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I had the pleasure of interviewing Roy Huff for the 4th issue of Hero Story. If you want to check out the write-up, head over to HeroStory.org/Giants.
Here is the full text of the interview I had with Roy.
Hero Story: Please provide a brief backstory for those who don’t know you.
Roy Huff: I’m a Hawaii based author, teacher, and research scientist. I grew up on the East Coast in abject poverty and struggled with many issues through adulthood related to those challenges. I fought for many of my successes but often failed at other essential aspects of life due to simple, common mistakes. After multiple bankruptcies, a divorce, and other personal issues, circumstances forced me to choose between improving my life or falling deeper down the rabbit hole. I chose the former, which led me down my current path. The lessons I learned are what inspired me to write my most recent book, Think Smart Not Hard.
HS: Tell me about your early struggles, specifically your father and growing up in poverty. What did that teach you? How did those two things affect who you are today?
RH: From my earliest memories, I lived in challenging circumstances. My parents were poor and struggled to care for my sisters and I. My father was a gay man, and his sexuality led to my parents separation, which further strained our finances. In eighth grade, I discovered he contracted HIV. He eventually died of AIDS when I was 21.
My mother struggled to support us and relied on public assistance my entire childhood. For all but a few years, we received welfare, food stamps, and government housing to survive. When that wasn’t enough, we turned to our community for charity.
Before I was six, I lived in a run-down trailer park. Our trailer was barely livable with a large hole in the bathroom floor that made us freeze in the winter. It had shoddy wiring. It even caused a fire on one occasion.
Later, we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. I lived on the wrong side of the tracks in the wrong neighborhood. We dealt with pervasive crime, gunshots, and drug use. There were numerous occasions where drug dealers and police alike accosted and harassed me on my way home from school or while doing ordinary things. I also suffered from physical abuse from various individuals during my childhood.
My plight encouraged me to focus on a way out. It many ways, I succeeded. In other ways, that narrow focus kept me from seeing better options. One example of that was forgetting I wasn’t alone. I often felt I had to do things independently. I learned later it’s okay to stand on the shoulders of giants. You don’t have to feel guilty about screwing up or not knowing the answer. We all make mistakes, and no one knows everything.
Another mistake I made was letting arrogance keep me from implementing effective strategies that I knew worked. I often failed to act on what I knew because I thought I could succeed by cutting corners.
It was those mistakes that led to disastrous consequences including a failed marriage and three bankruptcies.
HS: What about the bankruptcies and mental illness? Can you tell me more about that? What happened there?
RH: The bankruptcies were created from several choices combined with bad timing. The biggest factors were failing to make a budget and living beyond my means. My spending habits and weakened financial position created a perfect storm when faced with various mini catastrophes like a car accident, a housing crash, medical bills, and a divorce.
Mental illness has plagued much of my family. While I personally escaped it, others in my immediate family weren’t so lucky. My grandfather and father both suffered from bipolar disorder / manic depression. My grandfather fought in Korea and also succumbed to PTSD. His illness contributed to bad choices, which led to prison. He was killed by a prison guard during a riot on the day he was to be released. This led a cascade of events which had a lasting impact on my father.
My father’s mental illness led to periodic bouts of homeless, stints in mental institutions, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. This likely contributed to his HIV status and eventual death.
Other direct family members suffer to this day from similar disorders. It was one of the reasons that I chose to improve my life both physically and mentally. I needed the energy and the wisdom to better cope with the situations I knew would eventually arise.
HS: What do you want others who are struggling out there to take away from your story? What’s your message?
RH: My message is that you’re not alone, and regardless of your circumstance, it’s possible to design a life you want to live. It starts with forgiving others, yourself, and then taking responsibility for the choices you make. I believe embracing gratitude in the worst of times and developing a growth mindset allows you to move forward.
When your in pain, seek help. When you don’t know the answer, give yourself permission to ask someone who does. Plug yourself into a group of people who will pull you up and positively influence in your choices. Once you do, it will be easier to find your why and live an intentional life.
Reflect on your progress. Deliberate practice is essential in any endeavor. Awareness and reflection are critical to that end. You don’t have to do things the hard way. Select your own personal basket of proven strategies to avoid obstacles before they arise so you can do things the most effective way that suits you best.
HS: Your book, Think Smart, Not Hard. What can people expect to learn from it? What’s the response been?
RH: I like to think of the book as a comprehensive guide to designing one’s ideal life. It’s starts with learning how to find what’s held you back, then designing a strategy to get there with all the nuts and bolts. What I believe is different about my book is the personal struggles I’ve included and the specific details of how I overcame them and how others can tailor those same strategies to fit their own needs.
It’s easy to think of one’s situation as unique and therefore ignore the tools others have used. I went through special pains to incorporate adaptability and universal principles that anyone can apply based on one’s own specific circumstances.
The feedback has been tremendous. Some amazing individuals like Jim “The Rookie” Morris, Honorée Corder, S.J. Scott and others have endorsed the book. Numerous top reviews in multiple countries and readers alike have left five-star ratings. It’s made several Amazon’s best sellers lists months at a time since release. In short, I’m honored for such a positive reception. The biggest blessing though comes from readers who’ve told me how the book has transformed their lives. My hope is that it will continue to touch countless more.
HS: In chapter Chapter 5, you discuss Principle #18 – Plan for Poor Choices. Tell me more about that.
RH: Most people repeat simple patterns in their lives. When you pause to reflect on those patterns you see self-defeating actions you could avoid with a small amount of planning and forethought. Some examples could be making better buying choices in the supermarket if you want to lose weight or spending less time with people you know influence you in a negative way.
When it comes time for goal setting, one effective strategy is to identify potential roadblocks ahead of time and tailor your habits to avoid them. Once you implement your strategy, reflect on what’s working and look for other things you missed. Actions encourage other actions, so if you locate the root action that led you down the wrong path, you can leverage your effort and increase the likelihood you’ll succeed before you even start.
HS: If you had to pick one quote to sum up your message — from someone other than you or your writing — who said it and what did they say?
RH: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl
HS: Where can we find more about you and pick up your book?
RH: You can find my book in ebook, print, and audio format on Amazon. The audiobook can also be found on Audible and iTunes.
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