The New Sun: Do you remember the first time you realized that you had a talent for inspiring people? Were you on stage and suddenly knew, or did you have a sense of it before that?
Les Brown: I think I had a sense of it because I'd been told so many times. I accepted it to some degree, but had never totally embraced it.
NS: How did it then blossom forward?
LB: It blossomed forward in my eagerness to be helpful to people. And I love to make people laugh and I love to make them feel good. I love talking with people and I think I got that from my mother's personality. She was a very good storyteller. She had a very great sense of humor and she used to tell me a lot of stories as a kid. I would tell other people the stories that she told me with the same conviction, drama, excitement, and energy.
I really feed off the response from people when I'm speaking to them. I think that that -- in addition to meeting a high school teacher named Mr. Leroy Washington, who was a speech and drama instructor -- helped to create an appreciation for the power of spoken word. I liked watching him, and the kids that he was coaching, participate in plays, oratorical contests, and debate teams. I was really fascinated and mesmerized by this man, by his personality, and by his elegant speaking style. I said, "One day I'd like to do that."
I started doing it on a volunteer basis and, as they say, "A career is something you love so much you'd do it for nothing, but you do it so well that people will pay you to do it."
NS: What was the hardest thing you had to go through -- or grow through -- that ultimately gave you the most strength and wisdom?
LB: I think the hardest thing I've ever had to grow through, rather than just go through, was my mother's death. It helped me to face my own mortality because sometimes we live our lives as if we can get out alive, and we can't. It helped create within me a sense of urgency in terms of "do what you can where you are with what you have," and a never-be-satisfied kind of mindset. It made me realize how brief life is and that nothing is guaranteed.
All of us are just one heartbeat away from death and we have to live each day as if it were our last.
NS: What was the easiest thing to grow through?
LB: Once I made the decision to become a professional speaker, and once I got on stage -- and I had so much fear before going up there -- I realized I was in my rightful place. I was doing what I was supposed to do and everything that I needed to flow for me came to me.
The more relaxed I became and just let it flow -- the message, the connection with the audience, the ideas, the examples that I gave -- the more it seemed to come together, as if this was my reason for being.
NS: A lot of life has to do with asking the right questions, either to yourself or to other people. Can you suggest some questions that people might begin to ask themselves if they're trying to re-create or improve their lives?
LB: I think that they should ask themselves: what is it that would make my life more meaningful and fulfilling? And the next thing they should ask themselves is: what am I willing to give up to make that happen? What am I willing to sacrifice? What am I willing to trade off?
The next thing they should do is ask themselves the question: what are five compelling reasons why I won't give up? Because your reasons can keep you in the game. Nietzsche said, "If you know the whys of living you can endure almost any how." If you know why you're here, if you know why you're doing something, if you know why you showed up -- that why has the power to carry you through. It will be the rod and staff to comfort you during those challenging moments that we all experience.
NS: What are some good ways to get beyond fear?
LB: Well, I don't think fear is something we should get beyond. I think that fear can propel you or it can immobilize you. I think it's healthy to have a certain amount of fear in your life. What you do is turn it around. Instead of having the fear of doing something, turn it around and be afraid not to do it. Think about what your life would be like if you don't do it.
What will the world be like if you if you allow fear to be your tombstone as opposed to your stepping stone?
Think about: if I don't do this, how will I feel about myself? How will this affect me? The level of regret. All of those things come into play. Can I live with that? That I allowed myself to punk out on myself. That I choked. That I didn't step up to the plate. That I didn't give it what I had. That I wasn't willing to stand up within myself and face the fear and do it anyhow.
Your courage is not operating in the absence of fear, it is doing it in spite of the fear.
NS: Where do you go for inspiration and healing?
LB: Friends. That's one of the things I teach, OQP: Only Quality People. You have to have quality people in your life. People that you can pull from, that can be there for you and can stand in the gap for you -- and with you -- to help you through the tough times. We all have what Joseph Campbell called "the long dark journey of the soul." We all experience that.
NS: We're all in it together.