I recently had the opportunity to speak to over 150,000 middle and high schoolers at two Opioid Awareness Summits in West Virginia. West Virginia has a crisis involving drug use, but not in the way you may think. It’s not the kids using the drugs. It’s the adults.
In one county in West Virginia, I learned that over 80% of the kids are living with grandparents, other relatives, or are in foster care because their parents are either dead or in jail. One young man lost his mother to a drug overdose. He went to live with his father. Within a year of the death of his mother, his father died of an overdose. He went to live with a grandmother. Not long after he moved in, grandma overdosed. That young boy is now one of the many kids in West Virginia's overflowing foster care system.
When I was asked to come speak to the kids, I asked, “do they know I’ve never used drugs and know nothing about drugs?” The answer was that they had a recovering addict booked to speak, and they wanted to balance that speaker with someone who had been raised by a person with substance abuse disorder but who had decidedly not followed in those footsteps. Ahhhh, I’ve got this! I could definitely tell how I made my way from the chaotic, dysfunctional home of someone with a substance abuse disorder to a life of peace, joy, affluence, and contribution. Here’s what I told the kids and their educators.
7 Steps From Dysfunction to Success
Before you start your seven steps, you have to make a decision that you’re going to be different, that you are not going to be like the people in your life who are making poor choices. Once you’ve made that shift in thinking, begin these steps:
1. Write down what you want. Write it as clearly as possible. I recommend writing it out longhand. There’s something that happens when you let your thoughts flow out of your brain, down your arm, out your hand, and onto paper. Writing it out longhand gives your brain the time to solidify your thoughts. Write what you want to do, what you want to have, where you want to live, where you want to go, and so on. I’ve been writing down my aspirations, goals, and dreams since I was 12 years old. I still have every journal and letter I’ve written for myself, and in a recent reading of those writings, I realized that I now enjoy every thing I ever wrote that I wanted.
See it clearly. Spend the first few minutes after you wake up and the last few minutes before going to sleep thinking about what you want. The more clearly you can see it, the more likely it is that you’ll have what you want—or something better. Human beings are the only species on earth with the ability to imagine a thing and then make it a reality. Use your gift of imagination.
Learn everything you can. Invest ten minutes every day into learning about what you want your life to be like, what you want to have, where you want to live, what you want to do, and so on. There’s never been a better time to be able to learn about anything and everything. There are youtube videos that teach how things work and how to fix things, there are blogs and vlogs by people who are doing what you think you want to do, and there is background information on just about any company you would like to work for or work with. You can even set a google alert to be notified about any new information that shows up online about a person, company, industry, product, or service. When you make yourself the most knowledgeable person, you make yourself the most valuable person.
Tell the truth. There is no substitute for honesty. No one likes to be lied to, yet many people justify their own lies. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for deceit. When you develop a reputation as a person of integrity, you attract good people and opportunities to yourself.
Work hard and do your best. This is not an empty platitude. This one thing can make all the difference in your life. Everyone has some kind of deficit. No one is good at everything. But you can make up for what you lack by a willingness to work hard and do your very best. The best way to start is to be present. Whatever you’re doing, really listen, pay attention, try to understand, try to learn it so well that you can teach others. Don’t be thinking about what you’re going to do later or what is happening Saturday night. give yourself a break from your worries and distractions and focus solely on what’s happening right where you are in the moment.
Be positive. Some people think that you’re born either optimistic or pessimistic. You may have a natural bent one way or the other, but everyone can choose to be positive. Think of being positive as a verb—it’s action. We each have the personal power to bring up the atmosphere of every room we enter. Conversely, we have the power to bring the atmosphere down. Decide right now not to be a “Debbie Downer.” When you enter a room, smile and say hello, make eye contact, ask how people are doing, find something good about other people and point it out to them. Every one of us, from the youngest among us, can positively influence others. Use your power to make people feel valuable and as though they belong.
Find at least one person who believes in you. This is the secret sauce of success. Someone who sees the good in you, and helps you see it too, can change the trajectory of your life. They help steer you away from bad decisions. They stand by you in the tough times and they celebrate with you in the joyous times. They recognize and appreciate your strengths, talents, and abilities, and they know your faults and failings and love you anyway.
I had two of these people through some of the most difficult times of my life. One was a 14 year old girl and the other was a teacher. Janet sat down next to me on the first day of our freshman year in high school. She introduced herself and asked my name. She asked what I was going to do at lunch, and she invited me to sit with her. No one had ever done that. She invited me to her house for a pool party. No one had ever done that. She gave me a birthday card. No one had ever done that.
Janet told me what she liked about me. She saw good in me that I had never seen in myself. She talked to me about things like college, and made me think they were possible. No one in my family had ever gone to college. Jail, yes. College, no.
Janet changed me. She made me a better person. She helped me to think differently and aim higher.
The same day I met Janet, I met my high school business teacher, Mrs. Barbara Naylor. Mrs. Naylor had a reputation for being the toughest teacher at Upland High School, and her reputation was spot on and well earned. I thought she was so hard on me. She would tell me to practice keyboarding at night, and when I would say things like, “we don’t have electricity right now,” she would say, without missing a beat, “then come in early, come in at lunch, and stay after school and practice.” She refused to feel sorry for me.
Mrs. Naylor could tell by looking at me that things were rough at home. We didn’t have functional plumbing. We didn’t have a shower or a washer and dryer. I was dirty. My clothes were dirty, torn, and ill-fitting. I was often covered with bruises, and sometimes had a swollen face or black eyes. I didn’t realize that I was difficult to look at until someone made eye contact with me and treated me like every other student. Both Janet and Mrs. Naylor did that. In doing so, they gave me dignity. And it wasn’t long before I began to believe that I could take control over my life.
I sought emancipation to get out of the abusive, dysfunctional environment I lived in. I got a job. I went to high school in the morning, to work in the afternoon, and to community college at night—when I was 15. I was granted emancipation at 16. I became the youngest licensed insurance agent in California when I was 17. I graduated high school in the top ten of my class of over 600. I bought my first house when I was 19 and my first rental when I was 21. I started my first business when I was 27.
As of this writing, I’ve published 13 books and countless articles. I’ve given thousands of speeches and workshops. I founded Successful Survivors Foundation, a non profit educational organization, created to help survivors of any kind of trauma to mine the lessons from what they’ve been through and to apply those lessons to find and fulfill the purpose for which they were born and perfectly matched.
I’ve launched the Successful Survivors Speaker Bureau to spread the life-giving messages of hope as well as specific strategies for emerging successfully after tough times. I serve as the national champion for the Love Is Action Community Initiative, which is a grass roots movement of community stakeholders coming together to do their “no big deal” to help others—especially children and families. The first campaign of LIACI is the STOP CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING campaign, which is designed to educate everyone on the signs of grooming and trafficking and the one action to take when we see any of the signs.
I say all this not to brag, but to emphasize the point that with the influence of at least one person who believes in us, we can go from isolation to connection in healthy relationships, from un-well to healthy wellbeing, from chaos to peace, from sorrow to joy, and from spiritual and physical poverty to prosperity. Perhaps most importantly, with at least one person who believes in us, we can find and fulfill the purpose for which we were born and perfectly matched, or what I call "YOUR REAL SUCCESS."
I have all five of those points of real success in my life now because I’ve lived these seven steps, the most important of which is finding at least one person who sees goodness in you. Your person may be a teacher, counselor, coach, neighbor, or family member. Your person might be sitting next to you right now. Whatever other steps you implement, and I hope you do them all, find your person. And then be that person for someone else.
Rhonda Sciortino is a successful survivor of abandonment, abuse, poverty, homelessness, and the chaotic dysfunction of being raised by people who were mentally ill and addicted. Rhonda has built and sold two successful businesses that specialized in protecting the good people and organizations that care for children who have been abused. Her big, hairy, audacious goal is to encourage everyone to do their "no big deal" to help others. That's what www.loveisactioncommunityinitiative.org is all about.