How to Think Like Stedman Graham
“Stedman, you’re the sweetest man . . . with the greatest integrity!” — Oprah
I. Birds of a Feather Flock Together
About a week ago my manager randomly asked: “Hey, how come the articles from your ‘How to Think Like’ series only focus on men?”
Given that I’m forever urged by the curiosity that killed the cat and the catechism, too, I found myself wondering — has she just let the cat out of the bag?
I paused. My mind knew the answer but my lips refused to cooperate.
“Maybe you should write a ‘How to Think Like Oprah’ piece?” she suggested.
I winced. After all, I knew deep down my reluctance stemmed from knowing: the wiser a man becomes, the more he realizes women’s intuition is a real thing. Perhaps because the nuances of the female psyche are too keen for me to pin down, whenever I’m tasked with such a daunting prospect, ahem — I can’t help but lay the pen down.
“If not Oprah,” she encouraged, “what about Stedman, huh? They say ‘your soulmate is your soul mirror’, after all.”
I sighed. “Aha! So you’re suggesting birds of a feather flock together?”
One of the reasons I started the “How to Think Like” series with Einstein was due to his being my fellow Pisces. Graham so happens to be a Pisces, too. Bingo!
I played college basketball in Texas. Graham played college basketball in Texas, too. Check!
My series of codes are read by professors around the world. Graham was a professor, too. Voilà!
Last but not least, it has long been said those born under the Pisces sign are touched with genius/eccentricity. Perhaps this explains why names ranging from Einstein to Jobs to Michelangelo all fall under the last zodiacal house.
The above insight got my mind to wandering before finally wondering: Does Graham’s personality, which lies rooted in the persona (Latin: ‘actor’s mask’), show traces of genius?
In short, because talking is nothing but thinking out loud, to talk with another is to receive access to the talker’s mind. Hence the word ‘interview’ breaks down to — enter + view. And so, the more I listened to Graham’s interviews + read his books, the more I realized why Oprah once described him as having “the greatest integrity.”
II. How Graham Thinks About Time Management
In an effort to enter Graham’s view, I started with Ellen’s classic interview.
Perhaps, I reasoned, given that Oprah and Ellen are born a mere three days apart (Law of Three), to say nothing of DeGeneres having served as a successor to the original ‘Queen of Daytime TV,’ I figured, heck — since the crown fits, wear it.
As for those who now scoff at another reference to the zodiac, just know astronomy is the child of astrology. And so, to all my dear objectors on the matter, I’ll let Shakespeare whisper from the grave: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
At any rate, I found myself fascinated by the energy/chi exchanged between the two.
This interview marked a rare instance wherein Ellen’s usual sense of humor was tempered with a sense of awe. The only other instance I can recall of Ellen relating to a guest with such esteem was during sitdowns with President Obama.
From the penetrating intellect down to the imposing 6′ 6″ stature, Graham oozes a presidential aura! The words that first come to mind are “dignified and confident.” In fact, so far as Graham and Shaquille O’Neal were born on the same day and share the same home state, perhaps Charles Barkley — when discussing Shaq — put it best:
“When a giant steps in a room, you feel his energy.”
In the course of the interview, Ellen — sensing the chance to pick Graham’s brain — went for it. “In the book, you talk about writing your [own] obituary. What would you want your obituary to say . . .”
Ellen flashed that twinkle in her eye, as if she knew her audience was mere seconds removed from being able to enter + view one of the world’s sharpest intellects.
Graham paused. He glanced at the heavens. “Mine would be to try to get people to understand how to remove any label they were given — family labels . . . racial labels . . . gender labels . . . class labels by taking control of their own destiny.”
Ellen’s soft “Um-hum” meant — he’s about to reveal the true secret to success. And thankfully for us viewers at home, he didn’t disappoint.
Graham continued with the Sermon on the Ellen Show, if not Mount.
“. . . by taking control of their own destiny. And [then] realizing the process of success is the same for everybody. The difference is — some people know it and some people don’t.”
Pause, if you will, and truly chew on these vitamins for thought.
“So to be able to teach that process all around the world,” he continued, “so they can take information and make it relevant to their development [because] the twenty-four hours they have every single day is what makes us all equal. Everybody has the same twenty-four hours! So the question becomes: What do you do with your time?”
Ellen, moved by the moment, hammered home the point. “Yep, as you said, ‘We all have twenty-four hours. It’s all about what we do with it!’ ”
Sectional Takeaway Insight
By Graham’s suggestion to consider writing your own obituary, he made use of Einstein’s famed thought experiment method (Gedankenexperiment). Given that each second is but another step removed from our mothers’ wombs towards our own tombs, wise indeed is Graham’s advice to occasionally view life from the grave.
Because time is the very stuff that life is made of, the only difference between your life and, say, Oprah’s — as Graham once noted — is how she daily maximizes those precious grains of sand left in the hourglass. After all, a few minutes wasted each day can build up to over a year within a decade.
So far as history is filled with dead people — to live is to be on borrowed time! Hence much truth lies buried in the saying “youth is wasted on the young.” Far too many of my fellow Millennials are of the mistaken view — just because you’re younger than someone indicates you’ll outlive them.
Come, come now. …
Perhaps Graham put it best:
“The only thing you’re fighting against is time. In your time, your lifetime, what is the best way to maximize the time you have on earth? The first step is you must identify who you are and have clarity about it. You must then take control of your own future. Everyone is equal in this process! We all have 24 hours in a day.”
III. How Graham Thinks About Identity Leadership
Michael Jordan once said when he got cut from the JV team, it “awakened something inside of me to excel.” From that day forward, Jordan used his high school coach’s doubt as coal with which to fuel his greatness.
Graham — similar to Jordan in everything from the height to the basketball pedigree to the Windy City ties — also found coal in a notable doubter from his youth.
“We had one store in our small town,” recalls Graham in a keynote address at Masters Summit, “and the guy who owned the store — his name was Mr. T.A.”
Apparently all the boys in the neighborhood looked up to this Mr. T.A., given that he was the lone guy that actually owned something worthwhile.
Graham recalls going to the esteemed store owner in hopes of sharing some good news. “I said, ‘Mr. T.A., guess what? I’m going to college!’ ”
Graham expected his hero to congratulate him, as would a proud father upon greeting his only son who’d finally made it out. But to Graham’s horror, Mr. T.A. scowled at him.
Mr. T.A. then barked: “Son, you’re not going to college. Your family’s too stupid!”
Graham, like Jordan, was initially crushed. After all, some folks take delight in giving you a piece of their mind in hopes of robbing you of your peace of mind. But fortunately for Graham, a magical thing happened: he found fuel buried in Mr. T.A.’s doubt.
Graham says he then grew determined to “get Mr. T.A. I’m going to get the degree and take it down and show it to him!”
Graham went on to earn a college degree, pardon, degrees. He went on to proudly serve his country in the military. He went on to pen two New York Times bestsellers, not to mention having worked alongside the likes of Nelson and Winnie Mandela — in hopes of making the world a bit better for coming generations.
In short, Graham is living proof of one of life’s oldest truths:
To change the world usually requires ignoring some of its residents.
“I’m in a relationship with a very powerful woman,” Graham once joked. “She owns half the world. You can lose your identity.”
Perhaps for a man to be in a relationship with someone dubbed “the most influential woman” on the world’s stage, he must be someone armed with a strong sense of self. In other words, at the core of Graham’s sense of identity leadership lies the power word: strength.
“The beginning of wisdom,” said Socrates, “is the definition of terms.”
Armed with the Socratic method, it becomes apparent a strong leader is anyone armed with the following triad of qualities — determination, self-discipline and judgment. Graham checks all three boxes!
Graham, you see, like many a strong-minded leader is armed with a strong sense of self-worth + self-awareness. Together, this age-old duo serves as the basis for never needing the approval of others.
Let me say it again:
A strong sense of self-worth + self-awareness = the basis for never needing the approval of others.
“Most people are defined by their titles, their cars, their house, where they came from, their color, their race, their religion,” Graham notes. “And so, it’s up to you to take control of your own life and define you. As long as you understand who you are and you have a solid foundation of understanding what your talents are, what your skills are.”
Sectional Takeaway Insight
When Graham said, “Understand who you are, so that you can be the same, whether you’re talking to a homeless person or the President of the United States. You’re the same person,” chills shot down my spine. After all, it was Einstein — a fellow Pisces — who once noted:
I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.
At the core of Graham’s genius lies a firm grasp of how vision and leadership merely reflect a strong sense of personal identity. Besides, so far as each man, woman and child is but a variation of yourself, perhaps to honor the ancient Greek maxim to “Know Thyself” serves as the basis of to “Know Thy Fellow,” too.
Or as Graham succinctly put it:
“To lead others you must first lead yourself.”
IV. The Takeaway
A few days ago a buddy of mine, Vince, asked for a book recommendation. He’s a small business owner, and his questions usually range from leadership qualities to marketing.
“Maybe I should finally read Think and Grow Rich, huh?” he wondered out loud.
I shook my head. “I’m on the last step of Graham’s Nine-Step Success process, the next to the last chapter,” I said. “Come by tomorrow and scoop up the book!”
The day after Vince borrowed the book, he FaceTimed me. Without saying hello, he abruptly broke out into a soliloquy: “My life dramatically changed for the better when I began centering all that I do around my talents, strengths, and passions,” Vince hummed on the other end of the line.
“Bingo!” I said with a smile. “So you’ve already been gobbling up Graham’s vitamins for thought, eh?”
Like a man born deaf upon being restored hearing and encountering Aretha Franklin’s voice for the first time, Vince blurted, “It’s a pity Graham doesn’t flood YouTube and social media with his powerful message!”
I scratched my head. I couldn’t help but think: far too often we pity someone we ought to envy while we envy someone we ought to pity.
Perhaps Graham fully understands this: to truly know yourself is to truly celebrate your uniqueness! And so, because the word celebrity derives from celebrate, whoever grounds his or her center in identity leadership inevitably grasps why The Bard once declared:
“My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, nor to be seen: my crown is called content, a crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”
If you live for the cheers, shall not you die from the boos?
In short, because whatever you love defines you, how to think like Stedman Graham boils down to the following insight:
“I define myself by everything that I love, everything I can create, everything that I can imagine.” — Stedman Graham
Bonus: “What Happens in Tomorrow World?”
We can all use a little help navigating this uncertain world.
I had the pleasure of reading Jordan Gross’ new modern-day fable, What Happens in Tomorrow World? which features talking toys, a giant crane game, and a bold little girl who teaches us how to navigate uncertainty.