Making Assumptions: What I Learned from Daymond John This Summer

What other people think about you is none of your business.

Author Unknown

I have a pretty long commute to work everyday that can range anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours one way. I get motion sickness when I write or type in wheeled vehicles so those activities are unfortunately out as options. In order to maintain some level of productivity, I started listening to podcasts earlier this year. One of my absolute favorites is the “How I Built This” NPR series moderated by Guy Raz. He interviews entrepreneurs such as Sara Blakely (Spanx founder), Dennis “Chip” Wilson (Lululemon founder), and others across many industries, regarding their journey to building their companies.

One interview that he conducted with Daymond John (FUBU founder and Shark Tank star) really made an impression on me. Besides just being an enjoyable interview hearing about Daymond’s life and path to building his empire, there was a particular segment in the interview that really made me sit up and think. Guy asked him about whether he was met with bias or discrimination as he tried to build his company and whether this made him angry. Apparently, in the early years of FUBU, there was an incident where a major retailer asked that pictures of Daymond and his other founders be removed from the hangtags of his clothes displayed in stores because “they looked like a gang.”

Daymond’s response to Guy’s questions was as follows: “When someone is biased, I don’t know what they’ve been exposed to in their life. Maybe they were around certain people and just need that one person to come into their life to show them that people are people.”

This really struck me because in the simplicity of what he said is a great deal of wisdom and empathy. His statement is a poignant reminder not to take things personally. When someone does something to you that you feel is unfair or negative, you really don’t know their story, who they have met or experiences they’ve had before you that shaped their behavior. This certainly doesn’t excuse bad behavior at all but it does provide another, more productive way to look at life.

We all make assumptions when we meet people. Whether it’s around gender, clothing, accents, ethnicity, school, birthplace etc., these are all data points that we collect within seconds to make initial assumptions about someone. Sometimes it can be a bias towards assuming good things and other times, it can be a negative bias. Regardless, it really isn’t fair to the person and yourself because being biased can cause you to lose out on developing relationships with really interesting people and having potentially life changing experiences.

I think we should all be more aware of the assumptions that we carry around and try to remember to give people the courtesy of a clean slate until they show you who they are. Similarly, we all need to remember that we should focus on being good people and doing the best we can. If we run into people that can’t see that through the bias baggage they’re carrying, that’s their problem to manage and not yours.

Just do your best and keep on moving.

Aji

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