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  • 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.” Roy T. Bennett once noted: “You are not the victim of the world, but rather the master of your own destiny. It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny.” Kayira and Johnson navigated the chaos of their lives by understanding they were the master of their circumstances. How often do you see yourself as the victim? How often did playing the victim allow you to translate one dream after another into reality? How often do you take action and create the life circumstances that you desire? How often do you believe in yourself to master your circumstances?

  • How often do you allow your pain to become meaningful?

    Today is September 19 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow your pain to become meaningful?” Pain is inevitable. No one escapes it. People who put in the daily grind of translating their dreams into reality experience pain but find a way to make it meaningful. Pain does not deter them. Pain does not slow them down. Pain, when channeled correctly, can be the deciding factor between accomplishing your dreams and watching the moment pass you by. Reflecting upon your relationship with pain helps increase your self-awareness. Processing events as they happen to you along your path is a natural part of the navigation process. To reject, ignore, or minimize the significance of processing pain would be a disservice to your current self, your dreams, and your future self. Author Jeff Foster wrote: “When there is fear, pain, confusion, or sadness moving in you, do not despair or come to conclusions about yourself. Be honored that these misunderstood guests, at once both ancient and timeless, weary from a lifetime's lonely travel, have finally found their home in you. They are children of consciousness one and all, beloved children of yourself, deserving of the deepest respect and friendship. Offer them the deep rest of yourself and let them warm their toes by your raging fire.” What is most interesting about Foster’s quote is the last line “let them warm their toes by your raging fire.” Have you allowed fear, pain, confusion, or sadness to ‘rest their toes by your raging fire?’ If so, how did it feel? How much time did you allow those feelings to rest inside of you? Did anyone help you process those feelings? Did you relationship with each feeling change over time? How has your mindset changed towards each feeling over the years? If you did allow those feelings to rest alongside you did that stop you from navigating the chaos? If you did not allow those feelings to ‘warm their toes’ why do you think that is? In his best-selling 1981 book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold S. Kushner commented on the role of pain and wrote: “Pain is the price we pay for being alive. Dead cells—our hair, our fingernails—can’t feel pain; they cannot feel anything. When we understand that, our question will change from, ‘Why do we have to feel pain?’ to ‘What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?’ Both Foster and Kushner challenge people to think different about pain so that is generates meaning out of suffering. The point is not to avoid pain or suffering. Life is painful and suffering is inevitable. The task before those who are navigating the chaos and translating their dreams into reality is to find meaning amidst the suffering. In a December 2015 Scientific American article "How to Find Meaning in Suffering," Kasley Killam examined the latest research involved with finding meaning in suffering. When people encounter a struggle, deal with the loss of a loved one, or experience a tragic event, “a common response is to search for an underlying significance that might make such devastation more bearable.” Killam discussed how the process of making meaning out of misery can be beneficial. Two examples she highlights are cancer patients and those who experience the death of a loved one. Cancer patients who derive meaning from their medical experiences often have greater psychological adjustment. Additionally, following the death of a family member, people who make sense of their loss and even find benefits in it experience less distress. To understand the process of finding meaning in suffering researchers have studied a fascinating phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. In the 1990s psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun suggested post-traumatic growth is when a person experiences positive changes resulting from a major life crisis. According to the research, post-traumatic growth goes beyond resilience; by actively searching for good in something terrible, a person can use adversity as a catalyst for advancing to a higher level of psychological functioning. It is important to realize post-traumatic growth does not imply that trauma is good or that suffering should be belittled. As Foster and Kushner noted, pain needs to be respected, recognized, and cared for. Therefore, the one dynamic critical to finding meaning in suffering is understanding the fact that distress and post-traumatic growth can and often do occur simultaneously. In perhaps one of the most significant observations made within the field of post-traumatic growth research psychologist Barbara Fredrickson determined that people with optimal mental health maintain a three-to-one ratio of positive-to-negative emotions, indicating that suffering plays a role in our overall well-being. As Killiam wrote “No one is exempt from suffering, yet we can thrive and flourish despite it—and, in some cases, because of it. Trauma drives change, and that change can be positive. Post-traumatic growth points to ways in which we can use our struggles—as individuals or a nation—as springboards for greater meaning and transformation.” How often do you find meaning in suffering?

  • Can you ignore the ridicule to keep going?

    Today is September 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is "can you ignore the ridicule to keep going?” One of the few shared experiences those who navigate the chaos have is the ridicule leveled against them. Strangers will question you. Family members will be jealous. Friends will leave you. Strangers, family members, and friends will ridicule you. Can you ignore them to continue navigating your path? When you are attempting something new or working towards some goal others do not believe you can achieve, ridicule is bound to happen. In 1940 “The Rotarian” magazine published an article titled “Bat It Out!” with the byline George Herman (‘Babe’) Ruth. The Rotarian was published by Rotary International, an enduring civic organization known for its Rotary Clubs. In the penultimate paragraph of the essay, Babe Ruth presented the adage for the guidance of his readers. “One more point: A good player never stops until he’s actually out, running as hard for first base on the almost-certain-to-be-caught fly or grounder as he would if he were sprinting the 100-yard dash. If Henry Ford hadn’t kept going in the early days despite ridicule, we would never have seen the Ford car. It’s been much the same with almost every great man you could name. He kept plugging when everybody said his chances of making first base were nil. You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” This theme of never giving up is found throughout historical speeches. For example, American labor union advocate Nicholas Klein gave an inspiring speech to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America in 1918 and said: “my friends, after this war, there will be a great unemployment problem. The munition plants will be closed and useless, and millions of munitions workers will be thrown out upon the market. And then the time will come to show whether you strikers and you workers believe one hundred per cent for organized labor or only 35 per cent.... And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First, they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. And I say, courage to the strikers, and courage to the delegates, because great times are coming, stressful days are here, and I hope your hearts will be strong, and I hope you will be one hundred per cent union when it comes!” Unfortunately, Klein's words are often summarized as "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win", and mis-attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and to Arthur Schopenhauer as "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident". Ruth and Klein understood the need to ignore the ridicule as it only serves as a distraction if you want to keep going. Klein’s observation offers several questions for reflection associated with today’s post. “First, they ignore you.” Have you been ignored before in your life? Has being ignored stopped you from doing what you want to do? Have you ignored others? If so, why? “Then they ridicule you.” Have you been ridiculed before in your personal life or career? Have you allowed the ridicule to prevent you from doing what you want to do? Have you ridiculed others? If so, why? “And then they attack you and want to burn you.” Have you been attacked either personally or professionally? How did you respond? Have you attacked anyone? If so, why? “And then they build monuments to you.” Are you doing what you are doing so people build monuments to you in the future? Can you ignore the ridicule to keep going?

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