Take Your First Step

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If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I'd want to pass along to others...

  • One of my favorite figures from history is President Theodore Roosevelt. He lived an amazing life. He accomplished so many big things – he built the Panama Canal, won a Nobel Peace Prize, started America’s national parks system.

    But he received a great deal of criticism during his lifetime, exactly because he dared to do big things. After his presidency, he gave a speech in response to all of those who had been hollering and sniping at him through the years. In it, he said that “it is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena.”

    I find myself thinking a lot about what President Roosevelt said. I think a great deal about battling in arenas. We live in a world that is in many ways broken and scarred – a broken, weary world that loves to kill our dreams, to strangle them to death before we have a chance to fully nurture and embrace them. We live in world vehemently hostile to hope.

    Theodore knew this well. He pointed to the critic outside of the arena, and we must confront him as well. Choose to live your life at full volume, with strength and joy and passion, and you will surely confront those who will try to tear you apart. The fight in this arena will be harsh and difficult. Living an inspired and inspirational life is often difficult and unglamorous, completely devoid of glitz and pomp. The road is painfully perilous and uneven, and it will take a long, long time before our dreams will be achieved.

    So why fight? Why step into the arena at all?

    Because, as President Roosevelt said in that same speech, our place is not with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. We leap into the arena despite the critics and the doubts and the difficulties. We act in defiance of them. And that act alone is the beginning of victory.

    Jump into the arena! There is room enough for you to the left and to the right. Your place has never been, your place will never be with those cold and timid souls who stand frozen in fear just outside the arena’s edge.

    The opening bell has sounded. Climb into the arena, set your legs, straighten your back and keep your head and your hands held high – held high against Doubt, held high against Criticism, held high against that small voice inside you, begging you to give up and get out. Ignore it. Crush down your fear and doubts. Endure in this arena. Lean on those who love you when you begin to falter. Keep fighting until Victory is won and your dreams are achieved.

    The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena. The joy belongs to the one who is actually in the arena. True Life belongs to the one who is actually in the arena. So get in, and let’s go.

    Afam Onyema

    Afam Onyema was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1979. He graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in psychology and played on the 1997 Ivy League Championship-winning football team. After graduation, Afam worked for two years in the Chicago office of Hill & Knowlton, Inc., an elite global public relations firm, and then spent one year working in the marketing department of Mayer Brown LLP, a top-ten international law firm and the largest law office in Chicago. Afam entered Stanford Law School in September 2004. During his time at Stanford, he served as Vice President of the Black Law Students' Association, a two-time public interest fellow, and a mentor in the school's Public Interest Mentor Program. In January 2006, Afam traveled to Ghana as part of the law school's International Community Law Clinic. During his summers in law school, Afam worked for the Los Angeles offices of Paul Hastings LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, where he was a 2006 Minority Fellowship recipient. While in law school, Afam also directed the efforts of The GEANCO Foundation, his family's nonprofit organization. GEANCO’s mission is to save and transform lives in Nigeria. After graduating from Stanford Law School in May 2007, Afam declined his law firm offers in order to work full-time as GEANCO's Chief Operating Officer. Afam was named to the New Leader Council’s (NLC) “40 Under 40” national list of Emerging Leaders in 2009. NLC seeks out and trains the top tier of emerging young leaders and "political entrepreneurs." The '09 list included a US congressman, the state treasurer of Illinois, and a US assistant defense secretary. In 2012, Afam was named to NBC News’ theGrio.com’s list of “100 People Making History Today”, and Mother Nature News selected him as a member of the Innovation Generation: 30 fresh thinkers helping humanity adapt to what’s next. Afam has been profiled and/or interviewed by National Public Radio (WBEZ 91.5 Chicago), US News & World Report, Forbes.com, Newsweek, American Lawyer (AmLaw.com), NBC News, Daily Journal, AOL/Patch.com, Blackgivesback.com, Young Lawyer Magazine, JET Magazine, Harvard Magazine, Stanford Magazine and Stanford Lawyer. Afam has presented GEANCO’s work at Harvard Law School, Stanford University’s Center for African Studies, Stanford Law School, UCLA Graduate School of Business, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

    For more information, please visit geanco.org.

    View all posts by Afam Onyema.

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