Don’t confuse who you are, with where you are on your journey. 

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I’m in the 10th grade and my family and I are moving again. I don’t know the details; it’s grown folks business.  Our new home is a one-bedroom shelter in Chester, PA. We have a kitchen, a bathroom, one bedroom with 2 sets of bunk beds and a bed in the living room for my parents. My only way of escape and “me-time” is to take a long bath or to sit in the bedroom that I share with my four younger siblings. As I sit on my top bunk, I blast my music and journal; this keeps me sane. Music and journaling are my escape; I can flee from reality and dream about the possibilities of life. Though my circumstance is depressing, I know that my future is bright. I don’t really know this, but I try to force myself to believe it, because at church, my pastor tells me that, “I am not defined by my past or my current situation.” He tells the congregation that, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” I hold on to these words for dear life. Some days I believe them some days I don’t.

10 years later….

I’m 24 years old. I’m in San Jose, CA visiting my biological father for Father’s Day. I’m reflecting on my life and the experiences that have made me who I am today. I’m a college graduate, an author, a blogger, a motivational speaker and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.  One of the most common questions that I receive when I share my story is, “How did you get to where you are today?” By no means do I think that I’ve “arrived,” however, I do know that I’ve overcome overwhelming odds that some people succumb to. I never really knew how to answer that daunting question. Years ago, a radio host at a writer’s conference asked me that question; I was 18 years old. I looked at her and whispered modestly, “Well, God brought me through it.” The radio host smiled at me nodding in silent agreement. Then she said something that changed my life forever. “Terri, I’d encourage you to look at your story and find practical lessons, tips or resources that helped you overcome. When you do this, you can then be a resource to others. You can then show them how you did it, instead of merely telling them that you ‘did it’.” Ever since that day I started looking at each life experience, good or bad, as a possible lesson for myself and others. In my motivational talks, I call this, “making lemonade for myself and others.”


Below are a few quotes, lessons and mindset shifts that helped me along my journey to overcoming adversity.

 Lesson #1

Dreams Don’t Guarantee Success – Dreaming is great but actions are better. When I was in the 8th grade my teacher gave us one of the best assignments I’d ever had. My classmates and I were instructed to create a product that wasn’t on the market and advertise it to the class. I thought long and hard about this assignment and after careful consideration and several bad ideas, I came up with my invention; a cell phone that enabled users to video chat. I went all in on my project! I created samples of what the product would look like and how it worked. When I submitted my project to my class, I earned an A.

Of course, several years later when video chatting became the norm, I thought my teacher sold my idea to a cell phone company. For all I know I could be the brains behind FaceTime. Just kidding lol. But seriously, have you ever thought of an idea and later saw an advertisement for the product that “you created?” This experience taught me a valuable lesson. If you have a dream, a vision, an idea, it’s nothing without action. It might excite you when you think of the possibilities but without actually doing anything, it’s just a dream in the clouds. Dreams don’t guarantee success, but relentless action does.

Lesson #2

Don’t Let the Limitations of Others Limit You- When I was in college I was petrified of public speaking. Wait… I take that back! All of my life I’ve been petrified of speaking in public! Anytime I had to give a speech or a class presentation my stomach tied up in knots and I became extremely self-conscious and nervous beyond belief. The crazy part is, I felt drawn to the motivational speaking career path. As chance would have it, my supervisor told me about the opportunity for students to apply as the commencement speaker at graduation. I was scared to death but I desperately wanted to overcome my fear of public speaking and prove to myself that I could in fact speak in front of thousands of people comfortably. After applying, I shared the news with one of my favorite advisors. My advisor was awesome, he was a great resource and supporter throughout my entire college career.

When I went to him about the commencement speech, I didn’t get the reaction that I expected. Instead he was scared for me and by his comments I could tell that he didn’t really think I could do it. As you can imagine I was discouraged after meeting with him. He damn near scared me out of following through. Instead of supporting me and believing in me, he stated the obvious. “You know there are going to be thousands of people there? How are you going to get over your fear?” Being as though I already committed to the process I followed through and guess what? I won and I delivered my first official speech in front of thousands. The speech was actually pretty good!

My pastor used to always say, “You can’t fit a 5X5 idea in a 2X5 mind. It just doesn’t work.” Protect your dream and your vision and share it with those who will support and believe in you. Sometimes this excludes family members and friends! Everyone doesn’t have the capacity to see and believe the vision that you have for your life. The good thing is, when you find those who do, keep them close and you can inspire each other.

Lesson #3

Know Your Enemy and Defeat It – There are times when I look back over my life and all that I’ve experienced and I become angry. I regret not being given certain opportunities. I regret some of the decisions that I made and quite frankly, I’m tempted to take my anger out on others. Over the years, I’ve learned to refocus that negative energy and instead of taking that anger out on other people, I’ve learned to view failure, negativity, complacency, the status quo and anything that isn’t good for me, as my enemy. This perspective prevents me from proactively using the energy to fight against another person or someone who’s done harm to me. I found that when I targeted people with my anger and frustration, usually ended up being the one hurt and bitter. When bad things happen, when someone does me wrong, when a door is slammed in my face, I fight against failure.  I fight against the negative emotions and resentment that I have as if it were a person who’s trying to hold me back.  Some people call this combination of negativity, the devil, others call it negative energy. Whatever you choose to call it, fight against it by succeeding and proving the naysayers wrong.

Lesson #4

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger… If You Let It- We’ve all heard this painful truth before but we see it’s actuality time and time again. Think about it, have you ever overcome a difficult situation and later thought to yourself, “How the hell did I get through that?” or “I can’t believe I overcame that.” Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, physical abuse, a natural disaster or a physical ailment, words can’t explain the resilience of the human spirit. One of my other favorite quotes is, “you never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option.” There were several moments along my journey when I felt as though the burden was too heavy. I wanted to give up, I wanted to give in, but something inside of me compelled me to push past the pain. I’ve found that more times than not, success is on the other side of pain.

Lesson #5

Be Accountable- As a teenager one of my mentors asked me what my biggest weakness was. Without hesitation I announced, ” I get easily distracted!” It was true. Especially in relationships. I didn’t have high standards and I found myself falling into relationships out of pity for the other person, boredom or just because I felt like it. Often times, the guys I was entertaining didn’t share my values or interests, I just wanted to be with someone and on top of that, I had a hard time saying “No!” If I was walking down the street and a bum asked for my number, I’d more than likely give up my digits… whether or not I was interested.

Over the course of my journey to self-discovery I’ve found that my mentors, advisors, positive friends and family members have acted as accountability partners in more ways than they may even know. I’ve always been a dreamer but as I said before… I used to get easily distracted. When I’d share my goals with my mentor or support system they often held me responsible for my vision and when it seemed as though I had gotten off track or “distracted,” they were quick to check up on me. If it wasn’t for my amazing support system ( which has evolved over the years and includes seasonal and lifetime connections with great people) I wouldn’t be where I am today. Connecting with people who believe in your dream and who will keep it one hundred 100% of the time is vital on any journey… but especially when you’re in the process of overcoming obstacles.

Lesson #6

Have a Vision and Write it Down- What we think and say about ourselves leads to what we see and believe about ourselves. Our words and thoughts have more power than we realize. I’ve had a diary for as long as I can remember. During one of the darkest phases of my life, high school, I journaled nearly every day. To date, I have about 6 or 7 volumes of composition books filled with my experiences and life lessons. Every once in a while I’ll reread my entries and it blows me away when I see posts about my happiness, my motivational speaking career, being financially independent, or being confident. I was a broke teenager in a very bad space in life but I wrote about my future as if I was the author of my own story. I wrote about being happy even though I was sad. I didn’t let my predicament dictate my vision. My dream was bigger than my trials. Write your vision out and visit it daily. I’m a living witness that if you continue to meditate on your vision and you take the steps necessary to make your vision a reality, it will happen. The secret for me was persistence. I’m still waiting for some of my other visions to come past.

 Lesson #7

Sow Where You Want to Go- I know this sounds like a Sunday school offering slogan and it might be, but hear me out. My pastor used to always say this (not during offering time lol) when he preached and now that I’m a littler older and wiser I understand exactly what it means. For me, giving back and supporting other people who are where I want to go has given me a great sense of fulfillment and has afforded me with countless opportunities for personal growth. I’m a huge fan of volunteer work or genuinely helping others when I won’t necessarily get anything in return. Although I’ve worked hard for what I have in life, I’m a firm believer of good karma. If you see someone grinding out and you believe in their mission or their work, support them; I guarantee it’ll come back to you. I’ve sowed into the lives of so many great people, whether it was with my time, talents or finances. All in all, my giving has come back to me 100 fold.


Share Your Wisdom. Join the Conversation!

Have you overcome a tough situation? What helped you get through it? What was the most valuable lesson you learned about overcoming adversity. Comment below!


  • Terri

    Thank you for reading dad 🙂 Love you!