It’s been said that the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Many people go to their graves without ever discerning their reason for existing, and that’s not only a shame for them but for all the people they encountered throughout their lives who missed out on the best they had to offer.
My mother figured out why she was placed on this earth—the very thing she was born to achieve—and that’s what motivated her to leave my father and move to Indiana. Come hell or high water, she was dead set on building a solid foundation for her sons to escape the relentless cycle of generational poverty and broken families that ensnares all too many would-be victims, especially among African Americans.
That was her why—or her “fight,” as I like to call it—and she pursued it with an unwavering commitment. She was fiercely independent. She was radically responsible. She was scrappy. And she would not be distracted.
She was uncompromising.
And so, that’s how I define uncompromising—a fiercely independent, radically responsible, scrappy, and undistracted mindset with an unwavering commitment to your why.
That is the essence of what I saw in the woman who took us to work with her at a motel, and that aptly describes the path upon which she put me and my brothers.
I realize the notion of an uncompromising mindset might seem a bit rigid or intolerant. The art of compromise, after all, has become ingrained as a modern virtue, something worth pursuing in politics, business, marriages, and anything else that involves relationships.
Too often, however, we forget that true success hinges on knowing those areas in life in which we actually should be uncompromising—and then being uncompromising in those areas. The commitment I’m talking about is to core values that never change. For me, that’s my family, my faith, being comfortable in my black skin, and being fully committed to my commitments.
But I recognize that life is a journey with many detours and unforeseeable roadblocks along the way. We make mistakes. We get punched in the gut. We reach milestones that represent success, leading us to think we’ve “made it.” And we also fail even after giving it our all. There are circumstances we can’t control, and the goals we pursue are often works in progress. Even our why evolves through the stages of life. So while we need to be uncompromising in our commitment, we have to stay flexible in our methods.
The type of uncompromising approach I’m recommending also isn’t intolerant. It’s not about asking others to live up to the expectations that we’ve set for ourselves. At our best, we help others discover their why and pursue it in an uncompromising fashion, but we do that while recognizing the beauty of human diversity and the reality of free will. There’s accountability but not judgment.
An uncompromising mindset is forged from our failures and imperfections, so there’s no room for boasting. But it’s essential to our success, because it motivates us to get up when we’ve been knocked down, to reorient our direction when we’ve veered off course, and to walk in gratitude for the blessings of our lives. It is a demanding but aspirational approach—a personal commitment we make knowing that perfection is unattainable but that progress toward a meaningful life and legacy only comes with this daily recommitment to doing our best.
The journey of a life well lived has many stages and takes us many places, and the richness of it comes from learning from both the successes and failures along the way. Frankly, I could not have written this book when I was twenty-three—or thirty-three or forty-three. Even now, I concede that I’m writing what I know based on what I’ve learned so far and that tomorrow I will learn something new.
Looking back on fifty-plus years of experience, however, I see some significant patterns that form what I believe are seven essential, intertwined pathways to an uncompromising life: finding your fight, focusing on the (real) prize, living life as a learning lab, thinking and acting like a business, owning your attitude and effort, navigating uncertainty, and committing to what I call road-dog relationships.
No matter who we are, where we go, what we do, or how often we get knocked down, we position ourselves for success if we take an uncompromising approach to staying on those pathways. The best part is that you can reap the rewards that come with such a commitment. They are available to anyone who chooses to adopt a fiercely independent, radically responsible, scrappy, and undistracted mindset with an unwavering commitment to their why—the pastor of a church, the CEO of a public company, the founder of a technology start-up, the professor at a university, the nurse in an emergency room, the stay-at-home mom homeschooling three kids, the executive director of a nonprofit, and, of course, the single mother cleaning motel rooms.
The best practices that help you stay on these pathways lead to an impactful life of positive influence and draw others toward you to collaborate and achieve shared success. They result in deeper fulfillment in your daily journey and a positive impact on your family and your organization.
I’d love for you to join me on this journey, but first you need to take an important step: you must expect success. I am convinced that we are all products of our expectations. Too often, however, we limit our future because we don’t really believe in who we are and who we’re meant to be. Then we become prisoners of our challenges, whether they are big, defining moments or smaller events that wear us down over time. So an uncompromising life begins with embracing the type of expectations that set us free from our exhaustions.
Reprinted by permission of Post Hill Press. Excerpted from Uncompromising: How an Unwavering Commitment to Your Why Leads to an Impactful Life and a Lasting Legacy. Copyright 2022 Steven A. White. All rights reserved.