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As the year 2015 gradually recedes into a year to be referred to in the past, as it becomes an historical reference as to its gains and losses, appointments and disappointments and whatever it allotted us or denied us, we start to expect the beginning of a new chapter in the new year. 

The New Year is like a new page in a yet unwritten book, a fresh page, a blank page with mysteries that we only hope would be kind to us.  However, in spite of the enigmatic texts that the blank pages of the new book might contain, we are co-authors of the pages and we can start writing what we want to fill the pages now.  The New Year, though fresh is just a continuation of the days past, calibrated to give us a fresh start and number our days.

Whatever goals we want to achieve in 2016, it is advisable to start writing them down now, to start filling the blank pages, even before the pages are turned.  I started writing down my goals for the year in 1996 and have been doing it every year since then.  It is amazing to report that more than 90% of those goals were met, some goals were partially met, while some were wholly fulfilled and more.

For instance, I accomplished all the goals on my 2015 list, most before October, some seemed impossible at the beginning of the year, but one way or the other, events colluded in my favor to make those dreams a reality.  Writing down your goals in expectation of filling the blank pages of the New Year is an act of faith, it is a declaration to the universe that you are ready for the New Year and are willing to dictate to it and not just wait for its handouts.  When you make these declarations and release this faith energy into the universe, as Paul Coelho describes in the best seller, “The Alchemist” the universe will conspire in your favor to make them happen.

This suggestion might seem trite and unrealistic, some might even argue that it is just wishful thinking, but from personal experience and those around me that practice this, I can boldly say it is a tested process that works.

Here are things to consider when writing down your aspirations for the New Year:

1.       Be Realistic: Make the goals simple and realistic and not some lofty pie in the sky aspiration.  For instance, don’t write that you want to become a doctor by the end of the year, when at the moment you do not have a high school diploma.  You might write down lofty goals that might be achievable in years to come with the hope of starting the process in the coming year.  In my experience, goals that seemed lofty ten years ago when I wrote them down became actualized decades later.

2.       Be Disciplined:  You have to be willing to work towards the goals.  You have to be ready to hustle to make the goals become real.  The universe will conspire in your favor to make things happen only when you have sown the seed into the universe.  For instance, you cannot hope to earn a college degree, when you are not currently enrolled unless it is an honorary degree or one of those microwave doctorate degree they sell online to the vanity seekers of such honors without the work.

3.       Believe:  The process is an act of faith.  Write down the goals that you believe you can achieve. If at the onset, you do not believe that it is possible, no universe or favor will conspire to actualize it.

4.       Be willing to Own the Goals: Take responsibility and ownership of what you have to do to turn your dreams to reality.  There will be excuses as to why you cannot achieve some goals, find legitimate ways around your excuses. If it is lack of time, create the time. Change the word “I can’t because…” to “I won’t because…” when you do this, you realize that it is a question of the hierarchy of your priority, you work towards and make time for what you prioritize.



5. Be Date-Specific: Set a target date for some goals. For instance, you can set a target of losing ten pounds by February, 2016. When you set a deadline, you mentally set yourself up to accomplish the goal(s) within the time frame. 


Sometimes, the universe might even conspire to actuate the deadline. At the end of last year, in my 2015 goal, I wrote that my book should be published by August 2015. Although, the digital version was released in June 2015, the paper version and official launching of the book was August 1, 2015.  I didn't even realize the significance of this date until I took inventory this month and realized that my book was launched on the first day of the month I had set. It should be noted that this deadline was not considered when the launching was being planned, and I did not unilaterally fix the date. The universe conspired to actualize the seeds of faith I had released into the universe prior to the beginning of the year. 


6. Be Bold and Ambitious: Aspire for levels you have not attained before. It is alright to be ambitious, so be bold with your aspiration because life will only give to you according to the measure of your demands.

7.       Be Ready to Have a Happy and Productive New Year. 


 
 
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The day started early for a Saturday morning as my wife, Jummy woke up around 6 O’ Clock to begin preparation for the longest race of her life.  It was just the beginning of fall, yet the central heat in the house was blowing full blast, the air outside was wet and damp with the coldness of fall.  The leaves on the trees glowed reddish yellow and have started dropping and floating around like homeless colorful butterflies.  The temperature this Saturday morning was in the 40’s, a cold day to be outside.  Yet, it was on this day that my wife had registered to run her first 10K (6.2miles) race.

You might be wondering what was the big deal about this race, isn’t it just an ordinary race that some people run daily?  In deed it was an ordinary race, what made it extraordinary was the story of the journey it took to get there.

After we got married over a decade ago, I tried to get Jummy to exercise like me.  I have been an active and fit person all my life.  So, I didn’t think it was a big deal if my wife joined my fitness regimen of running, lifting weights and participating in sports.  I thought all I had to do was get her to go with me to the gym, see me use the machines or run the track and she’ll be inspired.  Alas! I was dead wrong and was met with vociferous resistance and trailer loads of excuses.  In fairness, we went to the gym together a number of times, but after each episode, she would complain about the pain and how much she hates running and how she was not a natural athlete and not naturally inclined to run.  “Running puts too much impact on my knees, I can’t do it. It’s too painful. I’ll rather spend all day on the elliptical,” she’d say.

Over the years, we continued to have the same conversation as she also battled the resultant bulges of two pregnancies and deliveries.  “I am not you, running is not my thing. My knees cannot stand it,” she’d say after I pushed. “Moreover, I’m not like you. I hate exercising, it doesn’t give me a high, like it does you.” 

Although, she’ll go to the gym occasionally to use the elliptical and stationary bikes.  But there was no consistency and no result either.

Then about a year ago in 2014, Jummy decided without prompting to join me in my early morning weight training.  We started training five days a week, focusing on different body parts daily. She started gaining strength and strangely enjoying exercising.  After about six months, we decided it is better she got a personal trainer who can force her and push her harder because sometimes, she’d refuse to do an extra set or tell me she’s not capable of lifting or doing certain exercises.  “You are so mean and you like to torture me with these weights,” “No, I can’t do that, I can never do that, you need to understand me and my capabilities,” she’d say indignantly.

She started training with her personal trainer in May 2015 from 5.30am to 6.30am three times a week. She got even stronger, became freshly motivated and was pushed to do the exercise routines she had believed her body incapable of handling.  Then, she decided to incorporate running into her regimen to help with the weight loss and fitness.  So she started training for her first 5K race (3.1mile) in June 2015.  Mind you, this is someone who had long ago decided that her body was never built to run, who associated running with pain and believed that it was something meant for people with innate athletic abilities. 

The beginning was rough as she experienced the associated pain in her knees, shins and calves, but this time around, she didn’t give up.  She’d wake up early in the morning to run at least two miles within the first few weeks.  She’d huff, puff, scrunch her face, feel the pain, yet she did not stop. She also did not complain about the pain. She stopped focusing on the pain, on the hardships and the obstacles.  Then, the pain disappeared, her heart got stronger, her pace improved and her confidence soared.  By July, she ran her first 5K and ran a couple of other 5k races within the same month and the following months.

After conquering and mastering the 5K, she decided to run a 10K (6.2 miles). So, she applied the same techniques she used to get her body and mind into believing she could run that too and started training for it.  So by this cold Saturday in October, two months after she decided to run a 10K, she was ready to officially complete the longest race she had ever ran, but the weather was not promising.

In spite of the cold weather, she bundled up, joined hundreds of other runners and completed the race breaking her personal record.

There are notable lessons from this experience. First, no one can force us into our destiny unless we are willing and ready to make the commitment.  I tried for many years to cajole my wife into exercising and running, yet I did not succeed.  I didn’t succeed because it wasn’t organic.  When she was ready, the determination came from within her and hence the commitment.  So, your situation might have to do with a job, career, marriage, relationship or studies and you are trying to get that person you love to do things the “proper” way at the “proper” time; while you can encourage them, the decision to make changes have to be organic and come from them.  You can’t nag a person into their destiny. The decision to move forward and succeed is personal and can only be made by the person who desires the result.

Second, it is easy to make excuses and give reasons why we believe we cannot do or accomplish something. It is self-consoling when we focus on the potential obstacles that can stop us from moving forward. But when we do that we create a mental block which also engenders physical inability.  When we believe that we’re incapable of accomplishing a goal, it is highly likely than not that we will never accomplish that goal. If you believe you can never earn a college degree, that belief would stop you from enrolling and if you are forced to enroll, you’d likely not graduate because of that belief.

 Until we change our mindset from “I cannot” to “I can” and decide to at least make an attempt on the goal, there’ll not be any forward movement and success would remain elusive. My wife believed for a long time that she could never run and that running was pain, so she was never able to run without pain.  You attract what you desire and life rewards according to the measure of our bargains; when we view it with positive expectations, the universe conspires to actualize the positives. So the moment she changed her belief and stopped focusing on the perceived impediments, which was pain in this case, everything changed and she started seeing results.  When she decided to overcome the mental block, which was causing her physical pain, she overcame both the mental obstacle as well as the physical hindrance.

Third, the journey to success is not promised to be pain-free.  Just because we decide to make changes, determine in our hearts to succeed does not mean that the journey would be trouble-free or not be laden with the possibility of failure.  We are going to experience pain and possible failures along the way. We might experience oppositions and resistance from other people, even crisis from within ourselves, be inundated with self-doubt. However, with perseverance we can overcome the attending pain, failures and self-doubt.  When my wife started running and training for her first race, it was laden with pain and sometimes, she was so slow that even neighborhood snails bragged about their speed compared to hers.  Yet, she did not focus on the pain or the slow days, she persevered and eventually overcame both the physical pain, self-doubt and the slow transmission of oxygen. She also stopped complaining about the pain, as such she eliminated its negative effect on her.  When we complain and focus on our weaknesses, we magnify them beyond their significance and allow them to dominate us. On the road to success, there definitely will be obstacles, enemies and hindrances, especially when you are close to victory, but don’t focus on the naysayers, the weaknesses or obstacles, reduce them to insignificance and persevere until you achieve your goal.

Fourth, process leads to production.  To produce in life, there are certain process that must be followed.  If you desire to compete at the Olympics, you must train like an Olympian for three or more years before the actual games.  A 100meter run at the Olympics took three or more years of training for the ten seconds run. When my wife decided to participate in the races, she just did not wake up one day to join the other hundreds of folks to run 5K or 10K, she trained for the races. If she had tried to race without adequate training, she might end up with injuries and frustration. The training conditioned her body, her heart, her spirit to participate and complete the race.  Sometimes, when process and procedures are ignored, calamitous failure can result which may forever impede future attempts.  The same applies when we set a goal, we need to prepare and follow the steps and process. There is no short cut to success, so we must be prepared to achieve it, handle it and maintain it. The preparation may involve studying, reading books, trainings, seeking professional counsels or mentors- we have to acquire the knowledge, skills and qualifications necessary to prepare us in achieving that dream.

Fifth, we have to be consistent in the preparation for and pursuit of our goal.  Consistency breeds competency.  When Jummy was going to the gym haphazardly, she saw little or no result. But when she consistently committed herself to the training, she experienced marked improvement, built strength, endurance and became conditioned.  Once we set a goal, we must be consistent in our preparation towards its achievement, the more we practice a skill, the more proficient we become. Consistency is the mother of competency and proficiency.  An experienced attorney or surgeon only become experienced based on consistent application and modification of their skills to solve their clients’ or patients’ problems.  Lack of consistency to the process of preparation leads to mediocrity and failure. 

Sixth, don’t give up on your dream and don’t give up on yourself.  You can always do better than your last success. Having the drive for more or to do better does not equate to ingratitude. It only means that you are not complacent, when we stop growing, we start dying.  Although, the first goal for my wife was to get herself to exercise, then she moved on to running, then she is now pushing to run longer distances. Our race in life ought to follow this same example, aim higher, desire more and put in the work to achieve the goals.

Seventh, don’t wait until the “perfect” moment.  The moment does not have to be perfect for you to start that new business, relationship or project. When we procrastinate and wait for the “perfect” moment, the moment often never comes.  On the day of the 10K, most of the participants around my wife complained about the terrible weather.  My wife could have given up in the morning when the temperature forecast wasn’t gracious, yet she was determined to complete the longest race of her life regardless.  In our journey of life, waiting for the perfect moment to embark on a journey of success often leads to failure to launch.  Your goal may not wait for you and may not be available at your “perfect moment.” Everything may not be in alignment before we embark on our goals, when we start, everything else would fall in place, then the moment of our decision to start becomes the perfect moment.

Here are the seven steps in a nutshell:

1.       Set a goal and decide to achieve it.

2.       Change your mindset from “I can’t” to “I can.”

3.       Don’t focus on the obstacles or your weaknesses, focus on your strength

4.       Process leads to production and productivity. Obtain the skills needed to achieve your goal(s).

5.       Consistency breeds competency. Be consistent in your preparation towards achieving your goal(s).

6.       Don’t be complacent. Aim higher than your last success.

7.       There is never a perfect moment to embark on your goal. Start today.



 
 
As we celebrate Independence Day and enjoy this weekend, we should remember to honor the founding fathers, the framers of the United States' constitution and the later generations who struggled to amend it and expand the freedom. It should be noted that even though most of the founding fathers were Christians, they strove to form a perfect union with a secular government that would protect the rights of religious minorities, a union that would not endorse a denomination, creed or doctrine.
They declared independence from the crown of England to enjoy the freedom to chose their own leaders, they based their model on the Roman style of representative government.

They attempted to form a more perfect union. However, no human is perfect and no system created and operated by humans is infallible; hence their attempt wasn't devoid of imperfection. Their effort was revolutionary and innovative at the time, it was a foray into uncharted waters.

Although, they didn't create a perfect system, the framework they put in place allowed future amendments and upgrade to the constitution and its interpretation by the courts. Perhaps, their greatest achievement as founders and framers of the constitution was their adoption of a constitution that was amendable and subject to revision by future generations.

At the time of independence and the adoption of the constitution, the idea of universal freedom was quixotic and it was not all inclusive. The statement, "all men are created equal," was not meant to include black men, native Americans and white women. The "men" the document was referring to were mainly white men of English origin. At that time, blacks were not only excluded from the equality debate, they were considered to be 3/5 human and as properties and chattels that could be traded freely in the open market. Although, some conscientious colonists argued against the continuous practice of slavery in the newly formed nation, they had to compromise their stance to allow the formulation of the union because those who were for slavery balked at ratifying a constitution that would divest them of their properties (slaves).

About eighty five years after independence, seventy three years after the constitution was adopted,the unresolved slavery question demanded an answer, so war erupted with the south forming a confederacy, seceding from the union and fighting to maintain the perpetuation of slavery.

President Lincoln used his executive power to free all enslaved people by signing the Emancipation Proclamation-all slaves were theoretically free with just a stroke of the president's pen.
To ensure that the Emancipation Proclamation would not be revoked by future presidents, congress used the latchkey the framers left for the constitution and amended the constitution to ban involuntary servitude in the U.S.-the 13th amendment.

The 14th Amendment guaranteed equal protection and due process under the law for the freed slaves and by operation of law declared them American citizens for the first time. 
The 15th Amendment prohibits discrimination in voting based on race or previous condition of servitude.

Yet, in spite of this great movement towards equality, the post civil war, reconstruction amendments were nothing but promissory notes that most of the states within the union were not willing to honor. Hence, for about another one hundred years, blacks were prohibited from voting and exercising their constitutional rights. In fact, the discriminatory laws were codified and sanctioned by the states. The discrimination was ingrained within the system making the amendments illusory to those it was designed to protect.
In the 1960s, the descendants of former slaves and civil right activists could not take the delinquency in the promissory note any longer, so the agitation for civil rights ensued. By 1965, about one hundred years after the amendments guaranteeing the right to vote for blacks, the civil rights act was enacted to now actually prohibit voting discrimination based on race and abolish the Jim Crow laws. The Supreme Court during this period also made historical changes by declaring segregation and miscegenation laws unconstitutional.

All these movements toward freedom and equality were made possible by the latchkey that allows amendments to the constitution and empowers the Supreme Court to interpret the constitution not just based on tradition but on the ideal of universal freedom entrenched in the framing documents. The framework of the constitution allows the court to extend freedom and rights to minorities and groups that the framers never intended to enjoy such freedom. Nevertheless, their auspicious ingenuity made this possible.

If tradition were to be the guiding light of the United States, slavery would still be legal, women unable to vote, children used for labor, blacks couldn't live or go to school with whites and Barack Obama wouldn't be the president.

As we celebrate this July 4th, we have to realize that we are a nation evolving. A nation that through its ideal, has extended freedom to the marginalized, has given hope to those who came to its shores downtrodden. It is a nation that has afforded a first generation immigrant like me to grow and make something out of myself, even though I arrived without a dime. For this, I am grateful. God bless the United States of America