Shawn Blanchard | From Miscreant to Mentor (Episode 539)

Shawn Blanchard | From Miscreant to Mentor (Episode 539)

Shawn Blanchard has overcome a past of drug dealing and limited options to become a speaker, mentorship specialist, and author of How ‘Bout That For A Crack Baby: Keys to Mentorship and Success.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • How does someone go from living a double life of academic success and criminal enterprise to mentoring kids and helping them realize their potential?
  • How Shawn found mentors — or as he calls them, friendtors — from among his peers.
  • People want to help you.
  • If you want to be a good mentor, you’ve got to be a good mentee.
  • Mentorship isn’t necessarily about creating high performers, but in making people better than they would have been without you.
  • And so much more…


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So many young people — statistics tell us over nine million in America alone — are adrift in a world without guidance or positive role models, and too many remain to perpetuate their own cycle of desperation upon further generations. But some are able to maintain hope of something better, break free of this cycle, and find a path that serves to similarly inspire others.

Shawn Blanchard, our guest for this episode and author of How ‘Bout That For A Crack Baby: Keys to Mentorship and Success, is such a person. Shawn was born into an impoverished household and dealt drugs as a youth, but turned his life around to become a teacher, a speaker, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to others who share similarly humble beginnings.

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Born with drugs in his system and surrendered to being raised by his grandparents, Shawn Blanchard had a rough start to life. With seven brothers — three now deceased, three spending time in prison (one is currently serving a life sentence allegedly as one of Detroit’s most notorious drug lords) — things could have turned out equally bleak for him.

Shawn’s mother was a professional shoplifter. The only time he ever saw his mother and father in the same room was at his father’s funeral. His oldest brother (who bought a Camaro with money earned dealing drugs) taught him to sell crack by the time he was 11. With mentors like these, it may seem surprising Shawn ever broke away from the cycle — especially when his brother would bring home in a day what people with “normal” jobs would work hard to bring home in a month or two.

“Initially, what I saw was the gold chains,” says Shawn. “I would see the car. I would see his interaction with the ladies and how everybody liked him. He was just such a likeable, charismatic guy. So he was just a cool guy to emulate…you look at movies like Menace II Society, you think…this is how people are sustaining themselves. And you look at the good things they’ll do. He’s taking care of his family…he’s a very kind person. It doesn’t look like he’s hurting anybody. And the people that want to purchase it, they want it. He’s not forcing them to do it. It was the law of economics. It was supply and demand.”

Growing up in this environment didn’t seem weird to Shawn at the time. He tried to extract the good from each situation. He saw his mother and brother as entrepreneurs moving to the pulse of their own kind of hustle. Simultaneously, he saw the importance of getting an education, so he was in honors classes throughout school. When Shawn was 12, his grandmother — the closest thing he had to a traditional “mother” figure — passed away. Discipline was no longer enforced, and Shawn could come and go as he pleased.

“When I was 14 years old, that’s when my brother died,” says Shawn. “A couple of weeks later, my dad died. A few months later, my oldest brother was shot by the police — and then went to prison. My grandmother’s gone. My brother is in prison. My other brother was murdered in a drug transaction…I don’t have any rules at this point.”

In the absence of the people who took care of him growing up, Shawn found himself taking care of his 10-year-old brother at the tender age of 15. He was still dealing drugs, but as more of a side hustle to his restaurant job — when he would bring weed around on payday to sell to his coworkers. While he didn’t have rules, he made sure to impose a few on his younger brother — and they were simple: go to school and get good grades. Get girls. Get money.

It was all a hustle — as his mother had hustled with shoplifting and his brother had hustled with drugs, he and his younger brother’s hustle became school. But at the age of 17, when Shawn was at University of Michigan majoring in math and economics, another one of his extracurricular side hustles — a jewelry scam — got him in trouble with the law.

“I had the network. We could look at Malcolm Gladwell when he talks about connectors [in his book The Tipping Point]. I was a connector. I had the product, and I also had the demand from the people who had the money. What I would do is I would connect the two. You can sell this $40,000 diamond for $10,000 to these guys; now you have to give me $2,000 and they’re going to give me $2,500 when they sell it for $30,000.”

When the cops were tipped off and he saw himself on the news from his jail cell, he realized his double life days of invincibility were over. And that was the real turning point. And rather than being ostracized by his professors and teachers for his criminal activities when they came to light, they were actually instrumental in bailing him out and helping him continue to realize his potential.

“I wasn’t a bad kid,” says Shawn. “I was just into some things that I shouldn’t have been into. I was exposed to things I shouldn’t have been exposed to in the first place.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about how Shawn turned things around, how he found mentors — or friendtors — from among his peer group, how he systematically leverages mentorships, why we need to take people seriously when they express a desire to help us, how networking opens up options for people in search of connections and experiences beyond what they already know, the three phases of mentorship (unconscious, conscious, and creating consciousness in others), how the mentor-mentee relationship can start out like a game of catch, and lots more.

THANKS, Shawn Blanchard!

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