I grew up in a urban environment and attended a high school where the majority of the students didn’t graduate and go to college. In fact enrolling in higher education, becoming a CEO of a business, or getting into politics all seemed like fairy tale dreams for most of us. The phrase “Product of your environment” basically means that the person you are is a direct result of how you grew up and that the environment you were raised in influences the decisions you make now.  Although I do agree with this statement, I don’t believe it to be the end all be all. I’ve recently done a lot of research on the human brain and how it works as far as determining belief systems and taking action so I do acknowledge that the environment we were raised in has a major affect on our value systems, how we think, and how we set goals. However, at the end of the day we ultimately control our brain, which gives us the ability to change any mindset we may have. Getting into the details on how to do so is an entire lesson in itself but a simple way to make this change is to simply open your eyes.

Many of us are familiar with hip hop artist Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z. Like many hip-hop artists he grew up in a very urban environment where he thought the only means of making money was either selling drugs or becoming a professional athlete. He also thought that the entire world was exactly like his neighborhood, filled with poverty, violence and what have you. That is, until one day his elementary teacher took him on a class trip to her house in the New York City suburbs.  Now a trip to a teachers house many not seem like much, but to Jay-Z, this was the first time he ever saw an environment other than his own. The nice houses with yards full of green grass and beautiful trees were all new to him. Yet what stood out to him the most was seeing a refrigerator that had its own ice maker. What did this did for Jay-z was allow him to open his eyes and see that there was more to life than what was around him on a daily basis. That there were other possibilities available to him other than what his peers were doing. Since that day he made it his goal to have one of those refrigerators that made ice and I think we can all agree that he has that and much more.

While growing up I always tried to do the same thing. Instead of creating goals based on ones that all of my friends were making, I always wanted to look further and shoot for much more. Growing up I was very involved in athletics on a high level which allowed me to socialize with an entirely different demographic from what I was used to.  Although I often felt like an outcast, the experiences I had with my teammates and friends opened my eyes to an entirely different world of opportunities. With each new experience I made sure to create a mental image so that in the future I could have a clear view of what I wanted my goals to look and feel like.

Fast forward to present day and I still take the same actions of opening my eyes to the world.  If I go for a run or a bike ride, I purposely like to chose a route that travels through a wealthy area so I can see the big houses, big yards and fancy cars. I also have been fortunate enough to have met some wealthy individuals and I make sure to never miss or turn down an opportunity to either pick their minds or simply follow them around and see how they live their lives. It’s stuff like this that motivates me, because I WANT THAT LIFE! Therefore, if I put myself in the position where I can see it, feel it and smell it, I know that when I return home I’ll be that much more motivated to achieve it myself.

In order to hit a target you have to have a clear view of it first. As long as your eyes are closed to the world, you will never be able to see the endless opportunities that are available to each and every one of us. My advice is to go where you want to be because the first step in achieving a goal is creating one, and you can’t create a goal without a clear mental image of what that goal is.

8/13/2012 07:54:00 pm

" Our achievements are a reflection of our willingness not our circumstances." ~Ntuthuko Ntshangase ....That quote came to mind, great post Akil.

5/23/2016 02:23:15 pm

Hey Akil,

Great post. I think it is amazing that you don't let your environment determine who you are. In fact, many people let the people around them bring them down. Instead, you are determining your own reality. This is the same strategy used for sales planning. I recently did a post on this and think your story fit nicely with it.

Thanks so much for posting and I hope to connect. Please send me an email if you're still active blogging.

Thanks again,


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