Elisha, my younger brother by seven years, just turned 21. It seems like just yesterday, Elisha was one year old, smothering his first birthday cake all over his face because he didn’t know what else to do.
I called him on his 21st birthday, and we reflected on how far our relationship has come. The reflection eventually brought to mind valuable takeaways about leadership, legacy, and applying life lessons.
Before I share those, allow me to provide some context:
Nowadays, Elisha and I talk somewhat regularly. We’re super supportive of each other. But it wasn’t always like this because, quite frankly, I used to be a selfish asshole.
Growing up, Elisha wanted nothing more than to be my friend. Unfortunately, rather than a friend, I could only see him as a nuisance, someone who was taking away my time, space, resources, and energy.
I was the second oldest out of six siblings. My dad always tried to instill an understanding of how much my younger siblings looked up to me. He wanted me to realize I was in an impactful position. But I didn’t.
His constant prodding to step into an identity as a positive role model — a leader — went in one ear and out the other. Why? Because I was too busy trying to live my life, I didn’t have time to be straddled down by the others.
By the time high school came around, Elisha and all my other siblings moved away to live with their moms elsewhere. I was living as a single child with just me and my dad. I pretty much forgot about Elisha and my siblings as my teenage years trickled into my twenties.
I entered college and set my eyes on joining a fraternity; of course, crazy parties and chasing girls were motivations, but so was the brotherhood aspect. Oh, the irony. Brotherhood: something I shunned my whole life I began seeking in a band of booze-binging misfits.
Here’s the craziest part: it worked.
Through all the hazing and bullshit, the fraternity managed to teach me valuable lessons in brotherhood and leaving a legacy. I was finally able to break out of my selfishness when I began to embody an “ask not what your fraternity can do for you, but what you can do for your fraternity” mindset.
Elisha’s 21st birthday wasn’t the first time we’ve discussed how our relationship has changed. Still, this call was the first time I tried to pinpoint the exact moment and motivation that made me finally invest in and appreciate my role as his big brother.
I remembered it was 2015 when this flip switched in my head.
“What was going on in my life in 2015?” I inquired myself. Hmmm. Aha!
That’s when I was in the midst of the leadership transformation that my fraternity inspired. In 2014 I had become fixated on learning and developing leadership skills to facilitate the positive impact I sought to have on my fraternity, and to a more significant extent, the world.
Naturally, that made me realize the missed opportunities I had in being a positive role model for my little brother. It only took about a decade, but my dad’s prodding finally got through my thick skull.
My epiphany about what helped me improve my relationship with Elisha inspired these takeaways that I hope may inspire you.
Be Intentional About Your Legacy
One of the reasons my fraternity helped me change my selfish ways was because I didn’t want to leave behind a reputation for being a selfish, good-for-nothing brother. I wanted guys coming behind me to know that I did everything I could to be the best brother and improve the fraternity as much as possible; this was a mindset that extrapolated into my relationship with Elisha, and everyone else came in contact with.
Whether you realize it or not, you are crafting your legacy, what you will be remembered by when you are gone. A legacy comes down to two simple things: the actions (or inaction) you take and the impact, positive or negative, of your actions or lack thereof. Be intentional about taking action and creating the impact that will leave behind a positive legacy.
Leadership Requires Selflessness
To take action and create the impact I aspired to, I knew I needed to employ leadership. This understanding developed my ensuing fascination and study of leadership. One of the most valuable leadership lessons I’ve learned is that selflessness is an essential aspect of effective leadership. So once I adopted the requisite selflessness of leadership, I was able to overcome the selfishness that always kept me from developing a healthy relationship with Elisha.
Selfless people have great potential for leadership because people will only follow someone who they trust has their best interest in mind. If you allow yourself to be selfless desire to impact people positively, people will take note and follow your lead.
Take Lessons From One Area of Life and Apply Them Elsewhere
My fraternity constantly taught not just the importance of brotherhood and leadership but what these truly look like. Once I began to apply these lessons to my actual brother, identifying the lack of brotherhood and leadership I offered Elisha, it was the impetus for mending our fractured relationship.
Life is a continual learning process. Every interaction carries a lesson in it. Be intentional about finding it and seeing how it may apply to another area of your life.
On Elisha’s birthday I asked him how the way I acted towards him impacted him. He said it strained his relationship with our younger brother Malik because his experience with me gave him an ill-informed idea of what being an older brother is supposed to look like.
Despite what my younger self thought, my actions were impactful, and unfortunately they did not model positive behavior.
I bring this up in closing to remind everyone to recognize and appreciate the roles you may play in impacting someone.
It isn’t just big brothers, parents, or people in power who can positively impact people by being a role model. Suppose you have any colleagues, teammates, family members, friends, hell anyone you come in contact with. You always have an opportunity to set an example and positively impact people just by being intentional and selfless in your interactions.