It was approximately a month after settling in Canada with my family when I found myself having to deliver my first ever role play presentation.  I was in grade 11 English and I was about to do something I had never done in all my 15 years of life.  

In the previous weeks leading up to that moment I was amazed by how my classmates could stand in front of class and deliver a presentation in an articulate, engaging and informative manner.   I was even more impressed with the ease with which they delivered their presentation; to me this was sheer brilliance. 

On the day of my role play presentation, while I sat in my chair preparing to deliver the lines, I could see on the eyes of my classmates a look of support and one of curiosity. 

How was this new student going to do?

What new and engaging ways was he going to use to deliver the lines of his role play? 

Although my classmates were beyond supportive and friendly I was nervous, okay I was self conscious, anxious and nervous.

I was conscious of my accent and how quickly I spoke whenever I became nervous. 

Needless to say, when the time had come for me to present my role play I was at best pretty bad.  In fact, I wanted the ground to open and take me; have you ever had one of those moments? 

When I returned to my desk I knew right away that the way I reacted to this disappointment and poor performance was going to determine where I went from here.  

I knew I could do one of two things: I could decide to never present in front of anyone again and stick to being a behind the scene kind of guy or I could go out and learn how to become a better speaker.  

I figured any improvement would be way better than what I demonstrated that day.  I decided to use this hugely embarrassing moment to motivate me to become better at public speaking; not too long after I enrolled in a course called Speaking with Confidence at College. 

After completing the course I was determined to sign up and accept any and every opportunity that came my way to speak. 

I wasn’t under any illusions that taking this approach would mean having to deal with more embarrassing situations like what I had previously experienced, however I was ready and determined to turn this weakness into a strength.   I told myself this was all part of the growing and the key was that no matter how poorly I did I would regroup and go right back at it again. 

It’s been about 28 years since I made this decision and I am glad I chose to deal with my English class experience the way I did.

It’s amazing because now I enjoy speaking, whether that is in front of a few or many people.  To be honest the number of people really does not matter.

What matters is that I managed to turn what was one of my biggest weaknesses into one of my greatest strengths. 

It’s amazing how one decision to act can have such a ripple effect on the other actions you decide to take in life.  I heard someone say that it’s always easy to connect the dots looking back – so when I look at where I am today, when it comes to my ability to speak in public, it all goes back to my grade 11 English class experience.

For me, although this was an embarrassing situation, it was also an opportunity to overcome my fear.  I didn’t want the events of this moment to define me.  Instead, I wanted the results from the actions I took towards overcoming this fear of public speaking to be the real defining moment.

I had a choice on how I viewed this moment:  I could have viewed it as a moment to run and hide or as an opportunity to overcome and grow.

I chose to see it as an opportunity to overcome and grow.

My question to you is this:

What is the one thing you fear which is preventing you from pursuing your dreams and goals? 

I want you to take some time and honestly think about this as objectively as you can. 

In the meantime, I want to share with you a story I read that to this day inspires me to not allow fear of anything to hold me back from pursuing my dreams.

The First Grader is a movie about Kimani N’gang’a a first grader and how he learned to read. 

The one thing that is different about Kimani N’gang’a Maruge, compared to other first graders, is that he was 84 years old when he enrolled in primary school and learned to read. 

That’s correct, this was not a typo, he was 84 years old. 

This story is amazing in so many ways especially given that many people don’t even live to the age of 84.  Kimani was born in 1920 in Kenya and was an ex Mau Mau freedom fighter.  These fighters started a movement in the mid 1940’s where they fought against the rule of the British as well as for land and freedom to practice their own politics. 

The movie is based on his story where despite his age, injuries he received during his time as a Mau Mau freedom fighter and the jokes and obstacles he faced while attempting to enroll in school, he was able to find a way to not let these things distract him from achieving his goal of learning to read. 

I couldn’t help but be amazed at his story and especially about what he had to go through to enroll in school.  I don’t want to reveal too much about the movie or book, because it is one I strongly recommend, however, here are six things I learned from Kimani N’gang’a Maruge that can help anyone who wants to achieve their dreams:

1.     No dream is too big or too small

How many times have you assigned value to your dream and goals based on how people (especially the ones closest to you) perceive it?

It always amazes and disappoints me whenever I see people who laugh at courageous individuals who are willing to share their dreams and goals. For those of you who end up in situations like this, don’t be discourage.  Instead, kindly tell that person you aren’t asking for their permission to pursue your dreams and goals. 

Too many times a person’s dream or goal is judged as being too big or too small through the lens of a person who has no connection to it.  What’s worst is when the person with that dream begins to view their own dreams and goals through the same lens. 

Do you think Kimani would have learned how to read if he listened to what others thought and what they told him about his goal to learn to read.  If he did, he would have ended up never learning to read and sadly never achieving his dream.

2.     Be thankful for what you have, because what you take for granted in your life is what someone else dreams of having in their life

How many times have we as human beings complained about our life not being fair?

Many times we look at what others have that we don’t have and use that as a way to measure how unfair life has been to us. 

Instead, what we should be looking at are the many things we have in life that others only dream of having in their own lives.  I have found that I am far more likely to be happy when my dreams and goals are based on being the best I can be instead of trying to have more than someone else. 

Remember, having an attitude of gratitude for what you currently have in life is the first step you take when pursuing the things you would like to have in your life. 

3.     Have a purpose because it can lead to even greater things

One of Kimani N’gang’a Maruge reasons for living life was to learn how to read the Bible.  He wanted to do this because he thought people were telling him things in the Bible that were not true.  

Despite the many challenges and obstacles, he eventually learned to read!

What was even more amazing about his story was, in addition to achieving his goal of learning to read, he also went on to have his accomplishment be written in the Guinness book of records, have a film made about his noble accomplishment and have the opportunity to address the United Nations Millennium Development Summit.

His desire, determination and success in achieving his goal of learning to read resulted in him achieving more than he ever expected or hoped.

4.     Don’ t take no for an answer – be persistent and resilient       

The story of Kimani N’gang’a Maruge was one of persistence and resilience.  He had experienced many things in his life the average human being would never have to endure and through it all he never allowed the situation or what people had to say deter him from his goal.

I can’t help but ask myself how many of us would have been able to do what he did?

5.     Anything is possible once you choose to act!

Kimani N’gang’a Maruge could have used his old age as a reason not to take action toward his dream and goal. 

But he never did!

Instead, he made the decision to act. 

I don’t think for one second he had figured out in his head how it was all going to play out.   All he knew was that he wanted to learn how to read and he could learn to do this by attending primary school.

Based on that simple understanding he took the actions needed to enroll in primary school and the rest is history. 

How many times have we told ourselves we will take the first action towards achieving our dreams and goals as soon as we have it all figured out? 

This would be great.  Think of all the wrong turns, disappointments and heartache you could avoid.  Unfortunately, life does not work like this.  Instead, your path towards achieving your dreams and goals can only materialize from taking action. 

Ultimately, it’s the series of actions you take that gets you to your dream.  

Have you ever taken some time to think about all the goals you want to achieve but have yet to accomplish?

Have you ever asked yourself what reasons are keeping you back from taking action? 

When you think of all these reasons, whether it be the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure or what people may say, ask yourself if you would feel the same way if this was your last day on earth? 

Quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“Do what you can with what you have wherever you are”