Community//

“How you can choose to tell yourself a better story to be happy” with Chad E. Foster of Red Hat and Marina Kostina

I went blind in my late teens. I was initially extremely distraught as anyone would be. However, after seeing first-hand the value of perspective in our lives, I chose to tell myself a better story. At first I was telling myself a story of “poor me” and “I have extremely bad luck.” But after attending […]


I went blind in my late teens. I was initially extremely distraught as anyone would be. However, after seeing first-hand the value of perspective in our lives, I chose to tell myself a better story. At first I was telling myself a story of “poor me” and “I have extremely bad luck.” But after attending Leader Dogs for the Blind, where I spent 30 days with folks who had it far worse off than myself, I learned that perspective is a choice. While there, I met people with mental impairments who were blind. I met people who were on dialysis, because the diabetes that robbed them of their eyesight was also destroying their kidneys. And I even met these young girls who were deaf and blind. They, like everyone else there, were getting a guide dog to be independent. For these girls we had to talk with an interpreter who would then sign into their hands, and that was the only way they could communicate — yet they were getting a guide dog to travel independently.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Chad E. Foster. Can you imagine going blind as a teenager? When most people were preparing for the adventure of adult life, Chad E. Foster was watching the world he grew up with fade to black. But that didn’t stop him from becoming the first blind person to graduate from the Harvard Business School leadership program and climbing the corporate ladder as a finance executive for a multi-billion dollar software company. With determination, ambition, and drive, he created what Oracle said would be impossible. He gave hundreds of millions of people the ability to earn a living by becoming the first to create customer relationship software for the visually impaired. With speaking invites from London to Beijing, and the Atlanta Opera crafting a story inspired by his journey, Chad inspires people to overcome their own blind spots.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Yes, and it starts like this: Night vision is something I never really had. By my late teens, I’d gone completely blind, even in broad daylight. Sightless, I lived for a time from a vantage point of victimhood — until developing a different vision.

Throughout my life I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to know people from many walks of life. Most are very fortunate, while others are less fortunate. Regardless of where they fall on this spectrum, the interesting takeaway for me is how individuals are affected so differently by the natural obstacles life throws in their path.

Some view a less-than-ideal job as a huge barrier to happiness, while others might navigate their daily routines without the benefit of eyesight or hearing and do so with a smile! What makes some people so susceptible to being dragged down by life’s smaller challenges while others have seemingly endless amounts of resilience and tenacity? The answer lies in how we frame a situation to ourselves.

What story do you tell yourself?

The single most important factor in determining your attitude toward a situation (and influencing the outcome) is the story you tell yourself about that situation. In other words, the problem is most likely not the situation itself but how you choose to explain the situation to yourself. Notice the use of the word “choose” — because it really is a choice. This is something to celebrate: We all have complete control over our view of life’s challenges, which gives us a great measure of influence over outcomes. For me, an eternal control freak, this was one of the most liberating discoveries of my life. No longer was I hostage to my circumstances.

With this new mindset, I could refuse to play victim to the disease that took my sight. The word “victim” accurately illustrates how many people feel about a situation: Victims succumb to circumstance. Victims are helpless. They have no control or power. Victims, quite frankly, are losers.

I initially fell prey to that line of thinking myself because it’s a natural human response. Emotion can overcome anyone facing a trauma such as disease, loss of a loved one, or any condition that materially alters our lifestyle. That reaction is natural. In fact, not having that reaction would be very unnatural. However, over the next few years I realized that living in perpetual negativity was creating a toxicity and bitterness that consumed me. I had to find a way out of the prison that was my life, and I soon realized a great escape hatch: my mind.

While I could not control the physical world around me enough to correct my vision, I could control the way I chose to see the world. Instead of choosing to see what I did not have (eyesight), I opted to see what I did have. I still had my cognitive faculties, superb hearing, a tremendous family, and very good health. Not only that, I was living in history’s perfect time to go blind!

I lost my eyesight at the dawn of the Information Age. The Internet was lifting off and paving the way for a services economy and an information revolution never before seen. Computers and smartphones would soon saturate daily life. The prevalence of guide dogs, coupled with the vast amount of technological tools at our disposal, would provide me many options for professional fulfillment, pastimes, and running my household. It’s also safe to say that, given current medical advances, I might be able to see again within my lifetime. Even if I chose to focus my attention on what I lacked, it would not change my physical reality. I would still be blind. But rather than living my life in a constant state of churn, why not focus my energy and efforts on what I could change? Why not work with factors inside my sphere of influence?

Refusing the excuses

I could have found a thousand great reasons to give up, but the word “reasons” is just another word for “excuses.” Excuses are for losers. How many people have you seen atop the Olympic podium receiving the gold medal and making excuses? None! The people unwilling to make excuses are those who make it to the top. Who would you rather be: someone who found a way to break through barriers to achieve your goals, or someone who found good, and even possibly legitimate, reasons to fail? For me the decision is clear.

What is your decision? Again, it comes down to the story you’re told about your circumstances. But remember — you are the narrator! You choose how to frame your story. Will your story help you find legitimate reasons to fail, or will it set you up to bulldoze your barriers?

What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?

Purpose is everything. It is defining why we do what we do. That context — the why — is so critical to keep our energy levels high so we can charge towards our goals. Without it, our life loses its meaning. After all, once we’ve figured out how to take care of our core needs — food, housing, education, our family, and leisure — what’s left? For me, what is left is making a difference in the world by doing what I am intended to do. We all have a purpose. We are all here for some specific reason. And, we can learn what that is by examining moments in our life that often — but not always — include emotional trauma. These moments shape us and determine what brings us energy. What brings us purpose. And when we can find the intersection of purpose and performance, we’ve discovered our mission in life! And our mission in life will provide us unending energy to reach outside of our comfort zone to make a difference in the world.

Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?

I went blind in my late teens. I was initially extremely distraught as anyone would be. However, after seeing first-hand the value of perspective in our lives, I chose to tell myself a better story. At first I was telling myself a story of “poor me” and “I have extremely bad luck.” But after attending Leader Dogs for the Blind, where I spent 30 days with folks who had it far worse off than myself, I learned that perspective is a choice. While there, I met people with mental impairments who were blind. I met people who were on dialysis, because the diabetes that robbed them of their eyesight was also destroying their kidneys. And I even met these young girls who were deaf and blind. They, like everyone else there, were getting a guide dog to be independent. For these girls we had to talk with an interpreter who would then sign into their hands, and that was the only way they could communicate — yet they were getting a guide dog to travel independently.

It’s one thing when you meet someone on the street and hear how rough they have it, but it’s another thing altogether when you live with someone and see their challenges first-hand for an entire month. That moment was a real tipping point for me.

What is your tipping point? When did you realize how many things you take for granted?

This is when I learned the most valuable lesson in my life: Happiness is not a feeling. Happiness is not an emotion. Happiness is a decision that each of us make every single day when we wake up. We either choose to deliberately frame our perception along positive lines, or allow the circumstances of life to determine our happiness for us.

Throughout my career I’ve enjoyed professional success and I’ve often had people tell me they were inspired by me. I was always happy to hear that, but must confess I never really gave it deep thought until I hit what I call my inflection point. The term is often used to describe an event that brings on a sea-change in a company, industry, or geopolitical situation, but it can also apply to any of us and our personal development. My inflection point arrived when, after generating over $45 billion in contracts with innovative pricing strategy and solutions to our customers, my employer wanted to send me to Harvard Business School.

I eagerly accepted. While on campus in Boston, I had a feeling that I was supposed to be our graduating speaker. There was an undeniable gravitational pull calling me. It was inexplicable, but unmistakable. I never really saw myself as a speaker. In fact, like most, the thought of speaking to a room full of very successful executives was terrifying. Not being able to see, how would I read my notes? Because I went blind later in life, I had never learned braille, so the only option was using my computer to read my notes aloud for me — which clearly would not work while on stage. For me, the only real solution would be to write and commit the talk to memory — not using any notes whatsoever. I would be on stage walking a tightrope, but with no net!

And yet, while I can’t deny my fear and anxiety over this looming challenge, there was still that feeling in the back of my mind that this was the way for me to go — I had been chosen. And so, based on that feeling, I sought out the best speaking consultant I could find — marketing myself to him so he would coach me. I then hired him and flew to Houston, Texas to craft a 15-minute graduation talk.

All without having been selected yet as our graduating speaker, or having any guarantee that it would happen. Was this positive thinking or personal delusion? Well, upon arriving back on campus in Boston, I was nominated and elected as our graduating speaker, only 2 weeks after writing the speech.

As it turned out, the moment — the event — would change my life forever. After giving the talk, my fellow classmates and executives gave me a roaring ovation, which was incredible. As gratifying as that was — and it was — one gentleman in the audience changed my life trajectory forever.

This man had lost his daughter to cancer the year before, and he was so affected by my talk that he wept in my arms. He told me I had given him a path ahead. Surely it did not make his unimaginable anguish go away, but he still found in my presentation a path to hope. Hope that there might be brighter days ahead.

I’ve enjoyed great business success. I’ve won many multibillion dollar deals, and they all meant a lot. But when you can affect a human being in that way, it changes you. It changed me that night and I’ll never be the same. I learned that despite how “ordinary” my life seems to me, if I can affect others in an extraordinary way, then I have an obligation to do so. And words cannot express how much energy and value I also gain by helping others. Using my emotional trauma to assist others in such a deep and meaningful way almost makes going blind worth it. No longer am I enduring that change for myself alone. I am using it to help others deal with their challenges. And honestly, if I had to choose between having my eyesight, but not being able to help others, I don’t think I would be able to choose my eyesight. The memory of what I had given up would haunt me forever.

I use my life experiences to help others think differently about their perspective. Both at REd Hat, where I lead our Deal Management teams, and otherwise. Inspiring our leadership teams to cultivate resilient mindsets, adapt to change with greater success, and live happier and more successful lives.

The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?

We live in a world of instant gratification. Our always-on culture, where overnight shipping for anything we want fails to create the type of realistic expectations we need for most of life’s challenges. As far as personal fulfillment goes, a lot can be said in favor of delayed gratification and not getting what we want exactly when we want it. The wait for what we desire and the journey of acquiring our goals make us appreciate the acquisition more — all the while improving our happiness and fulfillment.

This can be partially traced to the different economic status and parenting styles currently in vogue in the U.S. versus those of earlier generations. If we swoop in and pluck our children’s problems away, they’ll never know adversity. And, learning how to deal with adversity — when life does not go our way — is an essential life skill. In the real world, life does not always go our way. And if we encounter that for the first time as a young adult, we are not equipped to cope. I believe it’s better for our children to face adversity early and often, so when they face it for the first time out in the real world, they are emotionally and intellectually prepared to deal with it and adapt to whatever life throws their way.

Finally, technology pulls us away from the physical world around us. Using technology as a tool is outstanding, and without it I would not be able to function at such a high level. However, it cannot replace the connection and energy we experience when sitting down with another human being in person — not virtually, but in the physical real world. Interestingly, even now, when I’m not able to see the person I’m talking to, sitting down with them in person provides dramatically different chemistry than talking over the phone/video conference. Today, people use virtual communication to such an extent that it erodes the depth of their friendships. Having likes on social media does not equate to deep and meaningful relationships. Those are built over time with the types of engagement that take place in person. I believe our whole society is slowly waking up to the fact that real happiness, the kind that endures, is built from deep and meaningful relationships, not from social media likes.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

None of us has to be wealthy or powerful to accomplish that, but we have to be willing to commit to the effort of doing so. Through my professional endeavors and my personal life experiences, I have been privileged to meet others who are committed to using their own talents to accomplish that.

Several years ago, I would influence others within my immediate surroundings — on my teams and within my company — but I’ve since started speaking on-stage to reach and inspire others to overcome their adversity, and I’m also writing a book to bring my message to the world. I have no doubt the need for it is profound. I frequently find myself handing out business cards to strangers with loved ones, friends, or a close relative who is going through a significant life event. I want to use my situation to guide others through the maze of life and its many twists and turns. Although not everyone deals with an event like going blind, we all face something. And that “something” is significant to each of us.

My goal is to use my platform to help others nurture resilient mindsets, adapt to change with greater success, and productively work towards their goals.

What are your strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

There are six strategies I regularly employ to keep my thirst for life at its peak, and they never seem to fail me.

1. CHOOSE HAPPINESS!

Happiness is a choice, a decision, a perspective. We can shape our state of mind by reframing the stories we tell ourselves. At my home, we help our children cultivate this skill by having a nighttime session where we all share things we’re thankful for. Because it’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us happiness.

2. DARE TO BE GREAT!

If you never dare to be great, you will always be mediocre. We all only have one chance at life, so we may as well give it everything we have. You have to take chances. I was in L.A. for an accessibility convention in 2003 when Stevie Wonder and his entourage were going around. Everyone was asking for autographs, so not wanting to be just another fan, I approached him and asked if there were any applications on his computer that he’d like to be able to use more effectively. I overcame my natural hesitation at approaching a world renown celebrity who must be adoringly approached by countless people every time he ventures out, by asking myself what I might be able to offer him that would be of value to him instead of just asking him for his time and an autograph. We ended up trading contact information, and I spent that next weekend at his North Hollywood studio checking out his technology setup. It was pretty surreal, and at the time I couldn’t be certain my wife was totally convinced when I called her to tell her I needed to stay an extra weekend to assess Stevie Wonder’s technology setup.

3. COURAGE IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF FEAR. COURAGE IS DOING SOMETHING DESPITE THE PRESENCE OF FEAR!

Life can be scary. I’ve been there. When I accepted my first job out of college, I had to move to Atlanta and learn the bus and train system with no eyesight. Nowadays, people have GPS systems on their phones that tell them where they are. Back then, I had to sit by the bus driver and hope he remembered to let me know when it was my stop. Luckily, nobody wants a giant German Shepherd on a bus for very long. Was I scared? You bet I was scared. But I was more scared of failure and not reaching my full potential. I was also scared of failing everyone who had supported me along the way.

4. LIFE WITHOUT OBSTACLES REMOVES OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH!

If you’re not getting outside of your comfort zone, then you’re not growing. I turned my disadvantage of being blind into an advantage by establishing a consulting business where I helped businesses and government agencies make their software compatible for the blind. And, this created job opportunities for a countless number of blind people − while allowing me to earn a nice living.

5. NEVER TAKE THINGS TOO SERIOUSLY!

When interviewing for a Senior Pricing position, the hiring VP and I were discussing advanced consumption pricing concepts and the complex financial models I used, when he very curiously asked me, “Chad, can you really do all of this stuff?” I told him, “Ben, this stuff is so easy I can do it with my eyes closed!” My humor addressed the question and sent a strong signal that I could take my work seriously while avoiding the pitfall of taking my own situation too seriously, while still influencing others in a disarming way.

6. EXCUSES ARE FOR LOSERS!

I’m all-in. I enjoy downhill snow skiing. A lot of people are terrified when they look downhill from 13,000 feet, but I have a huge advantage in that I cannot see the steep terrain. In fact, it has allowed me to learn how to ski well enough to take on some adventurous slopes in only four trips to Aspen. If you’re going down a mountain at a high rate of speed, and you cannot see, what you really have to believe in your heart is that excuses are for losers. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by the facts. When you’re flirting with failure you’re stretching yourself as a person. We have all heard people say pain is growth, and for me, the experience of skiing blind really hammered that message home.

We are all capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for. I say, set your goals higher than you think you can achieve. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can accomplish. I never thought I’d be skiing the types of slopes I’m skiing in just four trips. Fortunately for me, I have great friends who volunteer to take me down the steepest and scariest slopes. At least I think they’re my friends!

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?

What inspires me to live with a thirst for life is the simple fact that we’ll all die in a very short time. No matter how long we live, the end often hits us out of the blue. We can live conservatively, carefully, safely, and may in fact be on the planet for a longer period of time because of those efforts. But I think most of us realize existing is not living. True living, as opposed to mere existence, comes from the quality of experiences we have throughout our lives, and none of us can ever know just how much we’re capable of if we don’t try. If I live to be very old, I’d rather look back on my life and know that I tried all of the things I aspired to. Sometimes I will have failed, and other times I will have succeeded. But I will know I gave it my all. And because of that, I will have peace of mind knowing that I lived my life to its fullest.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Yes. Here it is: “If you never dare to be great, you will always remain mediocre. Nobody wants to be average. Nobody wants to be mediocre. But if you never take chances, you’ll never know how great you can be.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

My current project is writing a book, and I’m also speaking on stage much more often. I’m convinced that my “why” in life is to use my “gift” of going blind and of having learned so many valuable life lessons to reach and inspire others.

You can follow me @ChadEFoster and see videos on my website https://ChadEFoster.com.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I don’t know about “inspiring movements,” because the sort of change I advocate for is highly personal and individual in nature. But the heart of my message lies in this question: What stories do you tell yourself? The facts of a given situation are much less important than the stories we tell ourselves about it. How we choose to narrate circumstances to ourselves has a profoundly greater impact than the facts alone. I am living proof of that.

Thank you, you are an inspiration!

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Social Impact Heroes: Gloria Gilbert Stoga of Puppies Behind Bars is using the compassion of dogs to help heal war veterans, first responders, and convicted felons

by Yitzi Weiner
Well-Being//

How A Broken Dog Healed My Broken Soul

by Sophie Smith
Community//

“To develop Grit, appreciate that you have to fall down to rise up” With Lisa Niver and Phil Laboon

by Phil Laboon

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.