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Speaker and author Les Brown still feels the sting of an experience from fifth grade when he and his buddies were clowning around and creating a disruption. The incident wasn’t the fi rst, and the teacher had had enough. “I remember the look of anger and disgust on her face,” Brown says. “She was set on making a statement.” To make things worse, the principal referred to the kids as “stupid, dumb and retarded” because of their poor performance. The students ultimately were required to repeat a grade. From then on, Brown was labeled as “educable mentally retarded.”
That one experience has fueled Les Brown’s drive to succeed. It wasn’t until his junior year in high school that he was he able to shed the destructive label through the encouragement of a teacher.
Brown never had a class with the teacher, Mr. Washington, but he did crash his speech and drama classes. He became such a regular that one day Mr. Washington called on him to write something on the board. When Brown told him he couldn’t do what he asked because he was classified as educable mentally retarded, Mr. Washington stopped him and said in front of the whole class, “Don’t you ever say that again. Someone’s opinion of you doesn’t have to become your reality.”
“Most people fail because they aim too low and hit.”
That was a turning point for Brown. “Although I was humiliated that he said it in front of the whole class, I was liberated,” Brown says. “He looked at me with the eyes of Goethe who said, ‘Look at a man the way that he is, he only becomes worse. But look at him as if he were what he could be, then he becomes what he should be.’ ”
In that one moment, Mr. Washington gave Brown a sense of his greater potential. “He gave me the creative thirst for wanting to do more, achieve more and have more,” Brown says. “But, most important, he saw through “Greatness is a choice; it’s not our destiny.” the label that was affixed to my chest, and I fi nally realized the opinions of others did not matter. What was important was how I perceived myself.”
Finally, the possibilities of life were open to the young Brown. From that point on, he continued to grow and stretch himself in every facet in his life. He became a hip-talking morning DJ, a community activist, a three-term Ohio legislator, a syndicated television personality, and today a renowned professional speaker, author and a leading authority on human potential. He has been the recipient of the Council of Peers Award for Excellence and has been named as one of the world’s top five speakers by Toastmasters International.
Establishing a Successful Mindset
Now a father of nine children, Brown is committed to helping people of all ages see their value and greatness. He says success is a habit you embrace on a daily basis, and the earlier you get into that mindset the sooner you will be able to give birth to possibilities you might not be able to imagine.
“In order to do something you’ve never done, you’ve got to become someone you’ve never been. I think that all of us have great potential within us, but greatness is a choice; it’s not our destiny. And in the pursuit of our dreams we are introduced to trials, failures and disappointments, which take us to the door of discovery and greatness.” Brown says most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss. “Most people fail because they aim too low and hit. And many don’t aim at all.”
Brown’s message is equally important to his younger audiences. “It’s so important to help our children get a vision of themselves beyond their circumstances and mental conditioning,” he says. “I know there are a lot of parents involved with their kids’ education, but if you don’t affect and impact a child’s attitude about themselves, it’s a losing battle. And if they don’t have a vision of themselves of how they fit in the future, they are going to act like, dress like and conduct themselves like a misfit. Just like I did.”
Be Willing to Experiment with Life
If there is one theme Les Brown lives by, it’s that anything’s possible. “Most people have a tendency to settle early in life,” he says. “They stop experimenting, developing, growing, pushing and challenging themselves. And in this global economy, that mindset is no longer an option. We have to begin to understand that we must expand or we are expendable.”
Life sometimes throws us curveballs, but Brown says these occasions provide opportunities. “Had I not lost my job in broadcasting as a disc jockey, I would have never run for the Ohio Legislature. I would have never pursued that goal and dream of becoming a talk show host. I would have never seen myself as an individual who could make a difference in the community. My advice to all is to shoot for the moon, because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”