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Albert & Comfort Ocran

This is the sixth part of a series that highlights the sheer force of the “gravitational pull” and how to overcome the obstacles that conspire to keep you at the base of the mountain. It is culled from our book “Defying All Odds.” Enjoy it!!! 

Failure in any form or size is difficult to deal with. When we fall short of our expectations in any aspect of our lives, we often live with a sense of pain, guilt and regret. These negative emotions are further reinforced by the accusations, exaggeration and stories people sometimes tell about our failures. Indeed failure is not a pleasant experience.

When we fail, we often ask ourselves lots of questions. One of the most common questions we ask is what we did to deserve what happened to us. We think of all the other people who could have had the same experience and wonder why us and not them. Rap artiste Shaggy sang a song with the chorus, “Why me? Why me, Lord? Why me....?” The tragedies and disappointments of our lives often leave us wondering whether there is something wrong with us. Where we feel that we may have contributed in any way, the question we often ask is why we failed to avoid it.

The opinions and reactions of other people tend to be another important concern when we deal with failure. We once met a young woman wailing at the car park of a hospital where she had just lost her six year old daughter to acute anaemia. She had obviously exercised poor judgement in trying to treat the child at home for a while before rushing her to the hospital. Surprisingly, all her lamentations were not about the loss of what was her only child but the anticipated mockery by her neighbours who she was convinced did not wish her well. We did our best in trying to console her, but all she kept asking was why God had allowed her to fall into the hands of her enemies.

The last question we often ask represents the greatest fear of people dealing with setbacks. Many people dealing with failure echo their worst fears when they keep asking, “Am I finished? Will I ever rise again?” In such moments, they recount the stories of everyone they know who ran into difficulties and was never able to rise up again. Unfortunately, that process makes them even more sceptical about the future and their prospects for survival and continued progress.

Wrong Conclusions and Postures

As we grapple with numerous questions, we often rush to certain conclusions about our lives in general. These conclusions make us adopt certain wrong postures that end up affecting us. Examples are:

  1. 1. Success is not for me. When people feel that they have tried everything they know and are still unsuccessful, they conclude that they are not destined to succeed. They either think that something is wrong with them or that the laws of success are only applicable to a different category of people. There is a danger in giving permanence to your temporary afflictions or challenges. You may be struggling today and looking like nothing good will come out of your numerous efforts. Keep hope alive and keep your head held high. God is faithful and he will bring you to a place of rest and fulfilment.

  1. 2. Siege Mentality. When people are unable to have their way or keep getting different negative experiences, they easily jump to the conclusion that nobody likes them or that everyone is out against them. When people take such entrenched positions, they easily become paranoid. This is where people have all manner of delusions about persecution and threats. At that point, nothing is meaningless. The most simple and seemingly insignificant action could easily be misconstrued as a trap or bait by someone trying to destroy them.
  2. 3. Stereotyping. Another convenient option for many people dealing with their failures is to resort to stereotyping. Your experience of betrayal, disappointment or pain may make you conclude that everyone else is like the one who caused you grief. That is why you would hear people make sweeping generalisations about everyone from a certain tribe, gender, nationality or religious persuasion. Some people are so steeped in this kind of thinking that they hold on to it for life and even teach it to their children. Parents who refuse to allow their children to marry partners from a particular tribe often do so because of their own bitter experiences or those of others known to them. The risk with such entrenched positions is that even when you meet someone with that kind of background who is in a position to help you move to the next level, you are likely to see the person from a prejudiced perspective and rule them out completely.

4. Prolonged Mourning and Regret. People battling with setbacks or disappointments easily box themselves into the corner with wrong postures that further endanger their chances of future success. You may be faced with a recession or a change in the conditions that you have been used to over the years. You may have been relegated to the background by circumstances beyond your control. Your sponsors may have withdrawn their support for your pet project. A political gamble you took may even have backfired. That is the same way the Israelites felt when they were carried off into slavery in Babylon; their men had been castrated, their daughters raped and their cities burnt down. They found themselves captive in a strange land with no idea when they would go home.

In Psalm 137:1, the Bible says “by the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” The three postures (sitting, weeping and remembering) all connote a sense of nostalgia about the past. There are many who spend all their lives looking beyond their shoulders as they relive the ‘good old days.’ All they think about are the times when things were far better for them. That is a dangerous way to live. Too much of looking back and, like Lot’s wife in Genesis 19:26, you could be turned into a pillar of salt; great potential but of no use. Rise up and move on with your life!!!

5. A Life of Suspense. It is a common feature in fairy tales to read about a maiden, who has suffered a bad experience, daily sitting in the window of a tower and waiting for a knight in shining armour to come and rescue her. Every approaching horseman gives her hope only for disappointment to follow. This is the same posture of waiting and uncertainty that many people find themselves in. People who are caught in limbo are trapped in their past and cannot run towards the opportunities of their future. That is the case with the person who keeps waiting for that traveller who vowed to return one day and marry her or that uncle who keeps promising to help them travel abroad. The danger does not lie in the expectation but the fact that people like that often stop doing anything else that could help them make progress. Like the man by the pool in John Chapter 5, they keep waiting for an angel to stir the water and for someone to help them get in. No wonder he remained at the same place for thirty-eight long dreary years. If you live your life like that, you could be stuck at one place for a long time. Rise up and move on with your life!!!

6. Total Abandonment. I will never marry again! I will never go back to school! I will never trust anyone! I give up! These are some of the verdicts people arrive at when they are unable to come to terms with failure or unfavourable circumstances. They convince themselves that they have missed it and question why they should bother to persist or try again. Someone may be asking, “How can I pass my examinations as a remedial candidate when I failed as a regular student with all the lectures and institutional support.” Another may question the probability of finding a marital partner if they failed to do so at a younger age when they were more attractive. It may be easy or even justified to give up. But don’t! Rise up and move on with your life!!!

7. Anger and Offence. Setbacks and disappointments sometimes leave us angry and suspicious of everyone. We easily get angry with God for not saving us, others for letting us down and ourselves for dropping our guard. This can be a most destructive posture. Offence goes a step beyond anger to bitterness and ill wishes. It often starts with an unspoken wish for justice. You hope for events and circumstances to prove that you were right or unfairly treated. You are on the lookout for bad news about your offender in order for you to feel a sense of justification. After a while, when that does not happen, you find yourself moving to the next level where you actively try to assist the process. When this feeling is not restrained or dealt with, you could easily graduate to revenge and ultimately destroy yourself. But don’t go that way! Rise up and move on with your life!!!

To be continued...

“Defying All Odds” by Albert & Comfort Ocran

Whatever you continually focus on will keep manifesting itself in your life. - Albert & Comfort Ocran

Wisdom Key: 
This is the fifth part of a series that highlights the sheer force of the "gravitational pull" and how to overcome the obstacles that conspire to keep you at the base of the mountain. It is culled from our book "Defying All Odds." Enjoy it!!! 

Frank Peretti is known and celebrated worldwide as one of the founding fathers of Christian fiction and the master of supernatural suspense. His bestselling books, including Monster, The Visitation and This Present Darkness, have sold millions of copies and garnered numerous awards. This could easily be described as a grass to grace story for a man who before his publishing breakthrough, was helping his father pastor a small Assembly of God church.

What many would not know is that, prior to the publishing of his first masterpiece This Present Darkness by Crossway in 1986, Peretti had been rejected by fourteen publishers for the same script including even Crossway itself. Anyone else could easily have given up along the way, but not Peretti. He refused to be discouraged by the first one being rejected and actually wrote a second book. Interestingly, it was after the acceptance of the second script, a children's book, that he was invited to re-present the first, which went on to become a bestseller in several languages. This Present Darkness remained on the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) top ten best-sellers list for over 150 consecutive weeks after its release. Peretti pressed on with his writing because he believed this was something he really had to do in his lifetime. Today, not only is he an accomplished author, his success has extended into movies and a number of other areas.

The Pain of Disappointment & Rejection
Over the years, many have sacrificed their dreams on the altar of disappointment. They have refused to press on because of the bitter pill of failure, betrayal, disappointment or rejection. These negative experiences can make you lose confidence, doubt your capabilities and question the wisdom in trying to make progress or attempt new things. The next time you think of giving up, remember that someone you admire may have gotten to the same point several times in the past and pressed on to success.

The setbacks we face often make us want to give up and stop trying, but success often beckons when we rise above our storms. Setbacks come in various ways. You could fail an exam, lose your job, backslide in your faith, be a victim of theft or fraud, disobey God, be abused or abuse your partner. Some of the most common experiences that lead to disappointment and stagnation are:

  • False starts. By the rules of international athletics, during a competitive meet only one false start is allowed. Beyond that, the next competitor to make a false start is pulled out of the race. As a result, athletes often get tensed after there has been one false start and operate with extreme caution to avoid getting disqualified. It is not so in real life. A number of success stories have early chapters that are replete with multiple false starts, failed experiments and trial-and-error. Thomas Edison is reputed to have attempted thousands of failed experiments before finally inventing the light bulb. Sadly, many refuse to move beyond their first failed attempts at anything. They rather prefer to walk away and abandon their dreams than to fight on to victory.
  • The loss of a loved one. Bereavement or the loss of someone you love or look up to can be a very difficult and painful experience. Sometimes, people's educational aspirations suffer because of the death of a parent or guardian. At other times, it is the loss of a spouse or partner in business that becomes the stumbling block to progress. We lost both our fathers relatively early in life. However, instead of being a stumbling block to progress, it has often served as a jolt and a driving force for success.
  • Rejection & Betrayal. In the course of our lives, people are bound to walk out of relationships with us. This could be in business, friendship and courtship or even in marriage. Today, many are bitter and struggling to come to terms with a business partner who defrauded them or stole their business idea years ago. Whichever form it comes in, betrayal is painful to deal with and can affect one's sense of self-worth. We once ministered to a woman whose husband-to-be actually left her stranded at the altar and bolted away. Her whole life seemed to be in limbo and, unsurprisingly, she had become bitter and suspicious of all men. The unfortunate part of this was that it had had a profoundly negative impact on her career. It is worth mentioning that much as marriage creates synergy and benefits for both spouses, singleness does not make a person incomplete in any way. It should therefore not be an excuse to refuse to live one's life to the fullest potential.
  • Childlessness. Another challenge that many have to grapple with is that of childlessness. This is an age-old phenomenon, as evidenced by the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Her experience provides a useful insight into the pressures of a barren woman in a polygamous marriage. For many years, Hannah was childless while her rival, Peninnah, had a number of children. According to the Bible, the latter scorned her till it hurt. Tradition also contributed to her pain by requiring her husband to give her only one portion of meat during their regular sacrifice rituals, while he gave a number of portions to Peninnah by virtue of her children. Eventually, as her pain and desperation boiled over, Hannah marched into the temple and made a vow to God that eventually led to the birth of Samuel and subsequently to five other siblings.
    Today, the same desperation associated with childlessness is having a telling effect on people's lives and careers. Interestingly, as was the case in Biblical times, tradition and societal expectations add to the pressure and serve to further compound the situation. Children are a gift and God has a different timing for everyone. If you are a parent in waiting, keep trusting God but determine to continue living a full life.
  • Disappointments. People do not always deliver on their promises to do things for us. If we don't learn to move on in life, we can easily spend all our time blaming others for where we are. It is unfortunate when people fail to live life to the full and blame it all on others. It could be either their parents for not educating them enough, a business partner for swindling them or someone who promised to help them and failed. A fine young gentleman, with great career prospects, died of stress-related problems because a relation who promised to set him up in business ran into difficulties and pulled out at the last minute.
  • Missed Opportunities. Many are struggling to move on with their lives because they missed out on a scholarship, a travel visa or some other opportunity that they believe could have changed the course of their entire lives. When we see ourselves as having missed lifetime opportunities, we often end up looking back instead of looking and moving forward. As a result, anytime we meet a new situation or opportunity, we remind everyone about how far we would have gone if we had taken advantage of the earlier one. We therefore end up living unfulfilled lives filled with regrets.
  • Unfavourable Systems and Circumstances. In life, it sometimes feels as if a whole deck of cards is stacked against you. At certain stages, it may look as if nothing is working for you. The very system you seek to excel in may seem to be skewed against you or designed to frustrate your efforts at progress. In one of his popular reggae tunes, the late Bob Marley described the Babylon system as a vampire sucking the blood of the souls around it. That is how some people feel about the environment they are operating in. What is 'sucking their blood' could be the business climate, the operating rules, the prevalent ethics, the country's laws or even the location in which you were born, all of which could put you at a disadvantage.

That is how a person feels when they work hard to buy a parcel of land and someone unjustifiably takes it and quickly builds on it while they struggle with an unresponsive legal system to reclaim what is rightfully yours. The same applies to someone who consistently fails to get a visa to join a spouse who has a lucrative job abroad. Imagine a person who invests his entire pension or life savings in an investment company that goes bankrupt. That is what happened to several investors in 2009 when Bernard Madoff was found guilty and sentenced to a 150-year prison term on multiple accounts of fraud. What would you do if a sudden flurry of cheap and illegal imports threatens to cripple the business you have invested your whole life in? Sometimes, the challenges we have to contend with on our way to the top may have nothing to do with our choices, actions or inactions but we still have to surmount them and go on to achieve our dreams. In the next edition we will provide some guidelines for moving on in spite of these setbacks.

(To be continued.)

“Defying All Odds” by Albert & Comfort Ocran

A man of character finds a special attractiveness in difficulty, since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty that he can realize his potentialities. - Charles de Gaulle

On the last day of the 2008/09 season in the English Premiership, four teams were facing the threat of relegation to the next division. Their positions and number of points amassed were so close that everything came down to their performance in the last match of the season. One team had been relegated earlier, but at the end of that day two more teams would go down and the remaining two would survive. A whole year's effort now virtually hinged on what would happen in those last ninety minutes of action. In the build-up to the day, there was a huge debate about which teams would make it and which wouldn't. As the teams prepared for what should be the matches of their lives, each one's opposing supporters and local rivals taunted them and declared that they were finished.

At the end of the day Newcastle United, one of the most highly-supported teams in the Premier League, was relegated along with Middlesbrough. Unlike others, their destiny rested totally in their hands. They were playing Aston Villa in a match that they simply had to win to survive. By half time, results were going their way at other venues and even though they were a goal down, all they needed to do was score an equaliser to turn things around and stay up. The value of a place in the English premiership is estimated to be worth tens of millions of pounds each year. That was how high the stakes were.

The sad reality is, not only did Newcastle fail to score; their play seemed to lack the sense of urgency or determination often required to excel in such situations. The very future of the club and its economic viability was under threat but playing against a team that had nothing to fight for, it was sad to see the players wilt and go down without as much as a fight. Totally absent was the last minute frenzy that often characterises matches with high stakes. It was as if everyone had accepted their fate or nobody really cared. That is not how to achieve great things and reach the pinnacle of achievement. If anyone wants to take away your blessings they must have to fight you for it. Even when the odds are heavily stacked against you, let it be on record that you went down with a fight.

When you find your dream under siege because of sceptics, rivals, opponents or detractors, you've got to fight your way beyond them. Learn the lesson of the eagle, which operates best in severe wind storms. The strong winds that oppose other birds and make them rush for cover are the ones that rather excite the eagle. It uses the strength from those storms as a propelling force or 'fuel' for its massive wings in flight. That way it is not required to fluff its wings and put in a lot of effort. Instead, it just glides above the winds. Learn to convert 'opposing' energy into 'propelling' energy. Be energised by the doubts, scepticism, unwarranted criticism and opposition you face just because you want to excel.

God is looking for fighters; people who have identified a dream worth dying for and are willing to put in their all to make it happen. The challenge is many people have no compelling dream in their hearts. They have nothing they are willing to die for. They therefore give up at the slightest opposition or provocation and go on to provide every justification for not pursuing the opportunity of a lifetime. Such people love to spend hours and even days describing the activities of their opponents and detractors and how much they have cost them. People like that are going nowhere in life. Stop whining and fight for your vision. The summit of the mountain is reserved for fighters.

Your ultimate goal is to finish your race and to win and the following will help you stay the course:

  1. 100% Focus & 0% Distraction. In mountaineering, the closer you get to the mountain top, the greater the risks associated with being distracted. In the case of Mount Everest, the summit region has a number of narrow perches with steep drops of several hundred feet on both sides. Those are the points when your concentration must be highest. Any slight distraction and you'd be off. Similarly, in life you need to stay totally focused on where you are going in the face of distraction and provocation. The higher you climb the greater the risks associated with falling and therefore the more focused you must be.

  1. Refuse To Accept A Wrong Identity. Other people will always exercise their right to have an opinion about you. These opinions may range from true to exaggerated to outright false. Sometimes, the things people think and say about you may border on the entirely outrageous. Not only will they say these things but, in some cases, they will try to force that wrong identity on you like a garment. The biggest test you need to pass will be how you react when this happens.

When David's brother accused him of naughtiness, pride and wrong motives, he did two things in response: he made his point and walked away. David asked, 'Is there not a cause?' That should be your response. If your pursuit of a worthwhile, compelling cause is misconstrued and misrepresented by others, refuse to accept their negative report about you. Instead, continually remind yourself of the positive, progressive person you are and confess what God's word says about you. When they go beyond maligning you to setting impediments in your way, use what are meant to be stumbling blocks as stepping stones to your victory.

3. Surround yourself with possibility thinkers. The amazing story is told in Mark Chapter 2 of a group of men who were so determined to bring their sick friend to Jesus that they climbed onto the top of the house and broke through a portion of the roof in order to let him down. Many times, this story is told with a focus on the spirit of perseverance and faith exhibited by the four men. However, another dimension worth noting is that the man had chosen friends who had the capacity, willingness and commitment to lift him up to the next level. Faced with a milling crowd, they had every legitimate reason to stop at some point and return or leave him to his fate. They chose to fight for their friend.

Make friends who would be willing to tear down barriers in order to give you access to your miracle. Achieving great things in life involves creating new space and removing obstacles. You cannot always do it alone. When you have to rely on colleagues, associates, team members or friends, they must be people who see possibilities all around; people who see no limits or boundaries.

4. Build Spiritual Strength. Learn to fight your way up alone in prayer. When forces are marshalled against you, you need God in your corner. Develop your spiritual muscles by praying constantly and backing it up with the word of God. Form the habit of repeating God's promises aloud to yourself every morning and in every difficult situation. The more you do so, the stronger you become and the better equipped you become to deal with the assorted challenges you may face on the road to the top.

Let this poem we composed entitled "Fight" be a source of motivation whenever you face challenges:

Fight! For that dream you cherish;
Fight! Don't turn your back;
Fight! Though doubts abound;
Fight! For what you believe.

Fight! Break out of containment;
Fight! Stand up and be counted;
Fight! Push back the barriers;
Fight! There's lots in store.

Fight! When you feel like giving up;
Fight! Though your strength fails;
Fight! In the face of mounting resistance;
Fight! You've come too far.

Fight! Take your place at the frontline;
Fight! For your future and the next generation;
Fight! The Greater One is in you;
Fight! Victory is ever closer.

To be continued...

Dave must have felt that the whole world was against him. He grew up spending much of his time away from home. The big issue was that he did not know his mother and it was rumoured that he was born out of wedlock. This was a sore point for him and one that often brought tears to his eyes. His father did not help matters with his silence and refusal to talk about the issue. As for his half-brothers, they did not seem to get enough of rubbing it in his face. They enjoyed making him feel that he did not belong among them. He found solace in his work and buried himself in it. The experiences, risks and near-death adventures on the job became his escape route from the rejection and scorn of close family.

As time went on, the ‘conspiracy’ against Dave seemed to spread. One day, while he was out at work, the Chief Justice made a surprise visit to their home to select the next president from among his father’s sons. Daddy lined up everyone in the house and, not surprisingly, forgot about him. The old man ‘scanned’ all the nice guys without success and requested for any others that were elsewhere to be brought. For a while, Daddy assured the prophet that those were all his sons till he finally ‘remembered’ him.

Dave was hurt to hear that. Even though he enjoyed the look on their faces when he was named as the surprise choice for the strange ‘coronation’ ceremony, it did not take away the questions on his mind. Why did his own have so little confidence in him? Why did no one want to openly be associated with him? He heard that the Chief Justice almost selected one of his brothers but he did not worry too much about the old man. He was not one of those who seemed bent on consistently ‘rejecting’ him. Long after the Chief Justice had left, the questions still lingered on his mind.

With time, the big boys were all conscripted into the army and sent off to the battlefront. That brought some semblance of peace and harmony in the house. With time, Daddy even began to notice him. The two of them spent quite some time together chatting about life, relationships, faith and his favourite subject, music. One day, Daddy sent him to visit his brothers at the battlefront with some homemade food. He was truly excited about the opportunity. In spite of their differences, he realised he had missed the guys and looked forward to seeing them and bringing Daddy a few pictures of them in their military fatigues.

Just when he arrived at the camp and began to make his enquiries, he saw this huge man with a very long spear taunting everyone and challenging their army to produce a champion for a duel. The giant was on the opposite side and everyone seemed to be in awe of him. Dave wasn’t. He believed he could fight him and was actually willing to try it immediately. After all, he had even fought and killed a lion. As he tried to ask further questions, he suddenly felt someone firmly shove him in the back. He turned around to find his brother Eliab staring down at him. Every thought of hugging him and asking about the others disappeared as his brother began to insult him for his naughtiness, pride and curiosity. Dave could not believe it. What had he done wrong? He was surprised that absence had not created a single iota of fondness in the heart of this mean brother. Why would someone be so angry just because he wanted to make a contribution?

The guys around had heard him speak so they took him to the President’s quarters. Dave was sure that his offer would be accepted with appreciation. After all, the giant was purported to have been challenging them to this contest for a whole month. The President had obviously been briefed about Dave’s offer but somehow as soon as he saw the young man, the smile on his face froze and was replaced with a look that spoke of huge doubt and disappointment. The President kept shaking his head with a dismissive look and said to him, ‘You cannot fight this experienced soldier. You are just a small boy.’ Dave stared at him in disbelief. ‘Not again!’ he muttered to himself. ‘Not here too!!!’ ‘Was incompetence written all over his face?’

After whispering some thoughts to his generals and a short discussion on his tactics, the President reluctantly agreed. The look on his face seemed to suggest that he had no choice since no one else had dared step forward. As he came out ready to fight, the giant also began to laugh. ‘Am I a dog?’ He shouted. ‘How could you send me a baby when I have waited so long for a real fight?’ Dave had finally had it. ‘Not you too!’ He said to himself. After making a prayerful declaration, he took out his sling, placed in a stone, swung it in one deft move and down came the giant. There was a huge cry from behind him and suddenly everyone on both sides began to run.

Soon after, as the jubilant crowd carried him shoulder high back to the President’s quarters, he could see entirely different reactions from what pertained an hour earlier. He was probably the only one who did not seem to appreciate the enormity of what he had done. The President embraced him and thanked him for a great national service. As they sat down to share a drink, he asked him, ‘Whose child are you?’

A thousand odd thoughts flooded through Dave’s mind as he once again remembered the question marks over his legitimacy and the domestic battles he incessantly faced. He absent-mindedly answered the question. An obviously elated President then read out a list of rewards for his heroic act. He would be given the President’s daughter in marriage and eat from the President’s table while his entire family, including his father and brothers, would enjoy tax-free diplomatic status. ‘Hmm’ thought Dave to himself. ‘Your entire world can really change in a short time.’

This modernised adaptation of the story of the biblical David highlights another major obstacle, which is the reaction of the various people around us as we try to work our way towards the top. In the case of David, his entire family, the king and even his enemy refused to believe in him. That must have been very difficult to handle. The most painful type of rejection is that which comes from those closest to you. If you are facing similar challenges today and feel a sense of discouragement, it is understandable but that is not the end of your story. There are different kinds of negative reactions we face and they each come with varying levels of hostility.

The Sceptic
The first level is scepticism, which is the unbelief or doubts that people have about your potential or abilities. It is often manifested in mockery of your efforts and attempts at progress. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a sceptic as “a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions.” Sceptics are critics and are very quick to find loopholes in any testimony of yours. Their eyes are trained to see obstacles and defects rather than opportunities. As a result, no defect or threat to your work, real or imagined, can escape them. The main message of the sceptic is “It can’t be done. And even if someone could, it definitely wouldn’t be you.”

The Rival
The next step above scepticism is rivalry. A rival competes with another for superiority or the same objective. Rivals contend for opportunities with you and lobby for good things to come their way rather than yours. Your rival for a workplace position or in a marriage will look out for your mistakes and be happy when they manage to achieve something and you fail in it. Another example is sibling rivalry, which typically manifests itself in unnecessary comparison and intense competition for recognition and favour, especially in polygamous families.

The Opponent
The opponent is a higher version of the rival. An opponent opposes or is set against something. The name connotes opposition and the posture of the opponent therefore tends to be more proactive or even aggressive than that of the rival. Because the opponent is your competitor, he or she plots to outwit you in order to win. To the opponent you and them are facing off at two ends of the field and one must go home as a winner and the other as a loser. It is therefore a zero sum game. The focus of the opponent is on every aspect of the game, both defence and attack; and you are the pivot around which their entire strategy revolves.

The Detractor
Detractors are the most difficult to deal with. A detractor “reduces or takes away the worth or value of a quality or achievement so as to make it less impressive.” This description surely fits the behaviour of certain people we have met. They do not necessarily have any ideals or targets of their own. Their strategy principally borders on disparaging you, putting impediments in the way of your progress and ultimately bringing you down. They therefore see your setbacks and downfall as the principal measures of their success. Detractors concentrate all their efforts on frustrating or hampering your efforts. They are often hypocrites who smile with you and turn round to rejoice at your pain. Because detractors do not always show their true feelings openly, they can be very deceptive and dangerous.

(To be continued.)
The world seems to have a stereotype of who qualifies to succeed and who doesn’t. You may not find this explicitly defined in books, but the features that are used in beauty contests and in the selection of models for advertisements and other personality-based roles reveals the thinking. For females, a certain colour hue, height, weight, curvature, facial structure and gait are critical for consideration as a ‘perfect woman.’ Similarly, you would often hear a man being described as ‘strong and tall’ and that is meant to be a complement. On the other hand, people with features that do not conform to these standards are described in generally uncomplimentary terms. Sometimes, the suggestion is that they do not even have what it takes to make it.

As a result, many have given up on their dreams because they have physical attributes that do not fit the mould. Others are trudging up a steep slope of societal prejudice or poor self-belief because they are seen as too short, too tall, too dark, too weak, blind, deaf, dumb or crippled. Some children have had to endure difficult childhood experiences because of their dental formation, the size of their heads or even because they stammer. In certain societies, especially in East Africa, albinos are consistently on the receiving end of discrimination, abuse and even ritual murders, just because of their skin pigmentation. Physical impairments or limitations can serve as major obstacles to the achievement of your aspirations.

I returned and saw under the sun that: The race is not to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor bread to the wise, Nor riches to men of understanding, Nor favour to men of skill, But time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

Human as we are, we often find ourselves describing certain attributes as being advantageous or even as prerequisites for success. Some of them are mentioned in the above verse, such as swift, strong, wise, understanding and skilful. The writer of the verse however introduces an important dimension to the discussion. He emphasizes that while these are important, time and opportunity will come to everyone, including people who are not necessarily your typical strong, swift or good-looking favourites.

Very often in life, other factors come into play in determining who rises to the highest summit. Indeed the best does not always win. The fastest race horse does not always win. The beauty pageant is not always won by the best looking person. The best music and books do not always become bestsellers. Do not despair if you have suffered rejection in the past because of your looks or physical attributes. This should provide you with some comfort if you have had cause to worry in the past. Your time will come and you will definitely find an opportunity that is simply tailor-made for you.

Experience has shown that life is not one big beauty contest. Success is not about good looks or physical ‘correctness.’ It is not about meeting certain standards of physical requirements. Indeed some of the most successful people of all time were people who ‘failed’ the test of sight, hearing, height, speech, walking, colour, appearance or some of the other physical attributes that we use as measures. Their successes should always inspire us to look beyond whatever physical limitations we are supposed to have.

A Very Different Hall of Fame
Imagine what would happen if there was a special hall of fame for highly successful people who defied physical odds and limitations and went on to achieve great things. The role call would be breathtaking. Many people who we have only known by their names and accomplishments would find their way there and leave us shell shocked.

Lionel Andrés Messi is rated as one of the most gifted footballers of his generation. Known in football circles as ‘The New Maradona’ the diminutive FC Barcelona striker ended the 2011/2012 football season with a record 72 goals for his team. Interestingly, this is a player who was diagnosed at age 11 as having a growth hormone deficiency. Doctors feared that he would not grow tall enough to be able to play professional football at the highest level. This was at a time when he was playing for Newell Old Boys in Argentina. Barcelona saw his talent, took the gamble to sign him on and sponsored his $1,500 a month medical treatment. Today, Messi still stands at a mere 5ft 7in, which to all intents and purposes seems unacceptable for a 21st Century footballer.

In a typical pre-match line up, Messi often looks like the mascot in a game dominated by defenders who are often a whole foot taller than him. Yet, instead of wallowing in self-pity, blaming nature and seeing himself as deficient, Messi consistently mesmerises opponents with his amazing dribbling and ball playing skills. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with an incredible level of stability and pace. On the 27th of May, 2009 when he jumped high in the air to head in the winning goal in the European Champions League final, not only was he defying gravity but he must have been telling himself that he was on top of the world. And few would begrudge him that.

Take the case of double amputee athlete, Oscar Pistorius of South Africa who was born without the fibula in both legs. Pistorius was only 11 months old when his parents made the heart-wrenching decision to have his limbs amputated below the knee. Yet he defied all odds to become world record holder in his category for the 100, 200 and 400 meters sprints. He won the right to participate in the 2008 Olympic Games for able-bodied athletes with the help of his specially-designed running blades. In September 2008, with the eyes of the world on him in Beijing, he became the first Paralympian to win gold in all three events. Today, Oscar Pistorius is widely celebrated as the "fastest thing on no legs."

Franklin Roosevelt would definitely take his place in the front row. A severe case of polio suffered at age thirty-nine, left him disabled and in terrible pain. Yet he defied it to become the Governor of New York and, eleven years later, to become the elected president of the United States. What about the great musical composer Ludwig van Beethoven who became deaf halfway through his career? Would he not have been justified to pack his bags and retire? Yet that was when he composed his best music.

Helen Keller became deaf and blind after suffering what was supposed to be meningitis at the age of nineteen months and she yet went on to became a celebrated public speaker, author, lecturer, political activist and champion of the less privileged? Crippled Ghanaian cyclist, Emmanuel Ofosu has travelled to several countries, met the president of the United States and often been the toast of the world press. He chose to defy the fact that he was physically challenged and rather focused on what he could do in spite of his seeming limitations. Suffice it to say that our hall of fame would be packed to overflowing because the list could go on and on.

Professor Stephen Hawkin is celebrated today as one of the greatest physicists of all time. He is credited with groundbreaking theories, twelve honorary degrees and a number of publications. However, most of his work has been done from an electric wheel chair because he has suffered from a progressively-deteriorating motor neuron disease for most of his life. He lost his ability to walk, sense of balance and with time, even his speech but Hawkin still went on to live out his dreams.

On his website, he writes the following about his shock at the initial verdict and what changed his entire outlook on life: The realisation that I had an incurable disease, that was likely to kill me in a few years, was a bit of a shock. How could something like that happen to me? Why should I be cut off like this? However, while I had been in hospital, I had seen a boy I vaguely knew die of leukaemia, in the bed opposite me. It had not been a pretty sight. Clearly there were people who were worse off than me. At least my condition didn't make me feel sick. Whenever I feel inclined to be sorry for myself I remember that boy...

But shortly after I came out of hospital, I dreamt that I was going to be executed. I suddenly realised that there were a lot of worthwhile things I could do if I were reprieved. Another dream, that I had several times, was that I would sacrifice my life to save others. After all, if I were going to die anyway, I might as well do some good. But I didn't die. In fact, although there was a cloud hanging over my future, I found, to my surprise, that I was enjoying life in the present more than before.

(To be continued.)
Photographer turned mountaineer Sean Wisedale is on record as the first African and only the 79th person in global mountaineering history to have conquered the highest mountains on all seven continents also known as the ‘seven summits.’ In his book ‘Freeze Frame’ he recounts, among others, the seemingly insurmountable odds he had to confront in making his very first climb up Mount Everest.

To begin with, the stark reality that one out of every seven people who attempt that climb dies should be enough to make anyone return. On his journey to the highest summit, Sean had to contend with the high cost of climbing, 300 kmph winds, freezing temperatures way below -15 degrees and a sensible ‘abandonment’ by the rest of his team. And probably the most interesting part of this is that he did it all with his camera; insisting on filming every detail of this risky or life-threatening adventure. Sean finally reached his dream 29,000 feet above sea level; at the height around which jet planes fly and at a place where there is very little oxygen and therefore does not support life. The base and slopes of that same mountain are dotted with the dreams of several thousands of people over the years who failed to see their dreams materialize. Others made the attempt but never made it down the mountain alive.

Many Are Beginners, But Few Are Finishers
In every competitive venture, you will find more beginners than finishers. It is often easy to begin things. For many of the things we desire, we could start them tomorrow if we wished. Whether you wish to start a business, undertake an expedition, build a house, enter a relationship, cultivate a farm or start a race, you will often find relatively fewer barriers to beginning than to the establishment of the venture. That probably explains why many people start things without considering if they have what it takes to finish them. People who have the habit of starting things and never finishing them will remain at the bottom of the ladder of achievement. In order to finish your race or climb your mountain, you have to defy great odds and overcome the strong barriers that tend to keep people at the bottom. Success is not just about starting things. It is more about continuing, excelling in and finishing the race.

In a typical marathon, many people start the race but only a fraction of them cross the finish line. Some give up along the way because of injury, lack of stamina, poor physical conditioning, dehydration or a sudden realization of the sheer enormity of the task. Interestingly, you would also find a significant number of runners who enter a race with no intention whatsoever of finishing. For such people, their main intention is to just put it on record that they participated in the race. Those are the people who concentrate on taking pictures with all the others at the starting point and whose main claim to fame is that, ‘I was there.’

Records at the business registration centre in Ghana confirm this principle. Every year, thousands of people register new business entities ostensibly with the intention of operating them. The number of new businesses registered in Ghana rose phenomenally from 24,961 in 2006, to 34,095 in 2007 and a whopping 43,450 in 2008. Interestingly, 60% of them were sole proprietorships, typically private individuals trying out their business ideas. However, research has shown that only a small fraction of these make it beyond the first year.

The amazing reality is that if you are comfortably reading this book, you are part of a privileged minority, especially if you hail from our part of the world. In the pursuit of their dreams, many have to contend with inadequate educational opportunities, especially at the top of the ladder. The net result is a pyramid of opportunity. In Ghana, there seems to be a systemic sifting that reduces the opportunities available to a person to be educated to the tertiary level and beyond. For instance, in April 2009, 395,000 students participated in the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE). At the time they were writing the exam, the public educational system offered only 175,000 places at the next level; that is the Senior High and technical schools. Not surprisingly, in the same year, only 120,000 sat for the Senior High School Examinations, representing only 26% of the number that took the exam at the basic level.

As you go higher to the tertiary or university level, the competition becomes even keener for the limited number of available openings. In simple terms, this seems to suggest that, even if all the students excelled, there would only be limited opportunities for those who complete basic school to get tertiary education.

Separate Yourself From The Crowd
Everyone wants to get to the top. In almost every arena of endeavour, you will typically find the bottom crowded. Resources and opportunities are restricted at the base of the ladder. In a typical corporate organisation, the lowest level has a large number of people with the lowest skills and lowest remuneration. As you climb up that ladder, you find more opportunities opening up and with elevation come higher responsibilities and also higher rewards. That should make everyone at the bottom desire to be promoted or to climb towards the top.

If you ever found yourself in a fishing community along Ghana’s coast, you would see a large fleet of canoes moored to the shoreline. A sizeable number of them would also be fishing within a few hundred metres of the coast. An even more interesting phenomenon is where a net is spread out in the sea and tied to a rope by a group of fisher folk who line up on the shore and haul it till it brings in some fish. It is common to find a number of such queues dotted along the coastline at the same time. Fishing around the shore restricts one to certain sizes and types of fish and only a limited scope of experiences. At the shoreline, you are likely to find many other people struggling for the same limited opportunities.

It is only when one goes deeper that one finds the space to explore and excel. That is where you are likely to find larger sizes of fish and exotic types that also command greater prices. The shoreline of every venture is a place of restriction. The greatest opportunities lie in the deep, where only few dare to go. This book aims at challenging you to venture into the deep. Psalm 107:23-24 says, “They that go to the sea in ships, that do business in deep waters; they see the greatness of our God and His wonders in the deep.”

In a public swimming pool, one is likely to find many swimmers lingering in the shallow end. These include beginners or rookies who do not know the various strokes and are happy to just wade through the waters. In your bid to try out your various styles you could easily get entangled with others. Diving is strictly prohibited at that part of the pool and could easily lead to injury. However, at the deep end, one is likely to find less congestion and enough space to express one’s skills. You must desire to operate at the top or the deep end of your field.

Fail and be free
Here is an important announcement. It is something you probably already know, but which is worth re-echoing: IT IS EASIER TO FAIL THAN TO SUCCEED. God desires for you to excel and to reach the highest level in your chosen field. However, the laws of nature seem to be designed to prevent easy success. As you try to climb your mountain, you will find so many forces seemingly conspiring to keep you at the bottom. Progress doesn’t come cheap. There will therefore always be more opportunities to give up than to go up.

The reality is that failure requires no effort on your part. It is almost automatic. Success is a journey that requires continuous application and improvement. However, if you fail to mount a sustained effort at climbing the ladder of life, the sheer force of gravity will pull you downwards. All you need to do is to stop working on yourself and trying to improve and you will see a gradual or in some cases, rapid decline in your life.

Break out of Jail
It is evident that ‘gravitational forces’ conspire to keep a person from achieving their dreams. For everyone who makes it to the pinnacle of their mountain, there are several others who remain stuck at the bottom. The picture of the bottom is definitely not a rosy one; it is a place of congestion, restrictions, limited opportunities and unrealised potential. It is not a place a person must desire to remain in. A person, who finds him or herself at the bottom of the ladder for a long time, is likely to feel enslaved or constrained. The feeling is similar to that to one of being imprisoned or detained. In subsequent editions, we will focus on how to overcome the challenges and make progress. Beyond all the talk and conviction, the key is action. Start moving now! Do something today!!!

(To be continued.)
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