Last week I realized a dream. I presented to around 400 Executive Assistants at Microsoft HQ in Seattle. ME! A 50-year-old, gay, Black, ex-farmboy who grew up in freshly segregated East Texas not knowing what life had in store for me.
I remember the only options offered to me in High School post-graduation were working at the local tire or air conditioning factory or joining the military. I watched all of these other kids who didn't look like me (with far worse grades) get offered college preparatory classes and meetings with college counselors even when I was holding down a 3.9 GPA and one of the first Black members of the National Honor Society in good ole Whitehouse, Texas. I learned about bias and inequality at an early age and thanks to a mother and grandmother who instilled in me that I was different but just as worthy, I was able to rationalize any inequality thrown at me as permission to start shaking some shit up. The way I saw it I had nothing to lose. I was poor. I was Black. And my life would amount to absolutely nothing if I followed what was prescribed for me vs. just going for it and seeing how far I could push the rules and create the life I wanted on my own terms. And that is the person you see before you now. Strong. Willful. Annoying at times. Incorrigible. And REAL.
One thing I've learned over the last few years of teaching, coaching, and speaking around the world is that most who attend my various events are looking for permission to be authentic. I'll explain.
I constantly get comments like, "I feel so empowered now!" "I've always been so afraid to speak up and you've given me the confidence to do it!" "Thank you for saying what I've been feeling all this time, but just not had the balls to say it." While I appreciate the comments and see them as validation that my message is getting across, I'm equal parts saddened and concerned that we, en masse, have gotten so far away from knowing WHOM we are and the personal power and, yes, leverage we actually have at our disposal just by being honest. Have we been so socialized to paint within the lines someone else draws that we dare not even try and just see what happens?
The last two conferences that I spoke at made me realize that we have a confidence and authenticity problem both in business and in our personal lives. Sure, companies have rules. Life has rules. However, how we interpret those rules is a completely solo endeavor. It's when we give in to consensus and not rock the boat to "keep the peace" that we lose not only the connection to what we really want but send the message that we'll willingly eat whatever food is set before us.
When we see the term "rebel" I'm sure many of us think of people like James Dean, Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, or Milo Yiannopoulos. And they were/are. And while we may not like some of their points of view, guess what? We're talking about them and we know who they are. And if you really look at what they've done, you can't help but appreciate the fact that they believed not only in their various causes and agendas, they believed wholeheartedly in themselves first and foremost and led with authenticity. So much so they were willing to risk everything...life, limb, credibility, and freedom. I'm not saying you should burn the building down or piss off half a nation of people or risk years of imprisonment. I am saying that you should audit your life for those decisions where you've simply gone along with the consensus, especially when you didn't really agree. Or borrow a little bit of that passion when you're heading into your annual review knowing that you crushed it the 364 days prior and will not, under any circumstances, accept the excuse, "Well the company didn't perform as well as expected, so..." when you're the one mailing out the $25,000 sign-on bonus checks to complete randos who've never done a positive thing for the company that YOU DO every single day.
Someone at the Microsoft event asked me, "Phoenix, how are you so confident?" I had to take a beat because I can't remember a time when someone actually asked me that question. I thought about it and it actually made me insanely proud in that instant. Yes, I AM confident. I've had to be. I'm confident because if I weren't I'd probably still be in Tyler, Texas without a college education, maybe as a Supervisor of some shit at that air conditioning factory or some job my heart or dreams would never aspire to. I'd likely have never seen the countries in which I've lived, performed, and taught multiple times. I'd likely never have developed the talents that landed me on TV and radio. I'd likely never have had the attention and respect of billionaire CEOs who know me by name. I'd likely never have learned the lessons from 2 ICU hospitalizations for "stress-related heart incidences." Hell, I'd likely have never gotten TF out of Tyler, Texas!
I'm confident because I know, unequivocally, that I have a place on this earth and a specific mission to inspire others, by design. I know that all the years of struggle, rejection, bumps and bruises, bias, racism and homophobia (implicit and obvious), cheating death, misperceptions, and incorrect assumptions about my character based solely on the color of my skin or whom I sleep with have helped me learn the game of life better than 90% of the world's population. A force much larger and more magnificent than I could ever fathom provided the path that allowed me all of those valuable lessons and create a life for myself that allows me to live it on my terms and pay it forward in the most powerful way possible. And be it delusional or low-key spiritual, I believe my previous 49 years of life have led me right where I am supposed to be, right now.
We're in such a crazy time right now. We're drowning in expectation and obligation and have willfully handed over the reins of our lives to our companies, families, and government institutions. Suicide is up 30+% since 1999 because we're lost and doing not enough about it. Social media's popularity and ubiquity has grown, even while having one, nefarious intent: to provide you the opportunity to craft any story you choose, true or not, and force-feed people into believing it simply because you posted it as truth. I can scan my feed right now and pick out a handful of "friends" teetering on the edge of either bankruptcy, divorce, drug addiction, and mental collapse. Yet, they're smiling away in those selfies, next to that pricey (leased) German sports car, on a vacation financed wholly on a high interest rate credit card they won't be able to pay off for years, even with their $200K/yr combined household income.
I'm not here to wear any crowns or point judgmental fingers at anyone. Here's some authenticity. My total debt is $45,559. I pay for my own medical insurance (COBRA) from my previous employer ($581.46 per month) and know I'm kinda f*cked when it runs out in 2020. I pull down $60K/yr from my new "real" job which doesn't really allow me to get ahead, only stay above water. Luckily, my ever-growing list of side hustles make up the difference. But I made the conscious choice to eschew the $150K+/year EA jobs that were literally killing me physically and eroding the confidence that took a lifetime to build. The book I'm writing now is about this specific journey so that there's a big, fat, conspicuous example in the wild of someone who did exactly what I'm doing and lived to tell about it. Still able to travel the world. Still able to eat. Still able to live my f*cking LIFE.
The one thing I've discovered is that when I tell the whole truth, not giving AF what others think about it, I'm freed from any anxiety that subterfuge and not telling the whole truth creates. I have nothing to hide and I'm free to answer absolutely any question asked of me with the power to reveal as much or as little as I choose. And that is immense power, especially as my brand continues to flourish. Millennials relate to me because they know I don't give AF and am happy to tell them exactly what I think and trust that they can take that information and work it out for themselves. And my message is clearly resonating because you're reading my shit by choice right now. #winkeysmiley
Your personal power grows from telling the truth. As loudly and proudly as you can. Questioning anything that doesn't feel right. Asking for explanations instead of accepting there is nothing you can do about it. Insisting on deeper feedback from your execs instead of that bullshit, "Everything's great!" Keep this in mind: Mastery of anything takes 10,000 hours of doing it. It's no different when building muscle. You have to be consistent and make up your mind that you will do it for you and no one else. And then you actually have to do it stripping away all of the external expectation and pressure, fake motivation, and limiting beliefs. You just put your head down and put in the work. It's literally that simple.
Someone I respect said this phrase to me the other day and it hit me like a freight train. And it's true. I'd been struggling with the motivation to lose the 20lbs I've gained from poor eating habits and exercising, um, non-habitually. At first, I was like, "What do you mean? I'm a motivational speaker for crying out loud!" And then I thought about it. REALLY thought about it. I was a certified personal trainer for 5 years. A damned good one at that. I know how to exercise. I know how to lift. I know how to eat properly. But, like everyone else, I'd allowed myself to be bamboozled by my own bullshit and inauthentic internal language. I blamed travel. I blamed my not-so-vegan diet of late. I blamed my age. But I know damn well it has nothing to do with any of those factors. That entire 5-pack of vegan gingersnaps didn't just jump TF in my Whole Foods basket alongside that perfect salad I'd created and into my mouth in one sitting...including the salad. Often. I know for a fact that when I set my mind to doing something, it happens. Without even blinking. Because I align the language with the passion and the action. And I stay the course until I get what I want. And absolutely no one else factors into my motivation. It's for ME. And will likely benefit others as a result which I see as icing, not the cake.
The practice of authenticity is a solo endeavor, folks. It has absolutely nothing to with anyone else but YOU. Your internal language will eventually determine how you show up in the world. Will you show up as the real you? Or will you show up as a cheap fake based on social pressure, them Joneses, and that one-step-further-than your friends or colleagues? My hope is that you show up as YOU, in all your splendid, imperfect glory, and allow people to process that information as they will. Without giving a single f*ck. And, insist on authenticity from anyone within your orbit. You have both that power and the right. More importantly, cast out anyone from your universe who insists on being inauthentic and pity them accordingly...from afar.
Authenticity breeds confidence. When your intentions, motivations, language, actions, and the environment you curate revolve around authenticity, your confidence will flourish. Fold in all of that luscious experience, good and bad, and the focus, clear vision, passion, and purpose, your life will change dramatically. Mine did. And yours will, too.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.