“Be the person you needed when you were younger.” Ayesha Siddiqi

 As a young girl growing up in Compton, California, I had very few positive expectations of me. I was born to a drug-addicted mom, and was destined to never know my father, who died a month after my birth in a tragic car accident. Luckily, my grandmother was able to take me into her home and take care of me.  Being separated from my sisters, though, made me feel like an unwanted, uncelebrated, unloved child. My grandmother was pretty strict. I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend, go out with my friends, or talk on the phone. She liked to emphasize everything that would go wrong in my life if I talked to boys, drank, smoked, or went to parties. Her rules were simple: go to school and come home. And, on Sundays, go to church and then go to bed.

Although she had her own way of expressing it, I know that my grandmother loved me. Those strict rules were her way of keeping me out of trouble. She did the best she could to raise me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for her stepping up, I’m not sure who I might have become. Even still, I just wish she would’ve talked to me more about boys, money, college, and marriage.

Growing up, I always felt that if I just worked hard enough, stayed out of trouble, didn’t drink or smoke, and got good grades in school that one day I would be validated, that I would ultimately earn my right to be a part of this world.

I started working at the age of thirteen, and I sure wish somebody would have talked to me about saving, investing, maintaining good credit, and homeownership. I wish I had been given more guidance and advice about that full ride University of Southern California scholarship that I didn’t accept because I thought it was better to be a manager at McDonald’s. I had to learn all of these life lessons through many years of trial and error.

At my high school, we had this Regional Occupational Program (ROP). Eligible students went to school half a day, and spent the other half at an on-the-job training site. I had an aunt who worked in banking. Since she seemed to be doing well, I took a banking course, which ended up being one of my first jobs. Even then, though, it never felt like a real career choice for me.

I was never too sure about what I wanted to do as a career. Because I grew up without a mother and a father, the only thing I was ever one hundred percent sure about was that I wanted to be a dedicated and drug-free mother; I wanted to be married; and, I just wanted to be a good person. Those were my only real goals for my life.

To this day, I run into people I went to high school with who are still in the field they chose back in ROP. They are nurses, doctors, beauticians, and teachers. For many, they did exactly what they said they wanted to do.

It’s not surprising to me to see my peers succeed. We may have grown up in a city with a tough reputation, but we’ve always been proud of it.  Yet, people’s negative perceptions, or the reaction on their faces when I would say “I’m from Compton,” always seemed to evoke some kind of side-eye. Probably not until the movie Straight Outta Compton did I ever see people have so much pride for the city I’m from. It’s great to hear the stories of others from there who overcame the stereotypes. Successful, well-known people like Tiffany Haddish, Neicy Nash, Eva DuVernay, Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, Venus and Serena Williams, and so many more I’m learning about that grew up in my city.

In a way, I reached those simple goals I made for myself way back when. After twenty-eight years of marriage and three beautiful, talented kids, though, I find myself thinking, now what? I see those other successful people from my city, and elsewhere, who set a career goal and reached it. If they wanted to sing, they became singers. If they wanted to act, they became actors. But what had I accomplished? I never had any real career goals. Even still, I’m a hard worker. I’m talented. If I only knew what I wanted to become, I would have pressed in with a vengeance. I would have been number one at it. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had some great jobs along the way. I’ve been a general manager at a top chain restaurant, communications director and children’s ministry director at an awesome growing church, and I worked at a top company in customer service where I met some awesome people. Although I was passionate about these roles, none of them really made my heart sing with purpose.

And then, I had an epiphany. In 2009, I read a very interesting Facebook post about people who set goals in January, yet fail to follow them by February. I thought, “Not me!” This experience prompted me to look even more closely at how I was setting goals for myself, and how I could extend that to my family too.

My first memorable goal-setting experience was in the early ‘90s, when I worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Carson, California. My manager, Peggy, sat all of the employees down one by one and talked to us about our goals for the year. Surprisingly, she didn’t mention the restaurant, or anything about my job. She just wanted to talk to me—about me. She asked me to write down my goals. I thought it was odd, but I did it like a good, participating employee. I don’t remember what I wrote. But, one year later, she sat me down again and showed me the goals I had written. I was surprised again, as I realized I had accomplished all of them! I was fascinated by what a productive year I’d had. Wouldn’t it be great to do this every year, and review my goals on a regular basis?

That’s exactly what I did. It became my own personal tradition, in fact.

Later on in my life, I started to wonder, “Does my family have goal-setting techniques or yearly traditions in place to help them stay focused? Are they in that three percent of people who lead, or the ninety-seven percent who work for those with the vision?” I decided that instead of just setting my own yearly goals, I would work with my family on setting and achieving their goals as well.

We held our very first family goals workshop. We had so much fun learning about each other’s goals, laughing, talking, and sharing life, that we didn’t even notice that six hours had passed! And, believe it or not, we weren’t even done. So, we continued the next day, and the day after that. My goodness! That was one of the busiest, yet productive years ever! I posted our photos on social media, and I started a public blog. For 365 days, I challenged myself to set a goal and publicly announce it. It was amazing to watch myself achieve most of the goals I had set. I received so many phone calls, emails, Facebook messages, and personal encouragements from family and friends who read my blog and saw my photos. That year, I’d started a new business, rode on a plane for the first time, held my first snake, and participated in my first 21-day Daniel Fast. I laughed, I cried, I succeeded, and I failed—all in the public eye. Now, every year in January, my family and I have a goal-setting workshop. It’s something that we look forward to, especially the vision board session (more on that later).

My husband, after noticing how engaged our daughters were in the family workshop, suggested I expand it and teach goal setting to other kids in our community. Aspire Goal Workshops was born. I taught my very first workshop on January 8, 2011, at Maranatha Community Church, under the leadership of my friend, the late Dr. Billy Ingram. It was an all-day workshop from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. And when our time was up, I felt I had so much more to say and do. Another great idea was formed: this journal! This is its ninth year in print. I still use this exact book with my family every year. So, what I’m presenting to you in this journal is straight from experience. Is it easy? No! Do we get discouraged? Of course. Do we achieve every goal? No. But we come pretty close each year. And, we become better people because of this journey, every time.

On my thirty-ninth birthday, I decided to celebrate my life by having a birthday party for myself. If you know me, you know I have deep issues when it comes to birthday parties, so this was significant. I came to realize that no matter how I got into this world, I definitely belonged here – because God said so. I could find meaning in my life beyond some debt I could never repay trying to prove I had a right to be a part of society. More recently, on January 11th, 2016, I watched a video by Michael JR, and it hit me in the gut.

He asked, “Do you know what your purpose is?” More importantly, he challenged that if the answer is no, what are you doing to find out? And, what are you doing to help your kids find out theirs? He was talking about building up the next generation! Then he dropped the bomb: maybe the reason you don’t know your purpose is that no one told you.

On that day, it clicked into place how I have this amazing opportunity to help the next generation discover their purpose. Everything I didn’t get a chance to find out from my own parents, or grandmother, or mentors along the way, I could now share with others. I could provide resources, strategies, and coaching, starting with my immediate family, then my friends and the community – in that order.

I’m so fulfilled knowing that this journal will reach so many people, like you, and help them reach their potential. Once you become clear on what you do and do not want in your life, you’ll be able to say “no” to the things that hold you back, while running full speed ahead towards the things that will bring you joy and success.  I want to see the world get excited again about goal setting and achieving! I want to help you find your purpose.

So, no matter where you are straight out of…you’ve got this!

From the words of the late Dr. Myles Munroe: “The wealthiest places in the world are not gold mines, oil fields, diamond mines, or banks. The wealthiest place is the cemetery. There lie companies that were never started, masterpieces that were never painted. In the cemetery, there is buried the greatest treasure of untapped potential.”

Don’t go to the grave with your treasure still within YOU. Bring it forth and let it enrich your life every day.

Sheréa VéJauan