(WASHINGTON) — Speaking at an event Monday promoting My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative designed to help at-risk youth navigate tough school districts, President Obama reflected on the principles that got him all the way to the White House.
The president, who has remarked that he sees himself reflected in struggling young men of color just like the ones who crowded into D.C. Walker Jones Educate Campus to hear him speak, said he hopes the My Brother’s Keeper Mentor program can keep boys from slipping through the cracks.
Here are Obama’s top five tips for success:
1. Find Out What Makes You Tick
“Figure out what it is that you care about passionately, something that you think is important to you, because if nothing’s important to you, you’re not going to put in the work,” the president told the kids.
“Everybody’s got different talents and everybody’s got different passions, and some — part of the goal of My Brother’s Keeper is to expose you to more things so that you don’t think that the only thing you can be passionate about is what you’re seeing on TV,” the president said.
“Part of the problem with young men of color is oftentimes the only thing they see to be passionate about is basketball or rap,” he added. “We want to make sure you get exposed to graphic design or you’re exposed to engineering or you’re exposed to being a lawyer, so that maybe you will be passionate about that.”
2. Practice Makes Perfect
“Work — it’s a pretty simple concept,” Obama said. “There is nothing worthwhile where it just falls in your lap.”
Explaining that just as basketball players must build muscle in order to nail the shot, academics must hone their craft. But the metaphor, the president noted, often gets lost in translation.
“It’s interesting, you talk to the young people about basketball, and they kind of understand that [practice is necessary],” the president said.
“But for some reason, you think the same doesn’t apply to school. There is no reason why you should think that you will be a good reader if you don’t read a lot, and read books that are hard, as opposed to just books that are easy. There’s no reason to think that you will be good at mathematics if you are not doing math problems and pushing yourself and trying math problems that are hard, not just ones that are easy,” Obama said, drawing applause from the crowd.
3. There Is No ‘I’ in Team
“Understand that you will not achieve by yourself, which means that you’ve got to be able to invest in relationships with other people who you can learn from, who will support you, who you will support in turn,” said Obama, who said he plans to take on a mentee through the My Brother’s Keeper program.
“You have to expand your network of people who can support you, give you ideas, buck you up when you’re down,” he continued. “Of course, the flip side is, though, you can’t just take. You also got to give. So you’ve got to show enthusiasm. You’ve got to want to be involved. You’ve got to be curious.”
4. No Slacking
“I don’t care how bad your school is. There’s a teacher in there somewhere who, if you went up to her or him and said, ‘I really want to learn. Can you help me?’ that teacher would snatch you up in a second, because they want to feel like they’re doing a good job,” the president said.
“But if you’re just sitting in the back of the class slouching and complaining about how bad the school is, well, then, you know — you may be right to be angry that you don’t have enough school supplies or the building’s bad or what have you — but it’s not going to help you,” he said.
5. Haters Gonna Hate, but That’s Okay
“When you’re young, it is natural to care a lot about what your peers think of you. That’s, that’s just human. And there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Obama, who is currently grappling with some of the lowest approval numbers of his presidency.
“At some point, to be a man or a woman, to be an adult, to be a full-grown person, you have to move beyond just what other people think and you have to make a determination about what do you believe in,” he said.
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