Here we are, one month gone in 2024. How’s your New Year’s Resolution coming along? If you’ve experienced some potholes and roadblocks on your road to success, then let’s pause for a minute to reflect.
If and when we encounter setbacks to our success, we must come to understand them as important signs and signals of what to focus on and how to find opportunities for growth. We must learn to see adversities as the place that emotions and past traumas are triggered, giving us the opportunity for healing and growth.
For my ancestors, there was no roadmap to success. My grandparents, sharecroppers from Mississippi who were born before 1910, were trailblazers of overcoming adversity with action, creativity, and a belief that their efforts would result in a better life.
One could ask, "What stories have you been told that motivate you to be successful?" While establishing goals are crucial for our existence, understanding how to manifest them in our life, in my opinion, is a lesson that can be eternal!
I learned how my ancestors accomplished through conversations I had with my grandmother, BAMA.
My maternal grandmother, Bama, was a strong individual, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I say physically because she had the slender build of a runner. The veins in her arms appeared like thin, long worms moving up-and-down her arms as she moved. Her hands were so wide and strong that when I’d hold them, even in late middle school, it felt like my hands were lost in the crest of her palm, never to be found again. All this is to say, my Bama was strong!
Many of my male friends, who thought they were strong, would fight over who was going to shake my Bama’s hand. My Bama knew what they were trying to do, so she’d slowly squeeze their hands and then turn her wrist clockwise! Needless to say, my friends never won! Imagine showing this feat on instagram! My Bama would have gone viral!
Undoubtedly, Bama’s handshake would force some of my friends to their knees. She was strong and mighty, but she only stood 5’4 and weighed less than 105lbs! She’d speak softly under her breath as she forced my friends to the floor, “You gotta eat right if you want to be as strong as me!”
What my friends didn’t know was that Bama had been raised on the farm in Mississippi, as a sharecropper, before migrating to St. Louis, Missouri. Back then, “we were all we had!” shed say.
Even during the best of situations, sharecropping families lived in a small house and on land that was not theirs. What was worse is that sharecropping families could be evicted by the owner of the land at any given time. Moreover, the sharecroppers could be forced to pay extremely high fees for the equipment they rented, and the profits were often split unfairly!
(via Getty Images)
Because of these unfair practices, Bama’s family knew they had to move. They relocated to St. Louis for a better life and to take part in what was called the Industrial Revolution.
When Bama moved to St. Louis, she worked an assortment of jobs, all as a domestic worker (i.e., cleaning the house, cooking, washing, and ironing clothes). She and my grandfather raised four children (one son and three daughters). My grandfather was a mechanic, and during his spare time he sang in a male quartet with some of his friends! My grandparents worked feverishly, all with goals spurred on with plans of action. My grandparents wanted better for themselves and their children. With the three principles outlined in this blog, we had clear stepping stones for our family.
They knew the farming principles could be used to foster a crop of strong children, with a strong foundation, and to nurture faith like that of a mustard seed bush!
This said, my grandparents raised all four children to attend college and to all graduate with their degrees, two of which earned their masters degrees!
Their son, Alfred Abram, Jr., was the first African-American basketball player to receive a full scholarship to University of Missouri! Though he experienced some trials and tribulations, he graduated, played ABA basketball, had a family, and earned his MBA from St. Louis University. My mom earned her bachelor’s degree in teaching from Harris Stowe Teachers college and earned her masters degree after the age of 30 from St. Louis University. My other two aunts worked as an elementary school teacher, and in the headquarters of the school district office for St. Louis Public Schools system.
I could write a book regarding some of the trials and tribulations my Bama and grandfather endured, all of which could be expressed by many African-American families growing up during the Jim Crow, Sharecropping era.
In my Bama’s later years, we’d relax and watch TV. together. Oftentimes, she would throw me some verbal gems that I would keep dear to my heart and later exercise as an adult:
Who I am?
Where I am?
What am I trying to do for my family?
Oh yeah, it turns out that unbeknownst to my mother, the house my parents purchased for me and my five siblings, was the very eight-bedroom home my Bama said she once worked in as a domestic worker so many years ago.
See what one tiny little seed can grow!?! Let’s go, 2024!
As I've grown, I often return to these seeds of truth Bama shared, time-and-time again, when I was younger. They were tenets for how she lived her life, and they have helped me shape my own.
Have faith like that of a mustard seed. (Matthew 17:20)
You reap what you sow!
Whatever you spend your time doing is what you spend your life doing!
Let me provide you my brief interpretation of how I, as an adult, have learned from each of these kernels of wisdom.
Have the faith like that of a mustard seed!
If you don’t know too much about this tiny seed, I’d ask that you’d
research it! A mustard seed is only about one millimeter in size, yet it can grow
into a bush that stands 30 feet tall. Similarly, your faith, even if small, has the
potential to blossom into an incredible force. That kind of belief in yourself and your goals will produce this exponentially, too.
What you reap is what you sow!
Bama use to say, “don’t expect to grow an apple tree with pumpkin
seeds. You have to put in the work, baby! If you want to be an attorney
you don’t go to school for mechanics! YOU MUST BE INTENTIONAL
Through-and-through, all the way!”
In my years as a therapist, I’ve repeatedly seen that your intention, with like action, creates your outcome. Once again, Bama was dead-on. Whatever you feed will grow, so take heed what you plant, work and nourish it every day, It’ll be what you sow.
Whatever you spend your time doing is what you spend your life doing!
This truth takes “you reap what you sow” a step further.
You should be truly intentional with what you set out to achieve. It’s likely you will encounter setbacks, but I believe some of these setbacks can humble us and provide an opportunity for us to learn, grow and mature. It gives time to gather faith, resources, knowledge, support, and collaboration. When you stumble, don’t be too proud to ask for assistance and guidance. And remember to never give up!
So to recap, plant the goals that you truly have faith in, knowing that, whatever you put out in the real world, you must have unlimited faith and congruent actions. Find support, gather knowledge, work with others, and watch it grow.
And, when setbacks come up, learn what they are. They are opportunities to learn where distorted beliefs, fears, anxieties, past trauma, etc. can be healed for greater space, creativity, self compassion, and positive energy for goal directed behavior.
What’s are some inspirational words of wisdom and encouragement you’ve applied toward accomplishing your life goals that have come from your ancestors? Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?
Questions to ask your ancestors:
1. Did you have any family traditions growing up as a child? Do you have any fond memories during the holidays?
2. What values would you like for me to learn about life?
3. How much did spirituality or religion play in your life?
4. Where did our family last name come from? Were you named after a family member, or does your name have a special meaning?
5. Did you have a nickname growing up? If so, where did it come from?
6. Where were you born?
7. What was your household like growing up?
8. Did you enjoy school, any fun subjects, what were your friends like?
9. Any secret stories you’d like to share?
10. Were there any obstacles you had to overcome?
11. What is the most important lesson you learned growing up?
Where did you learn it from?
12. Have you experienced any trials and tribulations? If so, were you able to overcome?
13. What did you and your friends do for fun when you were young?
14. Did you have a best friend?
15. Did you have a pet as a child? If so, what was its name?
16. Did you ever get in trouble as a child or teenager?
17. How did you meet grandma/grandpa?
18. What was your marriage proposal like? Where was your wedding held?
19. What was your first job? What type of career did you have?
20. Where have you lived in your lifetime? Tell me about it?
21. Where have you traveled around the country and/or out of the country?
22. What is your favorite city to visit and why?
23. How do you work through your emotions (i.e., anger, sadness, frustration, fear)?
What brings you happiness, excitement, grateful, courageous, and confidence?
24. What could you tell me that I would be surprised to learn about you?
25. What were your grandparents like?
26. Tell me about the day when my mom/dad was born?
27. What is different about growing up today than when you were a child?
28. What is your favorite thing about being a grandparent?
29. Have you ever experienced poverty?