What does appreciation mean to you?
To me, it’s gratitude for a lesson learned combined with curiosity, and a continuous yearning for learning and an optimism lovingly marinated in a generous dose of hope. It is a recipe made for success.
In 2008, my company Shear Power Ventures, with the support of sponsors including Ghana Commercial Bank, Merchant Bank, Eximbank, The Ministry of Women & Children’s Affairs headed then by Hon. Hajia Alima Mahama, and the patronage of Okyehene, organized a national event called Portrait of an Excellent Woman. It was arguably the first event of its kind in Ghana and a huge success.
Guess what? I didn’t appreciate it at the time.
With a total sponsorship funding of under GHc12,000 my lean team successfully pulled off the event in all 10 regions of Ghana, with the enthusiastic support of community leaders.
To put it briefly, the portraits of excellence were women who had made significant strides to improve the lives of people, particularly the vulnerable. They were elected by Community Based Organizations together with the traditional council and community radios. We organized durbars to celebrate them in their regions and produced 3-minute documentaries featuring their diverse interventions. GTV kindly aired them for us at no cost.
The grand finale that followed at the National Theatre on Mother’s Day, and featured these 10 portraits of change was a big success, with a few teething hiccups which are quite normal at any maiden/pilot event. With their documentaries featuring on mounted screens, our heroines were showcased, interviewed and given awards for their exemplary actions. The event was graced by the Okyehene. Hon. Fritz Baffour who was at the time Mr Fritz Baffour was in his element as the MC.
The following day, newspapers, including The Ghanaian Times, Daily Guide, the Dispatch, and The Mirror splashed centre-spread photos and highlights of the novel event. Almost everyone was happy as well, except a few of us including a young journalist.
Indeed we completely ran out of funds, so we’re unable to honour journalists who graced the event with the customary T&T. This understandably irritated a few of them, and one young journalist of an entertainment newspaper vented her spleen by taking a swipe at us. Without checking the facts, she wrote that the event was so badly organized that the King (Okyehene) and his entourage left. Actually, the fact was that his office made a prior arrangement with us to leave early to attend other prearranged business. In other words, the Okyehene graced us with this presence because he saw the merit in our endeavour. I can’t blame her though. After all, I wasn’t happy either, also because the event started later than scheduled, and this resulted in some unforeseen hiccups. As is customary, babies learning to walk first stumble.
I grew up in a home where, if something wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worthy; so I duly discounted all the positives about the experience, including all the successes and excitement it had generated in the 10 regions; and judged myself and the outcome undeservedly harshly. Because of our efforts, in 2013, the grand winner of the event, Mama Melanie of Sirigu in the Upper East region, was discovered on our website by New York’s More Magazine. I was contacted, and a cameraman was dispatched by the magazine to Sirigu. Mama was subsequently given a full-page feature in the More Magazine. This was a huge booster for Mama, the Sirigu Women of Pottery and Art, and the event. To this day, Mama Melanie, now 84 years old, calls me every year on Mother’s Day to sing me a song about how much she loves me. She is a true example of appreciation.
Also, after the event, Madam Ama Bene (aka Mama Show), Portrait of the Eastern Region, received all kinds of recognition and support from well-wishers. Together, she and I approached Plan Ghana with a request to sponsor the education of some of the brilliant street kids in the care of her Foundation. Plan Ghana has since generously sponsored six children through tertiary education. But, somehow I still didn’t feel adequately encouraged by all these bright new developments, and rather continued to feel overcome by the little things.
A lot has since changed, especially after I recognized how I had shortchanged myself and my team through a Cognitive Distortion. Cognitive Distortions are misleading emotional perceptions that distort the truth and misguide our sense of reality and appreciation so that we make unfair judgments. It has a paralyzing, debilitating effect on those who embrace it because it is not fact-based. It is fueled by the brain’s hyperactive amygdala, and virtually shuts down their ability to reason clearly; hampers their capacity to put things in proper perspective, re-energize and make better choices for growth.
I will discuss five of them:
1. SHOULDY THINKING
When our focus is skewed in favour of what should or should not have happened instead of embracing and working our way forward with what has happened.
2. ALL OR NOTHING
If we did not achieve or obtain all of what we expected, nothing else is good enough.
3. DISCOUNTING THE POSITIVE
When we are so engrossed with what we feel didn’t go so well that all the positive outcomes count for nothing.
4. MIND READING
When we make assumptions that are not evidence-based on what we feel people are thinking.
5. PERSONALIZATION & BLAME
This occurs when we blame ourselves and/or others for issues instead of making objective assessments and adjustments for improvement.
I have included Cognitive Distortions as part of a training module created for young adults, and I always marvel at the extent to which the subject resonates with them and the intensity with which they assimilate the learning. I sometimes think it is by far their most favourite topic.
On the other hand, when we open ourselves up to curiosity, reason and optimism, our minds are redirected to appreciate and reconnect with life in ways that attract freshness, harmony, progress and happiness.
But even more importantly, I ask God’s forgiveness for my lack of appreciation at the time, because it was nothing short of a miracle to have pulled off an event of that magnitude successfully with less than GHc12,000. Now, I am truly grateful. I cannot speak about gratitude without thanking Mrs Elisabeth Villars, Mr Enimil Ashong, Ms Henrietta Abayie each of whom galvanized support for the event at no cost to us. Again, all my team members – who performed wonderfully and selflessly to pull off the event as my sister Mensima Stanley-Pierre, and my bestie Shirley Quist who continues to maintain the website www.spvghana.com at no cost.
Old habits don’t shed easily; but as we face new challenges, and seek for meaning and solutions, let us be aware that adversity can be transformed into a game-changer of great value. If we learn to appreciate challenges simply as challenges; not obstacles, they can present limitless opportunities to think and act anew with fresh ideas and creative solutions that boost our confidence and propel growth.
Adversity is necessary for growth and development. Quitters fade into obscurity and are soon forgotten. Those who stand up to fight will stand out because they truly appreciate the lessons and use them as a springboard to achieve greater outcomes. Our pathways are varied and diverse; but if we can appreciate the journey, we will access the keys to growth and transformation. What is important is that we consistently learn new things and unlearn unprofitable habits, enjoy the good, overcome the bad, appreciate the people who walk beside us on our journey, be grateful for the experience, and allow old paradigms to make that much-needed shift: A shift towards Appreciation.