One of my favorite books is The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley. Beyond it’s social implication what I like most about the book is that it is a story of a man going through constant adversity and ultimately changing for the better. While re-reading the book I took note of certain themes or lessons that I could take away from it that apply to self-improvement and personal growth. I came up with seven of these lessons and could definitely go back and find some more but for now I think that these will suffice.
1. Reject Doubters and Naysayers
During Malcolm’s childhood he expresses his desire to become a lawyer when he grows up and a teacher suggests that he should instead become a carpenter. Malcolm is clearly one of the brightest students in his class but because he is black nobody takes him seriously. Throughout your life you will come across people that will cast doubt upon your goals and while hopefully they won’t be racially motivated you cannot let these types stop you from reaching your peak. Some people will always have limiting beliefs in their own lives and try to project them on to you and if you let them effect your psyche they can tear you down.
2. Don’t Pretend to be Something You’re Not
When Malcolm moves to Boston he has a level of contempt towards the middle class blacks for trying to fit in with the white society. Also, we get details of how they used to conk their hair to make it straight and it is a very painful experience with an undertone of self hatred. Malcolm is not immune to trying to fit in and be popular when he dates a white woman named Sophia even though he has no feelings for her. Society is full of pressure to conform who you are or what you want to do. If you ever find yourself struggling with a decision that compromises the very nature of who you are as a person it is a telling sign that you’re on the wrong path.
3. Observe and Learn From Your Surroundings
Malcolm moves to Harlem and learns the ways of hustling for money. In an environment with very few positive opportunities he learned how to survive by using his wits and knowing what was happening around him. Plus he further learned human behavior while he lived in a house with prostitutes and saw how the men acted in that environment. From a personal growth standpoint, being aware of your surroundings provides for you the ability to diagnose what is going wrong in your life and will give you the confidence that you know something will work just based of your observations in life. The great thing is that you don’t need an in depth education from books (although they would give better understanding) just your own natural ability to learn.
4. Beware Getting Caught Up In Those Surroundings
Further along in the story we learn that Malcolm has started down the wrong path in life and is soon a drug addict planning robberies. The way he has been carrying himself has garnered him many enemies who now want him dead for slights against them. Getting caught up in the world that surrounds you often happens to famous people who lose all proportion within their lives but it can also happen to you. It can be as simple as getting wrapped up in your work and losing sight of the big picture. Many things in life are not as serious as we make them out to be and can be quite destructive to our growth and our lives if we don’t focus on what is truly important.
5. You’re Never Too Smart to Learn From Others.
Malcolm got arrested and landed in jail as a full blown drug addict. Another prisoner named Bimbi helps him to straighten himself out even after Malcolm’s initial hesitation. It is from Bimbi that Malcolm learns to be a more serious man and pursue intellectual endeavors. Wisdom can come from anybody, even those who might not be as book smart as you. Being receptive to new ideas is apart of growing as a person and keeping yourself from becoming set in your ways. Things in this world always change so naturally you should adapt right along with them and you cannot do that thinking you’re the smartest thing to ever grace the planet. When he makes his pilgrimage to Mecca he notices that their is no racial strife in that region and that some of the friendliest people he met had white skin. Malcolm could not ignore what was right in front of his face and knew that he would have to change some of his ideas towards race.
6. Self-Education Isn’t Easy but It’s Necessary for Growth.
After he starts to take his education seriously Malcolm starts to read everything he can get his hands on in prison, even writing out the entire dictionary in order to improve his vocabulary. Later on he joined the prison debate program so he could better convey his ideas to groups of people. School is fine for basic education but setting aside personal time to study further is where you really begin to develop as a person. Pick a topic that interests you and start doing what Malcolm did going through everything you can find on it. Or jump from topic to topic and try to connect what you learn from each into something that you can use in life. Learning never ends but school does, so that means you’re going to have to do it yourself the rest of your life.
7. Pass Up Security to Do What You Believe In
It was all well and good for Malcolm to be studious while confined to a prison cell but would he revert back to his old ways when released? No, he did not. He actually got a job working for Ford which probably could have been a decent and stable income but eventually gave that up to further the work of the Nation of Islam. He owned very little personally and the Nation provided him with the transportation to get from place to place and recruit new members but it didn’t matter to Malcolm he was doing what he felt was right. Letting go of what you really want for a secure job happens all the time. But in reality you’re giving up your ideal life for one that really isn’t all that secure, how many people in the past two years lost jobs they thought were very secure? For all we know we only get one go round at life and if you don’t take chances to live the way you want it will all be a waste.
If you have never read this book I highly recommend that you pick up a copy because it will at least be a thought provoking experience for you and you may be surprised by what you can learn from Malcolm X.