When Chantell and her family were at the lowest of lows, they were living in a run down, falling apart camphouse for free--because they couldn't afford to pay rent--and had no food left. Fast forward to today, and Chantell and her family are founders of Columbia Southern University, an active university with 31,000 students. So how does someone go from no food to university founder?
On this episode of Overcome With Auntie Anne, I talk with author and speaker, Chantell Cooley. Chantell is a woman of perseverance who has lived through and overcome her own obstacles to become the influential person of leadership she is today. And she's passionate about empowering others to reach their ideal level of success by persevering through their own obstacles.
It's a fascinating conversation, and I encourage you to listen to the podcast or keep reading below to catch the highlights.
Chantell Cooley has a passion to inspire others and to transform workplace culture by equipping individuals to find their identity and purpose in life. As I already mentioned, she's the co-founder of Columbia Southern University and the Vice President and co-owner of Columbia Southern Education Group.
And after recently retiring, she started Chantell Cooley Ministries, an organization with the mission to inspire others and to bring Christ's message of hope and healing to a suffering world. As she says, she wants to "help people believe in themselves," and has a desire to help people who struggle with their identity and confidence know that through Christ, they have the mind to overcome.
But despite the success Chantell has experienced, she comes from humble beginnings.
The lowest of the lows
Chantell grew up with a father who was an entrepreneur. While there were times in life he was successful--at one point, he was the top insurance salesman in the nation--there were other times he couldn't even find a job. And sometimes he was pushed out of the jobs he did have because others were jealous of how he excelled.
Two times in life, Chantell and her family had the "American dream"--house, pool, Cadillac--but both times they lost it, went bankrupt, and lost their house. In two years, they moved seven times, and for Chantell, life was difficult from third to seventh grade.
At one point, they ended up in Alabama, and Chantell says it was one of the worst times in their lives. They had been on a seven year upswing on one of their American dream rides, and Chantell had just graduated from high school in Mississippi. But then her dad lost his job again, and it was all taken away.
Chantell wanted to go to college at ORU, but felt like she was supposed to stay with her family. So they all moved to Alabama because her dad thought he had a job lined up. When the job fell through, he fell into a deep depression, feeling like a failure and contemplating taking his life. Often, life is full of highs and lows, and Chantell's family was experiencing the lowest of the lows, a low that nearly took her dad and entire family under.
It was then that they were living in the rundown camphouse I mentioned above. Chantell was able to get a job bringing in $95/week, but even still, they ran out of food. With nothing else to turn to, they held on to their faith.
Chantell and her mom began to pray everyday and meditate on scripture. They picked out passages of scripture that they could believe in and hold onto. Little by little, their faith started to grow. And their mindsets began to change too. They believed things were going to get better and that God was going to bring them out of poverty.
With this increased faith, they began to believe and to declare what God had already said about them, that they "were children of God and deserved amazing things," as Chantell says. They were determined not to give up.
So they persevered.
It says in the Bible that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that are not seen (Hebrews 11:1). That process of having faith takes perseverance. You can't quit. You can't stop. You've got to keep moving forward. Oftentimes, I feel like perseverance is doing what other people don't feel like doing. And that's what Chantell and her family did. As she says, "our DNA is just perseverance."
Thankfully, things started to take a turn. Chantell's dad met with their pastor every week, and through him, was able to get a job in the environmental field, helping another man build his company. Even though her dad didn't know anything about environmental work, he continued to persevere by putting in the time and energy to learn and research.
Eventually, Chantell's dad bought out the other man and took over the company. That's when Chantell got involved, and the family began working together. Coming from where they had been to now running a successful company, no one would blame them for just holding onto what they had. But Chantell's dad was a pioneer and wanted to do more.
Starting the university
One day, Chantell's dad came into work and told the 15 employees, including herself, that they were going to start a university. He felt God had spoken to his heart and that he needed to do this because there weren't a lot of educational opportunities for the safety and environmental professionals.
While that might seem like a crazy idea to some of you reading this, Chantell says that "whatever [her dad] set his hands to usually became successful." So she jumped on board "and that was it."
First they named the university. And then they started to develop courses and certificates and worked to become accredited. According to Chantell, there were a "lot of ups and downs," but it was "a miracle."
One of the best things they did was get people around them that knew more than they did. They understood that they didn't know everything, so they filled their weak areas with strong people. There's so much wisdom in that--in bringing people into your organization that know more than you do. I feel that's important. Whether we're growing internally as an individual or growing a business, we need to gather people around us, especially people who know more than we do.
And along with that, we need to learn to listen to the right voices that are around us, the good voices of the people that God puts in our path. And I emphasize good, because not all the voices we have in life are necessarily good. As Chantell says, "I always make sure I have the right people around me, speaking life, building me up. No one can be around me that's tearing me down unless I'm getting corrected by my mentor."
By surrounding themselves with the right voices, by having the right people in the right places, and by having a DNA of perseverance, Chantell's family worked hard, and the university grew. Today it has 31,000 students.
Obstacles of being a young leader
It would be easy to look at the success of the university today and not look back and think about what they went through to get there. But obviously, nothing comes easy.
Chantell was still young when her family started the university, just in her early 20's. But even so, she became a leader in this growing organization. And with that came obstacles she had to overcome. As she says, the worst part was learning how to communicate with people that were older than her, even twice her age.
Others didn't want to listen to her. But as a family member and founder, she "had the DNA of what [they] were doing" and knew what needed to be done. Regardless, people still gave her a hard time. But God helped her through it, helped her persevere, and she learned how to communicate and build friendships with others.
Chantell also struggled with her confidence and would second guess herself constantly. For instance, after speaking, she craved the accolades to affirm that she was good enough. "I would wait for somebody to compliment me. And then I would leave and still not believe anything they said about me." She didn't feel qualified to do what she was doing.
But once again, God began to speak to her heart the truth about who she was as an entrepreneur and a pioneer to start things. And he reminded her that she's good at it because he's in her and will help her continue to grow. Chantell began to realize and believe that all of this was true and started believing in herself.
She also had to overcome the struggle of understanding her identity. For instance, she would compare herself to the professors at the university. But she realized that that wasn't who she was. She was an administrator, not a professor. And so she had to step into her own identity and carry that. She began to believe and take hold of who she was, and when she did, she not only developed her own identity, she grew in her confidence too.
Through all of the obstacles, and with lots of hard work and perseverance, Chantell got to where she is as a leader. And the struggles she experienced were the struggles that grew her into who and what she is today. As she says, "We have to see past what's right in front of our eyes. It's faith. Faith is [seeing] over the problem we have to see what God sees."
If you'd like to learn more about Chantell or hear about what she's doing today, go to chantellcooleyministries.com or follow her on Instagram. You can also find her books on Amazon, including Stand On The Word, Winning The Game Of Life, and others.
The post Stepping Into Your Godly Assignments with Chantell Cooley appeared first on Auntie Anne Beiler.