When I was in sixth grade, my teacher told me that if I ever did manage to graduate from high school, I would end up in jail.
I was twelve years old – old enough to understand that my teacher had concluded I had no meaningful future beyond my high school years. It was clear to me that my family’s race, our income, and my behavioral flaws had combined to make my teacher believe there was a huge NO awaiting me. She prejudged me in a way that could have caused me to give up on my future.
I didn’t believe her, though. There had been too many people in my life who had taught me to believe in myself, my gifts, and the God who had made me. I had loving parents and praying grandmothers and supportive church members.
That was the very same year I started my career in public speaking. I was drafted to give the welcome address at a program at our church. In the same year that she tried to give me a no, I was given the YES that would lead to me becoming a public speaker for a living.
My saying yes when my teacher said no meant that I had to be determined to prove her wrong. Rather than being intimidated or demoralized by her words, I allowed them to motivate me for the rest of my life. Every time I gave extra effort to a project, every time I spent extra time studying for a test, even when I was given positions that I had no previous experience with, I used my teacher’s low opinion as my fuel.