He has changed the life of millions of people around the world, and though Bishop T.D. Jakes had humble beginnings when barely scraped together enough to feed his family, he now has created a powerhouse media conglomerate that includes books, films and speaking tours. Ask Jakes, and the humble pastor would give all the credit to two things: God and his God-given instincts, the topic of his latest bestselling book, Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.
I had to the opportunity ask Jakes more about his instincts and how people can use it to fulfill their life’s mission.
In your book, you talk about your trip to South Africa and how that taught you valuable lessons. For those who haven't read about your experience in South Africa, why did you include it in this book?
I thought it was an important issue that seems to have struck the fascination of the country overall as it relates to instinctive behaviors and identifying both them and core values and core strengths from which I believe we can really have the greatest impact. It affected me personally because I went back over the many decisions that I've made in my life, and the ones that were the most powerful and the most impactful were not based on data; they were not based on something I read in a book, but were more instinctive and inherent to being a pioneer and a trailblazer in many ways; and anytime you live your life as a pioneer and a trailblazer, you're going where others have not gone before and you don't necessarily have the benefit of historical facts to guard and to gird you as you make that journey. You have to follow it instinctively, and with a little faith.
You mention the illustration of how the fetus is created from the cells and that those cells intuitively know what to do and where to go, but what's the difference between intuition and emotional impulse?
I think intuitiveness is to have an intuition about a person, place or thing, but what I'm talking in the book about instinct, centers much more around the gravitational pull you have toward not necessarily a person, a place or a thing, as much as it is a gravitational pull toward something that lends itself ultimately to your purpose that's instinctive to you. Whether you instinctively work better in isolation or better in a crowd, or whether you're instinctively inclined to artistic works or more scientific works, and to find that sweet spot, as it were, as to how you're wired and to work from a position of strength, rather than, responding to a request of needs. More times than not, we find ourselves being configured around what other people need us to be, and even though we may be able to do that, we are the most powerful and the most authentic when we are working from our core and from what is inherently placed inside of us. Instinctively, can deliver whatever life demands because we are equipped in the warehouse of our being to respond to that need naturally and organically.
How do you balance your own instincts with the data that may say the exact opposite of what your gut says to do?
I can give you some illustrations in my life. I wrote a book about 24 years ago, called Woman Thou Art Loosed, and at that time there was no data to books for which a publisher would respond to publish the book, because I was a male pastor writing about women who had experienced trauma and abuse in their lives, and how to use biblical answers to sociological ills. There was no data to support it, but I instinctively wanted to go on and do it. I self-published the book, and it ended up selling to date around 7 million copies and has been translated into 10 different languages. Had I allowed the information available at the time to thwart my instinct, the book would not exist and help would not have reached women around the world. When you look at things like the development of the Nike Corporation, which I cited in the book, there was no precedence for taking the tread that was on a waffle iron and putting it on a tennis shoe, but because they were willing to go where there was no data and no stats to verify, a multibillion dollar corporation developed around the world. Had Rosa Parks not decided, "This is the day that I'm going to sit down, come hell or high water," had she not followed her instinct, it wasn't a part of the strategy that the Civil Rights Movement sent, it was just an instinctive response to the moment, then the Civil Rights Movement would not have gotten the upwind that it got from her instinctive action to that situation. I'm not against information and data, it's very important but we don't want to be incarcerated by it.
Let's say someone really has a dream of creating a youth organization, for example, and they really believe in it, but for the last 50 years it's just not coming together. How do you know the difference between your instincts saying, “This is what you should do” and the fact that you just don't want to let go of a dream? How do you know when to let go and when to continue in following your gut?
It may not be that particular youth center that you're trying to establish at a particular location, but the more important thing is that you have an instinct to help young people; so whether you are meant to be the person who runs the institution or whether you participate in another arena where your passions are, that's the compass I'm trying to guide; not so much that you're going to be the CEO of the organization, that may not be appropriate, but at least you know where your purpose lies and what your organic strength is, because that is instinctively something that you are passionate about. I'm not really dealing with specificities in the book as much as I am with the generalities. It's not necessarily a particular painting you ought to paint, but maybe you recognize that you're an artist; it's not necessarily a particular concerto that you want to write, but you know that you're a musician. Many, many people are having trouble finding the field in which they ought to operate in, or the types of persons that they need to irrigate their corporation with, and that's what I'm talking about when I'm talking about instincts. Instincts don't tell bears which place to hibernate, but they do have an instinct to hibernate. It doesn't tell a silkworm which branch to build the cocoon on, but they do have an instinct to build a cocoon. So, that general field of interest is what I'm focusing on when I deal with instinct.
So in other words, if someone really wants to be an American Idol and their dream is to sing, but they just can't sing a tune and their passion is in music, they should follow their passion in music, but maybe it will be producing or directing singers instead of singing. Is that more of what you mean?
Exactly. Because you learn better when it's something that you're passionate about and that you're naturally interested in than when it's something that's been enforced upon you. What I'm saying is, you want to use the information available to you and stimulate the area that you're instinctively inclined to follow.
For those who feel that they were handed a bad stack of cards, what words of advice do you have for them?
I talk about the power of exposure, and one of the great things you can do is to get around the world, the people, and the world view that reflects your world view, even if you were not originally raised in that environment. One of the illustrations I use for that detail is sea turtles. The mother hatches the eggs on land; she plants the eggs in the sand, buries them in the sand. When the sea turtles crack out of the shells, they are on the sand, but they immediately migrate toward the ocean. In the same way, we can't control where we are hatched, but we don't have to stay where we start. We have the ability to evolve and to move into areas that are congruent with our talents, our skills and our instincts, and I'm encouraging people to do that. If we didn't do that, people would never rise up out of the ghetto. There are many people who have been sired by parents who were illiterate, and ended up going to college. You are not a prisoner to where you start.