The Know How You Need & the Tools to Get You There...  Get Certified  >

Get Certified

Wake Up Eager Podcast   |   Wake Up Eager Leader Tips

Wake Up Eager Workforce 
Episode 108 Transcript

Suzie Price: [00:00:00] 

Today I'm speaking with Stephen Middleton, PhD. He is an amazing human who is inspirational, has had an amazing life and there is more to come. You will be buzzing with insight and inspiration through this episode. I can't wait to share it with you. Michael. Hit it!

Intro/Outro: [00:00:19] 

Welcome to the Wake Up Eager Workforce Podcast, a show designed for leaders, trainers and consultants who are responsible for employee selection and professional development. Each episode is packed full with insider tips, best practices, expert interviews and inspiration. Please welcome the host to his helping leaders, trainers and consultants everywhere Suzie Price.

Suzie Price: [00:00:49] 

Hi there. This is Suzie Price and you're listening to the Wake Up Eager Workforce Podcast, where we cover everything related to helping senior leaders and internal and external consultants create a high commitment, low drama, wake up eager workforce. Bottom line, we help leaders in organizations make good decisions about their people and make good decisions about themselves by becoming more self aware and finding that balance between being committed to your work and everything you do in the world, and being just as committed to your own self growth, self awareness and appreciation for self. Both elements are needed for a wake up eager workforce, and I'm so glad that you've tuned in. We're at episode 108 and the title of today's episode is Personal Transformation is Possible with The Possibility Man, Steven Middleton, PhD. Today we talk about how he became known as the Possibility Man. We talk about his journey from picking cotton in South Carolina, to becoming a PhD and US Constitutional Historian traveling all over the world talk about his health and wellness tips. They're very interesting. He and I have a lot in common with our interests and what has worked for us. And then we talk about the importance of building community and a sense of belonging. Let me tell you a little bit about Steven's background. He grew up in a rural community in South Carolina. His father was a general laborer, and along with his wife and their eight children, they were all sharecroppers. Steven was their sixth child, and he spent his formative years picking cotton and plowing with a mule.

Suzie Price: [00:02:30] 

He gained a burst of insight with a plow and a mule. When he was 15 years old, an internal consciousness told him he could do better with his life. He heeded the admonition and enrolled in college, where he graduated with honors. So not only did he graduate with honors, he went on to earn a Master of Arts degree and a Ph.D. He taught at the University of Cincinnati. He was a long time professor of Constitutional History at North Carolina State University. He was the inaugural director of African American Studies at Mississippi State University, and he's lectured all over our country and in Europe, and he's written books. He's been to three African countries, including Ghana. He's written or edited books. He's currently writing a biography about a little known judge, which was very interesting. And we'll talk about that in the episode. He's retired from academic work and became a true entrepreneur. He's the founder of the Possibility Action Network, and he has a podcast called the Possibility Action Network Podcast. He's a speaker, transformational coach and social entrepreneur. He may seem familiar because we shared his mind, body, and spirit tips in episode 106, and you can find that if you want to hear that episode, if you haven't heard it, we have different people talking about their top products and ideas. You can go to And he is the second person in the episode that shares some of his tips. You'll hear them again today, but I can't wait to share this with you. Let's go listen to the episode now in our great discussion.

Suzie Price: [00:04:11] 

Steven, so glad to see you. The Possibility Man is amongst us. Thank you for being here.

Stephen Middleton: [00:04:17] 

Oh, Suzie, thank you for asking me. I'm just honored to be invited to your platform.

Suzie Price: [00:04:22] 

We're blessed to have you. I know we're going to have a great discussion, and I'm going to jump in with the first discussion question. You believe in personal transformation, and you are an example of that in so many ways throughout your entire life. Talk about the key events that led you to believe so strongly in personal transformation and healing. And you talk about human resilience. You're just like a bright light. How did you become someone who thinks and feels that way? And then how did you get the moniker of The Possibility Man?

Stephen Middleton: [00:04:53] 

Well, I'm glad you asked. That's a lot. But look, let me dive right in here with, I grew up in a little place called Cross in South Carolina. A little place in Berkeley County. And one of my uncles was very influential in my life. I talk about him all the time. I'll be 70 years of age in about 20 days, so I'm thinking back about 60 years ago when I spent time with my uncle. And one of the things he taught me was how to take a nail and hammer, and I would say things like, Uncle I can't do this. And uncle did not pause one bit. He would just respond, Pappy can't be dead. He called me Pappy, I don't know why he said can't be dead. Then he followed up and said, I helped bury the scoundrel. So it was that kind of thing. I was hearing positive thinking from my uncle before I was ten years of age and as I said before, over the decades I hold him dear in my heart and that's something that I truly, truly believe.

Suzie Price: [00:06:09] 

What was his name?

Stephen Middleton: [00:06:11] 

His name was William Mack. And let me tell you a little bit about him. I'm not sure how his children would feel about me sharing this, but you see me smiling because thinking about him just brings a smile to my face. Now he was born, I don't know, sometime before 1920. He had all kinds of physical disabilities. He was under 5' tall. I'm not sure if he was 4' 9" or 4' 8", but to look in and see his carriage you would think, my gosh, this guy is a midget. When he walked, he walked differently than most people. His feet were curved out left and right, and he waddled as he moved about. Then he told me one day about how he got his start as an employed person, as a person making a living. He said back in the day, guys would go out into the woods and look for jobs at sawmills. And when he went out there, these big guys, I could just imagine these guys were like 6' tall. And this is back in the country, grits eating strong men out there. And he said the foreman would line men up and the foreman would stand on the back of the truck.

Stephen Middleton: [00:07:21] 

And this looks out into the sea of men looking for work. And he said, those guys are trying to elbow him out of the way because they wanted to get an advantage. They wanted a foreman to see them, and they wanted Foreman to give them a job. And he said he planted his feet. He held his ground. The foreman looked out over the men who were trying to push him out, and the foreman said, I want to hire that guy. And that guy was my uncle. He went on to get a great job at the paper mill in South Carolina, in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the first individual that I knew in my community who had a vehicle. This guy had a truck, and one last thing about him, he was so short, the starter was on the floor of the vehicle at the time. He could not just reach it by just extending his foot. He had to stretch his body out. And I can just see him now stretching his body, pressing that starter, getting that truck started. That guy had superpowers. He influenced me then and he influences me to this day.

Suzie Price: [00:08:27] 

Wow, what a great picture you painted of the foreman up on the stage is what I'm imagining. And these big guys, everybody saying, pick me, pick me, and your Uncle William Mack is just radiating the vibe of I'm going to get it done, pick me, and that he gets picked. That just paints a really strong picture of his level of determination, his will to win, will to make things happen.

Stephen Middleton: [00:08:55] 

I like it when you say that he radiated something. It wasn't his stature. It wasn't his body, but he radiated something else. And I guarantee you, if someone were to go to my hometown and interview guys over 60 years of age, they'll remember this man, William Mack, because he radiated something, he radiated possibility. Put simply, he radiated possibility.

Suzie Price: [00:09:23] 

He was the star of The Possibility Man and The Possibility Action Network.

Stephen Middleton: [00:09:27] 

He was surely that. You asked me how I did this thing, this moniker Possibility Man came to me. I remember distinctly it was December 2020. I was already doing some social media work. I was driving from Charlotte back to where I lived, and I wanted to do a shoot before it got too dark. And so I stopped at a little lake in Lake Wylie, and I didn't really think about what I wanted to talk about. And then something downloaded into my being, and what it was simply something like, you've heard about Batman, you've heard about Superman. I am The Possibility Man that came into my being in December 2020.

Suzie Price: [00:10:16] 

That is so cool. You mentioned in your bio about getting a download when you were working in the fields at 15, and I like that idea of a download because I think we all get them, we all get nudges, and sometimes it's a download, or sometimes it's just a joy feeling or a pull towards something. Talk a little bit about that and how you get these inspirations and some other moments.

Stephen Middleton: [00:10:42] 

I'm so glad you opened this door for me because it's an experience that I have close to my heart. As I've said before, I'm a rural boy. I'm a country boy. We picked cotton. We shucked corn. We picked cucumbers. That was my upbringing. I can vividly see myself as a baby on the edge of a cotton field, on a blanket because my mother was out in the field picking cotton. And as I got older, before I was 13 years of age, I was picking cotton. This is going to sound strange, but I take pride as an early teen to be able to pick cotton with both hands. I was able to pick like £100 of cotton before I was 15 years of age. And as my older brothers matured and went on, I inherited the mule and I began to plow with a plow and a mule in the fields. I mean, I would create rows. I would do all kinds of things with that plow and mule in the field. And then one day, and I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a bright, sunny day. I was plowing a field close to our home. Now, I had never thought about college. I've never thought about education. You may probe this a little later, but no one talked about education in my household, you know? But something just came into me, and it spoke to my being. It wasn't like a voice, but it was something that I heard with my whole being. It simply said, you can do better than this. You know you can do better than this. And evidently I agreed, I can do better than this. And after that things began to evolve and other things happened after that. 

Suzie Price: [00:12:37] 

Yeah. It's so interesting how happy life is, full of happy moments of inspiration. It's like we get those hits or those insights, and if we can pay attention to them and see them as real, then they can pull us forward. And that seems to be what you're talking about with the Possibility Action Network in regard to looking for the best in people. In regard to overcoming challenges, that's amazing. That is amazing.

Stephen Middleton: [00:13:08] 

You're so right that we all get nudges. I mean, everyone does, every being on the planet being a human being or whatever else. Gosh, at about 18, 19 driving a milk truck, delivering lunches in Berkeley County, Dorchester County, around Charleston, and first on the job, I'm driving my milk truck. It was a reefer with my lunches in it. So I got back to the ground, to the yard, and I was the only one there. Now, remember, I'm a new guy on the job. I'm driving a reefer for the very first time, and...

Suzie Price: [00:13:40] 

It was a milk truck?

Stephen Middleton: [00:13:43] 

Yeah, it was a milk truck delivering lunches. I'm in the back of my truck cleaning up my truck, and all of a sudden, the door slams. I'm in the dark truck. I do not know this vehicle. So I had my broom in my hand and I began knocking on the inside of the truck. Help, help! But I was in a concealed environment. There was a latch on the door, but I didn't know the truck. I didn't know where the latch was. I really thought that I was going to die. And then once again, just a soft, still voice said to me, speaking from within me wasn't outside of me. This is funny. Now, looking back, try the side door. And I groped around, felt around and my hand hit the latch and I opened the door. You're so right. We all get nudges if we're able to listen.

Suzie Price: [00:14:38] 

Wow. It seems like the more you listen and then kind of acknowledge them, the more you don't miss them when they come.

Stephen Middleton: [00:14:44] 

Mhm. Yeah. We gain experience don't we. You know we gain experience I miss a lot. I know that. But we do gain experience. It's just like me talking with you. And the more we talk and get a feel for when you want me to come back in and it's that kind of thing you get a feel for when something beyond you that's within you, that's speaking with you. And it could be something very simple, like you left a pot burning in the kitchen. Something as simple as that.

Suzie Price: [00:15:12] 

Have you done anything in particular in your daily life over the years to cultivate that? One, I guess, is acknowledging it. Do you do particular prayer or meditation, or are there things that you do that help you stay open and receptive to insight and possibility?

Stephen Middleton: [00:15:30] 

I'm still in the process, and this is one of the areas where I'm still growing for sure. Now I've come to understand that there is something bigger than anything else that's on the planet. We see it all the time. We see it whenever we look in the mirror. I saw it this morning when I shaved. When I look into my eyes, I know that. Wait a minute. What's something, what's looking, what's looking out? That's the question. Am I looking out or is there something else looking out? Is there spirit looking out? Is there God looking out? So we get these reminders all the time that there is something bigger. How do you cultivate it? As I said, I'm still in process. I like reading sacred books. I like reading, listening to audio that touches upon sacred topics. You know, occasionally I may whisper a prayer, and the prayer really is for me. It's not for anyone else. It's not for any being. So those things are still in process. I'm trying to see if I could cultivate this notion of autosuggestion, where I can speak into my being, and that which I speak will come to pass, and what an individual may speak into their being, healing, a subject that's very challenging to them. Is it possible for human beings? And I'll say this last thing on this note is that I think this is where humanity is today. You know, we talk about AI, but AI is something that we still haven't gotten a full grasp on our capacity as human beings to overcome and sometimes adversity that comes into our lives. I feel that about the things that have come into my life, things that I don't want is my opportunity to discover. Is it possible for me, including in this situation?

Suzie Price: [00:17:15] 

So the Possibility Action Network and the Possibility Man is just continually reminding people that it is possible and to look ahead and look forward and and your influences sound like they started with William Mack, who showed you like, okay, he looks this way, but he is living that way. It's possible. Or I'm working out in the fields and then I land in getting multiple degrees. Talk a little bit about that. 

Stephen Middleton: [00:17:46] 

It's possible for sure. I mean I feel that and and the great question that every individual has to answer themselves is this, is it possible for me? So, you know, you can speak it. You're Suzie Price, you're doing all of these wonderful things, in social media, your life, your business, all of these things. But then the person is asking, is it possible for me? And that's the question that I'm guiding people to in my work, my education. I was born in the first half of the 1950s, and my father could not read. Obviously, if he couldn't read, he couldn't write, but he could cipher a little bit. He said he could count money. He knew his birthday, but he could not read to me or anything like that. My mother could barely read. My mother could not write letters when I was in college or as an older person. My mother wanted to write to me. She would ask someone to write the letter as she spoke the letter. Now, these were hard working. My mother was  business oriented. She had a great business mind. So I'm not saying that these individuals were adults. Now, these individuals simply could not did not learn to read and write.

Stephen Middleton: [00:18:56] 

Both of my brothers, and I say this because I hope that someone would hear this, and I hope that someone would be inspired and would see the possibility for them. Both my brothers dropped out of high school. That was my example. We didn't have magazines at home. I mean, some people in our community did, but we just did not. They weren't talking about getting a trade or any of those kinds of things. But then I understood, though, that America is a place where people should have an opportunity. I don't want to stray too far away from your question, but I want to get there about what drove me. So then I believe that people had equal rights, even if those people were not experiencing it. So I began to participate and things like that, to promote equal rights when I was a teenager. And then I began to say I want to become a lawyer. I wanted to become a lawyer. I want to join Thurgood Marshall. These are the kinds of things that I'm talking about, right? As a teenager. And when I graduated high school, I went to a little college and I met an historian.

Stephen Middleton: [00:20:04] 

I didn't know that history was, a thing I didn't know that history was a major. Suzie, Michael Brandstatter graduated from Duke University. He might have been 32 or whatever. When I met him, he was just a hotshot. You could tell. He was teaching Western Civilization. He was teaching about the Roman Empire. He was teaching French history. That's the guy that turned my life around. This guy made history something that made sense to me. I loved it so much. I went in and changed my major from social studies, I believe it was, because they said social studies was a good thing to study if you want to become a lawyer. I declared history as a major because of one individual that turned the light bulb on for me, and as an undergraduate, I began doing legal history and didn't even know it. I did my first legal history paper on the Dred Scott decision, and in graduate school, I discovered that I could actually blend history and law, and therefore I specialized in US Constitutional History. Then one year of law school to deepen my experience in law, to further my research and my teaching.

Suzie Price: [00:21:23] 

Wow. That's amazing. And tell me about your teaching career. What was that like?

Stephen Middleton: [00:21:29] 

I got my master's when I was 23 years of age, and it was a great school. I'm not going to name schools here, because I graduated from this institution, a small college with a master's degree picked me up as a teacher. I began teaching history at my small college where I attended. I taught Western Civilization, I taught Asian History, I taught American History. It intimidated me because I didn't see myself becoming a teacher, but one thing led to another, and as a teacher I felt that I wanted to do more than just teach. I could have just taught that school for the rest of my career, and I'm grateful for that Dean who gave me a job. But I wanted to contribute to the literature. So that meant, for me, going back to school, getting advanced training and that's what I did. And then I got another job teaching at a bigger university and then got another job teaching at still a larger university that allowed me to teach my specialty, US Constitutional History. And then before I retired, I had the opportunity to create an academic program and be an administrator, which was something that I wanted to do. And then I began to do research. I mean, that's something that I thrive on, actually. I mean, I love research and began to write books and articles, and I've been very fortunate in that area.

Suzie Price: [00:22:56] 

How did you stay connected with your family? I imagine you evolving in many, many ways through this process. Was it tricky staying in touch with your family and when you're out experiencing the world the way you were?

Stephen Middleton: [00:23:12] 

I'm glad you asked that question. You are so perceptive because there are some nuances here if the person is a different person, but, you know me and then hundreds, thousands, millions of people just like me, who are just who they are. I'm still a country boy at heart. So indeed I've traveled abroad. I've given lectures at Cambridge University in Oxford. Who would have thought a plow boy would do that right? I've traveled to various countries in Africa and the Caribbean and Canada, and I've done all kinds of things. I've written or edited several books. I'm working on a book project now, and of course, I'm the Possibility Man, but my family would not really know that. This is going to crack you up. I was talking to one of my nephews, my great nephews, one of my nieces' sons, a few years ago. This is recent and I wanted to inspire this kid, right? I wanted to talk to this kid with the aim of inspiring him. I said, hey, do you know that your uncle is a doctor? He looked at me. He said, you're a doctor. No, I didn't know that. So even my family may not know that today. They stay connected by being who you are?

Suzie Price: [00:24:25] 

And you're now in retirement living back in South Carolina.

Stephen Middleton: [00:24:31] 

I tell you what, I've lived in different places and am coming back to my home state. This is crazy, but I just love being on South Carolina soil. It's just something. It's like I'm grounded. I'm back home. I can drive back to where I grew up if I want to. I'm only about less than two hours away. And I can visit with my sisters and other people. It's just something special for me. About home, about place, about location. Now nothing else matters. I don't think about houses, but being home in my home state is just something beautiful for me. I think if I were a poet, I would write poetry about it.

Suzie Price: [00:25:12]

Awesome. That's good. And you said you were working on a book project. Is it more about constitutional law or something else?

Stephen Middleton: [00:25:19] 

I'm glad you asked. And I'll try not to make this story too long, but it's a story that I love to tell. I was finishing up my doctorate and I was in the archives in Cincinnati, Ohio. My dissertation was about Ohio legal history. So I was doing research and some of the legal journals, newspapers and the like. And then that historical society had invited the great American Historian John Hope Franklin to give a lecture at the archives. I didn't know that he was coming, but I was there, so I sat in on the lecture. Franklin at the time, was working on a project, had actually just published a book about George Washington Williams and just a unique biography. And Franklin said he had been stalking Washington for all of those years. So I bought the book, got his autograph in it, and then opened it up. And he had pictured an individual that I had never heard of before. His name is Robert Heberton Terrell, and Franklin had a caption under the picture. This was a distinguished looking African-American. He had on a suit and cap and oh my God, just so impressive. He looked like a statue more than a person. And then Franklin had an under the caption.

Stephen Middleton: [00:26:42] 

He attended Harvard University and graduated as a valedictorian. And the man was born in 1857. And I said wait a minute. How did he do that? How did he do that? So I went to the library and I opened up some collections of papers. The paper collection was by Booker T. Washington, who was a great leader. Someone had collected Washington's papers, and I turned to an index and a look. There had been correspondences between my guy, Robert Heberton Terrell and Booker T. Washington. And I looked further. This guy became a Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia. He was so ambitious. He went to law school at Howard University School of Law, got a bachelor's degree in law, but that was not enough. He went back and got a master's degree in law and LLM. And then I saw in 1909, this guy was appointed to the Municipal court in Washington, DC. And I wanted to know how this happened. So I've been stalking him for a while. Complicated project. I'm working on it. I'm going to see this thing through. I hope within the next few years. It's 2023 now 2025, there will be a biography of this judge who came from nowhere to become a judge. Possibility.

Suzie Price: [00:28:02] 

I know that's what I was like. Yes, yes, we need that book. We need more stories that everybody can relate to. It's so interesting how history, you know, here's this wonderful man that nobody knows about and you're going to make him known.

Stephen Middleton: [00:28:19] 

Yeah, I love it. It's a great project. I have his picture. I met his grandson and, uh, he gave me a portrait of Robert Terrell. It's in my office, and he's looking at me, and I could hear him say, get to work now. Come on, get to work.

Suzie Price: [00:28:34] 

So it's so funny that we connected. And I had an instant connection with you when I saw you interviewing one of our favorite teachers, which we'll talk about in a minute. But this story you're telling, I'm very involved in the Robert S Hartman Institute. Hartman discovered a science called Axiology that we use in the Assessments to help people understand how they're thinking, feeling and making decisions. And he studied with Abraham Maslow but a lot of people don't know about him. And there's been a bunch of senior people who've kept it alive, the Hartman Institute. And then probably in 2019 or 20, I got involved. And I kept telling my husband, I don't know why I'm doing this, but I spent like all summer redoing their website. I mean, I have my own business. I got my own things to do, but it's the same kind of like it was. I'm drawn to who he was. And then there's now that whole institute has a new energy. I just went to a conference, and 50 people from around the world came to the conference in person to study and talk about his work, and we're using his work all over the world. So anyway, I'm really relating to just highlighting the good work that people have done and then building on it. And we're going to talk about your Assessment results in a minute. But you're a futuristic thinker from your Assessment results like according to the assessment, you love knowledge. You think outside the box. You're practical. You get results. You have this will that pulls people forward and you do it in a very accurate way. I just see that playing out in everything that we're talking about here, the futuristic thinkers are going to bring Robert H. Terrell to life for people. That's exciting.

Stephen Middleton: [00:30:16] 

That's that's that's nice. Thank you. Thank you for saying that I love it.

Suzie Price: [00:30:20] 

So when the book's available we'll have you back on and we can talk about it. Or when you're about ready to publish it.

Stephen Middleton: [00:30:26] 

Uh, you got it in your records? It has to happen now. We've spoken about it.

Suzie Price: [00:30:30] 

Speaking it into existence. Not if, but when. Right. He's sitting at your desk looking at you.

Suzie Price: [00:30:36] 

All right. This is the end of part one. Don't miss part two, where we continue to discuss personal transformation with Steven Middleton. The tracker link to find the show notes and to get the transcript is going to And it's all one word lowercase. We'd love for you to subscribe to the Wake Up Eager Workforce podcast wherever you get your podcasts. Just put that in. is also where you can get the show notes and all the other episodes. We'd love for you to give us a review. If you give us a review, it helps us be seen, helps us know you're listening. It's very encouraging for me and our team, and it helps other people find us. So if you would take a few minutes to do that, it doesn't take but two minutes probably to leave a review or show you how to do it at I've got the steps lined out. You can do it on your computer. You can do it on your iPhone or iPad. If you do that, let us know you've got a free gift for you. It's a Workplace Motivators Assessment that you can share with a friend or family member, or use for yourself. It gives you keen insight. We talk about Workplace Motivators in all these discussions from the Assessment, and you can have your own understanding of what your Motivators are or help someone you love and care about. If I can help you in any way, give me a shout Thanks for tuning in and it has a wonderful wonderful possibility. Waking up eager. We'll see you in part two.

Intro/Outro: [00:32:27] 

This episode of the Wake Up Eager Workforce podcast was brought to you by Priceless Professional Development. Thank you for tuning in. If you enjoyed today's show, head over to to gain access to more professional development resources.

Contact us to schedule a Complimentary Consulting Call

or to ask questions about any of our Hiring,
Coaching, Training and Assessment services.

Copyright © 2004-2021 Priceless Professional Development

Privacy Policy   |   Sitemap   |   Powered by Solo Built It!