"Celebrating Strong Women"

This was the theme of the September Ethiopian Women in Business (EWIB) gathering. Every EWIB gathering is an energetic and inspirational evening of authenticity and sharing. Last  Thursday’s session was no exception. I had the honor of meeting and listening to Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin, CEO of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) speak.    She spoke eloquently and poetically. This modest economist and power woman who is listed in the Africa Report publication as one of the 50 Women Shaping Africa spoke “On Dreams, Courage, and Love“.  She needs no introduction and I can’t do justice in explaining the fruit of her vision and labor. So rather i share with you her talk in it’s entirety.

To begin, every idea, initiative, undertaking, project, achievement, or anything new, bold, and important must start with a dream.
And dreams are not the exclusive domain of the rich and famous, or the privileged, or the lucky few.  Dreams are free and they are all around us, and everyone has a dream.    So the first point I would make is to believe in yourself enough to allow yourself to DREAM.    And not just to dream, but to dream BIG.  To close your eyes and imagine only the sky is the limit.  That anything is achievable, and within our reach, that no one and nothing can get in our way and stop us from reaching for the stars.  I am reminded of the passage from Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech that says:

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

When you believe in your dream, and I mean BELIEVE in your dream, believe with the child-like innocence that we see in our own children who sincerely believe that they can be a President or a famous ballerina, or anything else they think of.  That child-like innocence as we face our dreams should be what we strive for.  People will always tell you what can’t be done, but rare is the person, at least the adult person, who will tell you that you can be a world famous ballerina if that is what you want to be.  So BELIEVING in one’s dreams requires not only the ability to be childlike in one’s belief, but also the ability to shut out all the ” sensible” voices out there who will assure you of what cannot be done.  
So, be a child in your belief in yourself.  Do not compromise on your dreams.
Second, I believe that in our lifetimes, to achieve something we care passionately about, we must have great courage.  More than anything else, I would say that the courage of conviction is the fuel that drives our dream to reality and that sets apart the leaders from the followers, the achievers from those left behind, and the stars from everyone else.
And what is courage?  Is it the absence of fear?  We often think of courage as fearlessness.  To the contrary.  In my experience, courage is the ability to recognize one’s fear, to look at it straight in the eye, and to overcome it.    For me, courage is an act of faith and my courage comes from the strength I have from my Creator.    Courage is reaching deep within and pulling out truth.  It is the lone voice that sings even when the storm rages all around, the lone tree that stands even when the wind is howling and blows away its leaves.  Courage is the music of the soul that remains true to itself, no matter what.  There is nothing more important in my life than my integrity.  No possession, no recognition, no wealth, no beauty that is worth the loss of my personal integrity.
So, be true to yourself.  You are worth it.
We often think of success as conditional on our perseverance, our tenacity to stick it out and stay the course.  Of course, that is true.  But, here is a good question:  why do some dreams come true and others stop short?  I believe the answer is love.  Love is the currency of passion, of hard work, of determination, of patience, and of courage.  Without love, we are empty.  I would like to share with you my favorite passage from the poet Khalil Gibran on the subject of Work.  He says:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.

Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

I have always believed in that fundamental truth:  Work is Love Made Visible.  To work with love means to breathe your spirit, your essence, your very soul into what it is you do.  And in doing so, it is to join yourself without fear, without shame, to the very heart of your undertaking, your project, your initiative.  And that is why you cannot fail.  Because failure is a very narrow concept.  And life is not black and white, it is shades of gray.  What you achieve might be different when you end than what you conceived when you started, but it is your dream, your work, your courage, your belief, your integrity, and your love that has made it what it becomes.  If your dream is so wonderful, and your love is so great, then I assure you that nothing can get in your way.  
I recently lost my mother.  The day I buried her, I looked around at her friends and beloved family and realized that my mother gave me a gift I cannot live without.  She gave me the example of what a woman with a dream, lots of conviction, and love in her heart can achieve.  My mother’s dream was to have children, daughters, who would know they were loved and who could achieve anything they put their minds to.
Very simply, all I can say to you today is:  I had a dream.  I worked hard day and night for what I believed.  I did not give up.  I did not fall, and when I stumbled, I found my way back.  What made that possible is the love in my heart that came from knowing who I am and from believing in myself, through the love and grace of God.  It is as simple as that.Thank you.

Eleni Z. Gabre-Madhin (September 1, 2011)

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Love & Light
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