Friday, March 27, 2015

4 Reminders for Finding Strength and Peace in Times of Grief

1. Your troubles are gradually improving you.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
―Maya Angelou

Someday when you least expect it life will blindside you with necessary chaos. And once the chaos has ended, you won’t remember exactly how it all transpired, how you made it through, or where you found the strength you needed to carry on. You won’t even be sure whether the chaos has completely ended. But there is one thing you can be sure about: When it does finally come to an end, you will be a much stronger person than who you were before it happened, which is precisely why it was necessary.

So let your scars remind you that you did indeed survive your deepest wounds. This in itself is a major accomplishment. And let them continue to bring to mind the fact that the damage life has inflicted on you has, in many ways and places, left you stronger and more resilient. What hurt you in the past has actually made you better equipped to face the present.

2. You are strong enough to cope with life’s necessary ups and downs.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.”
― Nelson Mandela

Although it may be hard to see, the human capacity for pain and hardship is like bamboo – far more flexible than you would ever believe at first glance.

Sadly, we are often taught at an early age that all pain is evil and harmful. Yet, how can we ever deal with real life and true love if we’re afraid to feel what we really feel? We need to feel pain, just as we need to feel alive and loved. Pain is meant to wake us up. Yet we try to hide our pain. Realize this. Pain is something to carry willingly, just like good sense. Because you can only learn how strong you are when being strong is the only choice you have.

And remember that it isn’t just the big struggles in life that require this kind of strength of character and resilience. With the right moral support behind them, almost anybody can rise up for a short time to face a crisis or a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty troubles and unexpected hazards of each day with a laugh – that requires a strong spirit.

This is the kind of strength you should strive to develop daily. Realize that that all of life is simply a game that you must play as skillfully and fairly as you possibly can. If you lose a round, learn to shrug your shoulders and laugh, and do the same when you win.

3. Your fears only exist in your head.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.”
―Eleanor Roosevelt

Fears are thoughts, not realities. And courage is the cure.

Can you be courageous even if you are scared to death? Of course – in fact, that’s the only time you truly can be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is being fearful and doing it anyway.

You must be daring enough to dare. Taking no chances means wasting your dreams. Yes, it will be nerve-racking at times, but don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to stop you; they’re there to let you know that your dreams are meaningful and worthy of the effort and personal growth required to achieve them.

When times are hard it can be difficult to follow your heart and take another step, but it’s a tragedy to let the lies of fear stop you. Although fear can feel overwhelming, and defeats more people than any other force in the world, it’s not as powerful as it seems. Fear is only as deep as your mind allows. You are still in control. So take control!

The key is to acknowledge your fear and directly address it. Fight hard to shine the light of your words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless, obscure darkness that you avoid, and perhaps even manage to briefly forget, you open yourself to future attacks from fear when you least expect it. Because you never truly faced the opponent who defeated you.

4. You are in control of your present thoughts, actions, and reactions.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength.”
―Marcus Aurelius

What you might think of as your destiny is really just your circumstances, and these circumstances can be modified. Understanding that you are fully responsible and in control of your circumstances through your actions and attitude is crucial. This realization does not need to be a discouraging either, because it simply means you are free to make changes as you see fit.

Regardless of what has happened in your life, you are not chained to the past. It may have shaped your feelings toward yourself, your abilities, and what seems possible based on your background, but all of this can be modified if you are willing to examine how the past has shaped your present thinking. In other words, you can change your life by changing your thoughts, provided you have the courage to dissect the origins that created them.

So do not let the pain of a situation make you hopeless. Do not let negativity wear off on you. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Even though others may disagree with you, take pride in the fact that you still know the world to be an amazing place. Carry on accordingly.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Patience Jonathan: What Manner of First Lady is This?

An old African saying goes thus ‘At times life does not prepare a man for the notoriety ahead, and when the lime light eventually beams on such man, the glitz and all the attendant complexities could overwhelm him.’ The chronicle of how President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan earned the reputation of becoming the world’s ‘luckiest’ politician is well known. While political fortune played a pivotal role in his voyage, one must accord him some eulogies for at least being in the right political place at all times. However, to entirely ascribe Jonathan’s political career to the sheer stroke of luck is to be stretching the truth. Perhaps not the genre of politician we are used to in this turf, he has been a political dinosaur of some sorts.

However, with the rise and rise of Goodluck Jonathan, fame by default accompanied his better half, Patience Jonathan. With this reality has come a national burden. Patience Jonathan means many things to many people. Not much was known about her in the days of her husband’s teething beginnings in politics. The equation was overhauled with the ascension of Goodluck Jonathan as president of the most populous black nation. Also referred to as the Dame, Patience Jonathan became a cynosure of controversies and in some ways, a national comic relief to a vast majority of Nigerians. To put it mildly, it is a known fact that speaking proper basic English is not her greatest strength. However, while it is pardonable to bypass wrong usage of tenses, her brand of grammatical blunders has exclusivity about it. The reckless abandon with which she makes utterances beggars believe, and one wonders how she has not been bundled to belong to a ‘Toastmasters’ speakers club by those who should know better.

Yet, there is more to Patience Jonathan’s excesses. Today, there is an exalted public office in the country, the Office of the First Lady. In this new vested position, the Dame wield untold power. She has personal assistants and advisers that rival that of her husband. In this Office, the governors of many states have become her subject. It should be stated unequivocally that there is no place for the Office of the First Lady as exercised today in the Nigerian constitution. While previous first ladies such as Maryam Babaginda, Maryam Abacha, Stella Obasanjo and Turai Yar’Adua have all brought the place of the first lady to exalted prominence, the Dame has raised it up in no small measure. Patience Jonathan has been at loggerheads with a lot of governors since she became what she currently is, but none come close to the rivalry she has constituted with the Rivers state governor, Rotimi Amaechi. Her revered interest in the politics of Rivers state is simply legendary. While she is an indigene of the state, she has become a demagogue in the affairs of the state. Little wonder some political gladiators in the state now refer to her as their ‘Jesus Christ.’ Without rehashing the show of shame, many will remember that Patience Jonathan once snatched the microphone from the Rivers state governor at a public forum in the state and made a mockery of some of his policies. Only recently, in Okrika where she hails from, there was mayhem of gunmen clashing with the opposition party (APC) at a planned rally. While no official findings have connected her with the incident, there is just too much that goes on in her patch that makes one wonder.

Those who memory serves right will recollect the lack of courtesy displayed by Patience Jonathan during the visit of the President to the United States. She breached protocol by disembarking from the aircraft before the President, and shaking hands with officials waiting on the tarmac while her husband was still coming down from the plane. One-offs could be forgiven but when there is a pattern, it gives concern. Her colossal excesses have transcended the bounds of the country and has (and is still) put(ting) us in bad light before the rest of the world.

In this season of electoral horse-trading and campaigns, Patience Jonathan’s utterances have left many gob-smacked. In a campaign rally, she referred to the main opposition’s presidential candidate as ‘brain-dead’. As if the vituperations were not enough, she called on her husband’s party supporters to ‘stone anyone that preaches change to them’ (Change is the mantra of the APC). This latest utterance has made the APC to resort to the International Criminal Court on her case. At a time when the nation should look up to a mother-like image, she has become just the opposite of any such thing. Rather, anytime she goes around with her exotic entourage, the public suffer, activities are grounded and word must hit town that the Dame lurks around.
In truth, there is nothing first lady-like about Patience Jonathan. She lacks the grace, mannerism, finesse, carriage, piety and reverence that follow first ladies. Her brashness and excesses are simply unbecoming and this nonsense has become a national concern. With her, there are no bounds to extremities. It is for people like Patience Jonathan that Dorothy Parker once said “If you want to know what God thinks about money and power, just look at the people he gave it to.”

Monday, March 16, 2015

7 Things to Remember When You Feel Discouraged and Defeated

1. You are not the center of the universe (stop making it all about YOU).

I think we all have the tendency to put ourselves at the center of the universe, and see everything from the viewpoint of how it affects us. But this can have all kinds of adverse effects, from feeling sorry for ourselves when things aren’t going exactly as planned, to doubting ourselves when we aren’t perfect.

So this morning, instead of worrying so much about myself, I thought about other people I might help. Finding little ways to help others gets me out of my self-centered thinking, and then I’m not wallowing in self-pity anymore – I’m starting to think about what others need. I’m not doubting myself, because the question of whether I’m good enough or not is no longer the central question. The central question now is about what others need.

Thus, thinking about others instead of oneself helps solve feelings of discouragement and defeat.

2. It is your resistance to ‘what is’ that causes your suffering (be present).

This morning my mind was ruminating about every time and place other than the time and place I was in. When I caught myself doing this, I brought my focus back to the present.

Remember, happiness is allowing yourself to be perfectly OK with ‘what is,’ rather than wishing for and worrying about ‘what is not.’ ‘What is’ is what’s supposed to be, or it would not be. The rest is just you, arguing with life. Think about that for a minute. This means your suffering only ever occurs when you resist how things are in the present.

Although you can’t control everything that happens to you; you can only control the way you respond to what happens. In your response is your power. In your power is your presence.

3. You are more than one thing (loosen up and stretch your identity).

We all have this picture in our minds of ourselves – this idea of what kind of person we are. When this idea gets threatened, we react defensively. People may question whether we did a good job, and this threatens our idea of being a competent person, so we become angry or hurt by the criticism. Someone falsely accuses us of something and this threatens our idea that we’re a good person, and so we get angry and attack the other person.

4. Today is still a priceless gift (make the best of it).

I only have so many days left on Earth. I don’t know how many that is, but I do know it’s a very limited number. I know that each one of those limited days is a gift, a blessing… a miracle. And that squandering this miracle is a crime – a horrible lack of appreciation for what I’ve been given. And so, I reminded myself this morning that this day counts and that I still need to make the best of it. That doesn’t mean I need to be hyper-productive or work myself into the ground, but that I should do something worthwhile.

Sometimes taking a break to nourish yourself is a worthwhile activity, because doing so allows you to regroup and do other worthwhile things. But just sitting around in self-pity isn’t helpful.

5. Complaining is only making matters worse (find a solution).

When I get in a funk, I have a tendency to complain out loud to everyone around who’s close enough to hear me. Obviously, this doesn’t help them, or me. And as soon as I catch myself doing this, I force myself to shift gears.

The bottom line is that you will never get to where you want to be by complaining about where you are now. Each step in your life is preparing you for the one that comes after it. Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have limited time and energy. Any amount of time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve anything worthwhile. And it won’t make us any happier either.

If you took 10% of the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving your present problem, you’d be surprised by how well and how fast things can work out.

When you stop complaining, and refuse to see yourself as a helpless victim, you’ll find that you are more powerful than you realized, but only if you choose to accept this reality.

6. Feeling discouraged and defeated is a sign that it’s time to make a change (make that change).

It could be a change of heart, a change in your perspective, or a change in your habits. But the point in any case is that the way you are doing things is no longer working.

When we feel discouraged and defeated, typically our first instinct is to look outside of ourselves for someone or something to blame. In reality, we ought to be looking at how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, and how we plan to respond.

Your life is your responsibility. While you can’t always change what’s outside of you, you can certainly change your perception of it. And the funny thing is, when you change the way you look at things, the things themselves change, which paves the way for positive action.

7. Even the tiniest possible step is progress. (take a tiny step NOW).

It can be hard to get moving when you’re seriously stuck. It is at this point that just making the next step changes everything. I always tell friends that my life (Sam) journey over this past two decades has been a catalogue of taking little steps that ends up making the difference. You can start today with that one seemingly insignificant step.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Poetry: The Substance of My Days

They say some are born great, others achieve greatness, while some others have greatness thrust upon them. But Mothers, this finest gift of creation, are a rare combination of all three.

You paved the way upon which I know thread, You taught me the first lessons of this harsh world, Your breasts were the first I knew, Your shoulders were the first i leaned on, Your hands were the first that beheld and caressed me, Your laps were the first I cried on.

In moment of chaos, like a bolt in the blue, you flash your brilliance.
Like an actress in her element, you ooze out excellence on the stage of life.
Like a tale conjured by the gods, your life story is a beacon of hope for many.

We celebrate you today
Beacons of beauty
The sun of our childhood
Epitome of resilience
Radiance of our days
The spring of our youth
Cynosure of strength
Nature’s biggest blessing
And effulgence of greatness

Even when our excesses becomes unbearable, you refuse to be infuriated
When the rest of the world gives up on us, you are the last woman standing
When Life storms threaten to break us, your voice, like a soothing balm reassures us
And when we have no one else to look up to, you are always close, always there, never far

Our happiness is your joy
Our progress is your success
Our smile is your laughter
And our peace is your fulfillment

Nothing compared to the Excellency of motherhood
An institution that silver and gold cannot purchase
A life that words cannot aptly articulate
Indeed, no one can aptly fill the vacuum of a mother
They might try, but that lacuna is too deep to be filled

And while words might not be enough
While our eulogies might be fleeting, our hearts revere you today and for all time
And when the eulogies fade away
When all is said and done

We will never forget you
For our friendship shall never wither
Our bound shall grow tighter
Our fondness shall linger
Our relationship shall never flounder
And you shall always remain in our minds.

Dedicated to all mothers on the occasion of Mothers Day!

Monday, March 2, 2015

6 Ways to Stay Strong When Everything Goes Wrong

1. Remind yourself that everything in life is temporary.

Every time it rains, it stops raining. Every time you get hurt, you heal. After darkness there is always light – you are reminded of this every morning, but still you often forget, and instead choose to believe that the night will go on forever. It won’t. Nothing lasts.

So if things are good right now, enjoy it. It won’t last forever. If things are bad, don’t worry because it won’t last forever either. Just because life isn’t easy at the moment, doesn’t mean you can’t laugh. Just because something is bothering you, doesn’t mean you can’t smile. Every moment gives you a new beginning and a new ending. You get a second chance, every second. You just have to take it and make the best of it.

2. Push yourself to take another step, and another, no matter what.

After studying the lives of many successful people, I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful people from everyone else is pure perseverance. In a culture that seeks quick results, we must learn the beauty of effort, patience and perseverance. Be strong, present and steadfast.

The most beautiful smiles are usually the ones that struggled through the tears. Because breakdowns often lead to breakthroughs in the end. Every mistake, heartbreak and loss contains its own solution, its own subtle lesson on how to improve your performance and outcome next time. Thus, the most reliable way to predict the future is to create it yourself. Participate in life today instead of just watching it pass you by. Don’t let the few things that are out of your control interfere with the infinite assortment of things you can control.

The truth is we all lose sometimes. The greater truth is that no single loss ever defines us. Learn from your trials. Grow wiser. Press on.

In the end, good things don’t come to those who wait; good things come to those who are patient… while working hard, through good times and bad, for what they want most in life. It’s about courage. It’s about being scared to death and then taking the next step anyway.

3. Use positivity, rather than letting negativity use you.

There may not be an obvious reason to be positive today, but you don’t need a reason. Being positive is a strategy, not a response. The most powerful time to be positive is precisely when everything around you is not so positive.

Happiness in the long run is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them. Raise your awareness to your own inner strength and positivity. You are in charge of how you react to the people and events in your life. You can either give negativity power over your life, or you can choose to be positive instead by focusing on the great things that are truly important. So talk about your blessings more than you talk about your problems today.

In other words, don’t wait for a reason to be positive. Choose to be positive about your situation, about your possibilities, and about what you can do to move forward from here. Instead of looking for reasons to be positive, look for ways to express your positive vision. Work to make your life resonate with that vision, and enjoy all the rewarding outcomes you create.

4. Focus on making tiny fixes.

Don’t build mountains in your mind. Don’t try to conquer the world all at once. When you seek instant gratification (big, quick fixes) you make life unnecessarily painful and frustrating. When you choose instead to treat each moment as an opportunity to make a tiny, positive investment in yourself, the rewards come naturally.

When everything is broken, it’s easy to find plenty of little things you can fix. When nothing seems to be going right, even the most fundamental positive effort can make a significant difference. Times of great adversity are also times of great opportunity. When there are problems in every direction, there is also great value waiting to be created. When everything is going well, it’s easy to get lulled into a routine of complacency. It’s easy to forget how incredibly capable and resourceful you can be. Resolve to persevere by making tiny fixes every day. It’s these minor tweaks that take you from where you are to where you want to be in the long run.

Small steps, little leaps, and tiny fixes (very small repetitive changes) every day will get you there, through thick and thin.

5. Look for something small to appreciate.

You may not have what you want, and you may be very hurt, but you still have more than enough to appreciate right now. Epicurus once said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” Meditate on this quote when life seems unfair.

Remember that being positive in a negative situation is not naive; it’s a sign of leadership and strength. You’re doing it right when you have so much to cry and complain about, but you prefer to smile and appreciate your life instead. So don’t pray for the big miracles and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, simple, and yet not-so-small gifts in your life. It may seem strange to feel thankful for those events in your life that appear to be ordinary, yet it’s precisely by being thankful that you can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Think about it: What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today?

Think of all the beauty that still remains around you, notice it and smile.

At the end of the day, it’s not happiness that makes us thankful, but thankfulness that makes us happy. Showing appreciation for the good things you have is the most powerful happiness boosting activity there is.

6. Give yourself the extra attention you need and deserve.

Resisting and ignoring your own feelings and emotions does not serve you. It leads to stress, illness, confusion, broken relationships, fits of anger and bouts of deep, dark depression. Anyone who’s experienced any of the above knows that these states of mind are horrifically unhealthy… and when you’re in the habit of self-neglect, it’s near impossible to escape.

You have to admit, to a certain extent, you have spent too much of your life trying to shrink yourself. Trying to become smaller. Quieter. Less sensitive. Less opinionated. Less needy. Less YOU. Because you didn’t want to be too much or push people away. You wanted to fit in. You wanted people to like you. You wanted to make a good impression. You wanted to be wanted.

So for years, you sacrificed yourself for the sake of making other people happy. And for years, you suffered.

But you’re tired of suffering, and you’re done shrinking. Right? Good!

It’s not your job to change who you are in order to become someone else’s idea of a worthwhile human being. You are worthwhile. Not because other people think you are, but because you are breathing your own air, and therefore you matter. Your thoughts matter. Your feelings matter. Your voice matters. And with or without anyone’s approval or permission, you must be who you are and live your truth. Even if it makes people turn their heads. Even if it makes them uncomfortable. Even if they choose to leave.

Refuse to shrink. Choose to take up lot of space in your own life. Choose to give yourself permission to meet your own needs. Choose to honor your feelings and emotions. Choose to make self-care a top priority.