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Interview: Stedman Graham

Last week, for the second annual Toronto Black Film Festival, I was lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with entrepreneur/author/motivational speaker Stedman Graham (who also happens to be in a long-term relationship with Oprah Winfrey). Graham’s latest book Identity: Your Passport to Success describes his nine-step program on how each and every one of us can access our greatest potential and become successful. Read ahead to learn why 99% of the population doesn’t truly think, the most important step to reaching success, and Stedman’s favourite black filmmaker.

Scene Creek: In your book, you talk about success and what it means to be successful. In simple terms how would you describe what true success is?

Stedman Graham: Success is when you’re happy with yourself and you’re happy with what you do. When you love what you do and you work on it continuously. You define success for yourself; no one else can define that for you.

SC: And why do you feel that it’s important for you to teach others to become successful?

SG: Because there’s a process for success, and I didn’t get it when I was coming up, I didn’t understand it. When you’re able to learn how to take the information and the knowledge and education that you get and make it relevant to who you are, and build on that and empower yourself based on becoming a lifelong learner where you’re reading all the time and you’re understanding the value of information and also the value of what you bring to the table, you can put that all together and align that with a global marketplace and all the resources we have. You can connect with the technology that we have today and make it so we have access to all that information and develop a blended learning process where now you’re learning all the time and you get to interview and talk to experts and you get to go to conferences and you get to go to workshops and seminars that are relevant to your industry then it just gives you the ability to empower yourself and take control of your own destiny.

SC: You mentioned that you didn’t always know the way to get there. At what point did you figure out for yourself how to become successful?

SG: I had to find it for myself. So I had to get through tough family circumstances, I had to get through a race based consciousness, I had to get through being defined by my relationship, and I had to get through a lot of obstacles; I had to learn the American free enterprise system and how it worked, I had to establish my own business, I had create and shape my own future, I had to find who I was based on why I love and why I was passionate about my talents. And so the process allowed me to now teach what I teach, write what I write, and talk about what I talk about. I understand it pretty well and I’m trying to become an authority on understanding how to really impact people’s life and so it has given me the opportunity to sit here and talk to you.

SC: So you’ve found that place or is it something that is always changing?

SG: It’s always changing, so you’re always trying to develop a process of continuous improvement, which is what I teach. How do you improve? First you have to build a foundation, which is why I teach a nine-step success process. Since you first have to have an identity and then you have to have a vision, and then you have to have a plan. So it’s a lifelong journey, you’re constantly always working towards improving and developing and creating and becoming better.

SC: In your book you say that only 1% of the population are “true thinkers”, what would be the biggest mistake that you think the other 99% of people are making?

SG: They just don’t know the process, which is why I teach what I teach. I teach people how to change their thinking so they can change their habits so they can change their results. I want people to move from a follower to a leader, but there’s a process for that. It doesn’t happen just because you go to school, you memorize, you take tests, you repeat the information back, get labeled with a grade and then two weeks later you forget the information. It doesn’t happen because you’re doing the same thing over and over every single day, it happens because you’re able to learn how to take information and knowledge and make it relevant to who you are. Schools don’t teach that, and most people don’t know that, so that’s what I do and I’ve discovered it for myself and now I want to share it with the world I live in.

SC: Do you think that it is something that schools should be teaching?

SG: I’m in the schools, I teach it in the schools. I teach it in the schools through my ten-week curriculum, I do workshops, I work in middle schools, I work in high schools, I teach it at colleges, I teach it to corporate America, I teach it through leadership programs, and discipline that allows people to understand how to take control of their lives and invest in themselves so they become better at what they do, they become an expert in their field and they get to try and reach their potential over and over and over through this nine-step success process. There is a process, it doesn’t happen just because you want it to happen, even though you may be determined it happens because you follow a process and procedure and I try to make it simple for people.

SC: And you think it’s something everybody has the ability to do?

S: That’s what’s so great about it. It’s based on love. The first step (identity) is based on love, and passion, and positive attitude and skill set and strength and what you can do as apposed to what you can’t do. So everybody has the ability to find out what they love. If you don’t follow what you love you can’t think. You don’t know what to think about. You don’t know what will drive you, you have no will power, and you’re basically lost. So when you can begin to start with that process of passion and what you’re purpose is and what you love or what you care about, it allows you now to create and build that so you become stronger and stronger. Now you can visualize who you can become, you can plan who you become, you can build a team around that. So everybody can do that because the process of success is what I discovered. Once you understand the process you can eliminate the labels. So there’s no more racial labels, or gender labels, or family labels, or entitlement labels. It’s all about you working on yourself every single day, your 24 hours that you have which makes everyone equal. Everybody has 24 hours, so the question is how you organize that 24 hours around yourself, as apposed to working, as apposed to just looking for a job, as apposed to just working on one thing, as apposed to working on many things, that can really make you who you are.

I went through all the stuff that everybody wants us to do. I got my masters degree, got a job, made a living. That’s fine, but there’s another piece, there’s more that I want you to have. Those are good things, there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s probably a pretty average life; which is okay. But if you have the potential as a human being and you want to create and develop at a higher level, then I want to give you the information so that you can take that. It’s your choice as to whether you use it or not to create your potential based on your intellect, your opportunities, and if you’re in Canada, you’ve got big opportunities here. You have access to the Internet, and technology, that’s a big opportunity. I want you to be able to take all those opportunities and make it relevant to who you are so that you can empower yourself and take control of your learning. Which is who you have to be in the 21st century to survive, otherwise you’re going to be part of the 99% that’s moving backwards.

SC: Since we’re here for the Toronto Black Film Festival, which Black filmmakers today do you admire and fit your description of success?

SG: There’s a lot of work out there that I admire. Of course The Butler, Lee Daniels is a great filmmaker.

Identity: Your passport to Success is available now at all major book stores and online in e-book format.

Matt Hoffman

Matthew Hoffman is a Toronto-based cinephile who especially enjoys French films and actresses over the age of 50; including but not limited to: Isabelle Huppert, Meryl Streep, and Jacki Weaver.