How to Overcome Challenges from Your Past

(with Alexis & Justin Black)

How to Overcome Challenges from Your Past

Justin and Alexis Black are authors, speakers, and serial entrepreneurs. Together, they’ve created ventures such as the Scholarship Expert and the Rose Empowerment Group, which supports hundreds of young people. Their current venture is called Redefining Normal. They’ve published a book called Redefining Normal, which shares their journey of two foster kids overcoming their pasts. 

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss their journey and how we, as entrepreneurs, can make an impact on our communities.

Overcoming the Past

Alexis and Justin are both foster care alumni. Justin entered the foster care system when he was 9 years old and bounced from home to home throughout his childhood years. This created a lot of mental health struggles, leading to unhealthy habits such as substance abuse. 

“I had to go through the process of unlearning, relearning, and understanding from the outside looking in,” Justin said. “What was normal to me throughout my childhood, and my family and so many others? What’s normal to me now? How can I try to change that normal for myself and others?” 

Around 18 years old, Justin finally gained stability while being in a group home. He had positive examples of men and women who were architects, engineers, and pastors to help him in his life and get him to the next stage of college. Those mentors ultimately helped him overcome his past and find a better future through entrepreneurship.

Alexis entered foster care when she was 13 years old. When she was just 6 years old, her mother passed away, leaving her with her abusive father. When she was 13, her father went to prison for child endangerment. Throughout her childhood and time in foster care, Alexis experienced anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Through the positive examples of those around her, she eventually overcame her past.  

“Through a lot of trial and error, seeking out mentors, seeking out positive examples and resources to support us in that unlearning and the healing process, [we got to] where we are today,” Alexis said. 

Alexis and Justin met in college at Western Michigan University in a scholarship program. Together they have beat the odds and started several ventures. Recently, they released their book Redefining Normal, sharing their journey as foster kids and teaching people how to overcome similar challenges.

This book has been their greatest home run together. They have sold over 5,500 copies and won four awards. Because of this, they can continue the conversation on what they truly care about. The second they announced their book, they started having people reaching out to them and asking for them to speak with them. Their book has led them to do at least 50 presentations and have keynotes presentations lined up where they can share their stories and message. 

Here are a few lessons learned from their book on how we can redefine our normal to make an impact on our communities. 

Redefining Normal

Because of the trauma of Justin and Alexis’ past, they have had to find their strengths. They took their experiences and turned it into a venture where they can make a difference. With the help of their mentors, they used entrepreneurship to take their talents and make an impact in the lives of others in their community. 

Redefining Normal discusses how foster kids can beat the odds and find happiness and love. But this principle can apply to anyone. We often grow up with things that have become normal and accepted as normal but are very negative. We have to redefine normal. Justin and Alexis want to challenge other people to go through the process of evaluating their lives. Are our current ideals healthy moving forward? 

We all hit this point where we have to look at our lives, we have to look at these traditions of our parents, and we have to decide which traditions we want to move forward with. It becomes a beautiful opportunity for us to create our family and to create our own traditions.

Here are three ways to help us redefine our normal.

  • We should fill ourselves with wisdom. It starts with us. 

We first need to focus on ourselves. How can we become better? How can we change?

You can_t pour_Blog

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” Justin said. “So you have to continue to fill yourself with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.”

Improving ourselves comes with personal reflection. We first need to understand who we are, what we want to accomplish, and how we can improve to get to the point where we want to be. Alexis explained that we can personally reflect through pondering or journaling.

We can ask ourselves, “What are the roots of the issues I have gone through? What does this mean? What does it mean going forward?” We can also complete different assessments to help us find the core reasons and causes of our trama. The goal here is to gain as much information and knowledge about ourselves as possible. We should be self-reflective and redefine our normal if we have to. When we do this, we can be more intentional with our choices and how we spend our time. 

  • We should look at our community and build healthy relationships with those around us. 

Once we are in a healthy place, we can begin to build healthy relationships with those around us. These relationships could be with a family member, an intimate partner, a friend, or a member of our community. Alexis explained that we should learn from our relationships to understand what is healthy and what is unhealthy.

“I went to a panel when I was about 15 or 16 years old, and there were a bunch of different couples there, from dating all the way up to married for 20 years,” Alexis said. “It was really incredible to see these couples and the way they interacted and talked about each other. At that time, I was in an abusive relationship and that really showed me . . . what a [healthy] relationship looked like because I’ve never been exposed to one.”

Through the good examples and influences around her, Alexis was able to learn how to have a healthy relationship herself. We should seek good influences and mentors in our lives to help us. Both Justin and Alexis had strong mentors who helped them get to where they are today. One of their mentors is their pastor, who helped plant the seed of entrepreneurship in Alexis and Justin and encouraged them to learn from their challenges to make a difference for good in their communities. 

  • We should focus on how we can create an impact. What is our legacy? 

“Once you have those [first] two components, really focus on the impact of things and how you, as an individual, can create an impact in the local community and the environment,” Justin said.

With their company, Justin and Alexis are trying to do just that. They have created a platform where they can share what they have learned with others so they don’t have to go through the same things. We should strive to share our experiences and knowledge with others. As we do this, we can potentially save them from going through similar bad experiences. We can ask ourselves, “How can I pass on good to others?”

“From the beginning, we have been trying to share the knowledge and information that we’ve learned with other people, because that’s ultimately what I hope our legacy is,” Alexis said. “We want to share that with other people to help them heal from what they’ve gone through, or to . . .  save other people from going through similar circumstances. It’s [about] figuring out what skills and abilities you have. How can you pass it on to other people and be a resource?”

How to Make a Difference 

As entrepreneurs, we have the incredible opportunity to make an impact in the lives of those around us. Alexis and Justin are stepping in as entrepreneurs and helping thousands of foster kids. They are stepping up and using their strengths and experiences to help others. How will you make a difference? 

One way we can all make an impact, no matter our business, is by mentoring those around us and helping them become successful entrepreneurs. As I mentioned earlier, Alexis and Justin had a mentor, their pastor, who encouraged them to take a leap in starting a venture and helped them each step of the way. This pastor is a great example of an entrepreneur who made a difference by helping members in her community. 

When we train people to become entrepreneurs, we can help them provide for their families better. Maybe we can mentor a foster kid. Maybe we can provide a support network for them and help them create a venture and create a future. I think a powerful thing entrepreneurs can do is step in and get involved. 

According to federal data, there are more than 400,000 children currently in foster care in the United States (Source: Adopt Us Kids). How can we help even one of those kids? 

Josh Shipp, a motivational speaker, said,  “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.” You can make a difference. Take your knowledge and skills you already have and serve someone else. 

For anyone listening to or reading this episode today, if this episode has resonated with you and you are touched in your heart to make a difference for those 400,000 foster care kids, I challenge you to find your local foster care organization, find a foster kid you can mentor, and get involved. 

While we likely can’t help all 400,000 kids, we can help one kid. Buy the book Redefining Normal or other books and share them with foster kids in your area. Let’s figure out how we can use entrepreneurship to help change the trajectory and outcomes of their lives. 

Key Takeaways

Thank you so much Alexis and Justin for sharing your stories and insights with us today. Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. We often grow up with things or traditions that have become normal and accepted as normal but are very negative. We have to redefine our normal to become better. 
  2. We can begin to redefine our normal by starting with ourselves. We should reflect and find ways to gain wisdom and knowledge.
  3. Once we are in a healthy place, we can begin to build healthy relationships with those around us. We can find mentors and good examples to help us. 
  4. Once we have focused on ourselves and our relationships, we can begin to focus on how we will make an impact in our communities. 
  5. As entrepreneurs, we have the incredible opportunity to make an impact in the lives of those around us. This can start with mentoring one kid and helping them gain a better life. 

Connect with Alexis and Justin

To learn more about or connect with Alexis and Justin:

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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