Planning to give up your goals? Never! Keep pushing through unexpected setbacks

So there’s this Nigerian billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist named Folorunso Alakija. When she was growing up, she wanted to become a lawyer. Her father had the money to pay for any law school in the country, even probably in the world, but decided that because she was a girl, she should be a secretary. He figured that she would get married and change her last name, and there was no point in investing in someone who couldn’t carry on the family name, but she didn’t give up despite this. 

She studied anyway, and she became a secretary back then. She landed in Chicago, and then she went into banking. A few years into this field, she kept feeling unfulfilled. She always felt called to entrepreneurship, and at this point, she didn’t care what anyone thought. She was going to pursue that calling. She was going to do it. So, she enrolled in a fashion design program in the UK and left banking for good. 

Lesson One: 

It is never too late to change courses. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60. Someone else or a life situation may have dictated your current path, but you can always deviate from that path; there are no rules. 

After completing her studies, she decided that she wanted to launch her own clothing line. She went back to Nigeria and got to work. A week before she launched, she got a call from a friend asking her to enter this competition for Nigeria’s top fashion designer. She thought, first of all, she just started. She would be competing with the best of the best. Was she ready? Second of all, this could not have come at a worse time. She only had one week till launch and just wanted to use that one week to de-stress and get mentally ready for her launch. After weighing things, she decided to take a leap of faith, and she entered the competition. 

Lesson Two: 

No opportunity is absolutely perfect, and rarely do they come at the perfect time. The best opportunities require a leap of faith; they will push you and stretch you. You won’t have all the answers. Say yes, and then figure it out. 

After entering the competition alongside a lot more experienced designers, she actually won. She ended up being featured in all of the top Nigerian newspapers.

People started wearing her clothes. She even developed an international following, and to top it off, Nigeria’s first lady at the time started wearing her designs. As her business thrived, she set her sights on something else: the oil and gas industry. She applied for an oil prospecting license in Nigeria. The application sat in limbo for years. Each time, it would seem like something was about to happen. Another government administration would take over, and it was back to square one.

Finally, her license got approved, and she was ecstatic. It was really happening. Things were finally working out for her until she found out that the block that she was assigned was way offshore and under 5,000 feet of water. On top of that, she was given a sole risk license, which meant that she carried all of the risks. If she found oil, she had to compensate the government. If she didn’t, she was crap out of luck. 

Lesson Three: 

Use every gift that you have. Don’t rely on one thing. Explore, expand, elevate. 

Another thing to remember is that when you finally get your dream to come to life, it might look slightly different than you imagined. There will be obstacles, but this isn’t the time to give up and throw away the whole dream.

After her license was approved, she set out to find a multinational company to partner with. She had the license, they had the technology, and the money to explore and exploit that block. It took three years of no thank you, and we were not interested until Texaco came calling. For three months, they negotiated a contract on possibilities, probabilities, and potential. They could find nothing, or they could find everything. There were no guarantees. All they knew was that the Niger River Basin had been collecting oil for 72 to 163 million years of potential and possibility. This was the risk of a lifetime.

But as my grandmother used to say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Guess what? They struck gold, and they found oil. 

Lesson Four: 

People don’t usually know what to do with raw potential. They prefer a finished product. This is why you stage a home to sell it. It’s not often that someone comes into a blank space and sees the potential in that space. Even if the buyer knows that they won’t get to keep the furniture that they’re seeing in the staging, they’ve seen what is possible. 

You have to know what’s possible, what you’re capable of, and the raw talent that’s inside of you, and hold on to it even when others don’t see it, especially when they don’t see it. 

Lesson Five: 

Don’t ever let anyone try to lowball you or diminish you because all you’re bringing to the table is potential.

As everyone involved basked in the glory of hitting the jackpots, the Nigerian government came calling. They wanted 50% of everything. Now Texaco had already taken 40%. That left this woman with 60%. The government wanted 50%, which left her with just 10%. After all of that, after every setback that she had to go through to get there, she decided to fight back and take the federal government to court. 

Lesson Six: 

You may have to fight even after getting everything you want, not just for your present but for your future. It might seem insane to take on that kind of Goliath. It might look like you’re fighting a battle that you can’t win, but your future is worth going to war for. 

It took 12 years, but she won, and she’s still thriving and grateful and giving and helping people all over the world with what she’s been blessed with. Life is filled with twists and turns. I know a lot of us don’t like that. We like straightforward paths, but most of us give up too soon. We allow people to define what our potential is worth. If something isn’t producing results fast enough, we abandon it. 

There was a man based in Texas years ago who owned some farmland. He kept complaining to his wife that the land wasn’t doing well. It wasn’t yielding anything. He wanted to sell it. His wife would ask him not to, to wait a little. He finally gave in, and he sold. A year later, someone else struck oil on that property.

No one will believe in you more than you. That’s why knowing yourself is key in this journey. It means that you can remain steadfast in your belief in yourself, in your gifts, and in what you’re worth, even when other people don’t see it.


What prompted Folorunso Alakija to shift from banking to fashion design?

Despite a successful career in banking, Folorunso Alakija felt unfulfilled and followed her passion for entrepreneurship. She enrolled in a fashion design program in the UK, demonstrating that it’s never too late to change courses and pursue your calling.

How did Folorunso Alakija handle the unexpected opportunity to enter a fashion design competition a week before launching her clothing line?

Faced with an untimely opportunity, she took a leap of faith, entered the competition, and emerged victorious. The lesson here is that no opportunity is perfect, and embracing challenges, even when it seems inconvenient, can lead to significant success.

What challenges did Folorunso Alakija encounter in the oil and gas industry after obtaining a prospecting license in Nigeria?

Despite obtaining the license, she faced challenges such as an offshore location and a sole risk license, carrying all the risks. The lesson learned is to use every gift you have, explore various avenues, and not rely solely on one thing.

How did Folorunso Alakija navigate negotiations with multinational companies in the oil industry?

It took three years of persistence and negotiation until Texaco finally agreed to partner with her. The lesson emphasises that people may not recognise raw potential initially, but understanding your capabilities and holding onto your talents is crucial, even in the face of scepticism.

What did Folorunso Alakija do when faced with the Nigerian government’s demand for 50% of her oil venture?

Despite setbacks, she fought back and took the federal government to court, securing her rightful share after a 12-year legal battle. This lesson underscores the importance of fighting for your future, even after achieving success, and not accepting unfair terms.

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Sam Soyombo
Sam Soyombo

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  1. Thank you, Sam, for sharing Folorunso Alakija’s remarkable journey. I learned that it’s never too late to change courses, embracing unexpected opportunities requires a leap of faith, and using my gifts is crucial. I also understood the importance of fighting for my worth and future, even when faced with setbacks. These lessons will help me stay motivated and focused on my goals, and I’m eager to apply them to my life. I’m inspired to persevere and push through challenges, just like Folorunso Alakija did.”

  2. Giving up is never an option for successful people regardless of the challenges faced. I discovered from this post that the “best opportunities require a leap of faith; they will push you and stretch you,” but I must fight for what I believe in and trust in my ability to make my dream come to pass.

    Thanks for sharing this

  3. Hi Sam, your inspiring words have resonated deeply with me.
    Your encouragement to keep pushing through setbacks and never give up on our goals is a timely reminder that perseverance and resilience are essential to achieving success.

    I’ve learned so much from your personal anecdotes and practical advice on cultivating a growth mindset, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and staying focused on our objectives.

    Your guidance has energised me to recommit to my goals and persist through challenges, knowing that every obstacle is a chance to grow stronger and wiser.

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and motivating me to keep pushing forward.

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