Are you the master or victim of your circumstances?

Today is September 20 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “are you the master or victim of your circumstances?” People who navigated the chaos like Legson Kayira understand they are the master of their circumstances first-hand.

When Kayira was born in Mpale, a village in northern Malawi his mother threw him into the Didimu River as she could not afford to feed him. He was rescued and acquired the name "Didimu.” He added the English-sounding name "Legson" when he was in primary school.

From primary school he was awarded a place at Livingstonia Secondary School, whose school motto "I Will Try" he used as the title of his most famous book. On graduating from this school in 1958 at about the age of sixteen, he decided that the only way to achieve a college degree was to go to the US, and he set out on foot to do so.

When he reached Kampala in Uganda he saw the name of Skagit Valley College, Washington State, in a US Information service directory, so he applied and was awarded a place and a scholarship. Kayira then embarked on a journey of over 3000 kilometers and walked to Khartoum, where he obtained a visa, and people from Skagit Valley raised the money to bring him over to Washington.

He arrived at Skagit Valley two years after setting out. After graduating from Skagit Valley, he went on to study Political Science at the University of Washington in Seattle, and then read History at Cambridge University in the UK. Subsequently he worked as a probation officer and was the author of several novels.

Legson Kayira rose above his humble beginnings and forged his own destiny. He made a difference in the world and became a magnificent beacon whose light remains as a guide for others to follow. As Legson Kayira wrote “I learned I was not, as most Africans believed, the victim of my circumstances but the master of them.”

Such a belief requires a tremendous amount of work, discipline, and hope. As Kayira wrote in I Try “One needed discipline, a stiff personal discipline, for without it one’s purpose in life could easily go down the drain just as easily as a rock rolls down the hill.”

Like Kayira, former football player Inky Johnson navigated the chaos when he started to understand he was the master of his circumstances, not the victim of then. Growing up in poverty with family members in and out of jail Johnson held firm to a dream that his way out, and the best path forward, was to play professional football. He became a four-sport athlete and when he enrolled in the University of Tennessee concentrated his efforts on football to reach another level of translating his dream into reality. Sadly, Inky, suffered a career-ending injury on a tackle against Air Force on September 9, 2006. A routine tackle turned into a life-threatening injury, a paralyzed right arm, and daily pain with constant physical challenges.

After a great deal of rehabilitation, Inky realized he would never play football again. His dream of playing professional in the NFL came to an end. You might think his injury would have destroyed his motivation and crushed his spirit. He could have easily said he was the victim of circumstance and quit trying to navigate the chaos of life. Lesser people would have said they were the victim of their circumstance, that life was unfair, and that their attempts to translate dreams into reality were over. Not so for Johnson.

He detailed his struggles and search for a way forward to become a motivational speaker. His new dream was to inspire others. As with so many people that navigate the chaos Johnson understood the value of having many dreams, not just one. With little money in his pocket, he took the book that he self-published and drove up to Chicago to personally hand it to Oprah Winfrey.

He found Oprah walking on the street with her bodyguard and asked her if she could give him a minute of her time. Oprah stopped and listed to Inky’s story. She took a picture with Inky and accepted her book. After he started to walk away Oprah’s security guard came over to Inky and told him that she never stops for anyone. At that moment, Inky knew that something special was going on. Soon thereafter Inky started his career as a motivational speaker. As he said, “I took a risk that changed my life."

Reflecting upon his career from professional football prospect to motivational speaker Johnson said “I feel like the things that happen to us in life aren’t designed to stop us but to reposition us so we come into contact what with God has in store. So everything I do, I do it to honor God because I feel like God gave me a second chance in life.”

Kayira and Johnson navigated the chaos of their lives by understanding they were the master of their circumstances. Do you?