I was only 12 years old when I realized the difference between my peers and myself. I became frantic about my future. The cycle of poverty in which I was raised seemed to have its name engraved on my forehead. I made the conscious decision to be a better child. You can imagine the great difficulty of reconstructing your entire personality for the sake of approval by others, and also for yourself. Despite the ridicule and prejudice I endured for trying to become a better person, I held on. Today, even those who discouraged me seek my advice. They question me about almost everything in life; but the most intriguing question is: "How did you become so successful?"
At 18 years old, I have some observations and experiences that answer that question. Allow me to share:
1. Because I never had a support system and was often disregarded because of my socio-economic status, I looked down on myself. I was engulfed in loneliness and unhappiness, which led to a short period of depression that no one in my home or community could identify. It was known as a "white people's disease." In the mirror I saw the unpleasant reflection of a young lady whose future was already destroyed, because she bound herself with the chains of a low self-esteem. To break free from these chains, I dug deep within my being. Good was not the only thing that I found. I also found flaws that are inversely the strengths that are unique to me alone. My greatest strength lay in my rebellious nature.
2. Rebellion is considered a negative characteristic; I would like to disprove that 'fact.' Through introspection, I discovered who had been hidden inside of me. I began the "great challenge" to either choose to overcome my problems or grow accustomed to them. I chose to challenge the status quo. My family, friends, and others around me told me that I had plans too big to fit my small life. My rebellious nature made me do exactly the opposite. Although everything I did had positive replications in my life and in that of my community, school and family, I was in trouble for doing what I deemed right. I know it sounds confusing, but that's what I spent years trying to understand.
3. When I began receiving recognition for my efforts across academic, community, leadership, media and other spheres, it hit me. I understood that it is the fear of failure which arises from self-doubt that restricts us from doing what seems impossible, impeding our success. This compelled me to invest in the most intrinsic yet under-valued moral value: confidence. This simple trait that I worked so hard to sow into my mind has moved great barriers for me and made me the Nokwanda Ramatheko that I am now. Here's proof: It was through confidence that I was able to ignore my background and apply to the African Leadership Academy. My confidence in myself gave Cisco confidence in my abilities and potential as a young future leader of the world. I have been able to transform what seemed like a natal disadvantage to a story that opens doors for me.
Although some may say I have made it, I feel like I'm still hunting the pieces of my puzzle. When I feel that I have found all the pieces of complete self-discovery, prosperity, effective leadership and influence, I will sit down and put them together. I will look in the mirror again, and this time I will be greeted by the smile of feeling content with myself.
So for now, I would like people to refrain from asking me: "How did you become so successful?" instead may they ask: "How are you making your way towards success?"
Learn more about Cisco's Corporate Social Responsibility: csr.cisco.com
Connect with Cisco CSR on: