You cannot hide from negative experiences in life, but you can control how these moments affect you and turn them into a source of energy. Adell Harris, author of Refuse to Lose, is here to tell us about her own experiences with abuse and loss and offer us a clear, step by step method to making adversity your advantage.
With this book, you’ll learn to embrace everything that happens to you and make the most of it. Pain will not drag you down.
Adell Harris: I’ve known that I wanted to write a book that would help people in the way that books helped me as a young professional in my early twenties just graduating college. I started reading books when I graduated college because I needed to find a way to be successful.
I didn’t have those tools, so I started reading books and found the tools within the pages of the books. I was just blown away by all of this information and knowledge that I was learning about how I could be successful and make adversity my advantage or the problems that I had had growing up that I thought were going to limit me.
I felt empowered by the books I was reading, so I thought, “Man, I want to do that. I want to be the author of a book that helps people make that transition from adolescence to an adult who is empowered to succeed and go after the things they want in life and not be limited by old belief systems or paradigms.”
Or I was raised with no father or I’m black or I’m gay or I made these mistakes before so maybe I’m not adequate.
I wanted to write a book for the 22-year-old version of me. That was the goal.
What am I Here to Learn?
Rae Williams: Tell us a little bit about your story.
Adell Harris: I start the book in the room in my mother’s bedroom in the house that I was raised in that I swore I would never go back to. And it’s the day of my mother’s funeral. I’m tired and I’m exhausted and I’m sad and I’m angry and I’m all of these things.
And I’m in this house by myself and in the middle of not knowing if I want to cry or if I’m just so pissed that I’m by myself doing this huge task of cleaning out this house, a place where I swore I would never come back to.
I had a little pity party, “Why me?” I was the victim for a while, and then for some reason, all the things that I had learned in those books, 20 years ago, about empowering questions. That’s something Tony Robins talks about a lot: if life doesn’t give you the answers you want then you need to ask life better questions.
In my why me moment, I started asking, “Why not me? What is this here to teach me?”
Within 10 seconds, I got an answer, and the answer was you’re cleaning out your house. Like, this is a physical cleaning of you, letting go of all the things that you thought were limiting you in this space, and now you can turn the chapter and move on.
I was empowered by it. I was empowered, and at that moment, I thought “Man, I have it. I have an idea of what I would write if I wanted to write a book about my journey up to this point.”
Up to that point, a little bit about myself, I was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and put up for adoption at birth. I don’t know my biological relatives, any family members, anything. At three months old, I was adopted by a couple from High Point, North Carolina, which was just about three and a half hours down the road.
I was raised in High Point, I call it home, I call the family that adopted me my family.
I was raised in a home where my mother and father, my adopted mother and father were divorced very early on. I think they were on paper divorced when I was three years old, but I don’t recall them ever living in the same home and being together.
So, my father kind of opted out of parenting at that point. Paid his child support, did all the things he was supposed to do from a legal government standpoint, but in regards to parenting and loving and supporting physically with his time and anything, he’s never done that.
My mother raised me and my older brother, and she went on to get married four more times. I was sexually abused by her second husband at the age of eight, so my story in this home starts with rejection. Rejection at being an adopted child, not knowing who your biological parents are.
Having that detachment and rejection from my adopted father, and then my mother who got married multiple times and, in my opinion, put those interests above my interests, as a daughter. She also had over seventy foster kids living in and out of our home, so my home was more like a group home.
Lots of change, lots of transition, lots of dysfunction, verbally abusive, sexually abusive at a very high rate, most of my young adult life.
That’s really the foundation of my existence, but also, intertwined in that was the game of basketball that I met when I was eight years old, and then my faith.
I was raised in a church, I went to church every Sunday, every Wednesday night and had a very strong relationship with my faith and the church. What that meant for myself growing up was huge. It was huge, it was necessary. I don’t know if I were to survive without either one of those anchors. So, that’s my foundation.
Adapting to Adulthood
Rae Williams: What was stepping out of that like for you?
Adell Harris: Well, when I left home when I was 18 years old, I got a full scholarship to play basketball at Wake Forest University. I talk about, in the book, how that was the first time—you don’t really know that you’re different than someone else until you step out into a world that’s different than yours and you start to evaluate and assess the lives of other people, your peer group.
What I saw when I got to Wake Forest were kids had lived a totally different life than mine.
That was the first indicator that my existence was a little different, and I felt it in that space. So that was a huge transition for me. To me, that was being out in the real world, leaving home for the first time and quite honestly, swearing that I would never go back.
And you know, gravitating or holding on really tight to this game of basketball which had loved me, had supported me, had given me an identity, had given me confidence, had been the reason why people applauded me. I really didn’t receive love in any other way outside of that.
My grandmother loved me dearly, but I didn’t get the attention from anybody other than in that sport. So I went to college and played college basketball in one of the toughest athletic conferences in the country and at one of the toughest academic schools in the country, where only 3% of people were Black and looked like me. That was a challenge.
Elite, white America is a huge introduction for someone like myself. Wake Forest, academically and athletically, was a challenge for me. I write in the book that they didn’t have to change for Adell, Adell had to change for it, if I was going to survive. Survive is all I really did. I did not thrive. I only survived.
When I graduated, I guess that’s what most would consider out in the real world. When I graduated college in 2002, I was afraid that I didn’t have parents to go home to, I didn’t have resources. I didn’t have a safety net.
I didn’t even have the game of basketball anymore, I was done playing.
So I thought, “How can I be successful?”
I just want to be able to pay my bills, that’s the furthest I could go in regard to success. I just want to pay my bills and be able to take care of myself, because I know nobody else will.
I started reading books, like I said initially. I started reading books, and I just found myself finding tools and strategies to empower myself and believe in who I was created to be.
So that was a huge transition. I did start coaching college basketball, and that was the way that I found success early on. But it was in the pages of books that I was empowered to believe in the greatness that I am and not even deny the fact that there’s something really, really special about me.
Don’t know how I’m going to manifest it and sometimes doubted whether I could base on the origin of my birth or my foundation, but I always knew there was something greater that I could achieve and that lived within me to help and serve other people.
That was me jumping into the real world.
About Refuse to Lose
Rae Williams: What do you think is the central key message in the book that people, especially young people, can take action on?
Adell Harris: The key message is that you are the author of your story, no pun intended. But we all are living a story, we’re all playing a character in that story. My challenge to the reader is to not just be a character in that story that’s a victim or a villain, because those energies aren’t sustainable.
Be the hero of your story.
Actually take the pen and design the story exactly how you want, work backwards from your death bed to where you are now and write the script exactly how you want it to look, feel, and the people you want in place in that journey.
And sometimes, that intention, that deliberate intention will create an energy where the universe will give you the answers to create that life for yourself. But when we don’t, we work from our birth to where we are and we just keep reliving the same story.
I have no father, mother didn’t want me, I was sexually abused—you just keep rehearsing the same thing. So this book is really the challenge of deciding that I’m not at the mercy of anything and that I can own my own outcome. There’s not one thing that I’ve been through or that I’m going to go through that’s going to define my entire existence, unless I give it that much power.
I think that’s the key challenge in Refuse to Lose.
Acknowledgment and Acceptance
Rae Williams: You talked a little bit in the book about accepting your adversity and also acknowledging your adversity. What is the difference between the two, and what does that help us to do when we’re acknowledging and accepting our adversity?
Adell Harris: Step one is acknowledging what it is. Adversity—this is going to happen almost every day of our lives—we’re going to be faced with something. Some things are macro, some things are micro, but as long as you’re here on this earth, there are going to be things that occur.
Often, these things are distractions and they get us off course. They cause resistance in our energy, in our confidence, in the things we want to go after.
Acknowledging one is acknowledging that bad things will happen. It will happen. You will get a flat tire, you will get a ticket, your mom will die, someone will get sick, you won’t get the job you want, your boyfriend will cheat on you. There are so many. It will happen. Acknowledge that things will happen.
One particular story I share in the book about acknowledging is that my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, loved me for 10,000 people. She made up for all the love that I never felt like I got in my home. My mother never told me she loved me at home. She didn’t tell me she loved me until I was an adult.
My grandmother loved me, and I could feel it when she looked at me and so I knew I was special to her. I knew I was significant. Well, my grandmother passed away shortly after I graduated college. I think I was 23 years old when she passed away. I could acknowledge that she was gone, but I wasn’t accepting it. I was not accepting a life where she wasn’t in it.
I was rejecting that.
I could not embrace the idea of living my life without her, and because I could not accept it or I chose not to accept it, it created resistance in my life. I was adopting toxic behaviors to deal with this thing because I wasn’t even allowing myself to grow and evolve into the next phase of grief. I was just holding onto the idea that this just didn’t happen to me.
I think sometimes we can acknowledge things—your boyfriend dumps you. You can acknowledge that you got dumped or you got cheated on or whatever it might be. But accepting it is this is a part of my life now.
I fully embrace being adopted, being sexually abused, being in a verbally dysfunctional home. I accept my grandmother’s death, my mother’s death. I accept who I am, my black skin, my full body, whatever it is.
Once we can embrace all of who we are, the acceptance piece is about loving all of you and your journey and knowing that it was all for you, all of it. The good and the bad, the highs and the lows.
In life, we would not even have a clue what joy was if there was no pain. I think it is easy often times to acknowledge something, and sometimes it is not. Drug addicts can’t acknowledge that they’re addicts, or alcoholics struggle to acknowledge that they’re alcoholics. I know when I could acknowledge something and I also could feel when I was resisting it and wouldn’t allow it in.
A lot of my life had to do with being able to accept and embrace your full story.
Empathy and Gratitude
Rae Williams: From the title of one of your chapters, what are the G and E vitamins?
Adell Harris: Yes, so this gets into strategies. This gets into things that we can implement into our daily life. I call them daily E and G vitamins because I think it is something we should do every day like taking your vitamins. E is for empathy and the G is for gratitude.
I think these are tools that we can implement every day, and they are free. You don’t have to go buy these. These are things we can do independently and practice every day that will shift and change the way we see the world.
It changes the lens and how we see things. Our perspective changes when we look at something through the eyes of empathy and through the eyes of gratitude.
Empathy hit me personally hard, but it’s defined as seeing yourself in someone else. You might not have your story and I may not have yours, but if you talk to me then I can see myself in you because we are both human beings. We are more alike than we are different.
So I don’t need to be white and I don’t need to be a male and I don’t need to be black to know and feel you when you’re hurt because I have things that hurt me too. So that empathy is a lesson I learned when I was the primary caregiver for my mother for the last two and a half years of her life and watching her die. She was in and out of hospitals and she was deteriorating.
I sat there at the foot of her bed and just saw a human being.
I didn’t see a mother who was trying to raise a bunch of kids and who had four husbands, who used to yell and scream at me, who never told me she loved me. I just couldn’t see any of that. I just saw a human being who was on her death bed who wasn’t going to live a complete life. She was limited by her life of thinking.
She passed away because of diabetes and just didn’t take care of her body. Didn’t put the right things in her body, and it caught up to her.
I watched her on her death bed with not a lot of visitors, not a lot of people coming to check on her. I felt sad.
So I learned that lesson like, “Wow, I was judging her all these years for her role as a mother when there are so many layers to who this person is.”
I saw myself in her. I saw myself in her, watching her die. So that was very powerful for me, and it changes the way I live my life now. I always try to see myself in others before I judge them for their decisions, for their beliefs, for the mistakes they make. I try to always see myself in other people.
And then gratitude is the superpower. It is something that if you practiced it every day there is no way you’d live a negative life. There is no way depression sets in when you every day you can express verbally or you write out how much appreciation you have for the things you have.
For me, I have a trigger person—my grandmother. If there is ever a bad feeling, I can go right to how grateful I am that I met her and that our lives crossed paths and that she loved me so deeply when I didn’t see that anywhere else. How much I meant to her and how she is so proud of me even though she is not here physically.
It is hard for me to look at my glass as half empty. My glass is overflowing, and it’s because I can go directly to things that I am so, so grateful for. My life could have been turned a whole lot of different ways and gone a lot of different directions.
But I don’t have any problems being grateful for the things that have happened, the people that I’ve met, the love that I found, God’s grace, my health. There’s so many things. I write a list of those things in the book, but I think that those are practices that it are up to you. You can wake up every day and decide to do both of those things, and it can change your whole world. These are strategies that I challenge the reader to implement every day to make adversity their advantage.
Watching Others Succeed
Rae Williams: Tell us some of the ways that some of these principles and experiences that you have shared with people have impacted lives. How did you see that manifesting or unfolding?
Adell Harris: I think this is something that you watch in everybody’s life. If you watch close enough, Tiger Woods wins a couple of weeks ago, the Masters. And we can pull back those layers and we could probably do some research about how he made adversity his advantage. At some point, he acknowledged what it was and then he had to accept it, and then at some point, he decided he was going to rewrite the story and decide, “Look, this is the direction I am going in.”
He reprogrammed himself to be the newest version of himself.
I can go on and on, but there is not a person that exists on this planet that hasn’t utilized some of these tools in order to get out of the valley and back up towards the top of the mountain, or progressing towards the top of the mountain again. It is a very common thing.
We can discuss it in sports, specifically, but it is every human being, every story, every movie we watch.
We have seen the comeback story where the person goes from victim or villain to hero and they start working out more or they play the theme music in the back. We see it, but when we are in it, we don’t think we could get out of it. We start to maybe think that we are alone and nobody else has been through this before.
Part of the messaging in the book is that you’re not special because you had a tough time. Going through something doesn’t make you special.
When you decide to believe in yourself so much, or the newest version of yourself so much, or embrace the fact that there is something great about me and I am going to go after it—I don’t know if it will work but I am going to go after it. Then you can’t help but operate in this way, where you start to be grateful for things and you become a little bit more empathetic. You can deal and manage and work with people and serve others.
So I really don’t have specifics. I have a lot of personal stories that are in the book about how I’ve come to these realizations through very, very intense traumas, death, and I’ve got a DUI, driving down the one-way street. I’ve had these things happen in my life where it’s been so obvious that, “Wow, how in the world did you get out of that? How did you turn that into a good thing?” That’s because I have a testimony.
That’s one of the reasons why I decided to write a book. But looking at it, I see it in everybody’s life now. Everybody who’s had a moment in the valley and they’ve come out of the valley, I can see what happened with a formula. There’s a lot of overlap.
A Challenge for Listeners
Rae Williams: If you had to issue one overarching challenge, something that people can go ahead and do right now that will change their lives forever, what would that one thing be?
Adell Harris: Ooh, change your life forever. I would probably say decide that you’re going to be a dreamer. By dreamer I just mean someone who is going to be intentional about how they live their lives.
I want to be the best mother, I want to be the best daughter, I want to be the best wife, girlfriend, I want to be the best employee at that job, I want to be the best I could possibly be in all areas of my life.
And then that decision will force us into some sort of thought and action behind it.
When I said out loud, “I want to be the best daughter I can be,” that declaration evokes emotion. Any time a thought is attached to a feeling, then we naturally go into action. It’s not even like, the universe, the energies, the way we are wired—we act based on how we think and feel.
Thoughts and feelings come before our actions.
Any time there’s an intense feeling attached to a thought, “I want to be an incredible daughter.” If I had children, “I want to be an incredible mother.”
Just decide, that would be the first course of action. Put the thing in writing and read it out loud to yourself daily and remind yourself when you don’t feel like being the best daughter or wife or employee or whoever it might be. That’s the intention, and that’s the agenda you’re on.
I think the world will be a whole lot better place. I think we would serve the people around us better and leave something behind that will live longer after we’re no longer here.
Connect with Adell Harris
Rae Williams: How can we get in touch with you if we want to learn more, if we want your coaching, if we want your expertise?
Adell Harris: Yeah, my website is rtladell.com and you can see all the services I provide on my website as well as all social media outlets.
I’m all over the place social media wise. You can call me. Call me direct, text me. I welcome anyone who wants to talk about how to empower themselves, how to enlarge their vision of what’s possible, and anyone who really wants to roll up their sleeves and do the work of not being the victim of their past circumstances or the difficult things that may happen to you, because the difficult things will happen.
You can call me on my cell, you can text me, 910-470-1356.