How to Overcome Tough Times

20 Success Secrets - cover

How to OvercomeTough Times

By Azuka Onwuka

Life is a bully. Bullies are cowards. Cowards give in when fiercely challenged.

Most people were bullied when they were young. I was bullied too. There was a particular bully who became my friend. Nnaeto was his name. He was a terror to kids. Kids fled at the sound of his voice. He was irreverent. He was fearless. He was troublesome. Adults reprimanded him at their risk. Teachers avoided him like a plague.

Even as a primary school pupil, if he rode his bicycle into our compound, all the kids around would take flight. If he went to the stream to fetch water, no kid would fetch water unless he was done. If he made a joke and a kid laughed, the kid could receive a knock. If he was whipped and a kid laughed, the kid was in trouble.

Teachers did not look forward to caning him because if they did, Nnaeto would scream as if he was about to die that other teachers and headmistress would run to our classroom, thinking that there was a serious problem. But once the whipping was over, Nnaeto would swagger to his seat, whistling, with no single teardrop in his eyes. If he was called back for another round of caning, the same process would repeat itself. So, teachers preferred to ignore him most times.

Ironically, Nnaeto was a bright pupil. I was nowhere near him academically until Primary 4. And he was a jolly good fellow to be with.

Even though we were classmates, we feared him. We avoided having any quarrel with him for fear that he would tear us to pieces. Then one day, a member of our trio, Ikechukwu, told us that Nnaeto was not as strong as we thought him to be. He boasted that he could challenge Nnaeto effectively. Ikechukwu was not your regular toughie. If that statement had come from Ugochukwu, it would have been easier for us to accept.

Since Nnaeto was a trouble-maker, it was not hard to have an issue with him. So, that same day, an opportunity arose for Ikechukwu to prove what he said. Before Nnaeto could start his threats and antics, Ikechukwu flew at him as if to devour him. His eyes were wide and his finger pointed menacingly at Nnaeto. We held our breath. Hell would be let loose, we thought. Ikechukwu would soon have a broken nose or mouth dripping blood. But as if hypnotized, Nnaeto backed off. Seeing his reaction, we were emboldened to move closer to him, dropping one or two threats for good measure. The bully muttered a few words under his breath and went away murmuring. We were shocked. From that day, he steered clear of us. We even began to look for ways to fight with him, sometimes rising up in defence of any child he wanted to bully, but Nnaeto did not offer us any such opportunities. Then he became our friend.

Strong people like to be resisted so as to prove their mettle. But bullies do not like to be resisted. So long as the victim of a bully cowers before the bully, so long will the bully continue to mete out his treatment to him. Bullies never get tired. They never show mercy of their own volition. They only stop when the resistance of the victim rises to an uncomfortable level. That is how it is with Life the Bully.

Life derives great pleasure from bullying those who cower, cry, complain, lament and retreat. When life hits a man or woman and sees such a reaction from the victim, it throws its head back and has a good guffaw. Then it charges at the victim again with greater ferocity. But when it sees a man who takes his blows with equanimity and continues on his course, it soon opens the gate of success for such a man and even directs him towards greater success.

Between Know-how and Determination, which will win?

If a man of skills and knowledge and a man of determination and persistence were to have a contest, chances are that the man of determination and persistence would beat his opponent, especially in the long run. And success is a marathon, not a sprint.

This contest between skills and determination played out when I was in secondary school. I was a member of my school’s volleyball team. Because football (soccer) was and is still the king of sports, no teacher bothered with the volleyball team. We had no coach. We practised on our own. We did not know some of the rules of the game as we discovered at the competition when we had to ignorantly argue with the umpire on certain decisions.

When it was time for school sports, we sent our ragtag volleyball team to the tournament. We did not even have official jerseys. We kitted ourselves for the tournament. As the tournament progressed, we were lucky to face some teams that were even worse than we were. So we wobbled and fumbled to the semi-final. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we had the best team of the tournament as our semi-final opponents. We did not need to be told that the end of the road had come.

Our fears were confirmed when the match started and we could not even receive one of the five serves of our opponents. Their serves whizzed like lightning over the net and exploded like thunder on our court. Most times before we saw the ball, it had already landed on our court. Even when we saw it, most of us were wise enough not to attempt to receive it. Despite all our efforts, we looked like a bunch of primary school pupils playing against a professional team. And you could see it on the faces of our opponents that they were having fun. Whenever the umpire shouted “Point” against us, they would exclaim and hit each other’s palms in celebration.

It was not surprising, therefore, when we lost the first and second sets. If we lost the third set, we were out. Then two young men, who had come to watch the match, took over as our coaches and began to give us some pep talk, calling for time-out whenever they saw that things were getting too rough for us. (Perhaps the young men were old boys of our school or they just pitied us and our misery.) Our confidence began to rise. We began to find a solution to the hot serves that used to put us to rout.

Ours was a male school and the volleyball competition was taking place in a female school which had a good court and was more centrally located. Soon many of the girls rose in our support. Since our school mates, who were among the spectators, were calling us by name, everybody soon began to call our names one by one whenever we had the ball. Even the girls urged us to beat the formidable opponents for THEM! Coincidentally, our game improved tremendously. Soon we were in the lead and the umpire shouted “Point” more in our favour than our opponents’.  We became the ones slapping each other’s palm and shouting “Yepee!” or “Yahoo!” on securing a point. And we won the set.

Then it dawned on us that we could win the match. And we made up our minds to win. We looked completely different from the boys that began the game. Our skills had not improved, neither had the skills of our opponents diminished. The only thing that had changed was the direction of our resolve. Before the game, we unconsciously resolved to lose; now we had consciously resolved to win. Before the game, we did not believe we could defeat them; now we were determined to beat them. Because there was no determination in us initially, we panicked when they served the ball or spiked. If they blocked our spike, we were demoralized. While they pranced about on their court like stallions, making sounds and statements of confidence, we shambled on our court, complaining and blaming each other for losing the ball. But all that had changed.

Soon we won the second set and were at par with them. The spectators went wild. The last set would decide the winner of the match. We became lions in strength and cheetahs in speed. If they jumped up to spike, we jumped higher to block. If we jumped up to spike and they jumped up too to block, we changed the plan mid-air and tipped the ball over their fingers. If they sent a powerful spike even to the edge of our court, someone would dive after it and dig, not minding bruising his elbow or knee. We could not afford to disappoint ourselves or our school; neither could we disappoint the spectators, especially the girls, who were rooting for us.

By the time the match ended in our favour, we could hardly walk. We could not believe that we were the ones that wrought the wonder. Likewise, our defeated opponents were dumbfounded and distraught.

Determination confers boldness, confidence and courage on a person. It makes a person taller, wiser, more handsome, and more charismatic. No wonder the Europeans say: “Faint heart never won fair lady.”

 The thirtieth president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, popularly known as ‘Silent Cal’ for his taciturnity, underpinned the premium position of determination and persistence thus: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Some people (I inclusive) will definitely disagree with Coolidge’s conferment of omnipotence on ‘determination and persistence’ on religious grounds, but there is no denying that for anybody to succeed in any venture, determination and persistence are non-negotiable.

Almost everyone has heard that Thomas Edison tried 1000 times (or was it 10,000 times?) before he invented the incandescent bulb – I wonder who was doing the counting for him and how it clicked on such a round figure – but the lesson from that story is that if he had given up just a try before the result, he would not have been associated with that invention today. So when you start to despair and contemplate giving up, remember Edison and give it not just another try, but another whole-hearted try. It may make the difference.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas A. Edison

(Excerpts from 20 Success Secrets of Great Achievers by Azuka Onwuka)



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