"I was a horrible student. Most of my classmates thought I was the stupidest person in the world. They called me 'dummy.' I was the butt of all the jokes.
"Now admittedly, it was a bad environment—single parent home. My mother and father had gotten divorced early on. My mother got married when she was 13. She was one of 24 children, had a horrible life, discovered that her husband was a bigamist—had another family—and she only had a third grade education. She had to take care of us in dire poverty.
"I had a horrible temper, poor self-esteem—all the things that you would think would preclude success—but I had something very important. I had a mother who believed in me, and I had a mother who would never allow herself to be a victim, no matter what happened. Never made excuses and she never accepted an excuse from us and if we ever came up with an excuse, she always said, 'Do you have a brain?' and if the answer was 'Yes,' then she said, 'Then you could have thought your way out of it. It doesn't matter what John, or Susan, or Mary, or anybody else did or said.' And it was the most important thing she did for my brother and myself because if you don't accept excuses, pretty soon people stop giving them and they start looking for solutions and that is a critical issue when it comes to success.
"We did live in dire poverty and one of the things that I hated was poverty. Some people hate spiders. Some people hate snakes. I hated poverty. I couldn't stand it but my mother couldn't stand the fact that we were doing poorly in school and she prayed and she asked God to give her wisdom. What could you do to get her young sons to understand the importance of developing their minds so that they could control their own lives?
"And you know what? God gave her the wisdom, at least in her opinion. My brother and I didn't think it was that wise because it was a turn-off-the-tv. She let us watch only two or three t.v. programs during the week and, with all that spare time, read two books a piece from the Detroit Public Library and submit to her written book reports which she couldn't reach, but we didn't know that. She put check marks and highlights and stuff but, you know, I just hated this. My friends were out having a good time. Her friends would criticize her. They would say, 'You can't make boys stay in the house reading books. They'll grow up and they'll hate you,' and I would overhear them and I'd say, 'Mother, you know they're right,' but she didn't care.
"After a while, I actually began to enjoy reading those books because we were very poor but between the covers of those books, I could go anywhere, I could be anybody, I could do anything. I began to read about people of great accomplishment and, as I read those stories, I began to see a connecting thread. I began to see that the person who has the most to do with you and what happens to you in life is YOU.
"You make decisions. You decide how much energy you want to put behind that decision. I came to understand that I had control of my own destiny and, at that point, I didn't hate poverty anymore because I knew it was only temporary. I knew I could change that. It was incredibly liberating for me. It made all the difference." —Dr. Ben Carson, Professor of Neurosurgery, Plastic Surgery, Oncology, and Pediatrics, and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
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