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To Be Young, Black, and Inspired


Lately, I’ve been having a great many conversations around success – what it looks like, how it is defined and most importantly, what separates those who achieve it from those who don’t. More often than not in these conversations, success comes back to talent. Most folks feel like it is the talent – the God-given ability and blessings of some people that is at the foundation of their success. Their talent is what separates them. One of the things I love most about my life is that somehow, I’ve been blessed to be constantly surrounded by people of color who are supremely talented. And as I’ve interacted with these folks, one of the things I’ve come to understand is that talent is not as rare as talented people would like you to believe. Most people are blessed with a particular ability that iterates itself in unique ways – ways that separate each individual person on this Earth from everyone else. That’s the beauty of humanity. But if almost everyone is talented, why are some folks so much more successful than others?

I have a friend. This friend is by far, one of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my life. He can sing, he can dance, he can draw, he can write, he’s super fashionable, super funny, smart enough to be a lifelong academic but attractive enough to model clothes for a living. This friend however, has never been able to apply any of his talents in a meaningful, impacting way. He just hops from circle to circle, impressing folks unacquainted with him and his all-around awesomeness only to disappear before they discover that his talent is where he begins and ends. For him, talent is a burden and because it chose him so bountifully it defines him to people before he ever has the opportunity to define himself. In that way, he is held captive by his talent. His talent stands on his shoulders, announcing his arrival long before he ever actually arrives and that creates a fear in him – a fear that, no matter how wonderful he really is, he will always be a disappointment. In many ways he’s become a perpetually rolling stone, gathering no moss and leaving little impact.

See Also:  Rantings of an SBM

“By the way – I just quit my job,” read a text message I got last week. It came from another friend, one with whom I’ve spent a ton time sitting around discussing what it would be like to pursue our dreams. Most recently we had one of those discussions a month ago as we played basketball at the local Y. That day he shared with me an idea he’d had – one we both knew was golden. We both came out of college around the same time, we both dove head first into careers at Wall Street firms, we both found some early success and after about five years – we both realized that what we were doing was not what we wanted to be doing. But the thing about Wall St., and most jobs in corporate America, the thing no one ever tells you is that once you’re in, it becomes nearly impossible to get out. You make decent money – not enough to be rich by the standard of your peers, but enough to create an awesome little life for yourself. And it is not until the chains are tightly shackled around your ankles and wrists that you realize that this life you’ve created is now holding you captive. You’re afraid to leave because to do so is to strike out into uncharted waters. I’m excited that my homey finally broke free of those chains and I have no doubt that he will find a level of success he never knew attainable.

So this begs the question – what separates my two friends? What keeps one stuck in a sick cycle of purposeful avoidance and detachment while the other attaches himself to the pursuit of a dream? What is it that forces one to be defined by his fears while the other is striking out in spite of them? The answer is inspiration. One is inspired and the other is not. My one friend has been looking over his shoulder, running from his talent for so long that he can’t see the inspiration right in front of him. My other friend found his inspiration in an idea he couldn’t shake. What I’ve learned from them, and from so many other people I’ve come to know is that no matter how talented we are, no matter how great our work ethic and no matter how much we want to be something – we are nothing without inspiration. I can’t tell you how you go about finding your inspiration. That journey is yours. But what I can tell you – with absolute certainty – is that you can only go but so far, achieve but so much, when you’re living a life void of inspiration.

See Also:  Rantings of an SBM

So what does this have to do with SBM … and what does this have to do with you? Well, if you’ve been visiting the site for awhile, you’ll notice some things are different around here. Actually, if you’ve been visiting for a long while you’ll notice that there’s been a whole lot of changes over the past few months. We’re posting more frequently throughout the day, we have more writers on staff, we’re covering different topics and most recently, we’ve updated the site’s aesthetics here and on Twitter and Facebook. We’ve done this because we are inspired. We realize that our greatest contributions to the world won’t come from sitting around working for other people. We realize that being citizens of this world, more specifically, being black men in the United States of America means that we have a responsibility to pursue inspiration and to identify, refine, and share our talents with the world, for our people. You too have that responsibility. If you’re spending half your day at work daydreaming about something you’d rather be doing – you have a responsibility to seek out the inspiration needed to overcome your fear and go do that thing. And if you’ve already found your inspiration, if you’re already doing what you believe you’ve been put on Earth to do, then your responsibility is to be great. Because to be young, black and inspired is to believe in your ability to create the world you see in your mind.

See Also:  Rantings of An SBM

Ride out with us as we continue to improve the site, as we continue to work toward being better people and as we continue to make the road by walking.

Till next time … stay low and keep firing.

Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @MrSpradley








  1. Lord, I feel for your 1st friend. What do you do with all that? Wayne Brady already exists. Everyone tells you, "you'd be great if you just use what God gave you/apply yourself//try harder", but if you ask the same person for an idea as to what kind of career could use a person talented in….everything… you get a blank face staring at you. You try to bear down and only focus on one talent, only to have the others call you back, annoyed that they are not getting attention. You try to write, only to go to karayoke one day and remember music is life to you. You focus on music, only to hit a snag and at that moment, get an opportunity to edit a fashion blog. You bear down on the blog, only to do a panel on fashion and have everyone ask you why you are not a public speaker…
    It really is a great and a horrible place to be.

  2. Like the new look and the new diversity of topics, theres more going on than the battle of the sexes…

    As for the post itself, I feel like you’re first friend as i’m still not quite sure what i wanna be when i grow up; I’m essentially a jack of all trades. Degree in finance, freelance graphic design/writer, drawing as well as teaching myself to develop smartphone apps #atthesamedamntime hoping i strike gold with one of them one of these days. In reality my dreams are more about the wife, kids, house, car and being able to live comfortably above the debt/income line as i do so. *shrugs and plays Drake “Successful”*

    1. "I'm essentially a jack of all trades."

      A blessing and a curse…

      Always pulled in several directions…and yes, at the same time.

  3. Growing up, my aunt used to always warn me to focus my talents. She would always use the saying "jack of all trades, master of none". That used to annoy me because I could really do anything I put my mind to, but I'd quickly get bored with it. But once I was introduced to real math (not the stuff you learn in grade school), I had a much better understanding of what she meant. Its one thing to just be floating around in your profession from paycheck to paycheck. But, when you really enjoy what you do, it makes living and working so much easier.
    My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

  4. Man, I feel like you were talking directly to me (the Wall Street job example), but I'm in a little deeper. Having a job with good benefits is crucial for me now that I have a young child in the mix. But I do feel like I have another passion/calling. I just don't know what it is yet. Thanks for the article though, it got me thinking early this Monday morning…..

  5. brilliant post. actually inspired me to finish the blog post i started writing the other day about this very subject. i know we've had this conversation as well and i've allllways had an issue with being "scatterbrained" as my mom calls it. in high school i was all about art: sketching, drawing, painting…and writing children's books. i was going to be a children's book author and do my own illustrations. then at Spelman it was all about photography and child psychology and making and selling my jewelry and fashion creations. then i was in a R&B group. then, then, then. lol. these are all things i enjoy immensely and was blessed to be good at, so i thought i'd always have time to pursue them all. my friend who is a photographer, graphic designer and voice over actor calls it "The curse of the Creative."

    the thing about being scatterbrained though is that you never really quite fully accomplish any one thing. the only reason i stuck to writing (aside from it being akin to breathing for me lol) is because a professor at Spelman whom i deeply respected pulled me aside and told me i'm supposed to be a writer. these days, i have so many projects i want to do and directions i want to go in, it's difficult to stay focused on a single lane. ironically i really believe the key to winning is to focus on one path, become successful in that area, and THEN use that momentum to branch into and explore other talents.

    love the new look 'round here and the evolution of SBM is very evident. good stuff. great post.

    1. " i really believe the key to winning is to focus on one path, become successful in that area, and THEN use that momentum to branch into and explore other talents."
      This should be on a Billboard or something. So very true. I'm the same way. My girlfriend told me once I was too much of a jack of all trades. She said I was really good at many things, but not an expert of any 1 thing. Career wise in the past this hurt me and was not a good look for my resume, especially when I moved to the DMV. Moving here helped me grow in more ways than one. It definitely helped my career because it helped me discover 1 thing I could focus on and become an expert in. I still do have lofty idea's of doing other more creative things which I will do eventually. But now I'm glad to become an expert in one thing that I'm really good at.

      1. A friend of mine who has just become a life coach is currently the person who inspires me. She always challenges me and gives me solutions no matter what problem or obstacle I present to her. And she tells me to "step out on faith."
        I wholeheartedly agree with u Sprad that inspiration is very impnt, but so is faith. I think faith is what seperates the doers and the dreamers. Faith is what inspires you to do things you want to do and accomplish when other folks may tell you that you can't do those things and when people try to steal your joy and crush your dreams.

  6. This song is very fitting for this post – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L36H3UzDMqU
    Link to Donnie Hathaway – Young, Gifted, & Black.
    Very inspiring post Sprad. I enjoy the posts and subjects and the versatility and depth with which you guys write. I love the new look and can't wait to see all the fresh, new, innovative things SBM will be doing in the future.
    Keep up the good work guys, and stay inspired.

  7. Good post. Like many, I have an array of talents. Where I struggle is figuring out how I can make a livable income based on my talents/hobbies versus my job/career. I make good money and my job is fairly secure. But, it is a job. I show up. I work my 8/9/10 hours. I go home. I repeat this cycle. There isn't any grand sense of personal satisfaction or contribution to the betterment of the world that I get from my job. However, I also believe that's why they pay me to show up. I would like the two, personal fulfillment and work to better align, but I'm ok if that's not the case. This is why I write so much and about such a variety of topics. That is where I find my peace. It's always been that way.

    I do wonder sometimes if our generation(s) are relatively idealistic. I think this helps and hinders us. It feels as if sometimes we feel the world owes us something or we're all capable of great feats. Maybe we are or maybe we aren't. I have friends who pursue the career track and that's it. I find others who pursue their dreams and that's it. At this point in my life, I've stricken a relative balance – pursuing both the career and dream. But, it is true I am unable to pour my all into one because I am pouring pieces of myself into both. As I make this next transition in life and career I'm not sure what the next step will entail. I do know that as I grow older and my obligations increase (wife/family/career advancement) I will once again have to re-prioritize. Until then, I can only take it one day at a time.

    My recent post Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

    1. "I can only take it one day at a time." thats all we all can really do Wis. That and do what we feel is best for us at that particular time.

    2. "At this point in my life, I've stricken a relative balance – pursuing both the career and dream. But, it is true I am unable to pour my all into one because I am pouring pieces of myself into both. "

      I honestly think everybody struggles through this. I mean, relationships, jobs, family, education, and other stresses, don't leave much time to follow your dreams. But however much time you do find to break away and pursue your interests, I think it'll help you in other areas as well. At least then you won't be longing (as much) to get away.
      My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

    3. *holding the bridge of my nose while staring at the ceiling*

      lmao @ how potent you are. smfh.

      Maybe. You just have to have yourself filtered through someone who can relate to you. It helps to put in information and then it comes out something that's compatible for you in terms of moving forward in your life. It's actually relatively simple it's just that's kinda what a woman is for. A sense of direction in the world. You have to make a combination of a whole bunch of different stuff I can't even begin to explain; it's like taking a snapshot of a man and then taking a snapshot of the world and then combining them into one idea and that becomes his path in terms of his future. Which re-aligns his lifestyle, habits, and priorities. You have to project the idealism and opportunity through a woman's view of the world. (key here, is when SHE'S ready as well) it's just a doozy.

      1. I can't speak for ALL women but for myself, since I don't really interact too much in the world I see it differently. I see it in terms of subtle motions and movements and energy and "coincidences" and mostly sensory information of people's subtle…stuff? I don't know. It's sensory. very subtle, minute changes and when it comes to the world there's these little openings that line up that allow for the creation of a path or a plan. and It's like isolating holes in a sea of wealth and then making it into a a series of steps. Which requires maturity in a man to obey. Success is rather easy to accomplish if you're willing to do the work. Some people define it intrinsically (like I do. who I am. who I've become) some people define it in terms of external things. I expect what I'm capable of from everyone but I don't like attaching to unrealized potential. So I just don't talk about what I see. Unless I'm getting screamed at by subleties.

      1. Me, too, as well as others.
        I'm seeing a life/career coach who's helping me with this exact same issue (i.e., transitioning from day job to dream career driven by my talent) and it's really helping.

  8. So well written. 🙂

    Before I quit my job to go back to school and do what I love – it was basically my job to speak to senior level executives who were transitioning out of the corporate world into entrepreneurship. They were making the decision your friend recently made – but 15+ years down the line.. so kudos to your friend! The time really is now!

    Ultimately… I think it comes down to how dissatisfied you are. Your talented friend is not unhappy enough, in my opinion, to deal with the often overwhelming fear of taking those first steps toward change. Maybe he is afraid he wont measure up to what is expected of him? Maybe he is afraid to have to do what he is talented in 'on demand'..? Whatever the case his fear of what is on the other side must be greater than his current dissatisfaction. That was not the case for your Wall Street friend.

    Some people are really okay with average. Some people really aren't and dare to step out on their wildest dreams. Whatever the case – I think the difference is always in our level of comfort with our current situation, and our belief in what life could be like if we suffered through those fearful first step towards our dreams.

  9. Turning your dreams into reality typically only happens out of necessity. When failure is no longer an option, the results are limitless. That's probably the biggest difference between your two boys Sprads is their position and their need for their dream to become a reality. If you are able to bounce around doing pretty much anything you want to do and experience somewhat small successes, you're unlikely to ever hone your skills for greatness. If you are not and you have one shot, you typically do everything in your power to make it happen. Favorite line from Meek and Big Sean's song, Burn is "I had one shot and didn't blow it." If you know the story of Big Sean, you know that he really took his dream and made it a reality almost overnight. Then you have other people who i'm sure we know in our own circles who have had mediocre success because they really don't seize the moment.

    1. "Then you have other people who i'm sure we know in our own circles who have had mediocre success because they really don't seize the moment."

      That was rich…

  10. I agree Doc J. I also think it depends on how badly you want it, ie how "hungry" you are.
    I remember watching Laurie Ann Gibsons dance show and her always telling the dancers that they had to be "hungry" and want it and need it like they needed their next breath. I think those are the people who truly stop at nothing to make their dreams reality. People who are passionate about 1 thing and they pour everything into that 1 thing. The downside to it is that it can sometimes cause burn out and you can over the course of many years lose your zeal for it. But when it's something that u live for and it's all you know, you still keep doing it until you can't do it anymore.

    1. I think the other side to some of this is that following your dreams and putting your all into it is one thing, but there's another side that says how much does the world value this dream of yours. Sometimes people want to change the world, but the world'd just not ready yet. I look at all the social networking sites that existed before facebook, but didn't have facebook's success. And that's on a large scale. I've got friends who want to be rappers, but that's a tough industry.

      I think it all relates back to just enjoying what you do, being willing to take a chance financially, but not letting the results of that chance affect your mood or outlook on things. Cause if you're only doing it to make the money from it, then you probably won't have the determination to make it through the hard times that come with it.
      My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

  11. I'd also say that failure is a part of success. I know a lot of friends who don't want to do what they really want to do because they're afraid to do it….does that make sense? I mean, they can't see it from start to finish, so they never start. Sometimes its about just taking that leap of faith and hoping that things work out. And if they don't then hopefully that experience will help you for next time.
    My recent post Learning Math through Set Theory

  12. Man, this post! Wonderful!

    "But the thing about Wall St., and most jobs in corporate America, the thing no one ever tells you is that once you’re in, it becomes nearly impossible to get out. You make decent money – not enough to be rich by the standard of your peers, but enough to create an awesome little life for yourself. And it is not until the chains are tightly shackled around your ankles and wrists that you realize that this life you’ve created is now holding you captive. You’re afraid to leave because to do so is to strike out into uncharted waters." <– THIS.RIGHT.HERE! And I have 2 kids. Trapped is NOT the word. I NEED a certain level of income at all times. I can't afford a period of the level of sacrifice it would take to do what I want to do in a short time. So I have to take the long road. Sometimes, I'm okay with that…sometimes it drains me…cause I feel like I'll never get there (just felt this way last week). Very timely post. I'm def gonna share this.

    1. I dunno. The wonderful/awful thing about being first-generation is that your parents give you a really great work ethic…and an equally controversial idea that your JOB funds your LIFE. Your job does not DEFINE your life. Nothing more. I believe the unhealthy attachment Americans place on the link between their jobs and their identity causes us to desperately seek fulfillment out of what we do for money. Yes, I understand you should have something to smile about for something that takes up so much of your time, but the assumption that all people should seek work hat "does not feel like work" is a generalization. Plus, if everyone did, no one would get their garbage collected.

      1. There is a place for everything. For example, another FG friend of mine never left Wall street – well, he did- to work in finance in a bunch of other cities PURELY for the experience of living in another city. He's a knocks fan and regularly goes to away games to experience another state. he goes out of the country a few times a year. He is active, has a ton of hobbies, cooks his own lunch everyday, and can't wait to find a woman to share it with.Does he have his "dream job"? No- but he uses his job to fund his dream life. Success isn't the same for everyone, and that's okay.

      2. GIRL! When I was like 14/15, I got an "E" one semester for english (I didn't turn in a paper on a book I neglected to read). My Mom called me to her room, pulled out her bills, and showed me her pay stub. She asked me how I thought she paid all those bills with the net showing on her pay stub. I remember being scared…scared straight, LOL. She told me that she didn't want me to have to work hard for pennies. That I was to find a lucrative career and do what I needed to do to get it and stick with it…be comfortable making money doing less strenuous work. I did just what she told me to do. And I love her for it…I'm quite comfortable doing a job that I don't have a beef with at all (IT stuff). But, nothing about that involved passion…"(govn't name), what do you really love to do? Stay home and make it happen!" She pointed me in the direction of the life she wanted (comfortable and stable)…and she didn't give me a choice. I didn't realize I had a real option till I was 20/21…

  13. This post is beyond relevant to my current situation!
    *Deep sigh*, I have been working in the legal profession for 2 years but.. im on my work computer and still need this job (see what i mean)????!!!!. Please tell me you feel the frustration through the screen.. I wont lie though, having a law degree and a job at one of the tops firms has introduced me to some very interesting opportunities. It has been a gateway to greater things that i have to do, not just for myself- but to set an example to those looking up to me. I have decided to pursue a qualification in Mineral Engineering- i know, such a huge change, but mediocrity is crippling me! Its actually quite obvious i do other things at work, besides work.. Where they call me 'playful', i say im 'office Joseph', they are threatened by my dreams and the fact that they WILL bow down to ME one day *NOT HIDING*
    Youth is not eternal, but dreams left to die will haunt you forever!
    I applaud friend 2, because i believe in leaving! Leaving any type of situation that is no furthering your personal purpose (i prefer purpose to inspiration). !

    1. Im also plauged with the master of none dilemma, because i have a clothing brand that i run with a few friends, as well as a book thats bursting out of me– but i dont commit to creative dreams. Its honestly tearing me apart- thats why i comment on SBM blogs and abuse my followers on twitter incesantly , in an effort to appease myself! *climbs back on proverbial horse* Lets go?

      Great post 🙂 and really like the new outlook/design

  14. Word to everything Sir Spradley said. I've been big on personal and career development for some time. FInally converted my personal blog to a site focusing on personal development, motivation, inspiration, etc. It ain't a game anymore. Too much opportunity to watch it pass by. I spoke to my 2012 into existence and it's turning out better than I expected. Cheers to success.

  15. Excellent post Sprads, love the new look. What happens when you have tons of inspiration and throw yourself into every new idea and then discover just because its a great idea or just because you have talent or just because you work hard doesn’t mean you will succeed. Or even that you will enjoy it once you really get into it. Faith, inspiration, talent and hard work can= success, but not necessarily. YOu need luck and connections. What if you have neither? What if you need a roof and food? I hear you an its easy to say when that big idea works out for you that all you need to do is go for it. Luck is invisible and realizing that you happened to know the right people is not pleasant. Take It from someone who has had all the ideas, inspiration and work ethic and seen it fail. Numerous times. Now Im all about sitting my ass in this chair in front of this computer and doing this boring dead end job to get that check. My talent will become a hobby. If I get luck, I will follow it and make it more. But i need to see the luck FIRST.

  16. Good post my dude. I definitely concur with everything you said. I truly feel at the end of the day, we have no control over what our destiny and plan is on this earth, but we do possess the ability to make decisions and that's what ultimately takes us over the top. In saying that and if you believe everything happens for a reason, I will tell anybody to follow your dreams, but be strategic and plan it out. I know time can be crux for some, but you will make time for what you really want…In saying that, if you have to keep working and then spend your weekends focusing on your dream, then that's what you do. So many people make excuses in life about not reaching their goals or doing what they passionate about. To me, nothing in life is worth having if you don't struggle because in order to reach the top, you must start at the bottom. The key is are you worth making that sacrifice to struggle to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. That's what most people are affraid of.

  17. I thought I was the only one. I went to college for acting and writing. I just graduated a year or so ago, but haven given up on the acting thing(even though I live in NYC) mainly because of fear. I did some plays and stuff in college but was never able to fully commit to the material and let myself go in a way that actors need to be able to do. Writing is working out pretty well but mind is so scattered that it's hard to stay focused on one thing, and before you know it, fear and self-doubt are whispering in my ear. I've just turned 25 so I'm working even harder at overcoming my own insecurities but man, is everyday a struggle!

  18. yes the new look is great especially since i like to read this at work and my old white coworker stayed giving me the side eye when they saw that big "Single Black Male" across the scene….never kept me from coming.

  19. Mr. Spradley you are a great writer and I really enjoyed this post. Maybe it will do some inspiring for a few aspiring writers. Keep up the good work! Maybe you will be inspired to utilize your writing talents toward becoming an author. Or maybe you already have…


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