Identity Is Your Passport To Success: Stedman Graham

According to Stedham Graham, 6.5 billion people don’t know who they are. While many may associate Graham’s name with his life partner, Oprah Winfrey, he is a man who stands well on his own. My conversation with him was enlightening and inspiring.

Graham is a veteran of the U.S. Army, an educator, author of eleven books including two NY Times Bestsellers, a successful businessman, and a noted speaker. His most recent bestseller is titled Identity: Your Passport to Success. Within the covers of this book, Graham delivers critical insights on how to take control of your life through leadership and education. He speaks from experience, starting his career as a prison guard and rising to a respected global thought leader in the field of education and leadership development.

Graham’s next book, Identity – Your Passport to Freedom: The Knowledge of Self, will launch in 2017.

A commitment to education and lifelong learning is central to Graham’s philosophy; so is his enduring pledge to youth and community. His Teens Can Make It Happen program is utilized in numerous middle and high schools in the U.S. and abroad, providing positive growth for our leaders of tomorrow, as well as their parents and teachers.

Graham contends that transforming your life means transforming your thinking. Moving from a follower to a leader; from a consumer to a producer; and from a slave to an owner. To do this, Graham says people must break the barriers that society has placed on them in order to control their lives. Brands, cars, houses, religion, race, gender, and relationships should not define who you are. However, for most people in the world they do.

The secret to breaking free, according to Graham, is taking control of your own development. In order to do this, a person must first figure out who they really are, create a vision of where they want to go and then put a process and structure in place to get them there. Doing this dictates the development a person needs in life.

Graham believes our current educational system is flawed. People memorize what they are told to by others (teachers, bosses, instructors), take tests, get grades, and forget what they “learned” shortly after. This is because it has no relevance to their lives or passions. It is what others press upon them versus what the person wants for him or herself. Such a process detracts from human potential and leads to unhappiness, unfulfillment, and mediocre performance. To the contrary, building a life development plan around your true identity—who you really are—unleashes your full human potential, happiness, and fulfillment. It also allows you to serve your family, community, and the world at the highest possible level and add maximum value to others and the organization you work for.

Moving From A Follower To A Leader

Leadership is based on the philosophy that you can’t lead anybody until you can lead yourself. Graham is not talking about leadership in terms of leading a lot of people; he’s speaking about leadership in terms of self-mastery, self-development, and self-discipline to enable people to perform at optimum levels no matter what they do in life. It is about realizing all the things you are passionate about, and all the things you are capable of doing.

“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,” Graham explains.

Graham insists there is a need to train people to become successful learners, effective organizers, and masters of their own development. “They must realize and believe they have the power to do anything or be anything they want,” Graham adds.

Ultimately, the ability to transform your life through leadership is based on love. Love can be manifested in a lot of different ways. Love is service, love is servant leadership, love is loving yourself first, love is caring for others, love is your passions, love is your talents. You must build a process for empowering and bringing to life those things that you love and are passionate about.

Every day you have a choice of love or hate, good or bad, courage or fear. Choosing one over the other can determine how successful, peaceful, and happy you will be as a person. Ultimately, moving from a follower to a leader is measured on your ability to consistently choose correctly.

Creating And Realizing Your Vision

“Where there is no vision, the people perish,” Graham quotes the Bible.

A personal vision starts at 30,000 feet, but then requires small steps to get you there. If you don’t know where you are going, it is impossible to find your way. This goes both for people and organizations. The key, Graham shares, is mastering one step at a time and breaking down your vision into small incremental segments you can easily accomplish. “A vision of the future must become daily goals and habits. This is how success occurs,” Graham explains.

Like all journeys, preplanning and securing the resources you will need along the way is essential. “With today’s technology and unlimited access to information, this is easier than ever. The biggest challenge is what to do with all the information you have at hand,” Graham says.

How are you spending your time? What are you focused on? “Whatever you focus on expands,” Graham advises. Things you don’t focus on will eventually wither and die.

• Are you clear on your direction?

• Are you following a process of continuous improvement based on knowing where you are going?

• How many time wasters are you involved in?

• Are you focusing on things that really matter to you?

• Are you tracking the things you’ve accomplished in a day and are they are moving you closer to your vision for tomorrow?

These above questions are what Graham suggests you ask of yourself. What you do today determines what your tomorrow will look like.

“It takes years to do simple. People think there is such a thing as an overnight success. There isn’t. Success is hard work. The success I am having today took me 25 years. You have to put the time in to get the rewards out. As a former athlete, people frequently say that I was born that way. The truth is that people do have natural talents, but they don’t become strengths without lots of work, practice, and development. You become a star because you work at it every day,” Graham declares.

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000-hour rule: only after working at something for 10,000 hours do you become an “overnight” success. Getting anywhere in life requires vision and effort—the clearer the vision and stronger the effort, the greater the chances of reaching your desired destination.

Taking Control

Taking complete control of your life requires a personal development plan that raises you socially and economically, personally and professionally. General education, while important, is outdated, according to Graham. Our educational system needs to prepare students for the marketplace. It needs to focus on what you can actually do with the education to further the career path you have chosen for yourself. Your education should help you stand out and meet the needs of our rapidly changing society and the technological revolution.

This requires more personalized learning to develop specific skills that can earn you a living. People need to become self-learners, lifelong learners, readers, people who can organize the overwhelming amount of information we all receive today. This requires what Graham calls identity development and identity leadership. Identity is a way to build from your core, to know who you are. To take something and make it relevant to your own development, to your specific needs. To understand the power of the information you have available to you to build your personal education and career plan.

Through Graham’s personal experiences and stories of other remarkable people, Identity: Your Passport to Success offers guidance that allows readers to take control of their whole lives, and to really understand their own value, their voice, and give them hope for the future. To escape external labels defined by family, friends, and other relationships in life, there is a need for inner development. If you don’t know who you are as a person—your talents, your skills, your passions, or your abilities, then you have no starting point. If you learn how to take charge of planning your life, you can shape your own future, focus on what you do best, and contribute value to society.

We’re programmed at an early age to work hard. When we look back in life we find we have no more in the end than we had in the beginning. We haven’t developed anything for ourselves. The secret to changing this dynamic is self-mastery and self-development. These processes provide a chance to think and contemplate life and the direction you want to go.

You must develop yourself, then match that with hopefully the job you’re working at and the opportunities that you have. Look for alignment with the direction that your organization is going and your role in it. Knowing where you are going personally and organizationally is key. Being a leader in an organization means you become a co-creator in the development of your company. You instill new ideas, new innovation, and develop opportunities.

The value that you give yourself is the value the world gives you. The way you see yourself is how the world sees you. Changing your internal thinking changes external perspectives.

It starts with having a belief in yourself. In your own abilities. Then, working on those abilities so you become even more confident doing them. “The universe will begin to give you everything you want if you begin to build it for yourself. People must avoid becoming a victim in life. Look at everyone in your life as a role model. What can you learn from them—good or bad?” Graham explains.

Understanding Your Driver

“When I was young I was hungry. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to excel. I didn’t always have the tools and didn’t really know how I was going to do it, but I always had the determination and perseverance of wanting to try and make it. That was my driver. Everyone needs a driver. You need something in your soul that drives you forward and pushes you to seize opportunities,” Graham shares.

“My two brothers were disabled, so I had to take charge, I had to step up. I realized early on that I needed to be the one to make a difference to help my family. And I was fortunate enough to be able to apply that same drive to basketball and to my education. I wasn’t always the smartest or strongest, but I never gave up on my dreams,” Graham adds.

People need to tune into themselves and take responsibility for their own development and sometimes their own education. Its understanding how to tap into your own human potential, gifts and talents that bring you closer to what Abraham Maslow called self-actualization—the ability to be better today than we are yesterday.

Once you discover who you are, what you love, and what you are passionate about, plus that you have the freedom to pursue it, you become physically, mentally, and spiritually strong. It’s a learning process and journey. You have to learn, develop, build, create, and eliminate all the negativity and naysayers in your life that say you can’t do it. You must embrace it in your heart and soul and look in before looking out.

“My hope is to show people how to build value in their own lives,” Graham concludes.

For more information, visit and check out my book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love.



Published on Forbes, 28 December 2016

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