diversityI am a strong advocate for Minority Business Enterprises and have even spoken on Capitol Hill about the importance of supporting minority and women-owned businesses. I am a vocal proponent for quality and equality in education. And I believe that no barriers – be they racial, economic, religious or health-related – should prevent a person from succeeding in life. Even as a seasoned voice for the minority, I recently had an experience that caused me to discover a different aspect of what it means to be in a minority group.

First, some back story…
About 15 years ago, while still in my 30s, I decided that I was going to get braces on my teeth. I speak a lot in front of people, and I didn’t want my teeth to be a distraction from my message. Upon my first trip to the orthodontist’s office, I took a seat in the waiting room and pulled out a proposal that I had been working on for a client. I glanced up at one point and noticed that the waiting room was really filling up… with teenagers. I suddenly became very aware of my age, which was about 20 years older than the average age of the other patients waiting with me. My age made me a minority, which was noticeable not only to me but to the others in the waiting room. The awkwardness of the moment made me question whether I really wanted to go through with my decision.

Fast forward to this spring…
Just a week ago I entered the office of a cardiologist. As I made my way to a seat, I had to step around walkers and over canes. I was the youngest in the waiting room by about 20 years. I took a seat, feeling every silent but questioning eye in the waiting room on me. I felt very uncomfortable… until an elderly gentlemen finally spoke. “You don’t look like you belong here, son.” His statement so embodied what we were all thinking that everyone in the waiting room smiled; some even laughed out loud. I responded with a light but respectful, “I don’t feel like I belong here either.”

Sometimes being in the minority is less about labels and more about where we are on our journey at that moment. Recognizing that we are all minorities – in our life circumstances and our place in the journey – removes obstacles. For some that may look like asking a teenager for tips on applying wax to orthodontic wires. For others it could be exchanging stress test stories with an octogenarian..

We are never too old to make the most of the time we have and the opportunities we have been given. And we are never too young to face obstacles and help others overcome them. In this we are all the empowered majority.

Clifford A. Bailey, speaker and CEO

This entry was posted on Monday, April 30th, 2012 at 4:40 am and is filed under Musings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.