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Beating the Odds – What We Can Learn From the Winners!

We all have our dreams. Some of us pursue them with extreme motivation and passion; others of us pursue them moderately, when the rest of “life” does not interfere; and some of us give up the pursuit when the challenges of “life” force us to settle for less.

We look at the obstacles to our dream fulfillment and think of them as pretty major things – family happens, the need to earn a living happens, we get caught up in a job/career for which we do not have a passion but which gives us security and some comfort.

We forget what it felt like to care for nothing else but our dream, and we have accepted the fact that the obstacles to that pursuit were just too insurmountable.


Maybe it is time to take a look at what real obstacles are and the people who have surmounted them. As we do, maybe, just maybe, we can get back some of that passion we once had and take a leap of faith into that uncertain world of which dreams are made.

Malala Yousafzai

A girl of very ordinary circumstance. Born in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, this child grew up in a middle class home in a tourist town. All of that changed as the Taliban began its offensive and claimed large parts of territory. Her town was no longer the peaceful place of her early childhood.

Malala’s one love was school, and, while the Taliban were attacking girls’ schools all over Pakistan, she was encouraging girls not to be intimidated. Ultimately, she was put on a “hit” list and, in October 2012, she was shot in the head while riding a bus home from school.


The entire world knows the rest of her story. She recovered in England and went on to become an international figure in both girls’ rights to an education, and in the fight for the rights of all children, the world over, to free and high quality schooling. IN a recent speech before the UN, she spoke to all governments of the world, urging them to take the money they are spending on making war and make schools instead. There is still a “price” on Malala’s head, but she continues.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this: Have our obstacles been as tough as Malala’s, a young girl who has just turned 18?


Stephen Hawking


This brilliant theoretical physicist and cosmologist has suffered from ALS, a motor neuron disease, since the age of 21 (he is now 73). He was born to modest circumstances as well, although his parents were certainly intellectuals who fostered learning in their home. There is a rumor that many times in the household, dinner was served, and everyone at the table had to read a book while they ate – no conversation!

When originally diagnosed with this degenerative condition, Hawking was given a life expectancy of 2 years. Obviously, he has beaten those odds, and, rather than succumb to his disease, he has triumphed despite of it, continuing to teach, lecture, research, and collaborate with others in his field to author numerous books.


Hawking’s condition has so degenerated now that he speaks through the use of his technology and the movement of his cheek. This man will probably die soon.

But think of the life he has lived and the contributions he has made because he refused to compromise his dreams? How many dreams have we all compromised with far fewer odds?


Patrick Bet-David


Not all of our heroes need to be internationally famous, and probably no one reading this has heard of Mr. Bet-David. Born in Iran, he and his mother escaped in the late 1980’s and spent 2 years in a German refugee camp. They came to the U.S. when he was 12 and where he completed high school, barely, excelling only in math.

He job-hopped for a number of years and on a whim sent in a resume to Morgan Stanley – no college degree – just a desire to have a career and to make something of himself with his math skills. He got an interview because the branch manager stated he wanted to meet any person whose resume could make him laugh. Patrick got the job and moved up steadily in the company.


But he still wasn’t satisfied. His dream was to have his own company and to help others, and that is just what he did. He founded PHP (People Helping People), the fastest growing financial services firm in America today, teaching and empowering women from low-income families to earn an adequate living for free.

Who among us has the guts to take the risk of quitting a lucrative career to help others in need?


Gac Filipaj


Gac emigrated from Yugoslavia as an adult, speaking not one word of English. He managed to get a job as a janitor, working 10 hour shifts at Columbia University. But Columbia has this great little policy that offers free tuition to any employee. Once he heard about this program, a college degree became Gac’s only goal. He learned English; he enrolled; he studied in between his janitorial shifts; he graduated with a 3.8 GPA and is now in graduate school.

How many of us have had obstacles even close to these and taken what we have for granted?


Nyle Dimarco


Another name that does not bring any recognition. Just an ordinary 25 year old, amazingly handsome young man, who happened to be born deaf.

His story is a short one, but inspiring nonetheless. Nyle will be the first deaf contestant ever on the new season of the TV series, “America’s Top Model,” which begins this month. In fact, he may be the first nationally-recognized deaf model to date.


What Kyle decided years ago was that he would use his disability as an opportunity, not as a condition that would relegate him to anything less than he wanted. He grew up learning ALS (American Sign Language) a method of signing that requires use of facial expressions and body language as well as hand signals. He has become so artful that he is a model photographer’s dream, able to convey with his expressions all that photographer could hope for. Big things await this young man.

How many disabilities have each of us overcome by framing them as opportunities?

How Do We Rekindle Our Dreams?

Most of us hope that we do not leave this planet with our dreams unfulfilled. But many of us might. Here is a thought: Identify one dream that you have given up, no matter how small, and then adopt the behaviors that psychologists tell us dream fulfillers have.

  1. They absorb setbacks and continue without fear of failure. We all have fears but we need to stop feeding them.
  2. They are focused yet flexible. While nothing is more important than the goal, they bend to the “curves in the path” seeing them as simply places that may slow them down temporarily.
  3. They refuse to be distracted by the naysayers – those family members and friends who try to discourage them.
  4. They develop a sense of optimism about life in general. Things are always going to get better; things are always going to work out; today’s setback is a “set up” for something better.
  5. They think with their brains and their hearts. Sometimes the logic has to take a back seat to a risk, to a unique idea, to a whim.
  6. They take accountability for their own behaviors, not relying on others to get something done for them.
  7. They push themselves out of their “comfort zones.” They have a passion to continue to learn and try new things.

So, what will it be for you? Are you a driver or a passenger in this journey of life? When you drive, you get to choose where you go; as a passenger, other make those choices for you. Pick your dream and make it happen!

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