ATLANTA, GA / ACCESSWIRE / October 6, 2020 / Chad E. Foster is a motivational keynote speaker, sales/finance leader, and inspirational change agent who works at Red Hat/IBM. He's the author of the upcoming book Blind Ambition: How to go from Victim to Visionary to be published by Harper Collins Leadership in February 2021. Chad was the first blind executive to graduate from Harvard Business School's Program for Leadership Development. Despite going blind while attending college in his early twenties, he started at Accenture, and has built a career in the technology industry where he has directed financial strategies and decisions resulting in more than $45 billion in contracts. He speaks to corporate audiences and professional athletes to help them develop resilience in the face of uncertainty. He lives with his wife and his 2 children in Atlanta, GA.
If you feel like 2020 was a year to forget, you're not alone. Coronavirus wrapped its wretched arms around millions of people all over the world, while social injustice continues to plague our society. Many felt the medical and economic impact of coronavirus, and for most of us, it seems like the world will never be the same.
As I read the news every day, I see the world awakening to an unknown future. People are protesting, people are afraid, people are fed-up. As scary as it seems for many, it feels very familiar to me.
This is how I felt when it finally dawned on me that I would no longer be able to see. I was not born blind. I was raised as a very active boy, playing sports, running around outside, doing chores that my Dad gave me for the weekend to keep me out of trouble... but a rare genetic disease chose a different path for me.
It is not a path I would have chosen for myself. If it was up to me, I probably would have become a doctor... but how good of a doctor would I have been, now that I can no longer see. Like many on the news today, I loathed the future imposed on me. I rebelled, I cried, I was depressed, I was angry, I was hurt, I protested.
It is difficult to write about the journey from there to where I'm at today in a short article. This is why I'm writing a new book called Blind Ambition: How to Go From Victim to Visionary detailing the path. I'm also starting a community to help people summon their inner strength, build resilience, recover from setbacks we've all encountered this year and chart a new course to the new you!
What is resilience and why is it important today, even more so than before?
Although it is not typically taught in the classroom, resilience can be learned, developed, and refined. At its core, it is our ability to recover from setbacks and break free from negative thoughts and emotions that hold us back. It is a skill everyone has, but like a muscle, the more it is exercised, the stronger it becomes.
Read the current news cycle and you will notice where millions are finding themselves out of jobs. How do you get back on your feet after such a setback? How do you compete with your peers when everything feels like the odds are stacked against you?
I know this better than most. For a while, I too fell victim to the circumstances of life. When I went blind in my early 20's at university, I could no longer complete my reading assignments, see the sidewalks between university buildings, or see the TV shows and games I enjoyed. The thought of my new circumstances paralyzed me. Would I ever get married? Who would want to marry a blind guy? And if I got married, would I be able to ever "see" my spouse or future children? Like a boa constrictor, hopelessness wrapped itself around me and squeezed me tightly. It was hard to move. Hard to breathe.
Just like in baseball, life always throws us curveballs. But what are we going to do about it? Are we going to quit the game, walk away, or even spend our time talking about how unfair the throw was? Or, will we swing at each and every pitch we get-curveballs and fastballs alike, knowing that there are no do-overs in life, so we have to make the best with the pitches we get.
For me to graduate from university, I had to have my mom read out every single textbook into a tape recorder and listening to those cassettes was the only way I could study. I had to relearn how to learn, eventually creating a system where I listened to each book, recorded lecture, and class notes at least twice. It turned out that I was a better blind student than sighted student. I made straight-A's, the Dean's List, and eventually went on to work for a top consulting company.
So, what got me over the hump? How did I move my mindset from victim to visionary™?
Break Free of Toxic Thought Patterns
It is completely natural to react negatively when faced with circumstances that don't line up with our expectations. In fact, it would be very unnatural to react any other way. However, the key is deciding how long we allow those emotions and thoughts to constrain us.
Will we allow those circumstances to flow past us just as effortlessly as they arrived, or will we get caught up in an endless cycle of rumination and despair? Energy flows where attention goes, so it is important that we choose how long we allow these toxic emotions to dwell, and when we need to refocus our attention away from these unproductive thoughts to move on to things that energize us.
Breaking free from those toxic thought patterns is why I now consider blindness to be a tremendous gift. I have gone from the pits of despair, to building software Oracle thought impossible, to winning over $45 billion in contracts, and becoming the first blind executive to graduate Harvard Business School's Program for Leadership Development. I am happier and more successful now than when I was an able-seeing man and I wouldn't be here today if I didn't go blind.
Happiness is not a feeling
2020 has shown many of us that life does not always cooperate with our plans. Events unfold in a very unpredictable way. I doubt anyone could have predicted that 2020 would end up with a global pandemic, millions out of work, social injustice on full display, and unrest throughout the United States.
None of us can foresee where life leads us, or what conditions we will be presented. Relying on external factors for our happiness is a fool's errand. It is far better to derive our happiness from deep inside of us.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." The same holds true for happiness. Happiness is linked to our perspective, particularly in our ability to choose the meaning we attach to our circumstances. By choosing how we perceive things, we learn to be grateful. The more we appreciate the things we take for granted, the happier we become. Happiness is more than a feeling, it's a perspective and a decision.
Excuses are for losers™
None of us control everything that happens to us, but we control how we respond. We may not be responsible for our circumstances, but we are accountable for our life and our outcomes. If we are not, who is?
I am not responsible for going blind. Fate rolled the dice on me and dealt me a genetic eye disease. However, as much as I did not cause my blindness, I cannot shirk the responsibility of my life and my outcomes. If I chose to not be accountable, I would be the only person who would lose. It is my life, so I have to own it. It is your life, so you have to own it. If your life were a painting with you being the artist, what kind of artwork would you create? You may not be able to select all of the colors, but you get to craft the vision for your masterpiece.
Life Begins Outside Your Comfort Zone
The one good thing about 2020, "the year to forget," is that it forced many of us to get outside of our comfort zones. We all experienced a "new normal" take shape. Although it may seem like an ominous cliché now, the "new normal" helped us break free of the routines we have fallen deep into without even realizing.
Change is the only constant and to thrive in change, everyone needs to regularly get outside of their comfort zones and get comfortable with discomfort. When we are comfortable, we are not growing. My entire life has been an experiment with living outside my comfort zone, so I feel I have developed an advantage with this skill.
As a young child, I learned the limitations of my night vision as I bounced off of objects-walls, fences, and even steel water pipes. As a young adult, the world around me faded to black. Then, taking my 100-pound German Shepherd guide dog everywhere I went-university classes, nightclubs, bars, and eventually, conference rooms, hotels, conventions, and office buildings-all taught me to get comfortable with discomfort.
All the things people take for granted, I had to relearn to accept and live with, such as not being able to see or speak a local language while boarding a flight to a foreign country with only my trusty guide dog as a companion… or finding my way in a new hotel gym at 5 a.m. for my morning sweat. Where is the machinery, where is the water dispenser? Which area of the treadmill touchscreen display should I press to start?
Believe it or not, today I live an active lifestyle, including ziplining, waterskiing, rafting, and even skiing down the steepest slopes on the mountainside. My family and friends are not thrilled that I take on such challenges while blind, but I refuse to be confined by my disability. I continue to stretch my comfort zones in ways that reward. I have decided to carve out my path in life, regardless of my ability to see.
Dare to be Great
What motivates you? Are you excited to be average, or are you the kind of person who feeds off the challenge of doing something great? Life rewards action. Life rewards taking some risks. Life is too short for me to play it completely safe.
If you want to be inspired, if you want to make a difference, you will have to take some chances.
Make a choice right now: dream big and risk living a life that falls short of your boldest dreams, or, play it safe and live a life not knowing how wildly fulfilling your life could have been. The choice, and the courage are in you. What do you have to lose?
Obstacles Equal Growth
A life without obstacles is a life void of growth. We all grow through adversity. After going blind, I started with relearning how to learn without eyesight, and developing a new learning system in the process. I learned how to use a computer, teaching myself how to write code to engineer the software so it would integrate with other applications. This eventually led to me building software for the visually impaired so they could access enterprise applications, unlocking job opportunities for blind people while allowing me to create a consulting business.
With my new learning system and technical skills, I was able to flourish in the business world. In fact, my technical understanding gave me an edge when architecting and managing financial strategies for mega IT deals. I understood the services we were providing because I had gained key technical expertise due to my blindness. But without the adversity that blindness presented me, I would not have been forced to sharpen those skills. And the right mindset-the mindset to grow-allowed me to make those connections.
We All Have Blind Spots
I have never thought of my journey as all that different from anyone else. Some have told me that my life story inspired them. For years, I could not see it. Why would anyone want to hear or learn life lessons from me? However, after giving the graduation talk at Harvard Business School, I saw first-hand how much I could teach others if I was intentional about it. How had I become so blind to this dimension of myself for so long? If only I had observed that blind spot sooner, how many more people could I have helped?
Because of this epiphany, now I continue to ask myself, "what other blind spots am I missing?"
This awareness of potentially missing my own blind spots is what has guided me to constantly re-evaluate myself so I can course correct. Regularly taking time to reflect can help you become more self-aware. Having a good group of honest friends is also extremely useful in this exercise. We all have unexplored dimensions of ourselves, either due to a lack of awareness, or a fear of failure. Throughout my life I have discovered physical blind spots after bumping into something, but figuratively, many of us bump into our blind spots every day.
With the right tools and mindset, I trust you will be able to develop the resilience and adaptability to navigate through uncertain times. I have personally witnessed how powerfully resilience can reshape our happiness and success in life. I have done it myself and you can too.
Many will write-off 2020 as the year to forget, but together, with the right mindset and attitude, we can emerge stronger than before. If you or someone you know feels alone or doesn't know where to start, the Blind Ambition community can help. Here, members will be able to learn more about these tools. We will meet regularly in a private Facebook group for updates, to answer questions, provide status of events, and distribute content.
Victims stay trapped. Visionaries bounce back. Together, we can grow and overcome any obstacle!
Chad E. foster
Chad E. Foster
SOURCE: Chad E. Foster
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