Define yourself, says Graham; it’s the first step to success


When Stedman Graham, Jr. sauntered into the crowded lecture hall on Feb. 11 at Torrey Pines High School, parents and teachers took notice of his presence even before he spoke. The globetrotting educator and motivational speaker proceeded to share inspiring and informative ideas about his Nine-Step Success Process, some of which evolved from his life experiences.

Stedman takes his mission — molding followers into leaders by changing the way people think and view themselves — to high schools, colleges and universities, as well as corporations, professional groups and community organizations.

The core of his talk is to enlighten listeners through the metaphorical journey outlined in his self-help book, “Identity Passport to Freedom.” It starts with Step 1: Gaining a deep and intimate understanding of oneself (one’s identity), which he calls “self-mastery.”

According to Stedman, we must find our life calling and define ourselves by our personal metrics — not by the labels imposed on us by the outside world, and that includes our gender, race, title or job and our relationships.

He talks about how difficult it is to maintain his own independent identity because of his longtime relationship with media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Still, Stedman has managed to carve out his niche, and that includes entrepreneur; CEO of S. Graham & Associates, a Chicago-based educational marketing and consulting firm; author of a dozen self-help books; Huffington Post columnist; and orator.

He speaks at educational institutes because he believes it’s never too early to show young people the importance of developing leadership qualities rather than remaining followers.

Stedman is on a Live Sonima Tour, jetting to 80 high schools around the country to promote his leadership message to thousands of students. The Sonima Foundation, based in Encinitas, has the mission of encouraging healthy lifestyles for students in mind and body.

Growing up in Middle Township, N.J., Stedman confessed he had low self-esteem, thanks in part to a local shopkeeper who taunted him and defied him to go to college and earn a diploma.

This became the driving force that inspired Stedman to embrace Step 2: Create your vision. He said people must become rainmakers, with fresh ideas and meaningful goals that propel them forward and enhance their socio-economic development. Step 2 resulted in Stedman earning his academic stripes, a master’s in education from Ball State University.

Along the journey to self-identity and freedom, Stedman believes that “love,” the most powerful word on the planet, defines everything, including the passion that drives you. He called love the center of development and the universal magnet that attracts positive energy and success.

A group of eight participants had a “love fest” competition that night to see who could rattle off the most things they loved in 30 seconds. The winner conjured up 24. Most competitors cherished people — beloved family and friends, followed by pets, nature, a fine glass of wine, and a good session of retail therapy.

One way of achieving Step 5 — stepping out of your comfort zone by confronting fears and taking risks — comes by expressing, acknowledging and accepting love.

According to Stedman, we all share a common denominator: 24 hours a day in which to be productive and achieve our goals and visions. Alas, most of us get stuck in daily habits that prevent us from thinking. This disconnect causes our actions to be misaligned with our thoughts, as we stumble through life as myopic followers rather than as insightful leaders.

To the question of what path Stedman sees for his own future, he points to Step 7: Build your dream team, creating a network of supportive relationships and mentors. Stedman said that along his journey, he has adopted many people with traits he admires and characteristics he would like to emulate.

If you were to ask who Stedman Graham, Jr., is, no doubt he would refer you to a set of goals, passions, strengths and human imperfections he owns as his identity.