Little did I know the impact this autobiography The Measure of a Man would have on me when it was given to me by a very close. 

I always heard about Sidney Poitier but I never took the time to “Google” him. 

His story is inspirational – from the time he left Cat Island in the Bahamas, to him applying for an acting role with no acting experience and then going on to become the first black actor to win an Academy Award for his performance in Lilies of the Field in 1963.

This is not just a book; it’s a life story that doesn’t seek to teach but to share with the reader what the author has learned through his life experiences.

It was a page turner.

Although it was difficult to put the book down, I forced myself to take breaks so I could savour the many amazing lessons and experiences he shared in the book. Here are three lessons I learned from Sidney’s life story about pursuing my own dreams:

1. Always make decisions based on your values and principles and not based on someone else’s own

Sidney’s parents never allowed the poverty in which they lived to define them.

Reggie and Evelyn were hard working and never allowed what they did as a living to define who they were as people.  When the soil in Nassau was no longer good enough for Sidney’s dad (Reggie) to do the only thing he knew how to do, tomato farming, he started to sell cigars. 

Although what he did changed it never changed how hard he worked.

He would go from bar to bar in town selling the cigars.  He knew he had a family to feed and at the same time wasn’t going to be associated with anything that would dishonor his values. 

Sidney’s mom was no different!

She would pick up rocks and stones, and gather them into a mound on her front yard.  She then hammered the stones into pebbles and the pebbles into gravel. 

She would do this for months until they were crushed into stones which she sold to construction workers for whatever she could negotiate. Her earnings were all of six dollars but it was hard earned money and money they could use, together with Reggie’s earnings, to feed their family. 

They never complained! 

They accepted life for what it was, and went about doing what needed to be done. 

Little did they know how closely their actions and attitude towards their situation was being watched by their son (Sidney).

During one of the many difficult times in Sidney’s life he encountered a situation that would test his values and all that his parents represented. 

He and his business partner were struggling to run and make a living in the restaurant business.  In fact, it was so bad that Sidney would take milk from the business home for his kid. This plus his wife being pregnant with their second child only made the desperation of the situation feel even more real. 

It was during this time he was offered a role in a film that would pay him $750 a week.  Today $750 is still a lot of money for many people so can you imagine what its value was over forty years ago?  It would have definitely helped his family, business and their overall way of life.

He decided to turn the role down. 

He made this decision because he felt the character he was to portray did not measure up.  The character did not measure up to the values and beliefs he saw his parents, despite their struggles, live by every day. 

He said his parents always fought for their family, the most important thing to them, and because of this he could not play a character where the person didn’t fight for what mattered most to him.  So he continued on struggling to provide for his family through their failing restaurant business and by borrowing money. 

A little over six months later Sidney was offered an opportunity to do work which reflected who he was.  In his book he said who he was,

“had everything to do with Reggie and Evelyn and each cigar sold and each rock broken. That’s how I have always looked at it: that my work is who I am.  I decided way back at the beginning, back when I was still washing dishes in a barbecue joint in Harlem, that the work I did would never bring dishonor to my father’s name.”

I have always believed you should never sell out the values, vision or mission you have for your life, for what seems like an opportunity at the time. 

If you do change them do so because it came from your own volition. 

Do so because your views have evolved due to new experiences you have had or because of new knowledge you have gained. 

I truly hope you take the time to read this wonderfully enlightening book.  

If you do, what you will learn is how his decision to turn down this job, ultimately led to him becoming the first Bahamian-African American actor to win an academy award for Best Actor.

2. Don’t Use the Pursuit of Your Dreams as An Excuse for Not Fulfilling Your Family Responsibilities

Like so many, Sidney also experienced the heartache of a divorce.

During that time his good friend Harry Belafonte, who had also gone through a divorce himself, offered him some of what he considered to be the best advice.  The irony behind this was that Harry was the kid many, many years ago who was brought in to play the first role Sidney was supposed to play.  It was a role for which Sidney had been training, and if not for a strange fate, would have missed out playing it to Harry Belafonte.  You will have to read the book to see what was this strange fate.

Many years later they became good friends and it was the advice Harry shared with Sidney which allowed him to have the relationship he has with his kids. 

Harry told him, “Always be there for your children, no matter what.  If they’re supposed to come visit you and they don’t want to, they’ve got to come,” he said.  “If they don’t want to talk to you, they don’t have to talk to you; but they have to be there.  You can put food on the table, but they don’t have to eat.  They can spend the whole weekend in their rooms, but they’re going to know that you cared enough to have them with you.  And you take them back again till two weekends later, or whatever the situation is… and if they don’t say one word to you for the whole weekend, you just live with it.”

Sidney said that was some of the best advice he was ever given. 

During that time, he struggled with feelings of misery and failure because he failed to keep his family together when his first wife Juanita had no interest in dismantling the family. 

As far as Sidney was concerned his life and the way he hoped it would be did not measure up, especially to that of his parents and his brothers, who had done so much better.  Most of all it was the guilt of being in love with another woman which eleven years of psychotherapy couldn’t cure that made the pain so intense.

One of the most powerful aspects of reading a book is how it allows you to imagine what you would do or feel if you were in similar circumstance – and let me tell you… I would have felt the same as Sidney. 

Life is a journey and one where victory doesn’t necessarily come from what happens to you but more so from how you react to what happens to you.

Many times, we get so caught up in pursuing our dreams that we use it as an excuse to explain why we couldn’t fulfill our commitments or responsibilities to our family.  I have heard many successful people, who achieved their dreams, credit their success to being single minded in the pursuit of their dream. 

If you ask these people if their single mindedness came at a cost, the answer in many cases is yes. 

Sadly, in some cases, their family, friends and other important relationships were ignored in the interest of pursuing a dream. 

If you find yourself doing the same thing – neglecting the people closest to you in the interest of pursuing you dream – the question you should ask yourself is can you live with this and is this the living legacy for which you want to be known.

This part of his story only served to reinforce my belief that anyone pursuing their dreams, following their passion or working towards their goals should realize there is more than one way to do it. 

It’s like driving from Toronto to Montreal – there is more than one way to do this and we choose the way that works best for us.  If you need to be in Montreal for a certain time you would take the route that gets you there by that time.  If, however, you are in no rush, on vacation and want to take a scenic route, you will probably take a route that is off the highway and more than likely takes more time.  This would give you the scenic experience you desire and would still get you to Montreal. 

In the end both routes will get you to Montreal but you would have had different experiences getting there.

The same goes for pursuing dreams – you can totally focus on only the things that directly benefit your dream while ignoring the people relationships around you and your other responsibilities or you can take a more holistic approach.  This holistic approach includes valuing the people relationships around you and fulfilling your responsibilities as part of the process of pursuing your dreams. 

In the end, you can both get there but the way you get there and the experiences you have along the way can be different.  The question you should ask yourself is what story would you like told about you on how you went about pursuing and achieving your dreams.

3. Dreams Can Come True

“I want to go to Hollywood and become a cowboy like in the movies,” Sidney said. This was his response when his sister asked him what he would like to do when he is all grown up.

He was twelve at the time.

It was only many, many years later in New York, after finishing acting in the opening night of the play called A Raisin in the Sun did he know for certain that he was meant to be an actor. 

It wasn’t that before he didn’t believe he was meant to act because he did. 

Instead, it was all the challenges, lingering doubts and people’s perception of his audacity to pursue his dream that was finally laid to rest.  It was laid to rest and buried with the certainty he experienced that night.   He became at peace with the only reality that existed which was to become an actor – no longer a dream but a reality.

Final thought

Reading this book was like eating a tasty good meal that didn’t just take away the hunger but also gave me the nutrients I needed to grow.  The book was a page turner.  Every time I wanted to put it down for a bit there was something I read that kept me turning to the next page.

The irony is that as much as I wanted to read the book I also didn’t want it to end. 

After reading this I have to agree with The Washington Post review: “Reading the Measure of a Man is somewhat akin to having a worthwhile conversation with a revered older relative; he doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear, but you appreciate it just the same.”

I encourage you to read it and while you at it you may want to watch some of his most renowned movies:

  • Lilies of the Field (Won an Academy Award for Best Actor)
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  • To Sir, With Love

Call to Action: Give Your Dreams a Chance.

Get off the court side of procrastination, self-doubt, analysis paralysis, lack of planning, poor time management, worrying about what people think, etc. and get in the game… your game!

Come join and help us build a global community whose goal it is to bring the world together by inspiring, motivating and empowering 8 million people globally to Think BIG, be BOLD and ACT NOW towards pursuing and achieving their dreams and goals.

If you think this is a crazy, pie in the sky kind of talk you definitely need to read what comes next.

What is the commonality among the following:

  • Horse and buggy, car, train, plane
  • Radio, television, satellite
  • Internet, Facebook, Google, Twitter
  • Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela

If you guessed they all in some way brought the world closer together, then you are correct.

In some way, each one of the inventors and activists etc. allowed us to reach out to millions of people through their inventions, social activism and so on.  In other words, they brought the world closer together, so why can’t you… in your own way?

Okay Paul, I am going to give my dream a chance; how do I get started with your challenge to Think BIG, be BOLD and ACT NOW towards pursuing at least one of my dreams and goals?

Congratulations!!  Imagine where all this can lead! 

To register for this challenge, visit our Facebook page…Think BIG, be BOLD, ACT NOW (hyperlink)

Quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“Do what you can with what you have wherever you are”