Isabella was just starting high school when her family emigrated from Brazil to the United States. At that time her new school only offered English as a second language with instruction in Spanish. Isabella spoke neither.
Now in her mid-twenties and working as a bookkeeper, she recalled how difficult the transition was for her.
“I had no friends and I couldn't understand anything anyone was saying,” she said. “I would go home every afternoon crying and begging my mother to return to Brazil.”
It was heartbreaking for me to imagine being isolated in a strange place where you can't communicate with anyone, especially at that age.
Ironic, that she shared this story during our morning Spanish lesson. Isabella was now fluent in Spanish, English and of course her native Portuguese. I was the student and she the teacher.
“How did you do it? How did you learn?” I asked.
Finally, I was going to hear the secret to mastering a new language effortlessly. This is what I was looking for – someone who overcame the difficulty that I was experiencing in accomplishing this goal. I eagerly awaited her response.
She hesitated with an empty stare. And then a soft smile.
"When you don't have a choice, you find a way,” she explained.
Not the answer I was expecting, yet it was so profound in its simplicity. I was grateful. Little did she know this would be become my personal mantra. That I can only fail, if I allow failure to be an option.
Nearly ten years later, I remember that exchange like it was yesterday. Every time I'm faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, I hear her voice and those inspirational words.