Dear Carlton©

What would you say to your 22 year old self?  Read what I shared with my son who recently turned 22!! Chime in with your words of wisdom.

 Dear Carlton©,

As you celebrate your twenty second birthday, please know that I’m also celebrating the gifts that your life has given to me.  I often think about the person I was before you were born as opposed to who I am today.  The two people are so vastly different.  As a result of guiding and listening to you, I have become less selfish and a better me.  I often think about your journey filled with positives and a few sprinkles of pain.  All of your experiences have resulted in you becoming a wise young sage. 

Carlton and his mom in 1993; Carlton snowboarding in 2009

As you continue to develop into an independent man, don’t lose sight of your teachings and always strive to do what is right even when you are tempted to do wrong. The path from twenty two forward is about maturing you, trying on adulthood as if you were trying on a new wardrobe.  Some things and some relationships will fit while others will not.  In life, fear is a constant and will always be nagging at your heels.  Don’t allow it to consume you; don’t allow it to swallow your dreams.  Being a healthy and wise person should be at least two of your primary goals. You can have them both.  Just know, this level of strength begins first with management of the mind.  What do I wish I had known at twenty two?  I knew a lot but in many cases, I didn’t’ execute or I didn’t listen well enough.  I hope you will do a better job.  Below are just a few that come to mind that I felt important to share.

The world judges you differently than your family

Our family sees you as this wonderful and responsible person.  The world may see you differently; although you want to control this; know that you can’t all of the time.  People see you through their past experiences.  You have excelled beyond many of the judgments placed on you for simply being a black male.  You are not a rapper; you have zero rhythm like your Uncle Tommy and Marvin, you don’t wear saggy pants and you are neither a threat nor a thug.  Yet, because of the color of your skin, for some in this world, they will not see you as Carlton but will see you as a suspicious black male.  Don’t take it out on them and stay true to who you are; don’t allow their ignorance to frustrate you to the point that you stoop to their levels.  Guard your heart and keep racism and prejudices at a minimum of arm’s length from your soul.  I have experienced many forms of discrimination in my lifetime and learned more about myself as a result of that treatment. You can get through it; don’t take it personally.  Find the humor and absurdity of it all and when you can, you will experience adulthood.   You come from a lineage of highly intelligent and hard -working people.  Your heritage is one that is rooted with philanthropists, educators, entrepreneurs and engineers.  In the heat of these controversial moments, find solace in knowing your ancestors born into slavery had the courage to name their firstborn Favor.  This always gives me the strength to endure knowing that our forefathers had the courage to think positively even in simple actions.  I imagine the difficulty they faced and find my complaints to be petty excuses.  As our grandparents did, we must also choose positive language and actions even in the midst of trying times.    

The more you’re out of your comfort zone, the more you grow.

When I was your age, I was preparing for graduation believing at that time that I would always live in South Carolina.  I did not have a need to move nor an interest.   Most of my family was in SC and it was my comfort zone.  Each step of my professional journey was an older person on my job or a sibling believing in me and seeing more in me than I saw in myself.  At BellSouth, it was my manager.  He thought I could conquer everything.  Each big challenge of the department somehow landed on my desk.  Even though I was scared to death of failure, I would always try because I didn’t want him to ever be disappointed in me.  Looking back on it now, these are the kind of people you need on your journey.   It was this manager that pushed me to get an MBA and the same manager that motivated me to pursue careers outside of BellSouth after I finished my MBA and landed a role at Intel.   He was someone that I turned to on any major decision including our move to Costa Rica, my divorce and job transitions.  He always had my best interest at heart.  He taught me that failure isn’t terminal; it is one step closer to success if you honor what you learned as a result of failing. You need a person like this in your life. 


 Carlton with mentors Reuben Miller (featured in red shirt) and Demetrius Whye (right photo)

 Look for someone who is constantly learning, a great listener, not afraid of sharing what they know and willing to invest their time in you.  As they are investing in you; find ways to give back to them. The more balanced the giving and receiving is on both ends; the stronger the bond will become.  As I look back on the past 20 years, the greatest leaps I’ve made in personal and career growth has been in opportunities that when first presented, I was afraid to say yes.  Learn from my mistakes; be open to big and scary things and you will find this is where true growth resides. 

Invest in your future now

If I had just listened to my brothers, Lord knows,  I would be better positioned for retirement today.  I remember many conversations about stock with your Uncle Fred while in college.  I had no interest in it at the time; it sounded so foreign and gobbly gook.  My brain was focused on the here and now and finals were waiting for me post my visit.  Fred was adamant and had designed a well thought out financial plan for me to follow. It consisted of me taking my surplus scholarship funds and investing them in stocks of my choice he would say.  At the time, I remember his stock preferences for me were GE and Disney stocks. He had laid out a moderate and aggressive risk plan for me to implement reflecting on it now.  The aggressive option would require me to take out student loans although I didn’t need them; put those funds into stocks since his belief was that the interest rate of the stocks would exceed the rate of the student loans at the time. I was not comfortable obtaining loans when I didn’t need them.  Fred gave me the space to fully decide on my own.  He had planted me with some good ideas. I did nothing. I just didn’t get it and I didn’t get it because I wasn’t really listening.  So, I find myself now implementing the same lessons Fred shared with me in my freshmen year of college.  Just last week, Fred and I are still having great stock conversations. It took me 7 years after those lessons to truly understand stock and the importance of having time on your side.  It was a huge miss on my part.  Rather than asking more questions to get a better understanding, I shut down the dialogue.   Eventually, I took his advice but it is hard not to think that maybe I would be closer to my goals if I had acted on his advice much sooner.  Consider this: If you start saving just a mere $100 per month, starting at age 25, by age 65 you’ll have about $185,700. Trust me; you will need more than $185K but see this as a real opportunity that you could tap into right now by making simple choices today about what you save. Begin to think of investing in you first and start putting aside a portion of your check for your future.

I know that a great future awaits you. But don’t focus so much on your future that you sacrifice enjoying the moments in your reach.  Continue to laugh, spend time with family and friends and snowboard like crazy.  These are the things that make you smile and bring you joy. Don’t lose out on those and continue your work in helping others.  Look forward to seeing the twenty five year old Carlton!! Love, Mom

 PS. If you read this and it doesn’t resonate, remember the words you penned below in elementary school(smile!!). You were wise then. Stay wise.-):


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