Pick stones thrown at you and build a monument

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By CPA Dr. Joseph Nyanchama

Follow Your Inspiration in your Chosen Way of Life 

If you are in a leadership position or any other position in life, many people will give intense negative criticism that can make you abandon a great idea or vision for your project if you are not strong willed.

 I have tried to find out why people are so negatively critical to situations that are quite good and noted that most of the time, people who are critical in a negative way either suffer from scarcity mentality or are uninformed. 

They usually say things about your leadership that aren’t based on truth. If I held out an orange seed in my hand and asked what I am holding, many people would say, “an orange seed”. That would be a fact but the truth is, I have a tree in my hand. In most cases, people become critical of situations because they simply look at facts and do not think in a way to see the truth. In the end, they become critical in order to discourage you from your great vision. As a leader you should never allow this to happen, instead focus on your great dream until it is realised.

Doctor Howes advised a young and visionary woman known as Florence Nightingale thus; “Whatever is unusual is usually treated as unsuitable but follow your inspiration in your chosen way of life despite criticism”. She heeded the advice and within fourteen years her calling crystalised with clarity for the world to see her generational contribution and went down on record as the father of modern nursing. When the former American Secretary of State (Condoleezza Rice) was in high school, she was criticised and told that her test results showed that she probably wouldn’t do well at university.

She did not let criticism deter her vision but instead modeled herself, and threw herself into studies with such concentrated energy that she actually entered the University of Denver at age 15 and graduated with academic honours at age 19. At 41 Rice became the youngest provost in the history of Stanford University, the first woman and the first African American to fill the prestigious post. For those who witnessed her presence here in Kenya in 2008, her power and influence were evident and need not be emphasised.

As much as it is interesting to note how Stanford University was led by the first woman (Condoleezza Rice), it is further interesting to understand how the idea of the University was conceived. Mr. and Mrs. Leland walked into the office of Harvard University President and Mrs. Leland said,” Mr. President, we had a son that attended Harvard for one year and was happy here and loved the university. Unfortunately, about a year ago, he was accidentally killed hence my husband and I would like to erect a memorial for him somewhere on campus”. The president said, “We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard then died! If we did, this place would actually look like a cemetery”.

Mr. Leland and his wife walked away and the negative criticism of Harvard’s President energised them to establish the prestigious Stanford University that bears their names and a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer needed. Mr. and Mrs. Stanford managed to use criticism to their favor and out of it emerged the distinct Stanford university which actually ranks in the top league of universities with the class of Harvard and Yale. I therefore strongly believe that you as a leader too could be like Mr. and Mrs. Leland or like Simon Gicharu, who founded Mount Kenya University from scratch of course despite many challenges.

Mr. Simon Gicharu is a contemporary entrepreneur I personally admire. He walked into equity bank and borrowed his first loan of twenty thousand Kenyan shillings to partition a small rented house for ten-by-ten classes at Thika town. He forged forward by great inspiration and probably might have gained wisdom from Charles Darwin who said,” It is not the strongest who survive nor the most intelligent but those who are most responsive to change”. This man built a monument in the name of Mount Kenya University. Former President, late Mwai Kibaki recognised his efforts by awarding him in 2012 on Jamhuri day, the order of the burning spear [CBS] the highest state commendation a civilian can be awarded!

One may ask what really brought the various leaders I have mentioned above to the pinnacle of their leadership or professions in the midst of many criticisms or challenges. My view is that all these leaders had a bigger picture perspective and never let any criticisms or challenges distort their focus on the picture. In fact, their thinking is related to a man who was convicted and sentenced to death but obtained a reprieve by assuring the king he would teach and train his majesty’s horse to fly within a year with the proviso that if he didn’t succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. The convicted man’s friend was startled by his promissory note to the king and wanted to know how he could manage to train the horse to fly! The reprieved man answered by saying,” within one year the king may die or with time the horse may learn how to fly or his time may come and he (the horse) dies naturally at the end of the year”!

      This man belonged to a class of people who look at things which are not and say: why not? “This man belonged to the class of the late President John F. Kennedy who on May 25th 1961 announced to a joint session of congress that it was high time America sent a man to the moon. The congress was skeptical arguing that it was logistically and technologically impossible to travel to the moon! However, the president went ahead with his decision and dealt with the obstacles later and it’s on record that a man was finally sent to the moon.

      There are some leaders who eagerly begin well and do not achieve great things in their leadership because they are discouraged by critics. Criticisms make them forget to add patience, persistence and endurance to their enthusiasm. Josh Billings said, “Consider the postage stamp, its usefulness consists in its ability to stick to something until it gets there.” Ignore the critics but use criticism to grow.  

      Criticisms will always be there. The Chinese have a proverb that says, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” It seems to me that great trials are the necessary preparation for greatness. It was Charles Spurgeon who maintained that “A world where everything was easy would be a nursery for babies and not all a fit place for men.”  For this reason, a leader who cannot push on against the wind and weather stands a poor chance of influencing others by his or her contribution in this life.

      In most times people criticize you because they do not see where you see. So do not blame them. That is why Konrad Adenauer was correct when he said, “we all live under the same sky, but we do not all have the same horizon.”

      One day a certain bishop visited a president of a certain religious college. After dinner the bishop declared that the millennium couldn’t be far off, because just about everything about nature had been discovered and all inventions conceived. The college president politely disagreed and said he felt there would be many discoveries when the angered bishop challenged the president to name one such invention. The president replied that he was certain that within fifty years men would be able to fly. The bishop’s name was Mr. Wright and he had two boys at home who proved to have lean thinking and vision than their father. They (Orville and Wilbur Wright) disproved the critics who were saying that they did not have a university degree, were unknown and mere bicycle mechanics by flying the first plane on 17th December 1903 and the world was surprised.

The father (Mr. Wright) and his sons both lived under the same sky, but did not have the same horizon. In a similar way a critic and you live under the same sky but you have different horizons. Your mother does not know you. Your father does not know you either. The critics cannot see where you see. Remember a critic is a person who knows the way but does not know how to drive. So let him show you the way as you drive and do not forget to pick any stones, he throws at you to build a monument.

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