During a recent visit to South Africa, I was struck by the legacy and influence of Nelson Mandela on the hearts of South Africans. Beyond his image appearing on buildings and in museums, locals keep his spirit alive in conversation.
Imprisoned for 27 years, 18 of those in a cell on Robben Island, Mandela and his fellow inmates referred to the prison as “A Freedom University.” Our tour guide, a former inmate himself, Mr. Sipho Msomi, was imprisoned at the age of 21 for being one of the organizers of a political group to fight apartheid. He shared that Mandela and the inmates recognized that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The tour was a chilling, yet inspiring couple of hours.
On the boat ride back to Cape Town I kept thinking about the power in choosing how we react to our circumstances. Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners chose to turn their cells into classrooms, the prison into a University of Freedom. They shared information however they could; hidden notes, quiet conversations while doing hard labor at the limestone quarry, and stealing newspapers from the prison guards.
Most of us aren’t living in a small cell but sometimes we act like it. Imagine what could be accomplished if we shifted our perception of obstacles to opportunities…
From South Africa I went to Kenya to speak at the 20th SACCA (Credit Union) Congress and attended the first ever Women in Co-ops Network Forum in Africa. It was another example of the power of the human spirit. While Africa is a continent that is rising, the gender equity gap is wide. Women still face discrimination in the workplace and are pressing for fundamental rights, from getting an education to having a voice in their government and more.
Choosing to be driven, rather than overwhelmed by the challenges, a group of women in our credit union movement in Africa opted to become change agents. Their efforts have ignited a movement that is slowly spreading across the continent, providing opportunities for women to network, find their voice, move into more leadership roles and have a bigger impact in their communities. These change agents recognized a need and created a new path to serve others, without excuses.
We all have choices in how we react to circumstances. Sometimes we build our own cells when things don’t go our way. We hunker down and have an ongoing pity party. Maybe we don’t get the job we want, experience workplace changes that we don’t agree with, or think about the million reasons why something is “impossible.”
The reality is that dreams, big or small, can be realized. Don’t let a “long” checklist of steps and obstacles hold you back. Start tackling each step. As you take action, you’ll find that the checklist is actually the roadmap to accomplishing your dreams.
Take the first step today. As challenges pop up, take a moment to identify at least one opportunity. They exist in every single challenge just waiting to be discovered. Be the agent of change and make 2020 your year of possibilities!