A LITTLE OVER 20 YEARS AGO, motivational speaker and author Willie Jolley was an award-winning jazz singer who made
as a nightclub feature performer. One autumn evening, just after Jolley had delivered two exceptional performances in a row,
the nightclub owner called him into the office and promptly let him go, citing the club’s need to cut the significant
cost of a high-caliber singer like him, not to mention his backing band. Though Jolley couldn’t have realized it at
the time, this bitter pill was actually the beginning of unimaginable future success.
Today, Washington, D.C.-based Jolley
is the author of the inspirational titles It Only Takes a Minute to Change Your Life and A Setback Is a Setup for
His new book, Turn Setbacks into Greenbacks, was due out in January. He delivers rousing, heartfelt motivational programs
to the likes of GM, Walmart, Verizon and Chevron, and he’s taken his talent for speaking around the world. He hosts
The Willie Jolley Weekend Show on XM Radio and has a daily radio feature called “The Magnificent Motivational
which is syndicated in more than 50 markets. He’s also been named one of the top speakers in the world by Toastmasters
International. But Willie Jolley didn’t always know he’d end up here.
“All of this happened because I got
fired and replaced by a karaoke machine,” Jolley says, laughing. He’s not exaggerating for comedic effect, either.
That’s really how he began his transformative journey. One big disappointment was the catalyst that would eventually
enable him to inspire people all over the world.
CHANGE YOUR THINKING
Getting fired stunned and devastated Jolley, and he
felt betrayed after all he’d done to help the club succeed and expand its clientele. He could have held onto his resentment
and disappointment, but he didn’t. In A Setback Is a Setup for a Comeback, he writes, “From that very moment,
I started changing my life.” He made a conscious choice to adopt a positive outlook and to focus on opportunities. Because
he accepted responsibility for his own success and happiness, and because he was tirelessly proactive, opportunities began
to appear. He writes, “I decided to change my thinking, change my actions, and change my results: to stop ‘waiting
for breaks’ and start ‘making my breaks.’ ”
Jolley still considers changing one’s mind and choosing
a positive perspective as the first and most important step to making a comeback. He says, “The moment you make that
decision to change your mind and go in a new direction, that is the moment you change your life. Everything else follows from
that. If you can change your thinking, you truly can change everything around you.”
After being fired, and with only
$200 in his pocket, Willie Jolley chose to accept every opportunity and challenge that presented itself. He didn’t know
how it would all add up, but he was determined to turn adversity into assets.
BE WILLING TO WORK, AND TO WAIT
a job with a drug-prevention program for at-risk youths that combined music, drama and the arts with an uplifting message
of hope. “I had to give speeches to kids in tough neighborhoods, and I guess because of my background as a performer,
people really seemed to like them,” he says. “One thing led to another, and by word of mouth, I kept getting invitations
to speak at different companies, teachers’ associations and churches. Then Les Brown heard me speak, and he liked the
way I mixed music and motivation. So he invited me to be part of the Music and Motivation Tour that he was doing with Gladys
By doing whatever was in front of him, and responding with enthusiasm and gratitude to every chance he got,
Willie Jolley was starting to build a thriving, meaningful career. But none of this happened overnight. Many people make the
mistake of giving up too soon, because they don’t understand that persistence over time is what makes big things happen.
“We live in a society where we’ve been conditioned to expect instant gratification. Instant rice, instant
quick loans over the phone. We’ll stand in front of the microwave and say, ‘Hurry up!’ We expect everything
quickly, but life just doesn’t work like that,” Jolley says. “We have to learn to be patiently impatient.
So plant the seed, water it, help it along and do what you can to fertilize it. Be willing to work and to ask, ‘What
can I do to get better?’ But you must also understand that good things take time.”
you never have challenges, you can never find out just what you’re capable of.”
LET YOUR TRIALS TRANSFORM YOU
Jolley knows that not only do good things take time, but they also take faith. And how do you develop faith?
He believes faith
is built and strengthened by making it through tough times.
To illustrate his point, he talks about a study cited in his new
book. In the study, four frogs were submerged in a bucket of water filled all the way to the top. After a predetermined length
of time, the frogs were allowed access to the air again. In the second phase of the experiment, another four frogs were brought
in, and both groups were again submerged, with no access to air, but for a slightly longer period of time.
the results, and their significance: “All the frogs in the second group drowned, because they gave up hope. They had
never been in a trying situation like this, and they didn’t know that, sooner or later, they’d be able to take
a breath. The frogs in the first group had been through something similar, though, and they all survived because they held
on just a little longer.”
That’s the value of struggles and tough times, the circumstances we are often quick
to label as unfair or just bad luck. “I’m so thankful for those tough experiences, for losing my job, for being
broke and busted and disgusted, with nothing to hold onto but my faith and a dream,” Jolley says. “If you’ve
already been through a challenge in your life, the next time you come up against adversity, you’re less likely to be
afraid. If you never have challenges, you can never find out just what you’re capable of.”
IT’S A MATTER
OF ATTITUDE AND HOPEFULNESS
Jolley’s books, speeches and songs are filled with compelling stories and anecdotes that
illustrate the particulars of creating a successful, happy life. But all his simple, time-honored talking points have the
same foundation: that real success begins the moment you choose a hopeful perspective—when you change your mind,
thereby, your life. “Success is a matter of hopefulness, of expectation,” he says. “As a speaker, it is
my job to keep people in that hopeful state of mind, to keep people encouraged, because there is nothing more pitiful than
a person who has no hope.”
Willie Jolley has achieved great success in sharing his life story with others, and it all
started because he didn’t succumb to bitterness and failure in the wake of his own setbacks. Moreover, he actually found
in those setbacks his greatest strengths and assets, and now he finds fulfillment in sharing his hard-earned wisdom with
others. “It took hard work, desire, determination and continuous learning to build this career. And if I can do it,
I know you can do it, too! You just need to know what to do and how to do it.”