Fortune’s Include U Challenge for September 14:
There is a story in your past that you think defines you. It doesn’t. Today, let it go.
Instructor: Harold O’Neal is a pianist, composer, breakdancer, martial artist and public speaker.
Harold O’Neal has the charmed life of a lauded musician, composer, actor and busy speaker focusing on the creative process. He’s performed with U2, Jay Z, and appeared as a piano playing hepcat on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.
But he tells a story of the night he nearly died, as a reminder to himself and others that the past only has the power to define you if you let it.
O’Neal grew up in Kansas City with a tight group of four childhood friends whom he remembers with love. As they grew, they occasionally brushed up against a rougher crowd – drugs, guns, gangs, all the things. But some were more tempted than others.
O’Neal managed to steer clear of trouble for most of high school, “but the night of my 18th birthday — even though I knew better about staying away from the streets — I still wanted to impress my friends,” he says.
He piled into a truck with a different friend and was ferried over to watch one of the original four, his friend “Castro,” perform at a popular rap venue. “It was about 3 or 4 in the morning,” he said. “And we missed the show because a fight had broken out inside the club, and Castro was outside fighting.” When Castro came up to the passenger window to tell them what was happening, the crowd assumed they were plotting something. Someone opened fire. “Castro ran for the hills, and I ducked under the dashboard.” Only later when O’Neal got to safety, did he realize that not only was the passenger side window shattered, a bullet was lodged in the chest of his seat. “I dodged something that night,” he said.
Harold O’Neal on creativity via the 92Y
Listen to Harold O’Neal on NPR’s Fresh Air
Today, Harold O’Neal asks you to think about a story in your past that may be limiting the way you see yourself. And let it go.
Of the four original friends, the other three weren’t so lucky. One became a drug dealer. The other became an addict, and ultimately his victim – she was shot and killed by her friend when she was only 17. “Castro recently found me on Facebook,” says O’Neal. “He’s still in the lifestyle. But he said he was proud of me for getting out.” O’Neal says that the decision he made to reframe the way he thought about himself and his options allowed him to connect with the teachers and people who helped him develop his talent. “Just because it’s the story of my past, it doesn’t mean that it defines me.”
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