I was born in a small village in Africa. As a little boy my biggest dreams were those of my grandfather. I dreamed of owning many animals and taking them to the grazing fields to show off the numbers. I wanted to be the one to name my cows and goats according to their behaviors and control them, just like my grandfather. Make no mistake, I enjoyed taking a dip in the river as the animals drank water.
As I grew older I realized that my grandfather’s dreams were limited and I was likely going to spend the rest of my life in the grasslands. I later understood that I had been made to follow my grandfather to the fields, not because he needed my help, but because my parents had nowhere else to leave me as they worked hard to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. There had to be a better life out there that offered the ability to read books and get chosen to lead organizations. My grandfather was clearly not any of those. I started wanting more.
I was once one of those students who played a lot and made noise in class. My teachers, however, never rejected nor showed me any negative reactions. Instead, they challenged me to organize my thoughts better. They told me that I had the potential to be anything I wanted as long as I never gave up. I took their advice, and the more I read books and learned science, the more I wanted to be the one discovering things and become a thought leader. Instead of fighting in the school yard, I chose to beat my adversaries in class. I loved it; I still do.
Studying abroad was no walk in the park either. First, I experienced cultural shock and a language barrier when I had to learn the American socio-linguistic expressions. Many behavioral observations were similar to my culture, yet the meaning was different. I learned everything by observing, listening, and making mistakes. With no mom and dad to look after me in distant shores I was faced with a choice between staying school and giving in to frustrations. The peer pressure only suggested that I needed to join friends or risk being called proud and condescending. Guided by what and where I wanted to be in life my choice was clear. I am glad I chose school.
Completing my education did not come easy. Sometimes I wondered why I was using all my money towards education, a project in my “eyes” then, carried a lot of uncertain benefits. My turning point came when I watched a video clip where a young college basketball player never got frustrated, even though he sat on the bench during major games. He, however, kept bouncing that ball to keep fit and waited for his moment. When that time came in the final moments of a losing game, he literally carried his team on his back, upsetting all the lost scores and allowing his team a big win in the final seconds. I am glad I kept bouncing that school ball and when professional opportunities knocked the door I was able to apply all my experiences and succeed.
My work life has been satisfying, not just because of the job titles I have held, but because of the impact I have made on others. From my days as an ice-cream-truck sales guy, through cut-throat competition on Wall Street, NY, university professor, campus dean, and organizational leader, my perspective towards life has changed a lot. I have learned a lot about responsibility and owning goals. I have learned what it takes to succeed in the face of challenge.
My most precious moments as a speaker occur when I directly speak to individuals, students and groups about the greatness of determination. I speak about the wonder of personal motivation when everyone else has written you off and how it can change your circumstances. I speak about “Succeeding in the Face of Challenge”- any challenge…be it in education, leadership, health, business development, winning difficult customers and unleashing potential from the inner-city, low-income & minorities. I am honored to be that agent.