Welfare Mom Vows Never to Be Broke Again, With Resounding Success

By Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times
June 14, 2016 Updated: June 19, 2016

Lisa Nichols now leads a multimillion-dollar enterprise. She is a media personality whose television appearances have included “Oprah” and the “Today” show. She is a New York Times best-selling author.

But 20 years ago, she was a single mom on welfare who had hit the bottom hard. She was 25 years old with a newborn son, Jelani. Her baby’s father was thrown in Los Angeles County jail, and she was on her own. When she tried to withdraw money from her bank account to buy diapers, she found she had only $11.42, insufficient funds.

Jelani wore towels in place of diapers for two days. Nichols, with tears in her eyes, put her hand on Jelani’s belly and told him, “Mommy will never, ever be this broke again.”

Nichols was born and raised in South-Central LA, in a neighborhood fraught with gang violence. Growing up with low expectations for her future success, Nichols had to work hard to achieve a mindset of “abundance,” as she describes it.

Her spiritual faith helped her immensely. “Faith is seeing the end vision without any physical evidence in sight,” Nichols told the Epoch Times in a telephone interview. “When I got very clear what my calling was and what God was placing on my life to do, I didn’t wonder ‘if’ [I could succeed] anymore, I just wondered ‘how.'”

Lisa Nichols, CEO, Motivating the Masses. (Courtesy of Lisa Nichols)
Lisa Nichols, CEO of Motivating the Masses. (Courtesy of Lisa Nichols)

Her calling was to serve others. Her grandmother, who was the most important influence in her life, always felt Nichols was destined to impact many people. When Nichols was 24, her grandmother told her that if she was going to lead, she should be a “servant leader.”

“Growth in my life comes from wanting to serve more people,” Nichols said. “How can I impact more people, how can I be of greater value to more people? … Everything stems from that.”

Growth in my life comes from wanting to serve more people.
— Lisa Nichols, CEO, Motivating the Masses

Her company, Motivating the Masses, conducts workshops and programs to help businesses and individuals follow some of the same steps to success that she did. She has also written seven books, including “Abundance Now: Amplify Your Life and Achieve Prosperity Today,” published in January by Harper Collins. 

The ‘How’

It wasn’t that Nichols found a singular key to success. The changes were multifaceted. She started by learning from people “whose lives weren’t a mess.”

In her book “Abundance Now,” she describes some of her first steps: “I stopped taking ‘just jobs’ and instead pursued a position that elevated me and amplified my game. I began to travel for my employer, wore suits to work, mastered using a laptop and the latest technology … I volunteered for projects and assignments that no one else wanted.”

She read Stephen Covey’s classic book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” among many other similar books. Former NBA Coach Phil Jackson and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz are among the leaders she took as role models. She attended the same entrepreneurs conference 42 times, as one of only four female attendees and the only African-American woman.

In her congregation growing up, her role model was Sister Brown, a godly woman and also a penniless woman. Nichols was raised to see money as the root of all evil, and that if you get a little extra, you should give it away.

While soaking in the characteristics she needed for success from books and conferences, Nichols held onto the best of her upbringing. She has extra money now, and she does give it away; but she no longer subconsciously rejects money, a mentality that she feels long held her back.

She has created financial abundance in her life through what she calls “karmic investments”—through helping others.

Nichols got a “D” grade in oration during her freshman year at college, and her teacher told her never to speak in public. But she wasn’t discouraged and has now used her power as a public speaker to help some 30 million people.

Nichols told the Epoch Times about some of those 30 million.

From surveys conducted at her workshops with teens, she has found that about 3,800 teens considered suicide before the workshop but chose life as a result of the workshop.

One woman, who had emerged from a stifling relationship and struggled to stand on her own, went “from a crawl to a walk, a walk to a run, a run to a soar,” Nichols said. Some people “nibble” the advice, but this woman “devoured” it.

She had never really experienced independence and was excited at first to even get a gas bill in her own name. Now she is a shareholder in a company, owns her own home, drives her dream car, and travels the world, Nichols said. 

She had to “fight for her self-esteem, fight for her self-worth.” 


Self-perception is a big part of being able to truly envision success for yourself, and thus reach it, according to Nichols. 

“It’s waking up and saying, ‘I like myself,’ before I check Facebook to see if anyone liked one of my posts.” Acting truthfully, she finds confidence. When she is transparent and authentic, she doesn’t have anything to hide, and it doesn’t matter how others perceive her. 

“I was in Africa once and this woman asked me how did I get my hair the way I wear my hair, which is in an Afro. I responded, ‘Well, it’s the easiest style for me to wear, because it’s my natural style.'”

It took a while for her to achieve self-acceptance and self-validation. At the beginning of her efforts to turn her life around, she got into an abusive relationship. She left the relationship, but in the aftermath, a psychiatrist diagnosed her with depression and prescribed Prozac. Nichols declined the Prozac and chose to work hard on herself. 

She noted that she doesn’t encourage others to stop prescriptions or ignore the advice of professionals, but she does think that “Medical doctors can prescribe more than medicine. A lot of our ‘dis-ease’ is in our toxic thinking.”

A lot of our ‘dis-ease’ is in our toxic thinking.
— Lisa Nichols, CEO, Motivating the Masses

She decided to stand in front of the mirror each morning and tell herself three things.

First, “I forgive you for …” She would finish the sentence with anything that bound her in guilt, anger, or blame. Second, “I commit to you that …” Third, “I am proud that you …”

The ways in which she has finished these sentences have changed over the years. Personal growth is a continual process.

Nowadays, she tells herself she’s proud of the CEO she has become, a CEO dedicated to cherishing and valuing her employees. She’s proud of her body, having lost 90 pounds. 

“I’m proud of myself for the way I manage conflict,” she said. “If something hurts or frustrates me, I don’t attack another person. … I’ve learned to sit with it, to make sure that the words coming out of my mouth are going to leave them feeling whole and complete.”

When a consultant working with her company stole hundreds of thousands of dollars, she was angry at first. But her son—that baby Jelani who is now a young man, and whom she has apparently taught well—invited her to pray for this consultant. 

One of the salient lessons Nichols has learned and passes on to others is the importance of taking action. She said people are often paralyzed by the fear of failure. Or they get stuck in thought, analysis, and research. 

Nichols quoted musician Joan Baez: “Action is the antidote for despair.” And she added, “Action is also the prescription for success.”

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