21 Aug

Lessons Learned from Adversity

Here’s the blog I wrote for Terri L. Clay’s Accomplish Your Dreams for Entrepreneurs. I thought I would also share it with my readers.

I have lived with asthma since I was a baby. When I was 16, the doctors found a pituitary adenoma (small tumor in the pituitary gland in my brain). It causes hormone imbalances and illnesses for which I have to take medicine. I opted to not have the tumor removed and take advantage of a scholarship and financial aid award to Cornell University. I then went to Georgetown University Law School, also on a partial scholarship.

While I was practicing as a criminal defense attorney, my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (cancer in the bone marrow). As an only child, I became her primary care taker. In the midst of preparing for her first bone marrow transplant, I was diagnosed with lupus, and soon thereafter, raynaud’s and sjogren’s syndromes. Years later they found I also have scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. These are all illnesses that attack the immune system in different ways.

In August of 2000, while I was a public defender in the Bronx, I ate jerk chicken from a food cart. I got food poisoning and had to be hospitalized for dehydration. The doctors gave me too much sodium and my brain swelled; I was left in a coma. I suffered a debilitating brain injury, losing the use of a big portion of my brain. I had to learn how to walk, talk, and do most things for myself again. It took 6 years of rehabilitation. I still have a seizure disorder, balance problems, and some ocular issues.

I was never the person I was before, but I was grateful for the life lessons I learned. Here are some things I took away from my life’s experiences and strategies that I employed:

1-Have a positive mindset

  • While I was depressed and had a negative mindset about the brain injury and all of the chronic illnesses I have, I wasn’t recovering.
  • When I accepted what had happened and believed that I could and would get better, I saw immediate improvements.
  • I had to take responsibility for my mindset and the energy I was bringing to my rehabilitation.
  • When I failed at something, fell, had a seizure and started getting down on myself, I had to catch the negative voice in my head and shut it down.
  • Your frame of mind affects your success not just in business but also in life.
  • Don’t let that negative voice stop you from pursuing your dreams; adopt a positive mindset.

2-See excuses for what they really are—obstacles to achieving your dreams or your goals—make no excuses

  • The brain injury left me with severe balance and ocular problems. Rides in the train or walking down a busy aisle in a supermarket were overwhelming; I would feel extremely nauseous.
  • When my therapists suggested taking me to the train, bus, or on a shopping outing to a store, I would say, “No, I can’t do it; it’s too much!”
  • I was doing all the necessary rehabilitation at the hospital, but I was afraid to take the risk, to do what seemed impossible.
  • Of course, I finally saw my “no’s” as the excuses they were, and I completed all of these challenges because they were necessary to get better and resume my life.
  • After the injury, I wondered whether my brain could withstand a rigorous academic program. I’m a nerd and I longed to push myself with school again.
  • I kept putting it off, with excuses, until I saw my excuses for what they were—I was just afraid to fail, but I had nothing to lose.
  • I applied and was admitted to the Narrative Medicine program at Columbia University. I finished this Master’s in Science program in February 2014. I went to school as a fulltime working mother and graduated with honors.
  • You’re always going to find an excuse for why you can’t start now, why you’re not ready, but you need to see the excuses for what they are—fear of failing, of doing the work, of something that is definitely surmountable. Just face those excuses!

3-Follow your dreams and do what you’re passionate about

  • That doesn’t mean leave your current job but start doing what really moves you on the side, part-time, while you hopefully have a steady source of income until you are ready to make the move to do your dream career fulltime.
  • After the injury, I returned to the practice of law but realized I wasn’t passionate about it.
  • I was moved to share my story, help others learn from what happened to me but I did both (law and speaking) for a long time until I was ready to do just speaking and writing fulltime.

4-Write down your plans, your goals and tell somebody about them

  • Make sure the people you tell are positive supportive people.
  • The action of writing and telling makes you accountable, it makes it real and firm as opposed to a wish or a thought; it’s almost like a promise.
  • When I said, I’m going to walk without a cane despite all of my balance problems and I sent out emails to all of my friends, it became real; I didn’t want to fail. Same thing with applying to school, especially when I asked for recommendations of people I admired.
  • Write your plans, tell people, and follow through.

5-Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t be envious of others

  • For me it was health—I wanted to be just as healthy as my friends, my boyfriend, as the people I saw walking on the streets.
  • I had to let that go and be the best me I could be: I was funny, I have positive energy, I inspire others, and yes, I have some health limitations.
  • For entrepreneurs, don’t worry about what others are doing, do you, be authentic to your plan, your story, your strategy.
  • If you don’t and just copy what you see others are doing, then you’re just offering what others already have on the market and who wants that?

6-Be well prepared and well informed

  • I had to find out about all of my illnesses, what should I expect, what were the best medicines and their expected side effects, what doctors should I see, etc.
  • I was my best advocate.
  • In business, you have to do your due diligence, find out about the deal, who are you working with, is this good for you; if you don’t investigate and come prepared, it could cost you.
  • You want your clients to have confidence in you, to recommend you to others, and that begins with you coming prepared to the job.

7-In terms of being prepared—know when to ask for help

  • This may be from a friend, like when I’m having a procedure done at the hospital, I ask my husband or a friend to accompany me.
  • Or from an expert, like when I had someone do my website or wanted to start doing public speaking, I found a coach
  • BTW make sure that it’s convenient for you, near you, so you can attend meetings, seminars, etc.
  • If you choose a coach that isn’t near you, make sure that person is accessible and responds to your emails, questions, etc.
  • I saw these things as investments in myself.
  • When you are an entrepreneur, you don’t have the luxury of winging it and wasting your money, so follow strategy #6 above, and ask for help and invest wisely in yourself.

8-You have to believe in a higher power & give back

  • I broke up with God when my brain injury happened; I thought He had abandoned me.
  • When I made peace with God, mended my relationship, I felt my life come back in alignment with its purpose.
  • I was ultimately able to see that I wasn’t meant to practice law any longer, at least not in this time.
  • Also it was important to me to give back in some way; God has given me life twice.
  • I think it’s important that as you receive, you should give back.
  • I was grateful for what I had, so I gave back in donations of clothes and belongings, by volunteering of my time, giving tidings.
  • At first it can be small but ultimately, if you choose an organization that you feel passionate about, you can form a relationship with it and publicize this on your website.
  • It can be a non-profit that’s in alignment with your business or just something that moves you.
  • It looks good when people visit your website, and it’s good for business.

9-Don’t give up or take no for an answer

  • I failed so many times at every thing I had to do in therapy, and even though I kept up with my rehab, there were times that I thought I just could never improve on this or that one thing. I wanted to give up.
  • This type of attitude didn’t serve me and won’t serve an entrepreneur.
  • When my husband and I told the doctors that we wanted to have a child, they all said “no.” We got so much resistance. It took almost a year to convince them, but we didn’t give up and now we have a healthy 6 and a half-year-old daughter, who I gave birth to.
  • I recently learned that Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul Series got 144 rejections before they found a publisher. He didn’t take no for an answer.
  • So don’t give up and don’t take no for an answer; rethink your strategy, your proposal, but don’t give up. That’s what Jack Canfield did—he hired an expert on marketing, they re-pitched the book in a different manner and finally found a company to publish the book. And now it’s a humongous success.

10-Don’t wait to live your best life, do it now

  • When I worked as a public defender, I thought, when I retire, I’ll have the time to do the things I really want to do.
  • What I learned from the brain injury is that you have to live your best life now.
  • Do what you want to do now; don’t postpone it.
  • Start doing the things that bring you joy now: spend quality time with your family, go for a walk or bike-ride with that special someone, enjoy your children while they are growing up, go on that vacation.
  • Reward yourself with small meaningful things that bring you happiness because if you keep putting it off, you may never get to live out those big plans.
  • Don’t wait for God forbid, a terminal diagnosis, or like what happened to me, a life-altering injury
  • Doing these small or big rewards will make your entrepreneur dreams even more meaningful because living your best life will allow you to replenish, focus, and be confident that you are really following your passion.

One thought on “Lessons Learned from Adversity

  1. Dear Olga,
    I had the pleasure of speaking with you today when you were a guest on the Frankie Boyer show. I wanted to share something that has been miraculously helpful for healing in my life. It is the work of Bruno Browning. There is a lot of info online and groups that meet all over and always free of charge. If you have questions please feel free to contact me. There have been so many miraculous healings of even the most seemingly impossible situations and I somehow feel that you can also have this as well. I have no doubt that it is possible. There are several groups in NYC.
    Anyway, I just felt led to pass this on. You are such an extraordinary person and go out of your way to help so many others.
    Best wishes for health and happiness.
    Rachel Armel R.N.

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