Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Overcoming "enemies" to achieve success

When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you. (Africa)

Dear Zayda,

An important lesson in life is to have faith in ourselves. No matter who likes us or dislikes us, we will still like ourselves. No matter what people say we can do or cannot do, we will decide on our goals and set out to achieve them. No matter what other say is impossible, we will try to nurture even the grain of what is possible.

Any thought that limits us is like an enemy within. For example, girls sometimes tell themselves that they cannot do mathematics. Kay was like that. She surprised herself by getting good marks at primary school. However, she dropped back when she decided that high school mathematics was too hard. What really happened was that she asked her teacher some questions, and her teacher gave her a look that said, “Child, are you stupid or what?” The look silenced Kay, and she started to keep her questions to herself. As her grades fell, she became more and more convinced that she was bad at mathematics.

Even when she was grown up, Kay’s mind would freeze if anyone asked her to add (let alone multiply) numbers. The enemies had moved from outside to make their home in Kay’s mind. And Kay’s doubts about herself allowed the enemies to win.

Sydney decided not to limit himself, and he was ready to ignore anyone who got between him and his dream of being a coach. Sydney had polio as a child, and wore leg braces all his life. He could not run or jump. However, he watched sports, read about sports, and pretty much lived and breathed sports.

He became a French teacher in a boys’ school, mainly so he could be close to athletics. He didn't choose a girls' school because, in those days, classy ladies were not expected to sweat. This was long before the days of such outstanding Jamaican female athletes as Merlene Ottey and Shelley-Ann Fraser. Importantly, Merlene Ottey is one classy lady who is making history now by running in international meets at 50 years old. She is at an age at which athletes have long hung up their running spikes. But Merlene continues to listen to the voice that says, “I can.”

When Sydney taught at the boys' school, he spent almost all his spare time on the play field. He inched his way into coaching, and gradually became chief athletics coach. Thanks to his skill, his boys’ school became almost unbeatable in track events.

Despite his physical disability, Sydney is one of Jamaica’s legends in athletics coaching. He began a tradition that has benefited generations of athletes and led to Jamaica's outstanding record in sprint. Most of all, he is an example of what we can achieve when we do not allow the enemy within to make room for the enemies outside and keep us away from achieving our dreams.

People will tell us we are not good enough mainly because they believe they are not good enough. So what they say applies to them, because they cannot know us as well as we know ourselves. The “enemies outside” can make war on us only if we allow other people’s fears to become ours as well. On the other hand, people who tell us we are not good enough can help us. They can give us the drive to prove them wrong.

So, my grandniece, know that only the “enemies” of your making can hold you back. Only you can decide how far you go in life.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)


ColetteG said...

Yvonne, thanks for the reminder, "Yes I can!"

Yvonne McCalla Sobers said...

Yes, Colette, we definitely need to keep reminding ourselves that we can!


Yvonne Nothango


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at