I had the pleasure of interviewing Robinson Lynn.
Robinson Lynn is widely known for delivering keynotes based on his personal story of becoming an executive at an early age and navigating the, at times, unwieldy waters of business ownership. He draws key leadership distinctions in the areas of innovation, breakthrough thinking, communication, culture change, and self-expression.
By age 25, Robinson Lynn had assumed leadership of a Manhattan training and development company, acquired a second location for it, doubled its client base, and reinvigorated its philanthropic activities.
Today, he is Executive Director of Momentum Education, providing experiential learning and life coaching with a focus on leadership development for thousands of individual and organizational clients in three different US markets and one overseas.
In support of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, Robinson was recognized as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent for his humanitarian work. MIPAD, the host organization, has now engaged Robinson at the forefront of its efforts to inspire high achievers of African descent around the world to eradicate injustice and develop coalitions across the Diaspora.
“I’m fulfilling what I was meant to do whenever I can help people improve their lives, especially in the service of having their heartfelt dreams come true,” Robinson says.
He is a graduate of George Washington University, and was a protégé of Robin Lynn, his mother, an international trainer who was recognized by the South African government for her role in the dismantling of the apartheid system.
Robinson is married to Tamara Lynn, an educator, and transformational trainer.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In many ways, I became a speaker, trainer/facilitator, and business owner from following the direct example of my mother. I grew up seeing my mother as a woman of contribution who supported and cared for and impacted the lives of others. She was an international facilitator and spoke all over the world but in particular, I remember thinking of the courage it took my mother as a single mother and black woman to relocate her family to Capetown South Africa to support in the healing of the country after the end of the apartheid system. Through observing my mother’s choices I was able to see how much of a difference one person could make. I could see contribution being modeled and the importance of following your dreams. When I was born, it took my mother (Robin Lynn) a few months to name me. She said she wanted to get to know me first. When she eventually did name me she chose the name Robinson, meant so signify that I was “Robin’s Son”. I think being the son of Robin (who was the daughter of Dessie and Hiwatha Lynn” was the single biggest factor in bringing me to my career path.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I became the Executive Director of Momentum Education at 22. My mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on a Wednesday, that Thursday we received a second opinion, and on Friday I went to work. At that point, I was a few months from having graduated College, with little to no applicable professional experience. The hardest part of those initial days on the job was trying to learn professionally while also trying to be of support to my mother and family. Hospitals became my office for weeks as I would either be there making calls and plans as she was receiving chemo or starting my day and nights there when she was admitted to the hospital.
Eventually, unfortunately, she passed away. During that time I would find myself working many days in a row. It wasn’t unusual to work 25, 27, 29, 31 days in a row, without a break or a day off. I also found myself occasionally sleeping over at the office. At the time I thought it was because I had a good work ethic but in hindsight, it was because I didn’t think I was good enough to be able to take some time away without everything I was working on falling apart.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I try to live my life by the mantra “‘When in doubt focus out.” During the hardest times, I tried to think of the services and tools I was providing to my community of clients. When I thought about how I could support others in living the life they’ve dreamed about it inspired me to keep going. If it was only about me, then if I gave up, I would only be letting myself down. But when I keep the people I impact at the forefront of my thoughts, it gives me motivation and a sense of responsibility to move forward.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I remember clearly being 22 years old, and nervous for a public speaking event that at that point would have been the most important day of my professional life until that moment. The night before I was so nervous that I worked up a sweat from pacing back and forth in my living room. I walked out to begin speaking, and a loved one who was with me whispered to me …”pst…Psss.. Robinson”. I couldn’t imagine what was so important that my loved one would interrupt me. When I paused to hear their words, they completed the full sentence “pss Robinson your zipper is open” while motioning with their hands towards my pants. The lesson from that story isn’t to make sure your pants are zipped before speaking in public (although that is a good strategy in general). To me, the lesson is to surround yourself with people who love you so much that they speak up when they see something is wrong. Other people probably saw that but felt too uncomfortable to speak up. And the person who did say something I’m sure wasn’t happy to tell me something like that given how nervous they knew I was, but they cared too much not to speak up in that moment. In life, I like to surround myself with people who care enough to speak up and point out what I may not be aware of, even if it’s painful for me or them at that moment.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self regarding life lessons, things you would like him to know what would they be and why?
Having worked with and coached thousands of people over the past decade, something I find consistently is that many people accomplish quite a lot without letting themselves feel “accomplished”. Which is something I’ve noticed in my own life quite a bit. As someone who is results and future-focused, I often have the experience of crossing the finish line, but as I do I’m already thinking about the next goal or result, or how I can improve next time. I would tell myself to make time to celebrate my results and to enjoy the process of getting to them, not just the final accomplishment. I also find that people who are hard on themselves can often be hard on others as well, and so allowing myself more time to celebrate and give myself grace I believe would only grow my ability to offer the same to others. I would tell myself to make sure not to wait until my eventual eulogy to decide whether or not I should be proud of myself.
I would tell myself to trust my gut. Over the years most of my most painful experiences occurred after continuing down a path that my gut told me I shouldn’t be walking down in the first place. Things that looked good on the surface, or that people told me was the way, have often backfired when I haven’t trusted my gut. My internal compass has often steered me in the right direction and should be followed.
The last life lesson I would give myself is to practice vulnerability and be open to receiving support from others. It takes a great deal of power and courage to be open to being vulnerable, but in doing so you can be an example for others that it is ok to be vulnerable as well. There have been times where I’ve worked harder, and longer because I’ve avoided asking for help. I believe vulnerability has not only increased my impact but it has made my own journey less lonely.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes my company stand out is the team and community that comprises it. First and foremost, I’m lucky to be a part of an organization that daily changes and impacts the lives of others in so many positive ways. Some people and companies may be proud of what they offer but may not necessarily feel like they make the world a better place. My colleagues and I really do believe that we are a part of making the world a better and more equitable place. I’m incredibly proud of the diversity of our team. There are many organizations that want to serve the world but don’t reflect what the world really looks like within its own internal structure. We are proud of our diversity and how that diversity is the key to our growth. One story that reflects that commitment is in 2018 we engaged in a 6-month process of having our staff and Workshop facilitators go through a Racial Equity and Liberation Training facilitated by Monica Dennis, Rachael Ibriahim, and Heidi Lopez. In this training, we explored privilege and the ways in which systems of racism and white supremacy were being played out in our organization. This training gave us a lens of analysis, where we explored ways in which we could do better at serving oppressed communities. We specifically decided to find new ways to celebrate and welcome trans people of color. In this current moment, we are looking at ways we can grow and impact people with disabilities who previously may not have felt comfortable going through our trainings without Momentum specifically finding ways to tailor our curriculum. A commitment to diversity has not been a bi-product of our growth, it is one of the most important causes of our growth.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I find that when you love and are passionate about what you do, it can sometimes make it even easier to burn out. For people who don’t like what they do, they normally can’t wait to check out, but those who love what they do sometimes keep working even when it would be beneficial to take a break. From a mindset standpoint, I used to recommend treating your work like a marathon, not a sprint. Now I would recommend not treating it like a race at all but a life’s work that you build on and add to every day. With that mindset, I think entrepreneurs and professionals won’t feel as guilty when taking breaks or time to themselves. Some logistical recommendations that I have found beneficial include:
- Take actual lunch breaks, I find if you don’t have time for a lunch break that’s the first sign that you need to take a break.
- I’ve removed email capabilities from my phone which has greatly supported me in having work-life balance and not always being on call.
- Leave the office at the office when on vacation. I’ve traveled to some of the most beautiful places, but in hindsight, my wife was on vacation and I had changed my office to a hotel room instead of truly experiencing rest and rejuvenation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are many people who come to mind who have provided a significant amount of support to me, but in this moment the first person who comes to mind is once again my mother, Robin Lynn. The reason why she comes to mind for this question is, in addition to being a single mother who raised my siblings and me with love, she also believed in me when it would have made a lot of sense not to. The older I get the more I understand the risk she took in leaving the organization she founded to her youngest child who was 22 at the time. At the time there were tons of professional and personal relationships that I’m sure tried to convince her to make a different choice (which was understandable given my age and my inexperience). But she trusted her gut, and trusted my heart and courageously made a choice that was risky. In my time as the director of Momentum. I’ve expanded our impact by thousands of people on a yearly basis and grown our domestic and international impact, but my life wouldn’t have looked this way if my mother hadn’t trusted her son.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Momentum’s Leadership curriculum has given thousands of people per year additional tools to not just dream but to bring the life they dream about to fruition. Over my time as Director people who have participated in our workshops have collectively raised over 16,000 million dollars for charity and nonprofits. We’ve raised enough money in partnership with Feeding America to provide meals for over 10 million people. We’ve also inspired many people to go after dream jobs or new businesses with over 1,500 businesses started by people participating in our curriculum since 2013. Those are tangible results but some of the experiences that have most touched my heart can’t quite be measured. I’ve coached people who have forgiven loved ones and reunited relationships, found confidence in themselves and become parents, and people who have created dream moments they’ve imagined since childhood.
Unfortunately, there are people who I’ve coached who have since passed away. But what touches me most is when I’ve been able to speak to their families who share how much their loved one was able to create and accomplish with the support of my coaching or the organization’s support. For me, that has shifted my focus from not just supporting people in accomplishing goals but in creating moments that they can look back fondly on as some of their most proud and joyous.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- “There will never be enough evidence to prove you are worthy or enough.” My experience has been that if I’m looking for outside validation, there is a desire for external factors that leave me feeling unfulfilled. But if I trust myself, and view my worthiness as an internal choice, then my acceptance and fulfillment comes from within. External validation is not as important as being proud when I look into the mirror and being able to sleep at night, knowing I gave my best.
- “Make a list of people you feel like you can call when you’re having a hard time or are at your lowest moments. Make a list of the people you feel you can call when you have an accomplishment you want to celebrate and you know they will truly be happy for you. To me, the people whose names are on both lists are the people I recommend surrounding yourself with and will propel you forward.” To me, the richness of life comes from who you get to be in relationship with, and who you get to go through this journey with. Teamwork really does make the dream work, if you surround yourself with the right team.
- “Self-care is not a luxury it’s a responsibility.” I’ve realized that it is hard for me to support others if I haven’t taken care of myself. Working to exhaustion or depletion robs the world from being able to benefit from my true gifts. Also, although I said “self” care often it has been the care of others that has actually supported me in moments when I couldn’t support myself.
- “Just because you’ve always done something that way is not a good enough reason to keep doing that.” Over the years my ability to adapt and try new ways of doing things has been incredibly beneficial. This year alone, I’ve had to navigate being an organization that specialized in gatherings in-person to adapt to social distancing and creating community and relationships virtually. But personal and professional evolution can’t occur if you’re not open to new ways of doing things.
- “Have fun!”. I get to support people in living the life they have dreamed about, which is my own dream come to life. The more joy I let myself have and the more I let myself dream, the better suited I become at supporting others in their dreams.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
At this moment, I feel like it is more beneficial to use my platform to support existing movements than to start my own. Transformation on this planet to me is a relay race, and I think it’s important to reach for the batons that others have passed to you and make space to pass that baton to others as well. I feel like I am seeing in real-time a movement around redefining masculinity, and showing the power of vulnerability. I stand for and with women’s empowerment movements and I am moved by movements to protect and celebrate the LGBTQI community and in particular trans people of color. I am moved to be living at a time where a movement towards social justice, equity, and the protection of Black Lives is gaining more support daily. Overall I’d like to use my influence and life to support these movements and create a more just, and equitable world, where all people can bring their dreams into reality.
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