Thought #22: The Key to Achieving the Unachievable

Landscape
“Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C.,” by Unknown [NARA].
Browsing the self-help section of Dog-Eared Books on Valencia St. in San Francisco recently, I found It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be by Paul Arden and thought: “Catchy title.” So I bought the book (plus, I made a commitment to read at least one personal finance or self-help book per year, so…). 

Overall, the book is an okay read; however, my critique is similar to the critique I have of other self-help books: authors hardly ever acknowledge race and ethnicity as an enduring and legitimate barrier to entrepreneurial or professional success. In the first couple pages, Arden claims, “you can achieve the unachievable.” In other words, Arden highlights that everyone has the potential to achieve their wildest dreams. While Arden is correct, this statement also bothers me because it ignores the reality that racial bias and discrimination are still huge barriers to equity in the American economy.

For example, Rebecca Safier, writer for Student Loan Hero, reports data from the National Center for Education Statistics that approximately 77.7% of black students borrow federal student loans to pay for a higher education compared to 57.5% of white students. “The unequal burden of student loan debt further aggravates disparities, since a big loan payment can make it difficult to build your career, grow your income, and achieve financial independence,” adds Safier.

Additionally, Jamil Smith, writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, cites studies that illustrate investors are more likely to help entrepreneurs who share their gender and race. According to Smith, “it doesn’t help that…less than 3 percent of venture capitalists are Hispanic or African American [because] It makes the American Dream a little more difficult to believe in for a great many people when…virtually no one who looks like you willing to invest in those businesses.”

Similarly, Michael Gee writes “A review of white-collar employment data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reveals serious gaps in income, promotional opportunities, and advancement for minorities and women of all races” in the Harvard Business Review. While Gee doesn’t offer an explanation for these disparities, they might be attributed to the same implicit, or subconscious, biases that Smith mentions since white men are disproportionately represented in executive and managerial positions.  

But why bring all of this up?

In America, there are numerous examples of people of color who have been able to achieve despite seemingly insurmountable odds. In honor of these pioneers and role-models, I acknowledge that racism has endured and evolved in the post-civil-rights era,  so the achievements of these pioneering persons of color are seen as more exceptional considering the bias and discrimination they had to overcome to arrive at their destination. 

For young professionals of color in particular, it’s important to understand where we’ve come from as a nation since we are still grappling with the consequences of past actions and deeply ingrained belief systems. In addition to equipping ourselves with an armour of knowledge and truth, it’s not a bad idea to also cultivate our visioning skills, so achieving the unachievable becomes a little easier.

Next, I’m going to share a visioning strategy that I’ve used for several years now that you should try.

Try This:

Before I layout my visioning strategy, let’s get on the same page about what a vision is. When I say vision, I mean, “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom” (dictionary.com). In other words, a vision is a plan that is informed by one’s wisdom, or lived experience and knowledge, and their imagination, or ability to see a future without restriction.

Now that you have a better idea of what a vision is, here’s why you should get into the habit of visioning: how can you reach your destination if you don’t have directions? You can’t. The same logic applies to developing a vision for one’s self and one’s life because it’s going to a lot more likely that you’ll achieve your dreams if you have a clear idea of what you need to do to get there and the obstacles you may encounter along the way.

Personally, I type out my vision in a Google Document where I think through my short-term and long-term goals (see Thought #7 for more guidance on setting effective goals) – there are other ways, however, to  organize your vision, so leave a comment if there’s a strategy that works particularly well for you. I find it easiest to plan backwards by asking a question like: if I ultimately would like to achieve this thing, what do I need to do to bring myself closer to the goal? For example, I might think about what I can accomplish in a year then the next 5 years to make my desired achievement more likely. 

After I know my objective, I then start to brainstorm a route to my destination. As you develop your vision, it’s a great idea to seek feedback from trusted advisers and peers since they’ll most like have valuable feedback on how you might accomplish your goal.  For a better idea of what this strategy looks like, check out my vision from 2015. While my imagination in 2015 looks a lot different than my reality in 2019, compare my example with my Linkedin profile and notice how similar the two  are.

It’s important to develop visioning skills because these are the skills that allow us focus and organize our worlds, so we are more aware of opportunities that will bring us closer to our dreams.  While life is guaranteed to be unpredictable, it’s easier to deal with obstacles when you’re grounded in a vision of the type of life you want for yourself.

I know I’ve been gone for while, but I’m back and excited to publish new college admission and career planning advice that’s race conscious and grounded in social justice. If you enjoyed Thought #22, please leave a comment or head to my website where you can subscribe to the CTC blog. 

Until next time.

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Author: Kyle Hill

Thoughts is the official blog of Critical Thinkers Consulting. Topics span school, work, and all other phenomena relating to the transition to adulthood.

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