“Keep your grades up, stay out of trouble, stop the violence and love each other. I’m out of here.”
In September Diddy embarked on a month-long school tour to deliver a series of “informational lectures.” I haven’t attended any of his motivational talks—and so far no industrious fifteen year-old has posted a transcript online—but from the news articles, it sounds like Diddy is feeding the kids the “stay in school/don’t do drugs/buy my album” party line. (The giant posters for Press Play all over the auditoriums are a bit of a giveaway for his motives for these pep talks, but whatever.)
The Baltimore Sun, for instance, reports that Diddy recently paid a surprise visit to seventh and eighth graders at Winston Middle School in Baltimore and told them there was no excuse for not taking responsibility for their future. “You can still kick it out on the corner with your friends, and you can still go to clubs,” he told the crowd. “But school has to be first.” (Um, what sort of clubs let pre-teens in?)
He went on to say: “When you see me on videos, with the jewelery and the money. It’s important for all of you to understand how it got to that point.”
As the Sun reporter points out, Diddy didn’t exactly amass his fortune by staying in school. In fact, he dropped out of Howard to become more involved in the music industry. I wish he had talked about that.
So often when rich, famous, ambitious people are invited to a public forum to share how they got to where they are, they have little of substance to say. I don’t know if it’s that they haven’t reflected on their journey—or if the years in between the grind and the glory have made their memories vague—but often these people don’t pass on what they’ve learned. They make it seem like success is some lucky accident. Or like it can happen to anyone that follows certain rules, like going to class.
In reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Particularly for people who come from poor backgrounds.
It takes years to pursue a career. It takes years of working hard, strategizing, seizing opportunities, creating opportunities, finding ways around roadblocks, casting away limiting beliefs and learning to deal with setbacks. Years of not taking the easy way out. Years of delaying gratification. Years of dingy sneakers.
Diddy—who is reportedly worth 315 million—must know all that. Dude has been relentless in his pursuit of success. He’s achieved a lot. And when he’s failed, he’s risen time and time again from the ashes. Why can’t he talk about that process?
There are so many points he could have addressed. What were his strategies for breaking into the music industry? Did he have a vision for his career? How did he stay focused? Did he set goals? Did he network? Did he live on Hamburger Helper before he got his break? What?
How did he manage to withstand the City College tragedy so early in his career? How did he bounce back from being fired at Uptown? How did he start Bad Boy? How did he cope with Big’s death? How did he deal with the trial? How has he managed to keep coming back over and over again? How did he keep hope alive during the times when his stock plummeted?
In other words: tell the kids about the come up. That’s the stuff that might actually empower them. Give them some concrete tools to achieve success. The stay-in-school-eat-your-vegetables platitudes generally go in one ear and out the other.