The University Record, March 12, 2001

Success begins with self-knowledge, WCTF speaker says

By Britt Halvorson

The Rev. Linda Shaheerah Stephens delivers the keynote address March 2 in Rackham Auditorium at the 19th annual Women of Color Task Force conference, offering her audience motivational words about life and happiness. ‘Learn to live in the moment,’ she advised. Photo by Marcia L. Ledford, U-M Photo Services
“Progress is gained through struggle,” imparted the Rev. Linda Shaheerah Stephens. “There is no easy way. Things happen by hard work; it takes time.”

Stephens gave the keynote address March 2 for the Women of Color Task Force’s 19th annual conference. This year’s program focused on the theme “Not Without a Struggle: Honoring Our Past, Taking Control of Our Future.”

Stephens, an ordained Unity minister from Detroit, speaks from experience. After 10 years of working in secretarial jobs for large corporations, she returned to school with small children at home. Though she had been characterized as “not college material” in junior high school, she felt unfulfilled by her work and longed for a challenge.

Today, Stephens is the author of two books, The Wealth of a Spiritual Woman and Finding Your Soul Mate. She consults on human resources issues for such organizations as McDonald’s, General Motors Corp., the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, and Head Start. She also leads the Transforming Love Community, a congregation in Detroit.

Punctuated with personal stories, Stephens’ address in Rackham Auditorium followed the conference’s theme and offered motivational words and wisdom about identity, the past, goals and happiness.

“When I was much younger, I would avoid challenges and conflict as if they were going to go away,” Stephens said. Some of the largest challenges in life, Stephens noted, come from interpersonal relationships. She told audience members how she learned to “carefront” (instead of confront) friends and family members who were destructive to themselves or others. She also stressed the importance of not passing judgment with scant information about a person or situation. “You have work to do on yourself—there’s no time to be in other people’s business.”

Lessons can be learned from the past, but in embracing it, Stephens said, we must know that it does not dictate the future. “The things that happen to you are not who you are.” Bad experiences, Stephens said, prepare people for their life’s work. As someone who was abused as a young girl, Stephens said, she is a more effective counselor. “Out of your pain can come your purpose,” she noted.

Happiness and success will follow when you pursue what you’re passionate about, Stephens said. Everyone has gifts and talents. Listening to oneself, Stephens commented, is the key to unlocking these gifts.

“Self-knowledge is the beginning of success,” she stated. Don’t allow other people to define you, Stephens said, or to put you in categories. And don’t buy into these conceptualizations of yourself. “It’s dangerous when you listen to what other people tell you you can do,” she added.

Stephens also offered audience members advice for meeting a goal. Spend time alone “practicing your vision”: See yourself at the “finish line,” whatever that may be, and commit to that vision. Remember that everything starts as an idea.

Though planning is important, Stephens emphasized the need to live in the moment and nourish relationships. “Your words have a lot of power.” Be mindful of what you say to others and to yourself, she advised.