has its benefits.
Too many children are lavishly praised for every little accomplishment. When we become adults, praise is withheld and “honest” self-evaluations are only allowed to include criticism, otherwise we are viewed as being vain. Go ahead and see how it feels to give and receive honest, deep praise.
Since you’ve read this far, I feel comfortable asking to you to Retweet this and otherwise pass it on.
Live with purpose and irony!
P.S. – If you need some help with any of this, call me or send me an email. We’ll talk. It’ll help. I promise.
“To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
I think the year was 1971. I had convinced myself that I looked really good. Besides, how many 12-year-olds get to head to school wearing a purple suede (NOT velour) jacket with leather lapels, a pink ruffled tuxedo shirt, and purple double-knit, flared pants.(are you old enough to remember those?).
Yeah, I know – you’ve heard rumors that my sense of style hasn’t evolved much in those forty+ years. But that’s not the point. This marked a critical stage in my education on “life design.” These were clothes that had been donated to the residential drug rehab center that my father founded and ran (Exodus House). These weren’t your average clothes from your average donor. Warner Leroy inspired my dive into deep fashion.
Who was Warner Leroy? He was the son of producer-director Mervyn Leroy and the grandson of one of the Warner Bros. – yes, those Warner Bros. Warner Leroy went on to run Great Adventure, Maxwell’s Plum (THE singles spot in New York at the time),and The Russian Tea Room. He was philanthropic and flamboyant.
Not only was I hoping that some of his moneymaking magic would rub off on me through these clothes but I just knew that I would be a envied by my peers for my version of the Blaxploitation style that the movies were making famous in the ’70’s
How Come No One Told Me?
Some more realistic thoughts should have been competing with my fantasy: Why didn’t I think I would be laughed out of the building by the wealthy and privileged kids who attended the elite private school where I was on scholarship? How come Shaft never wore pink? Why didn’t the recovering drug addicts in my father’s program grab these items? How come my parents didn’t intervene to prevent me from possible ridicule and a potential beating in the street?
I still don’t have answers for those questions. I got a lot of strange looks that day and some very insensitive comments. Fortunately, I was not threatened with violence. On balance, I’m glad my parents didn’t stop me.
I retired the outfit after that day.
Some lessons that have stayed with me:
- Clothes don’t make the man.
- Don’t worry too much about being in fashion.
- A little humility provides balance.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- You can train for dignity.
- You can work with criticism or ignore it – never fear it.
- Learn how to take responsibility for your choices.
- Concern yourself only with the opinions of those who care about you (and even then, be careful how much weight you give them).
- You can recover from almost anything.
- You need to put yourself out there now and then.
- With enough confidence, you can pull off anything.
- Young people will always push the bounds of “normal” fashion
- I don’t think I will be as “courageous” as my parents if my kids try to pull off something like that
Finally, don’t be afraid to show up as you are. You’ll get to see who really loves you.
P.S. Do you have a purple suede jacket in your past? Please share it here.
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The Challenges Ahead
My process for determining the voice for this blog is ongoing. I feel like that mosquito in the nudist colony – I know what to do; I’m just not sure where to start. In the past several days, news stories and studies (see Pew Trust) have come out about the clouds of regret and depression that hover over my fellow Baby Boomers. When we nervously look for renewal and hope from those younger than us, we are confronted by films like Race to Nowhere and news that students in college are suffering from mental health issues in shocking numbers.
When I write here, I have tried to put past bitterness to the side and share lessons learned, in the hope that they may be of value to someone. I’ve done some things and been some places that might help provide some people perspective on their travels. The need for this perspective was brought home to me during a conversation with a young man worried about where the world is headed. He said…
“I’m worried about taking on the challenges of the 21st century.” This very general concern might annoy me in other contexts, however…
since this was my 9 year-old son, I put on my best listening skills as he continued…
“When you and Mommy are dead, I’m not sure how I’m going to know what to do about those challenges” (Ask someone who knows him. They’ll tell you it sounds like him). I didn’t have a lot of great advice at that moment but I was able to refrain from a lecture about Bentham’s Utilitarianism versus Pareto efficency and we instead discussed some of the qualities that I thought he needed to cultivate. We talked about things like courage, friendship, service, freedom, and responsibility.
I’m glad that he’s in a wonderful school that has allowed him to develop his natural gifts. It’s one of those places that understands that knowing the name of something doesn’t equal knowledge. Unfortunately,it only runs through 8th grade – well, there’s always homeschooling!
My goal and desire for him is that he continues with his fascination for the natural world, continues to develop his physical skills to navigate through it, develops the physical and moral courage to confront the bullies who will inevitably invade his journey if he’s ding it the right way, learn sales (after all, so much of the life we live is transactional), and follows the “Heinlein curriculum” – “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
I want him to grow strong and I also want him to grow gently. I also want him to develop the practice of seeking and practicing good habits. Whether you’re 9 or 79, developing the right habits can help you grow into who you are supposed to be. The spiritual journey does not mean from “here” to “there.” The knowledge and enlightenment that we seek are no further from us than is the voice of God. We don’t need more names, knowledge, or skills – we only need access to the wisdom that we have always had. To begin or strengthen the process of unlearning, we need to develop good habits. And so I present…
When you have formed a good habit, not only will it become necessary to you, but the corresponding bad habit will no longer hold any appeal and will die a natural death. A new set of neural paths is thus formed while the old paths are gradually obliterated. Neuroscience says that forming a new, better habit is much more effective than trying to eliminate a bad habit. Good habits are like a group of lieutenants or executive assistants, working for us by relieving us of the need for conscious attention to an excess of details. Compare the efforts of a child learning to walk, or of a man learning to swim or ride a bicycle with a young child running through a playground or the expert swimmer or cyclist and you have a good example of what habit can accomplish. Our conscious mental processes — in the area of right-thinking – are often as ineffective as the efforts of the child learning to walk or the adult learning to swim or ride a bicycle.
Suppose we were forced to make the same effort in breathing that we do in any voluntary action, how laborious it would be. In the same way, controlled thinking is an effort at first, but stay with it long enough and it becomes a habit and almost automatic. When you make your habits your friend, you make your nervous system an ally. Just like bike riding or walking cease to be conscious processes, an expert thinker comes in time to balance his mind and control it in accordance with the laws of right-thinking. Little or no conscious attention is required for the body or for mental processes.
With most of us, wrong-thinking is habitual and automatic. When right-thinking becomes automatic and as unconscious as breathing, we shall have become truly our own friends. The heart beats and the lungs are inflated without conscious effort and those muscles are never tired, whereas voluntary action of the muscles soon fatigues. Athletes who persist too long in the development of any set of muscles become physically unbalanced. Too much conscious direction of thought produces a sort of mental paralysis – we become unbalanced mentally.
Reflection AND Action
Reflection must eventually find an outlet in action. It must find expression because of that intimate association of thought and the nervous system. If it does not, we become self-hypnotized by watching our own mental processes. Mere affirmations are not enough. One who goes no further than affirmations is like a would-be bicyclist who devotes the majority of her energy to affirming that she can ride, without ever getting on a bicycle to give his thought an outlet in action. Endeavor to give concrete expression to the truths you hold in mind, for only then do they come to life.
Kindness, consideration, cheerfulness, self- control may all become habits. They should in fact be designated as normal habits of a first-class mentality – the normal inheritance of the spiritually well-born. They are acquired, sometimes painfully and with much effort. Gradually, like the expert cyclist for whom bicycling has become a habit, we are relieved from conscious effort. We are balanced and able to enjoy the “scenery.”
When we find ourselves thinking thoughts of an undesirable nature, we must put the brakes on, stop the current of thoughts, and turn on to another road. If we have developed an alternate map of the territory and are clear about the values that inform our journey, we will be okay. Putting on the brakes and changing the path is where the Will comes in – the topic for a future post. Until then, remember that it’s easier to cultivate good habits than it is to try to bury bad ones. It’s also never too late to begin the process of growing gently.
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