Kozhi Sidney Makai was born in Zambia but grew up in Texas. The youngest of nine children, he has made it his life’s mission to help people rise above their potential. A motivational speaker and an author of such books as How Can I Come Up? and Born Beating the Odds, Dr. Makai was the featured speaker recently at a local college. He had wit, style and substance and kept us in stitches with his mimicry of Texan mannerisms.
Success, according to Makai, is not about wealth or leisure but about having options. All of us have options. We just have to have the vision and the confidence to see them. Sometimes life makes decisions for us. The options are still there. We just have to seize the ones that can enrich our lives. Those who settle for limited options and feel defeated by adverse circumstances lead depressing, unfulfilled lives.
Conventional wisdom says that we are judged only by what we finish. Makai disagrees. Our lives are also defined by what we begin. Even if we cannot finish some of the projects, they can positively influence those that we do. One way we can rise above our potential is to question everything, particularly conventional wisdom. It is not that we will get answers to all our questions. The power lies in the act of questioning itself. A writer must ask questions to write well. “Why am I writing this? Why will anyone be interested in this? Why should my characters evolve this way and not that?” Too often we settle for What, When and Who but not Why. Yet critical thinking often springs only from the Why.
Life, as Makai sees it, is more wrestling and less dancing. Everyday we wrestle with choices. That’s the source of growth. Life is lived in the moments. A life fully engaged in the present is rich. Makai, who played professional basketball for five years abroad, often observes parents who show up at their children’s games. They are present physically but absent emotionally or spiritually, constantly chatting on their phones or texting on their BlackBerries. Children can see through that.
When we become complacent and comfortable, we stop growing. That’s why it is so important to be open to new possibilities and beginnings. “I changed my major five times. You may think it is easy to find what you are passionate about. It is not. You may have to change direction a few times before you find your life’s calling, even if you have a general idea of what you want to be.” Many of us want to be successful but are unwilling to pay the price - of responsibility, accountability, hard work, dedication, being true to ourselves. Makai’s advice is that if we are receptive to our own thoughts, passions and dreams, we will know when changing direction is for our good and gladly put in the extra effort to succeed.
One question that reveals how we feel about ourselves is: “How is that working for you?” We become self-conscious when asked such a question. It soon becomes clear, however, that many of us are dissatisfied with our lives. “But here’s the thing,” said Makai. “You don’t have to keep publishing the same story. If your story is messed-up, if it sucks, if it is wrong, you have the option to change it. You are in control. Mediocrity is something you impose on yourself. If you think life has been unfair to you, turn that into an advantage. Learn how to turn the inevitable setbacks of life into opportunities
We succeed when we create our lives around our passions and dreams. “No one is more qualified to be you than you. Be what you want to be, not what others want you to be.” As a thinker, writer or whatever you choose to be,” said Makai, “you carry a signature that is uniquely your. It’s like your fingerprint. There’s nothing else like it in the universe. Be a first-rate version of yourself than a second-rate version of someone else."