Our guest this month is one of the most dynamic and powerful speakers of our time.
He is Mrs. Mamie Brown’s baby boy as he tells us in his best-selling books Live Your Dreams and It’s Not Over Until You Win! Adopted by Mrs. Mamie Brown when he was six weeks old, Les grew up to be a three-time State Legislator from Ohio, host of his own television talk show, and a hugely successful speaker, winning over 80 awards for his work.
Those awards include the Council of Peers Award of Excellence-the highest honor awarded by the National Speakers Association-as well as being selected as one of America’s top five speakers by Toastmasters International.
His presentation series, You Deserve, recorded for PBS, won a Chicago-area Emmy and became the leading fund-raising program of its time through PBS stations throughout the country. Les, thank you so much for joining us.
Janet Attwood: I’m thrilled that we have another incredibly successful entrepreneur as my co-host to conduct this interview. Stephen Pierce is one of the top Internet marketers in the world today, after taking the Internet by storm with his book The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth About Internet Marketing. Stephen, thank you for being with us.
Stephen Pierce: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be here again, and of course, to have this opportunity to interview Les Brown. We kind of have a history, Les and I. We talked about it a long time ago. You were a member of a speakers’ bureau and I had signed up.
I wasn’t actually a speaker at the time, but I was interested. I was really going through some stuff in my life, and the owner of the organization said, You know what? You really need to speak with Les Brown. For me, it was one of those memorable, defining moments because you were sharing with me your experience with your television show, getting it started and then what happened with the networks.
I don’t really need to go into those details, but it stuck with me for a long time. How to deal with injustice and how to deal with adversity when it comes. Before we get into this interview, I want to start off and thank you for that because, truly, it was a defining moment.
It was one of those moments that have been memorable. You probably don’t know it, but I know you recall it, because we had that conversation. I want to let you know how much that moment meant for me. Hopefully, there can be multiple defining moments today on this.
Les Brown: Thank you. I’m very glad that was of value to you.
Stephen Pierce: All right. Without question, we just heard the introduction about you and you’re widely regarded as one of the top speakers in the Personal Development field. From your beginning up to the point where you are right now, you’ve had quite a journey.
What role did your passions, the things that are most important in your life, play in achieving the success that you’re enjoying today?
Les Brown: You said it’s been quite a journey, and it most certainly has been! I want to thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts with people. I want to say to everyone, I’d like you to think about some goals and dreams you feel strongly about, particularly something that’s your passion, something that turns you on.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said that most men and women go to their graves with their music still in them. The whole purpose and mission of Healthy Wealthy nWise is about helping people begin to find ways to release what Elizabeth Browning called the ‘imprisoned splendor.’
Not to take your music with you; to do that which you came and showed up to do, the calling of your life. I believe there’s a reason for all of us for being here. In answer to the question you asked, passions played a major role. My first major passion was to take care of my mother. I’m adopted. I was born in an abandoned building on a floor with a twin brother.
When we were six weeks of age, we were taken in by Mrs. Mamie Brown, who had only a third-grade education at age 46 and she adopted seven children. She was a domestic worker in Miami Beach, and we ate the food left over from the families for whom she cooked. We wore the hand-me-down clothes of the children for whom she babysat. I was listening to you saying it’s been quite a journey.
I just left Switzerland, speaking to 3,500 doctors and scientists. Who would have thought by pursuing the passion of one, taking care of our mother, and two, wanting to do something meaningful with my life to make her proud, that I would have the opportunity to fly to Switzerland, to be driven from Zurich to Basel and give a 25-minute presentation to 3,500 doctors and scientists and manufacturing workers for $45,000?
No one could have told me I had the ability to do that. There are people who work for a whole year and don’t earn $45,000, working 40 hours a week. When I look at the journey and what you are talking about in terms of passions, the only way I got here was through the passions that drove me.
Bill Bailey, whom I think is one of the great motivational speakers around today-and who a lot of people are not familiar with, but was one of my early mentors-said, If you’re casual about your dreams, you will end up a casualty.
People who are able to do something meaningful and significant with their lives are people who have some passions to drive them. They take hits, they have defeats, they have disappointments, but they keep on keeping-on because that passion, it gives you the fuel to out-distance everybody else, and you have fun while you’re going through the process.
Stephen Pierce: Many people are not able to see where they really want to go because they only see all the things that are in the way. You had to overcome prostate cancer. That’s just one of the many obstacles that I know you’ve had to deal with.
For many people, the opinions of others have become an obstacle in their life because the negative words and negative views people have about them is something that they are embracing. It’s holding them back.
Taking that into consideration, and all the obstacles that you had to deal with, how did you overcome them? Give us a specific strategy on how we can overcome them and also let us know how you actually did it.
Les Brown: One of the first things I suggest that you do is what I talked about earlier. Stephen, language is the software of the mind. You show me someone who’s going through a tough time and all I want to do is have access to them, because my goal and objective will be two steps: number one, to increase their belief about the possibilities of where they are, and number two, to override the story that’s in their head.
What you do, what you accomplish when you have defeats, when you have disappointments, when you have setbacks-and we all have them-you will fail your way to success. When you have someone say to you something no one ever wants to hear-three words-You have cancer.
It’s according to what’s between your ears that determines your self-explanatory style. You can say to yourself-according to the way most people think, because cancer’s the most feared word in the English language-Oh, my God! I’m out of here. This is it.
Or, you can say, as I said, This is just something I have to work through. It never dawned on me I was going to die. I had some fleeting moments when people said, Oh, my father died of prostate cancer or My uncle died of prostate cancer. For a week or so, those hits came over and over again.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing even if it’s a lie, and I was petrified for a few days, but I had to recover because I constantly program my mind. If you don’t program your mind, your mind will be programmed. I say to you, it doesn’t matter what you’re going through. It doesn’t matter where you are.
Take the time first to begin to reprogram your thinking, to expose yourself to positive messages, to read Scripture, to listen to positive, uplifting music. I love the theme from Rocky. I love the theme from Shaft. I’ve gotten so many tickets driving while playing those.
You’ve got to have positive people around you to build you up. I’ve got a quote on one of my motivational messages, When life knocks you down, try to land on your back because if you can look up, you can get up. Oh, I had to listen to my tapes when I was going through stuff.
I was going through divorce with someone whom I loved very much. I was going through the grieving process of my mother being diagnosed with breast cancer. There she was suffering, and I couldn’t take her place. I couldn’t stop the pain. I was saying, Mama, I’ll die for you. God, give it to me. Don’t take my mama.
I needed someone to pray for me. I needed someone to speak to me and say, Les, it’s going to be all right. See, when those times come-and they come for everybody. Joseph Campbell calls it the long, dark journey of the soul -during those moments is when you grow mentally.
That’s how you build your character. That’s how you build your faith. That’s why we’re told, ‘In all things give thanks.’ because whatever you are going through, it has not come to stay. It has come to pass, and so rather than just go through it, you want to grow through it.
In the midst of it, you’ve got to ask yourself, What am I learning from this? In the midst of this, what am I learning from this? What is it I need to know? In the midst of sitting by my mother’s bed, I remember my mother worked in the day care center and she talked about the senior citizens.
She knew when they were going to die because they would have the ‘death rattle.’ And then, I heard her breathing, and I looked at my twin brother and I said, Wesley, that’s that breathing that mama talked about. I said, Mama, mama? She didn’t respond and she had that deep rattling sound in her chest.
Oh, my God. In the midst of this, I had to remember the Scripture that said, I’ll keep thee in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee. In the midst of this, my hero, Stephen, my hero, my friend, my anchor, my everything was leaving me physically.
I had to know, I had to get still and know that all was well. It was a tough time. I remember this movie with Denzel Washington and he said, There are moments in life when things appear to stand still, and after this, nothing will ever be the same again.
And after she took her last breath and after I saw that tear fall from her eye, I knew my life would never be the same again. Cicely Tyson called me that night and said, Lesley? and I said, Yes? Aunt Booboo. When they put your mother in the ground, when they placed her in that casket, when they closed it up, there was something in her that the casket and the grave couldn’t contain.
That’s what she left you, her spirit. Her spirit is still alive in you and don’t you ever forget that. So we’re going to have moments in life. I heard this quote once that, Life is like an onion. You have to peel it one layer at a time, and sometimes we cry.
Stephen Pierce: There is no question that whenever I hear you speak-and I’m sure I’m speaking for everybody-you’re connected with something that goes much deeper than the mere words you speak. The emotion you display, the character you display, truly, it is like you are connected with something.
For me, when I hear you, it’s like there is this mission you’re connected with. You’re able to see it. And I’m thinking about your story. I’m thinking about the things you went through and you found the strength. I want to know: what role did knowing what your personal mission was play in your being able to find the inner strength?
If we can use Jesus Christ for an example, he was able to endure the crucifixion because his eyes were on the resurrection. For you, I know there’s a mission. I want you to share with everybody what your mission is and what role that mission has played in you being where you are today.
Les Brown: The mission of this program is congruent with what my life has been about-finding your passion. Nietzsche said, If you know the ‘why’ for living, you can endure almost any ‘how.’ How do you develop a sense of mission? First of all, you already have that. That’s a part of your DNA.
You fought to get here. You were born to win. You won the race. You survived, one out of 400 million sperm. You survived. You will never have those odds again, so just knowing that-that when you beat those kinds of odds to be here, to be born-there’s a calling on your life.
You showed up to bring something here that was not here before you got here. But because we live in a world where we are told more about our limitations than our potential, we have to go through what we’re going through right now, Stephen, like this coaching call, like listening to motivational messages. Why?
MIT did a study. They discovered when I say, Stephen, you can’t do that, whatever that goal is, someone else has to come along and say 17 times, You can do it. You can do it. You can do it, to neutralize that one time I said, with power, feeling and conviction, You can’t do it.
Everybody listening to me has had someone say to them, You can’t do that. People said to me, Les Brown, what are you talking about, being a motivational speaker? How much could you make an hour? At this time, it was a $1,000 an hour. Twenty years ago, that was a lot of money.
Come on, you can’t do that. You don’t have any college education, you’re not successful, you’ve never worked for any major corporation, you have no track record, you don’t know how to do it, you don’t have any experience. You can’t do that.
They were being practical, they were being realistic, they were being logical, and I bought it for 14 years because I was trying to figure it out. For 14 years, I did not do what I’m doing right now because I asked myself the wrong question. I asked myself, How was I going to do it?
Rather than be about my business, rather than make the commitment to live the mission and the calling in my life, I was trying to figure it out. There are some things that transcend logic. There are some things you can’t wrap your mind around.
That’s why my favorite book says you must Walk by faith and not by sight. That’s why I tell folks, Leap and grow your wings on the way down. Come on! You’ve got to have a sense of mission. Make it okay to fail. You’re going to discover some things about yourself.
There is some power in pursuit, when you’re pursuing something. You learn some stuff you don’t know right now. You gain some confidence. You gain some experience as you develop some relationships. You make some impact. The power of pursuit. Just get busy. Don’t figure out how.
Lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy path. You will be directed. You will be told what to do. Doors will open you did not see. You’ll get help and assistance. You will attract every thing you need to bring it into manifestation. It’s not a logical, practical process.
I have a process called Four Stages to Personal Greatness. One stage is Self-Awareness-looking at where you are and assessing what is that has got you here? The next stage is Self-Approval and being there for a while, approving yourself for this and preparing yourself.
The next is Self-Commitment, because out of that Self-Approval comes a commitment to begin to systematize your time and your energy, and engage in activities that are moving in the direction of your greatness, your goals and your dreams.
Then, there is Self-Fulfillment. You will have some victory things you can celebrate. Then you’ve got to go right back to Self-Awareness, How did I get here? What worked? What did not work? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What is it I need to discard? What is it I need to keep and to build on?
So, it’s a cyclic process because in this thing called life, there are all kinds of twists and turns and things you just can’t begin to anticipate. I like what Mother Teresa said. She said, Just when I thought I had a handle on life, the handle broke. I’m having a good time! I hope you all are!
Stephen Pierce: Let me ask you this. If somebody understands personal mission, they understand having a purpose in life, and maybe they just feel completely disconnected and out of touch. How does one discover what their mission and their purpose is in life?
Les Brown: The key to that is very, very simple?never stop looking for what resonates with you.
Stephen Pierce: Tell me a little bit more about that.
Les Brown: I used to be a disc jockey in Columbus, Ohio. I was a community activist. I was a State Legislator. I was elected to three terms in the Ohio Legislature, I passed more legislation my first term than anybody in the history of the Ohio Legislature.
I was the Chairman of the Human Resource Committee. I’m an author. I became a speaker, and now I’m training speakers. These are several lives I’ve had. I used to work for Sears. I used to have a radio show in Washington D.C. I used to have a nationally-syndicated talk show, which was the highest-rated, fastest-cancelled talk show in the history of television.
It paid me $5 million dollars-$2 million dollars not to speak. I produced six specials for PBS. People told me I couldn’t do that: They don’t bring motivational speakers on PBS. If they had motivational speakers, they’d have Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, or Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins.
You don’t have a book. You’re not known. You don’t even have a college education. It’s called ‘educational television.’ They bring on people like John Bradshaw, Leo Buscaglia and Wayne Dyer. They’re psychologists. You’re not a psychologist.
Well, I produced six motivational presentations for PBS because I did not have enough sense to know I couldn’t do it. Sometimes, you’ve got to have faith and ignorance. Faith-you’ve got to believe in yourself and in a power greater than yourself, and ignorance-you’ve got to be intelligently ignorant so you don’t know what you can’t do. You’re not willing to rule anything out, and you’re willing to go for it.
Stephen Pierce: Very important. You just said something our listeners should be able to take and run with. You should be ignorant as to what you cannot do. Tell me a little more about that.
Les Brown: Just imagine, I just got back from Switzerland speaking to scientists and doctors-all of them educated. I was the only one there who had only a high school education from Booker T. Washington High School.
I didn’t have enough sense to know I couldn’t do it. When I spoke at Harvard-I spoke to some MBAs and PhDs-I said, You’re the most challenging audience I have to speak to because you know too much. I have a friend who I trained to speak named Mike Jones out of Philadelphia. He’s been blind since he was 10.
Mike Jones earns over $60,000 a month. He doesn’t have any college education. He was adopted and he’s been blind since he was 10. He does a seminar called How To Earn Over $200,000 A Year With Your Eyes Closed. He said, The reason you can’t do what I’m doing right now is because you see too much.
When I speak to these PhDs and MDs who are working on jobs, they’re overworked and underpaid, or their ideas get shot down, or they’re stressed out, or their blood pressure is off the chart. The reason they’re not doing what I’m doing-and they would love to do it-is because they are practical, realistic and cerebral and they’ve already figured out why they can’t do it.
Well, I don’t have that much going for me! I don’t have that kind of brain power! When I decided to come in this direction, Mike and I-here he is a dropout from Ohio State University from Coshocton, Ohio and here I am from Miami, Florida-we’re these two young guys who had this sense of ambition and drive.
He had this larger vision for me, and I was crazy enough to say, Okay, let’s go for it! We didn’t have enough sense to know we couldn’t do this, and we’ve had the adventure of our lives. Helen Keller said, Life is either a daring adventure or it’s boring, and so, decide to make your life a daring adventure.
Stephen Pierce: But what if fear’s holding you back? What if you’re afraid?
Les Brown: It’s okay. Find some goals that are more important than your fears. The fear of being a burden on someone. The fear of being 61-I am 61, I am cancer-free, I am debt-free and drama-free. The fear, when my mother became ill, of not being able to do anything for her other than pray.
When my mother became ill and I took her to the hospital they asked, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, What kind of insurance do you have? My mother said, Les Brown, Unlimited because I could write the check. Do you understand what I’m talking about?
The fear I would not be able to be there for my mother, who claimed me when the woman who had me didn’t do it. The fear of not being able to control my future, to do what I want to do when I want to do it. I was home all day. I told you-in fact, I talked to you this morning-I was taking a nap, I woke up, I got ready for you and then, I’m here.
A lot of people don’t have the power to do that. They don’t exercise that kind of control over their lives because they didn’t have the same kind of fear I had: the fear of going to a job not knowing whether or not I would have a job, a job I hated and, at the same time, hoped I didn’t get fired from.
That’s what you called ‘mixed emotions, where you see somebody you hate drive off a cliff in your car. Well, you’re glad they’re gone but not in your car! So, I say life is just too short to live like that, so you’ve got to find some goals and dreams that are more powerful than your fears.
Just think about that. You’ve got to think about having a Katrina-fund. You’ve got to think about having a what-if strategy. What if you got sick? What if you were diagnosed with prostate cancer like I was eight years ago? Now my health insurance is $5,000 a month.
I’m sitting here in downtown Chicago looking out from my condominium on the city. I just purchased this condominium and it costs me $5,000 a month. When I called the doctor and said, I’m coming in. I’m taking this sleep test, they said, Well, Mr. Brown, you need a CPAP machine.
I called the insurance company and they said, We don’t cover that. Excuse me; I’m paying you $5,000 a month. You should cover preparing my breakfast in the morning! Going and getting my groceries! What are you talking about, you don’t cover this? Help me, somebody! Are you feeling the brother up in here?
Now, in the State of Michigan they can’t turn you down. They said, $5,000 a month. I said, Okay, this… They said, No, you didn’t hear what we said. Your insurance will cost you $5,000 a month. I said, I heard you, and it’s no problem. Here’s one year in advance.
Money gives you choices, it gives you options and it reduces your stress level. Ninety-five percent of arguments in homes are about how to get five dollars to go where $50 needs to go. When you don’t have money, you are living together like two ships passing in the night.
You come home at night, drained of all your energy and you don’t have enough energy to enjoy each other. You just sit down and the television is watching you, and the children better shut up! Didn’t I tell you to be quiet back there? It drives you crazy when you don’t have money. When I have money, I don’t need my medication as often.
Stephen Pierce: What single idea would you like to leave with everybody?
Les Brown: I want them to go to bed with this thought I go to bed with. There is more in me than I’m now expressing, and I’m
committed to finding it, to getting in touch with it. Someone said, Life is God’s gift to us, and how we live our lives is our gift to God.
I believe there is something in me, far beyond what I could imagine, that I’m not expressing. I’m constantly working to get to it. Even talking with you right now, I’m not wearing any crown, Stephen, I’m still growing, I’m still developing.
I’m like the lady who said, Lord, I ain’t what I want to be, I ain’t what I’m going to be, and thank God I sure ain’t what I
was. I’m still striving. I still want, at the end of the evening, to know I gave this day my best and that tomorrow morning, if God is willing, I will get up once again working to be the man I never have been up to this point.
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