Obstacles Vs Challenges


There is a growing tendency to judge a person’s intelligence by how they speak. Those who do not communicate with the dominant accent or language are automatically deemed less intelligent and, consequently, dismissed and closed out from opportunities for advancement. I experienced this first-hand upon my return to the United States of America after spending most of my formative years in Nigeria. People would correct my pronunciation, make fun of my accent, and ultimately dismiss my contributions. I had never experienced people automatically questioning my intelligence, and it was truly an affront to my spirit and ego.

Vexed and irritated, I had to decide how to address this new and unexpected challenge to my goals and aspirations. I had enough self-confidence to know nothing was wrong with me. America’s infatuation with its perceived exceptionalism was nothing I could single-handedly change, so how would I progress in this hostile environment that sought to silence me? When faced with an obstacle, we can pretend it does not exist, shrink back and change course, get frustrated, give up on our dreams, or tackle it head-on. I chose to take on the obstacle.

This was in the late 1980s and early 1990s; Google and YouTube were not options at the time, but when I discovered a section in the library that carried motivational speaker audiotapes, I found a tool that would change my life in profound ways. To begin, I checked out tapes by Brian Tracy and Zig Ziglar. I aimed to listen to these speakers and learn how to pronounce words the American way. I would stand in front of the mirror and repeat portions of their speeches.

But something else happened along the way. In addition to learning their patterns of speech and pronunciation, I also absorbed the content of their books and presentations. I gained valuable insights on effectively communicating with and moving audiences, particularly American audiences. I was taking myself through a self-paced public speaking course without realizing it. I also gathered valuable information on leadership, psychology, personal development, goal setting, selling, and entrepreneurship.

I began to research and read other authors on leadership. Within a couple of years, I was facilitating workshops on time management and effective study skills for my peers at The Ohio State University. A year later, I wrote a successful proposal to host a Women’s Conference that featured Julianne Malveaux as our keynote speaker and secured the funding for the week-long conference. I worked in the community as a mentor to youth in the Urban Minority Alcoholism Outreach Program. I amassed many leadership awards, including being the first (and perhaps the only) student as of this publication to earn the Distinguished Affirmative Action Award at The Ohio State University for advancing opportunities for people of color.

The skills and knowledge I acquired in the process of learning to modify my speech not only enhanced my effectiveness as a student leader and a law student but also piqued my interest in the field of human psychology and achievement and ultimately led to my current career as a life coach, inspirational speaker, and author.

In other words, I significantly expanded my options because I saw my communication challenges not as an insurmountable barrier but as an invitation to grow and add to my skill sets. I further established myself on a trajectory allowing me to live on my own terms.

Applying this perspective to every obstacle I have experienced has transformed my life and enabled me to impact others positively. As a college administrator, I formulated intervention programs to assist “at-risk” students and increase their retention and graduation rates. Every time I pitched a program to the decision-makers, I would be congratulated for my ingenuity and simultaneously advised that the initiatives could not be implemented due to a lack of resources. After the third rejection, I decided to address the obstacle. I asked, “If I can find the money, will you pledge your support for the implementation of the program?” I always got a resounding yes. I knew, and they knew they were pacifying me, but I had a plan.

I again headed to the library and taught myself the art of successful grant writing. I sought out external funding sources through grants. I submitted grant proposals for my initiatives, and the approval letters began pouring in. At one point, the provost of the University summoned me to a meeting. I was a mid-level administrator and not in a position typically noticed by the provost. But, in my case, since the grant approval letters always crossed the provost’s desk, he was curious to meet this staff member bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the University.

By the time I left that institution five years after being hired, I had written proposals and developed relationships that brought millions of dollars to the University. With this new grant-writing skill, I switched positions and negotiated a nice pay raise when I was hired as the Corporate and Foundation Relations Director. The provost recommended me to the president for senior leadership consideration. My institution fully funded my participation in the Summer Institute of Women in Higher Education Administration at Bryn Mawr to fast-track me as a senior administrator. Once again, facing an obstacle had paid great dividends. Even though I ultimately decided that higher education administration was not a career I wanted to pursue, the exposure and training have been invaluable as I build an international business.

What obstacles are you currently facing? Rather than being frustrated or giving up, embrace the obstacle as an invitation for your growth. Choose to acquire whatever skill sets you need to overcome the challenges. If you have not noticed, problem solvers are compensated much more than others. The more you grow, the greater your capacity to create your desired life.

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