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Don’t Forget the Hard Times Embrace Them to Grow

A dream may never become a reality if you fail to learn from what made it impossible in your past

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A dream may never become a reality if you fail to learn from what made it impossible in your past. Each trial I have faced strengthened me, increased my confidence, and instilled in me the discipline to seek accountability for my life. 

That’s why I don’t try to forget the hardships of my past. Instead, I prefer to cling to every moment as a powerful reminder of who I once was and who I am becoming. Hard times contain invaluable lessons if you reframe your approach.

Here’s how:

Acknowledge that hardship takes many forms 

Hardship often implies severe suffering, though it comes in different forms for different people — or for different phases of your life. While there’s no winning or meaning to life if you don’t rise above trials and tribulations, it’s important to respect that whatever form hardship takes matters. 

During my high school years in rural Lagos, Nigeria, we struggled for clean water, electricity, and access to medical treatment. As a grown man in the U.S., my hardships have taken another form. I’m concerned about providing for my family and ensuring they have a secure future. I worry about my career and daily work. 

But one set of challenges is no more or less important than the other; it simply depends on who is experiencing it in what environment.

See hardships for the meaning they provide

Think of hardship as an obstacle to overcome in order to get from point A to point B. Without the obstacle, there’s no meaning to the journey or sense of reward. Every form of hardship inherently drives us to build something of value: to cover long distances, we built cars for land, boats for the sea, and planes for the air. 

Hardships force us to be smarter and better. They add accountability and bring out the best in us. Diamonds are formed under a tremendous amount of pressure. Be the diamond.

“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” — Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Look for the lesson in each trial 

In Lagos, I grew up in a community where few understood the magnitude of our poverty. When we couldn’t afford electricity, I studied by lantern if we had kerosene or moonlight when we didn’t. I was often afraid that I’d return home after school to empty pots and no food. 

I often prayed to God that there might be food in the kitchen this time — or at least some bread to dip in sugar and water. In my heart, I knew that to someday provide for my own family, I had to stay disciplined with my academics. 

All of these moments form my compass and my invisible toolbox. I’d be lost without them. When you remember how far you’ve come, you bring humility to your success and find more confidence, power, and strength in yourself and your abilities.

Focus on how you recovered from setbacks.

There’s a Yoruba proverb:” If you want to drink the honey from the rock, you can’t look at the edge of your axe.” When I was in high school in Lagos, my family’s financial situation hit rock bottom. It was the national college examinations season: All high school students had to take General Certificate Examination (GCE) to be eligible for college. 

But in my family, we often went without food for days. The four weeks of the 1996 GCE, when I had fourteen exams to write, were the most grueling weeks of my life. The exam center was thirteen miles away, and I had no transportation fare. 

Constantly hungry, I walked those thirteen miles in every kind of weather, often in bare feet since my sandals were too far gone to be mended. Sometimes I hitched a ride on the back of a pick-up truck or hung on the back of the petrol tanker truck. 

This was the period I had to make a life-changing decision: to keep pursuing my dreams for the future by performing exceptionally well in exams, or give up because I was too weak even to lift a book? 

This period culminated in an unprecedented level of respect for me from my father. At the end of my exams, I knew that no one but myself could stop me from achieving anything I set my heart to, not unless God had other plans. 

Consider your faith and how it prevailed.

By the time I understood the concept of faith, I was in my third year in college. But I realized I had exercised this belief since I was a child without knowing what it was. Experiencing poverty allowed me to build something new to bring my family and myself out of it. 

Every adversity I faced taught me to always have alternatives — not only a Plan B but also a Plan C. It would take some time before I would understand the impact of betrayal by those I love. But I learned quickly how to sense and gauge negativities and falsenesses from a distance and keep them at bay. 

I take those lessons seriously — and they become part of how I remember those loved ones when they’re gone. If there’s anything they taught me, it’s to know when my faith has prevailed, accomplish what I wanted, and celebrate in humility and gratitude.

Like pieces of a puzzle, the experiences we face, hard times and good times, successes and failures, complete us. If you choose to cast out the pieces you don’t like, you will never be able to create the whole. 

Aligning a piece correctly lets you know which piece you need to find next. It’s the same with our experiences. They’re meant to shape and guide us so we can thrive, touch the lives of those around us, and contribute to this world. 

Dr. Deji Ayoade is the first African immigrant to become a nuclear missile operator in the United States Air Force and serve in three U.S. military branches. He’s a trained veterinary surgeon, combat medic, Nuclear Weapon System SME, Senior Program Analyst, and U.S. Space Force Department of Defense Civilian at the Pentagon. He turned to storytelling as solace from an early life of poverty and loss. His new book is Underground: A Memoir of Hope, Faith, and the American Dream.

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