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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Hey! You! Be You!

I heard a presentation last week that has stuck with me, so I wanted to amplify it a bit.

Who? Me??

The speaker was Devon Franklin, a movie producer who has worked at Sony and Columbia Pictures before starting his own production company.

He started his career as an intern working for Will Smith and has turned his journey into several books on leadership of self and of others.

The energy this man emanated was infectious. He talked about the importance of being true to oneself and 'embracing what makes us exceptional' - embracing our difference.

Devon works in Hollywood, a place with a reputation for having a culture that supports the superficial, it's political environment is decidedly left of center, and its spirituality, if there even is one, tends to veer away from God.

In terms of its diversity and inclusion, it is less well-known that people of color are rare in the senior levels of the industry, with a notable exception, Tyler Perry, doing his thing in faraway Georgia instead of Hollywood, most of the time.

Devon looks younger than his 41 years. He is African American, a point he made playfully for his in-person audience, who could see him quite clearly.

He also explained that what is not as obvious as the color of his skin, is that he is a devout Christian, who specifically mentioned that he does not - ever - work on the Sabbath.

He told a story about interviewing to work with Will Smith, and the interviewer (not Will) asked if there was anything else she should know.

He told her he was a Christian, and that he observes the Sabbath, and if he would need to work on Sundays, he would not be able to accept the internship.

She told him not to worry that they could work around that, and they did. He got the job.

What impressed me most about this man, aside from his energy, was his admonition to everyone to avoid exchanging 'what makes me unique and special for what makes me common.' He said that one key to unlocking one's destiny is to embrace the difference that makes you special and work from it.

Some of us change like chameleons, able to effortlessly blend into whatever environment we find ourselves in. Others try to do it, but it's not easy, and very often it results in clearly phony performance.

Some of us are able to be our unique, authentic selves because we naturally fit into the environments in which we travel. That isn't good or bad, but we may also be insulated because we only hang out or work with people who are just like us.

Lastly, there are people who, for a variety of reasons, have sharp, noticeable, significant differences. For Devon, it was first being a black man, and once in the door, being a Christian, which branded him a 'square' because he didn't drink, use drugs or party late into the night at all the fashionable places. He was not stereotypically 'Hollywood.'

To be clear, Devon Franklin is successful because he is good at what he does. He is also relentlessly positive, confident and he prays every day.

He's been given no special advantages, other than getting the jobs, but once in the door, like all of us, he's had to produce. He has had to deal with veiled and unveiled biases based on who he is and what he believes.

He has made profitable Christian-oriented films including 'The Pursuit of Happyness' 'Miracles from Heaven' ' Heaven is for Real' 'The Star' 'Canal Street' and 'Breakthrough.'

The line that stuck with me, in paraphrase, was this:

'If you could see the size of your life, and the degree of the impact that God has planned for you to make, you would never accept the small, narrow, limited and limiting definitions applied to you by others.'

This clanged in my head like a giant bell.

Early in my career, I worked for an old-Boston money management firm, led in large part by men from Harvard, MIT, Yale and the like. I wanted, as a young man, to fit in with them, to be one of them. It didn't work.

Later, I tried another costume, this time working for a small, niche company that was, ultimately, not a place that needed or wanted any of the things that I was good at. I tried to fit in, and instead, I got a brain tumor, had surgery and spent much time recovering. When I was well enough to return, I was let go. Didn't fit there either.

Most recently, I worked in a place that is one of the most needlessly complex and dysfunctional environments I've ever worked in.

Senior leaders shuffled in and out, client liaisons came and went, and ultimately, I found myself the oldest member of the senior leadership team.

My reputation was revised without my active involvement, rapport was never established and ultimately, they 'went in another direction' corporate-speak for 'you suck.'

Why were these 3 situations, ultimately unsuccessful? Because instead of embracing what made me different, special and potentially great, I tried to fit in.

  • I was a public school educated kid from a working-class South Shore town who wanted to catch on with the Harvard guys from Sudbury and Manchester-by-the-Sea. Nope.

  • I was the corporately trained people manager working for a privately owned company owned by a guy who hated corporations for their formality. Nah.

  • I was a seasoned, rational, leadership-oriented manager in a company that valued younger, technically-oriented managers who spent too much of their time, at the senior leader's behest, reporting and justifying the quantitative results of their business. I tried to fit in, but I was not good at what they wanted. 'You suck!'

So what did I learn, and why did Devon's presentation resonate so much?

Because I've never been confident/brave enough to depend on who I authentically am. I have never believed in myself enough to dig in and be me. I have never embraced the unique weirdness that has always been me.

The thing is, I didn't value what God made. I figured that I was made by God and that He expected me to do most of the finishing work myself. Not so. Why?

Because of another quote from another presentation, which said 'God gave you everything you need to accomplish the purpose that He has for your life.'

God didn't make me and then smack Himself in the forehead and say, 'Nuts! I forgot to make Donaher a Harvard man! Oh well, I'm sure he'll figure out how to fit in anyway. Or not, whatever.'

Nah. Not even close. God made me as I am. He made you as you are. He made us for a purpose - a big life with a big impact. We are called to embrace it.

He equips us with what we need - to be Bobby Orr? No. I was taller than my boyhood idol by 6th grade. To be Larry Bird or Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Nope. To be Jack Welch or Peter Lynch or Chad Gifford or Ross Perot? Or Charlie Baker? Uh-uh.

I admire all these people but I am none of them. I am me.

God equips us to be who we are and to fulfill what He meant for us to accomplish during this lifetime. NOT someone else.

Figuring out what that assignment happens to be, is a trick too. Our best chance of finding it is to develop our relationship with the Lord, asking Him for guidance and insight, and following the path He shows us as closely as possible.

What about you?

  • Do you hide important things about yourself in certain situations? At work? At school? With your friends? He made all of you - 'warts and all' as they say - be your authentic, whole self.

  • Are you marking time? Sticking around because 'it's a living' is okay as long as it's part of your plan to pursue God's purpose for your life. You're here to make a difference - somewhere. Find out where and go do it.

  • Is it an effort to fit in with the people you're with every day? If you find yourself saying things or doing things or agreeing with things that your inner voice says are not 'you,' you're posing.

  • Do you disagree honestly and openly or do you keep your mouth shut? The boss comes into a meeting with a blatantly stupid idea that will fail spectacularly. You know it, and so does everyone else. Do you tell the boss or do you just go along?

  • If there is a stereotype of a group in which you are a member, do you play to it, even though it's not you?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, don't feel bad. It happens to everyone. Good news, though: It's not too late. You're reading this for a reason, and it may be that you need to be reminded that you're uniquely, amazingly awesome. Because you are.

(God only makes priceless works of art. And God made you soooo....)

God bless you!



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