Slay Like Barack Obama

As an entrepreneur, your goals and dreams should always be in focus. You can’t forget how essential it is for you to stay passionate, never stop learning, and keep your sights set on your path to success. Taking notes from gurus, mentors, leaders and even celebrities can provide you with keys to valuable insights and inspiration—their spark can illuminate your next big idea.

When Obama first ran for a seat in the House of Representatives—he lost. Yet he still became the first African American president. 

You don’t have to agree with Barack Obama’s politics to recognize that he has carved out an extraordinary career. Odds were not in his favor: as a child of a white American mother and black Kenyan father, interracial marriage was still illegal in 22 states at the time of his birth in 1962. His birth state, Hawaii, was a distant archipelago that had only recently entered statehood.

In his 1995 autobiography Dreams From My Father, Obama chronicles the struggles of his youth and young adulthood. He talks of his parent’s divorce and his father’s return to Kenya—how he only met Barak Obama Sr. once before his death in a car accident in Nairobi in 1982.

In the same book, he discusses his experiences growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather. He describes his confusion as a teenager and how he struggled to reconcile his multi-ethnic identity in his teens and 20s. To put it in his words: “I was raised as an Indonesian child and a Hawaiian child and as a black child and as a white child.” He talks about his later experiences with racism, fragmentation, and loneliness when he became a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago.  

Still, Obama’s successes are numerous. Graduating from Columbia University, he went on to become the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. After obtaining his Law degree from Harvard, he worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years. He has authored several books and has received praise for them from people like Nobel Laureate author Toni Morrison. He went from representing the 13th district of Illinois to representing the entire country.

We all struggle with personal problems and professional setbacks. And when faced with difficulties—we all have choices. President Obama shows a phenomenal level of drive and dedication that all entrepreneurs should take note of. Here are some of his most powerful lessons:

You are Responsible
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

In entrepreneurship and otherwise, shouldering full responsibility for your choices is a challenge—it’s easy to eschew. For what we lack, we can blame our surroundings, upbringings, education, colleagues, or numerous other people and situations. Self-rationalization and blame can easily become procrastination tools that prevent us from putting in the hard work that creates personal and professional growth.

While it may be easy to throw up your hands and tell yourself that you’ve gotten a raw deal, that fact is that many extremely successful people have come from adverse backgrounds and have dealt with countless personal and professional struggles. The difference between them and the average person: they put in the work.

It is clear that Obama read voraciously and labored intensely in his studies. His ambitions to bring together splintered communities on the South Side of Chicago came from a profound passion. These efforts took work, overcoming fears and dealing with numerous difficult people and uncomfortable situations.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you also need passion, a wealth of knowledge and the ability to manage challenges. It takes an analysis of your own weaknesses and the perseverance to work through the discomfort that comes with improving upon them.

Perseverance is Indispensable
If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress.

In Illinois’ 1st congressional district election in 2000, Bobby Rush crushed Obama at the poles—he only received 30% of the vote. According to the New York Times, Obama’s name recognition was only 11% at the beginning of the campaign while Bobby Rush was a local hero. 

Using his own words, Obama got “[his] rear end handed to [him]”—but he did not quit. In fact, many say this failure was one of the best things that happened to him because it positioned him to win a seat in the senate just a few years later.

Failure and setbacks are inevitable—if your ambitions are set high, you will experience them. However, even if you lose, you will gain knowledge and experience from the attempt. Then, it is your ability to use this information to your advantage that will separate you from the rest.

As for Obama’s personal life, in Dreams From My Father he describes his visit to Kenya in his late 20s. He talks about the wounds and conflicts of his family there–he even describes weeping over his father’s unmarked grave.

A powerful quote from Obama is: “The future rewards those who press on. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on.” If you have big ambitions, this philosophy can help.

You Can’t Do It Alone
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business - you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Although you are responsible for your actions and successes, recognize that nothing is done in a vacuum. Friends, family, teachers, colleagues—even strangers can aid us on our journeys. Seeking a support network of family and friends, along with a team and professional network of other ambitious entrepreneurs can help you take your business to the next level. Mastermind groups and accountability partners can be some of your greatest assets to success. 

Obama speaks of how his family provides constant inspiration. How his mother helped him edit his first book; how his father’s ambitions and achievements as a poor Kenyan who eventually graduated from Harvard served as inspiration for his own sense of purpose. Later in 2008, obviously there was no way Obama would have achieved the presidency without the support of millions of voters.

The Bottom Line
Keep in mind that you are responsible for creating an environment where you are successful—if you lack something; it’s up to you to find or create a solution. Remember that you will experience disappointment and hardship, but these are experiences that can lead to your greatest opportunities for growth and insight. Open yourself to the universe, remain humble, build your network, and recognize this: you can’t create anything truly great without help and inspiration from others.

I believe that finances don’t have to be stressful and that solid financial strategy and mindfulness are the keys to successfully reaching your business goals.  For more information visit

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About Dr. Roshawnna Novellus: As an Enrolled Agent, I am federally licensed to represent taxpayers in the IRS Court system. I’m diligent about helping hardworking professionals who have fallen behind on taxes and who are stressed about notices, fees, levies, liens and seizures. I am passionate about helping businesses and individuals resolve their problems with the IRS so that they can relieve stress and get back to focusing on what they do best. Feel free to schedule a time to talk here: