Defeating Challenges: Lessons for Smart Learners

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“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”  – Henry Ford           

The “Why Me?” question is one of the most common questions we tend to ask ourselves when we are passing through trying times, including in our careers. The adversity typically manifest through intense feelings of disappointment, rejection, and even depressions due to denied promotion, inclement work atmosphere, employment termination, unsuccessful interview with our dream organization, loss of loved ones, and business failure.  At these times, all the outlook seem forlorn and despair tends to reign. For dreamers, what used to be a reflex action becomes laborious if at all they are able to dream: dreaming becomes a feat. As bad as these times can be, there is some comfort in the fact that these experiences are shared; they are not peculiar to anyone. Experience is a good teacher. Any reasonable person wants to learn from a good teacher. In a sense then, these experiences are welcome development to us. However, smart learners learn from the best teachers: experiences of others, and avoid the indelible sour impressions adversity tends to leave when it strikes.

I used to be a good learner like most people, so I learned many valuable lessons from my own experiences. However, from hindsight wisdom, I have become an advocate of smart learning, now I share lessons from my experiences to make a smart learner of good learners:

Be Self-aware

Please… tell me who you are and what you want. And if you think those are simple questions, keep in mind that most people live their entire lives without arriving at an answer.” – Gary Zukav

Self awareness simply put, is conscious self-knowledge or self-discovery. It is having a clear insight into your distinctive features as a person. Being aware of your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, passions, emotions, and motivations is invaluable because it determines to a large extent how far you can go in life. It is a stepping stone to self-improvement. During turbulent times, because you are self-aware, you able to take personal responsibility for your failure or disappointments and address the issue with clarity. You learn, unlearn and relearn.

At the beginning of the year, while enrolled in a program at the Lagos Business School, and one of the facilitators asked a question “what are you good at?” I heard various interesting answers including baking, sewing, and playing the saxophone. Wow! I said to myself, “Bunmi, it looks like everyone has something to say except you.” Not untypical, I didn’t have an answer to that simple question; I seem to do better at responding to questions that burgles the mind. However, this simple questions stayed with me, creating the kind of challenge that prompts me to find an answer. By the end of the program, the prompt to discover myself has grown into a passion in me. I was more passionate than ever to discover myself.

I knew about SWOT analysis, but I never reasoned that I could perform such an analysis on myself until I read an article on LinkedIn demonstrating such utility of SWOT analysis. After a thorough SWOT analysis on myself, and some reflection and introspection, I realized I could actually write: I have been writing for as long as I could remember, people would commend my articles, but I never paid attention to their compliments nor thought much of my writings. I am certain this situation strikes a chord with many.

The amazing thing about self-awareness is the after effect it has on one. It builds a sense of self-worth and personal responsibility. It kills inferiority complex and makes you feel far more valuable as a person to society than you felt before.

Being unaware of oneself is tantamount to self-ignorance, and self-ignorance is a disease. The only cure is self-knowledge.

Be Grateful

“With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.” – Dr. Wayne W Dyer

A dose of gratitude each day can cure all forms of stress and depression. Gratitude helps you see positivity in negativity, and renews your mind daily by challenging the condemning voice within you.

Each time I feel downcast about a missed opportunity, I say to myself: “where there is life there is hope.” This is both true and factual: only the living can set goals, only the living can worry about promotion, success, and all the goodies of life. Being alive is a very substantial reason to be grateful.

Another thing I do is to write down all that I am grateful for. I don’t limit this to myself, I usually extend it to my families and friends. This reflection always leaves me amazed at the enormous blessings in my life. What is said of the link between thinking and gratitude is true:  “If you think well, you would be able to thank well”.

Failure in one area is not failure in all areas. Rather than dwell on failure (because of a conviction that you deserve better), gratitude helps you realize that you have more than you need and there are even more to come if you position yourself to receive them.

An attitude of gratitude helps you to genuinely celebrate the success of others (regardless of whether they are deserving of it or not).

Delay is not denial, and a bump in the road on your way to success doesn’t mean your journey has ended. Be grateful.

 

Be Resilient

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” – Robert H. Schuller

It can be helpful that we go through tough times because they can serve as a stimulus that strengthens our character. Resilience in the face of nerve-wracking conditions determines whether you succeed or fail in the long run. Resilience keeps your ship from sinking even in boisterous storms, it turns possible catastrophes into growth prospects and automatically turns off panic mode in your brain.

At the end of my penultimate year in the university, my Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) nosedived from 4.65 to 4.45. This was a really big failure for me because I had lost my place among the best students in the department, and also disappointed those who had faith in me. I had just one session left, in fact, the toughest session. Was it possible for me to climb back up? I reckoned it was. But was it difficult? It proved to be – and very much so! Through discipline which continued to rub off on me to this day, I did regain my place.

During the session break, I took time to do a self-appraisal and find out why I had failed. I narrowed all my findings to two things: complacency and procrastination. I accepted full responsibility for my mistakes and began to take steps to correct them. I sought counsel and diligently read articles and books that addressed these problems. Two books worth mentioning are An Enemy Called Average by John L. Mason and Crunch Point by Brian Tracy.  Amazingly, the session was the best ever by all standards. That session, I had very high grades and was able to engage in more extra-curricular activities which developed my leadership skills. I gave it all it took. Today the rest is history. At the end, I wished the supposed ill had happened to me earlier!

You are never a failure until you quit!

Be in the right circle

“Make sure everybody in your boat is rowing and not drilling holes when you’re not looking. Know your circle.” — Unknown

Relationships are a very critical factor in overcoming the “Why Me” moments.” In times like these, we tend to engage in self-pity, we feel weak and are unable to manage our emotions. Therefore, we seek attention from those who would indulge us. We tend to pursue external validations to justify our victim mentality, and in the process, we kill the drive to do something to change our situation. A very profound quote by Jim Rohn which says “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” is very instructive.

Your network is like an orchestra, one comprising virtuoso and mediocre members would hardly produce a harmonious rendition: surrounding yourself with people who enjoy pity-partying is downright destructive. The end result of the pity-party is unpleasant hangover: you feel more depressed, bitter, negative about life, and resentful of others. Your mental strength is sapped, and if another opportunity is just around the corner, you would miss it – gallantly.

I used to love pity-parties until I saw the effect on my grades as an undergrad. At that point I had to reshuffle my network. I began to seek connection with people above me who rather than indulge me, would give me the needed counsel to position myself for the next opportunity. They were very blunt with me, and I loved it.

In summary

“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.” – Unknown

Life is like a roller-coaster ride with highs and lows: victories and defeats, sadness and happiness, peace and chaos. I have never heard of anyone who has had it all rosy in life. Even inanimate objects don’t have it all rosy, they as raw materials for the things we use, go through a lot of transformation and reformation before they become suitable for sales. And just when they think they can rest (at last), someone picks them up at a store, uses them until they depreciate, then they are subjected to further transformation and reformation through disposition or recycling. But your guess is as good as mine: those objects are fulfilling their purposes (I’m sure without complaining – though we have no decisive way of knowing): meeting our needs and wants through their transformations and reformations.

The onus is on you to develop the right virtues and attitude towards challenges. No matter what life throws at you, you are able to successfully navigate and move on graciously. While you may be pressed (yes) you are not crushed, and while you may be down, you are not out.

All that matters ultimately is that you fulfill your purpose and give back value to the world that has given you so much.

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