Working Twice As Hard To Get Half As Far

Steven Barnes
5 min readNov 19, 2023

"You’ll have to work twice as hard to get half as far.”

Like a lot of black kids, I heard this from my Mom, and believed it. For the record, there are other oppressive and damaging factors involving physical and mental and social existence, so if you heard this too, you may be one of those groups.

I didn’t like the sound of that, and so looked more deeply. Twice as SMART also worked. Twice as COMMITTED also worked. I figured I was digging my way out of a hole, so I researched shovels. Every SF writer seemed to specialize in some aspect of humanity or the external world, so I specialized, specifically, in human mental and physical capacity, looking at what EVERY major culture and philosophy said about the issue.

And as far back as the BKF karate classes under Steve (Muhammad) Sanders, I remembered that that school produced a CRAZY high level of excellent students (at one point, seven out of ten of the top competitors in the California-Nevada-Arizona tri-state area were all BKF!) but he taught nerds how to stand up to gangsters, and turned gangsters into lawyers, military officers, and good parents.

Why and how are perfectly reasonable questions, but I suspect that in addition to the usual life lessons and various disciplines and emotional controls, as well as strategies for life encoded within motion, there was one thing he would do, a couple of times a week.

He would push us to the breaking point physically, until we were out of our heads with fatigue and the windows were slicked with sweat-mist. And as we labored through another set of calisthenics, or marching up and down the floor performing the classic three-move “over and under” (in many ways, the tactical foundation of the style), and as we gasped for air he would yell:

“If you can do this, you can do ANYTHING. If you can learn karate, you can learn math, or history, or master any job. You can deal with fear, and disappointment, like warriors. Who are you?”

“BKF!!!”

“Who are you?”

“BKF!!!”

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Decades later, broken emotionally and psychologically, desperately searching for a way out of what seemed an unsolvable situation, I decided to go back through all of the “success” books that my mother had introduced me to, everything that had created the successes in the first half of my life. And encountered the concept of the “Morning Ritual” — a 10–20 minute period of exercise, physical movement, coordinated with spoken affirmations and emotional flooding.

At about the same time, I read “The Science of Getting Rich” and was mind-blown by the simplicity of its position, extracting from it the “M.A.G.I.C. Formula”: Map X Action X Gratitude X Intention X Conviction = Luck.

And when I looked at them both, what did I see? I saw the old BKF classes, and the urgent coaching of the best man I’ve ever known, who loved his community so much he lost school after school because he wouldn’t force poor kids to pay if they didn’t have the money. Let them sleep in the school, or in his living room, if their homes were dangerous.

This man…I wondered for years how in the hell he could be so strong. Not just physically, but morally and spiritually. Not that he wasn’t a rascal…oh, yes, I mean, he was a guy, after all, and catnip to the ladies. But watching him grow and evolve over the years, tells me that he was centered, even then. That that centering allowed him to shift identities without losing himself. Becoming a devout Muslim, and a good husband, and then a revered elder in his community.

What was his root? And it was many years before I discovered that he had been raised in Mississippi by his grandparents, WHO HAD BEEN SLAVES.

That’s right. He was raised by people in the deepest hole most of us can even imagine, and they gave him THEIR formula for living a good life. And when people who have had all the bullshit burned away and still stand tall talk to you, LISTEN.

He gave that to his students. If you can’t see the “M.A.G.I.C. Formula” in the description I gave of his classes, you need to dig in until you see it. I would be cheating you to just hand it to you. DO THE WORK, DAMMIT!

If you are disadvantaged, it DOESN’T mean you cannot. Or, contrary to some (and not all of them are friends, trust me) you cannot succeed until society makes massive shifts. NO. Until we make a more equitable society along multiple axis, if you are disadvantaged, oppressed, abused, you simply cannot follow the typical rules and get the typical results. You WILL have to work harder, smarter, with greater consistency and creativity, build teams to compensate for damages, manage your emotions more than most…but if there are five major factors (for instance), then any TWO of them will take you to typical/average performance. All five?

Kick ass, dudes and dudettes.

Now, what happens if you DON’T have a specific, statistically measurable mental/physical/social issue? To the degree that MAGIC is valid you’ll just take off like a rocket. Frankly, I’m not talking to you. You are watching over my shoulder as I speak to a younger version of myself. You are welcome as long as you don’t try to discourage my brothers and sisters from thriving, or trying to convince them they cannot thrive without your permission. No. You are no longer the gate-keepers.

Our own mastery of fear, our clarity, our ability to shed the negative programming, to create partnerships to help each other climb over the obstructions, our FAITH IN OURSELVES AND OUR ANCESTORS, our LOVE for our descendants…our own HEARTS, our physical ENERGY and our crafty strategy and extreme clarity, the ability to ask “who am I?” and “what is true?” day after day after day…our commitment to protect and nurture the child self within us, to live with resolute acceptance of death and a vow to walk our paths with joy and purpose…

THAT IS THE GATEKEEPER. We are. And ALL we have to do to succeed massively is to BOTH work for a more equitable society AND go for all the success we can ethically achieve…AND THEN TEACH OTHERS. “Each one teach one” was the old Black Panther philosophy.

In the internet age, I’d say “each one teach TEN.” Teach your tribe. My tribe consists of those who believe in equality, and that we can create any dream we can hold in our hearts long enough…if we follow, at the least, the M.A.G.I.C. formula or some equivalent pattern that works for you. If yours doesn’t work, try mine. Or keep researching to find people who accomplished similar dreams, with integrity, starting where you started.

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That’s what I wanted to say today. And hopefully, clarify why nothing you or anyone can say can shake me from my purpose. My son is watching…and my daughter..and grandchildren unborn. And my ancestors.

I never forget that I am the hope and the dream of the slave. That’s who I am, in that sense.

Who are you? Answer that question, and either walk your own path with power…or try mine.

Namaste

Steve

www.stevenbarneslist.com

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.