• Sanyade Okoli

Who's Got Your Power?

I read a line in a book a few years ago that jumped right out at me. It said that the lives we are living today were the sum total of the choices that we had made. This was in no way to take away from the sovereignty of God and the role He plays in our lives. It was more about highlighting the role we play in determining the outcome of our lives. We have free will. To what extent, and in what way, do we exercise it? Are we conscious when we are exercising it?

If you think about it, the statement about the correlation between our lives and our choices is true. Yes, life happens. Boy, does life happen sometimes! The question is how we respond to what life serves up? How we respond is everything….

So, what influences our choices? It’s our thoughts; our belief sets.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life”. This is one of my favourite scriptures as it is so “loaded”. Don’t be surprised if I share more on it over the coming weeks and months.

You see, whether we know it or not, or believe it or not, we are who we say we are – for good or for bad. The real question is whose version of who we are, are we going to believe?

When I was in sixth form in the UK my school told me that I couldn’t apply to Cambridge University. It was a boys school with girls in the sixth form (don’t ask what I was finding there o! 😀) and they took exception to this “girl straight from Africa” (for that read, “The jungle”) coming to compete with their smart boys who they had been grooming for years.

I cannot thank my older brother, Oluniyi, enough for intervening in the situation. He came to school for parents evening. I can still see him today - green agbada (West African gown) with round tortoise shell glasses (there was nothing wrong with his eyes o! As far as I know he still doesn’t wear glasses, decades later 😀). He looked every bit the African prince and he told them, “If Sanyade wants to apply to Cambridge then Sanyade will apply to Cambridge”. To Oluniyi’s mind, there was no reason why his “little sister” shouldn’t be allowed to apply to Cambridge. There was nothing in his belief set that made him think that I wasn’t good enough. So, I chose to believe Oluniyi’s version of me instead of my school’s. I applied to Cambridge and God came through for me.

Fast forward about three years later to my third year of university. I was studying mechanical engineering and was considering doing a masters degree in the subject. Again, I still remember the professor telling me that I wasn’t “capable of doing a masters in engineering”. Hmmm.... The honest truth is that a part of me may have believed him had I not graduated with a 2:1. Fortunately for us all, some time during the year I changed my mind about pursuing engineering but I wonder what narrative I would have told myself had I had a 2:2?

Fast forward another few years and I was working as an auditor with Arthur Andersen in London. Arthur Andersen was one of the accounting firms that made up the “Big Six” at the time and they had drummed into us that we were, “The best of the best!” 😊 This life o! Where are they now? May God have mercy on us all!

Anyway, I digress. The first three years were the worst of my professional life. I started having the “Sunday night blues” on Saturday evening. I really hated my job. I was also not very good at it. I was dying inside slowly. Here I was in what was meant to be a “top job” and I remember that when I would see one of my “African sisters” cleaning the bathrooms, I would think, “It’s alright for you. You only have to clean! I have to audit!” 😂😂😂 Such was my level of misery. It was not a nurturing environment for me, and I didn’t fit in. My self-confidence was crushed.

About two and a half years into my time there I went on a training course where I had my eureka moment. We did the Myers Briggs personality test and when my results came out the light bulb came on. My personality was completely unsuited to my job! I mean, completely unsuited! I realised in that moment that it wasn’t that I was rubbish, it was just that I was doing something I was not wired to do. Hallelujah!!! With this in mind, I started plotting and planning my way out of audit. I must confess to you that I have since been careful to ensure that, where possible, I avoid doing work that I am unsuited for. Being inexperienced is completely different; you can learn. May God give us the wisdom to discern between what we are unsuited for and what we simply need to grow into, and the option to choose.

It took me doing well in my next job and being celebrated there for my self-confidence to be slowly restored. In other words, for my self-narrative to change.

So here we are, twenty something years later and I see my children’s generation going through the exact same things. Being told that they are not good enough. Having to fight the Black Lives Matter struggle, the feminist cause. It’s as if in some ways, time stood still. They have everything at their fingertips yet so many things seem just outside their grasp. How so confusing and dispiriting for them.

I really want to encourage anyone who has believed the lie that they are not good enough. It’s so important that we “curate” what we believe - first and foremost about ourselves, and then about others, and finally about the world we live in.

Our thoughts control our lives. The question we must always ask ourselves is, “Who is controlling my thoughts?” because the people controlling our thoughts are directly or indirectly controlling our lives. To whom are we bestowing such authority, such power, such privilege? Are they friends or foes? Do they mean well or mean harm?

Who are we allowing to define our identity? Who are we allowing to define our lives?

How do what they say about us align with what God says?

The truth is that the only person who has the authority to define us is the one who created us. The one who is not only an awe-inspiring God but is a most loving Father. That’s who we should get our identity from.

Do you know what He says about you? Ask Him, and then trust Him to answer in His way and His time.

Then live from the identity God gives you and no one else.

My stories in this article are not as random as they may first appear. You see, it hit me this morning that part of the challenges we face with racial and gender injustices around the world is not just because of the physical systems and structures that those in positions of power have built. It’s worse than that. It’s the unseen systems and structures that have been erected. The negative self-narratives. The thoughts that, “I am not enough!” “My kind is not good enough!” “We are incapable!” “We are only fit for this, that and the other.” The limiting mindsets that keep us in limited spaces, limited places; unable to be all we were created to be. Left unchecked, this moves from one generation to another.

It is only when enough of us truly break out of the mental prisons, that our efforts to dismantle the oppressive systems in place – be it racial, gender, tribal, etc. – become unstoppable.

We live from the inside out.

Permit me to quote from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song: Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds..... Of course, in reality, it is God who can help us to free our minds 😊.

Therefore, spend some time with the Lord today and ask Him the following questions:

What limiting beliefs do I have?

Where did I get these beliefs from?

Please forgive whoever was involved in conveying these limiting beliefs to you. Unforgiveness is toxic.

Then hand these limiting beliefs over to the Lord and ask Him to reveal His truth to you.

Trust the Lord to speak to you and be open to what He has to say.

I look forward to hearing your testimony 😊.


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