Friday Fiver Series: 5 WAYS TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH YOURSELF

 

Identity is powerful. To lose sight of it is to disappear into the crevices of life’s events. To become a statistic.

 

The chatter of my keyboard is what brings me back to consciousness whenever I lose myself in my work. When I get into the zone, my eyes stay a tad squinted, my shoulders more hunched than I care for and my legs folded in some bizarre way that only a handful of us on earth find comfortable. In this place, everything is silent but my screaming thoughts that only find expression through fingertips jamming alphabets on the keyboard with urgency.

This is where I create magic, but this is not home. Typically, I find myself here for a few minutes at a stretch before the chatter of the keyboard calls me out. And then, I must build up to the sweet spot again. This is my life now. 9 to 5. Everyday. This is how I climax and anti-climax as I spin value from my soul – a deliverable, a poem, a presentation. All these, to create something bigger than myself for the betterment of the world.

Today, I broke focus just in time to notice that it was 2.40pm. I remembered that I had planned to go to the bank to carry out a transaction. I felt a tinge of happiness at the thought of a valid reason to take a break from the computer. As I stood on the queue, waiting for my turn, a few questions churned in my mind.

“When was the last time I posted on my blog?”

“Where did all my passion for content creation go?”

“Wasn’t I far more outgoing before than I am now?”

“How am I the person whose greatest pleasures are increasingly hinged to weekly doses of my favorite series?”

These questions didn’t bother me as much as “how did I get here?”

With my hands resting on the counter as I waited for the bank officer to process my transaction, I realized that I had changed a lot without keeping track of when and how. I had let routines cloud the reality of what was really happening – evolution.

For a person who has self-leadership as one of the pillars of her life’s work, I found it unsettling that it’d been a while since I deliberately took stock of how my values, emotions, inclinations, visions and worldview have been evolving. I used to end the day with an examination of my actions during the day, my motivations for them and the outcomes thereof. Right now, it feels like there’s a chasm with a huge chunk of my recollection of the process of my own change missing.

When I returned to my office, I decided this was worth sharing with you. In the Spirit of searching out the pathways that led me here and sharing my journey with others who may be experiencing similar stuff with change and identity, here’s something to think about. This think that feels like too much space and too little of you can be resolved.

Here are 5 ways to stay in tune with your evolution and memories of it.

  1. Have Meaningful Conversations with Yourself

Personally, I find that my peak state is more accessible when I am more reflective, introspective and deliberate about dialogue with myself concerning my current life and how it feeds my passion, vision and purpose.

It doesn’t take much to lose yourself in the flurry of activities, routines or whatever rat race seems like the way to fulfillment. Unfortunately, this is exactly how we stay out of touch with who we are. We utilize our faculties in clockwork mode, with no reservations for honest feedback from ourselves about our emotions, needs, challenges, wins and the impressions that al these things make on us.

 

  1. Do not Run from the Questions You Have No Answers To

If you’re anything like me and learning is how you lubricate the wheels of your life, you’d understand how important getting answers to my questions about anything is to me. In the last year, I found that I went encountered a lot of situations that left me with unanswered questions.

“Am I still interested in designing learning experiences?”

“How do I really know that I’m great at the things I believe I’m great at since I’ve been paralyzed with too much fear to actually get stuff done?”

I had all sorts of questions about everything I held true – spirituality, the construct of religion, identity, work etc. Each time I dug deeper, I realized that the answers I sought would require a lot of unlearning to be grasped fully. Even more scary was the looming thought that getting to the root of these questions would scramble my constructs that held my life together. I started to let the sleeping dogs lie, voluntarily or not.

Hard lesson: Not to interrogate your thoughts, actions and motivations is to ignore the essence of your existence – change. You will wake up one day and realize that not pursuing truth because you though it would be hard did not stop life from happening. It only made life happen without your awareness or deliberate contribution. This is too much of a risk to be at ease with.

 

  1. Hold Yourself Up to Set Standards

Standards are all about control and this is one of the main reasons you should have them. While you set standards to control the impact of external influences on you, it’s important to set standards for yourself across key areas that define your lifestyle. This way random changes do not go unnoticed. If I set a standard for the kind of energy that my relationships generate around me, it becomes easier to detect when something goes off and upsets that balance. These standards can apply with thought patterns, routines, character, relationships, goals etc.

I’m going to take this one to a new level. I think you should too.

 

  1. Practice Mindfulness

This is arguably one of the most important points in this piece, for obvious reasons…I hope. Practice being present enough to immerse yourself in the present and the beautiful aspects of it. Practice conscious silence. Learn to take deep breaths – literally! Capture salient thoughts as soon as they’re within your grasp. Freeze wonderful moments in photographs and recordings. Journal.

Memories are flightier than we think. A lot of times, we do a good job of convincing ourselves that we remember all we need to remember to go through life’s motions until it’s time to retrieve the memory and bam! It’s all a blur. Have you ever noticed how you’ve got the details of some of your favorite moments jumbled during a recount or can’t remember the face of someone you used to be close to with as much clarity?

Many times, we are unable to retain our impressions of our own selves – motivations, intents, thoughts, desires and emotions without losing bits from our consciousness. There’s the need to be intentional about creating references for ourselves about ourselves as we evolve.

 

  1. Seek Constructive Feedback from Credible Sources

Sometimes, the key to reconnecting with part of ourselves that we lost touch with lies in an encounter with perspectives that are different from ours. Constructive feedback is always a great guide to navigating change especially when we in turn, handle it constructively.  Surround yourself with people who have honest intentions about you and are open to letting you in on their observations about your journey. Learn to listen to such people and examine their opinions objectively and in good fate. You may be surprised at what you find.

 

Of Mothers, Moguls and Matriarchs

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 2

I’m a dangerous human

Spirit

Queen and Priestess

Air

Ocean and Fire

And as though that isn’t enough wonder

I’m a woman

Make no mistake about it; this generation is rewriting how history will define womanhood. This is the turning point generation in which womanhood can be expressed in an infinite number of forms – all powerful, all purposeful, all possible.

I always knew that girlhood was not the destination for me, not that there is one endpoint. However, as a girl, I was taught by my parents that everything that I was given would culminate in the becoming of a woman who I would journey as for the rest of my life. So it was important that I understood womanhood as important, limitless and powerful because those should be the backdrop against which every woman finds expression for herself.

Feminism has blossomed and created an awakening that is raising women who are questioning the constructs that we have always conformed to. It has given women the consciousness that our voices are valid, vital and must be used because our lives depend on the value that we create from expressing our essence. Heck, feminism is awakening women to the truth that identity is not something that can be thrust upon us without our permission.

However, just as with every other socio-political movement, feminism finds meaning within the context of the diverse experiences that women embody and encounter and so I believe that there is no formula for it. There are different expressions of it just as there are different kinds of women whose realities have made for infinite shades of grey areas that they have to navigate in this quest for equality and prosperity for all.

I see cyber battles where women shame others who have chosen to build realities that they feel are not enough of a statement to relate our defiance against the ills of patriarchy. I see how the systems in which our girls are raised are not being intentionally engineered to teach them the power of their essence as females and how that is something to protect, develop and create from. I see how factions of feminists wage war against each other and especially against the male folk, forgetting that unfortunately, everyone is in some way a victim of social conditioning and constructs that have been perpetuated for centuries; the individuals in themselves are not quite the problem. Beyond the people, we must take a structural approach against inequality and the ills attached to it – developing individuals (male and female) who embody the tenets of feminism, justice, accountability while retaining their individuality and creating socio-economic and political systems that reflect those same values.

The idea that there is a specification for who the ideal feminist should be defies the essence of the movement which is equal opportunities for all. We must be careful not to, in our zeal, fan the dysfunctions that patriarchy and inequality have perpetuated because of a loose grip on what really matters. Education, economic empowerment, human rights, security must be strived for, not because they qualify us to be better women but because they enable us to unlock the potentials that we embody as women and create a balanced, more wholesome world. This is everybody’s job. This is not the job for one kind of person. This job cannot be done by women whose girlhoods were stripped of the knowledge that they can deliver on this. This is not the job for a particular type of woman.

For starters, there is no real woman. There is also no better woman who deserves more privilege. The idea that anything in its natural state is not real because it does not conform to your position on reality is ridiculous. A real woman is any woman who is in fact, a woman. To understand this is to understand that the fight for equality should be nothing if not universal.

We as woman must define and hold unto the tenets that bind all our aspirations together no matter how we seek to find expression for those desires – as mothers, as moguls or as matriarchs.

Every motivation and action should culminate in empowering every woman with all the resources that she needs to create the most value from who she chooses to become. Today, this may not be handed us so we must for all our sakes, demand for it, work for it, speak for it, create it until limitless possibilities become the normal reality of women. Our humanity depends on this.

Happy International Women’s Day!!!

The Six-Step Career Reboot for Busy Professionals and Entrepreneurs

Go-getters never stop going or getting. They set their eyes on the prize and they stop at nothing to get it. They’re the ones who reach their goals and succeed against all odds. They’re not afraid to try and fail; they look failure in the eye and defeat it.

If you’re a busy professional or business owner looking for an edge to move up in your career or industry, try a two-fold approach. Firstly, reduce stress to reset your motivation. Secondly, hit the ground running to achieve new goals. It’s easy to feel like giving up when your job is causing you stress. If you can learn to deal with it constructively, you can get past the roadblock and be on your way to upward mobility.

I. Self-Care

It’s important for busy people to practice self-care as a way to keep stress in check. Self-care benefits include improving self-esteem, increasing productivity, and bolstering the immune system. There are many ways to practice self-care, such as pampering with a massage and spa day, having a treat meal, exercising, cuddling, retail therapy, playing a round of golf, or even just listening to music and letting loose.

II. Retreat

Sometimes you need to get away from it all for a little while so you can reset your mind. You might find yourself burnt out after finishing a big project or working too many consecutive days. That type of situation calls for a vacation, but not just any vacation. What you might need is a personal retreat where you don’t answer any work concerns. If your entire team is feeling overwhelmed, perhaps it’s time for a company retreat where you work on team-building outside of the workplace.

III. Yoga

Yoga has many physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Got a back problem? Try yoga. Got an emotional problem? Try yoga? Got a work problem? Try yoga. Yoga is the answer to everything related to well-being because it’s a safe, low-impact workout that increases your balance and flexibility. What’s even better is that it balances more than just your body: Yoga also centers and calms your mind.

IV. Know Your Worth

There’s a good chance that you’re overworked and underpaid. Being undervalued at your job is not a good feeling, nor is it in your best interest professionally. Research average local salaries for your job to make sure you’re getting paid what you deserve. Request a meeting with your boss, and come with a proposal on why you should receive a raise or promotion. Be prepared to defend your case with performance metrics like data, goals, accomplishments, and results. If you’re self-employed, you have the power to set your own rates, so don’t settle for anything less than what you want. It’s okay to stay firm and potentially lose that client.

V. Find a Mentor

Even if you’re doing a great job, there’s someone else who has done it better and longer than you. Find a mentor in your industry—someone who is living your dream. Try one of these methods suggested by Entrepreneur for obtaining mentorship. Get ready to be active and social. Remember, these professionals are busy, so you’ll have to offer value in order to get their time and attention. You should be aiming to build a genuine, trusting relationship with them, not just a career connection.

VI. Make a Plan

Every smart business has a five-year plan, so yours should too. Write down your achievements, challenges, failures, successes, vision, goals, projections and plan. Goals are more likely to manifest if you have concrete objectives laid out before you. You could take it a step further by turning it into a business proposal that can be presented to prospective partners, investors, employers or mentors.

Talent, connections and brilliant ideas can only get someone so far in their professional life. You still need a productive state of mind and the willingness to continue despite the challenges being thrown at you. This can be you if you get out of your own way and find the spark to press forward.

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************

Contributor:

Julie Morris

Life and Career Coach

juliemorris.org

 








Five Transformative Lessons Every African Youth Must Embrace

Identity is more fluid than we take it to be but at the core of it is belief. What you believe about yourself based on your interaction with yourself, other humans, the environment and the ideas that govern realms of existence.

As I evolve and take on a more globalized worldview – one I consider a necessity in the wake of the common realities faced by world – I also identify as being African and deeply so. The African continent being my birthplace was only the starting point of this identity. It may have evolved, had I had the chance to live and grow in Europe or perhaps, marry an Asian. While these alternate realities may have bestowed on me the opportunity to take on other citizenships, the matter of my how deeply European or Asian I would have been alongside my apparent Africanness would be a matter of my acceptance of my true place in these different spheres.

The African identity that I wield today stems from my acceptance of a shared history with the African people, of elements of our culture, of how much of home I consider this to be and what position I consider myself to be occupying in its society. It is born from an understanding that I have stakes here; a riveting history with effects that mark my present and a share in the responsibility for our future as a people. Identity is ultimately beyond just self and also speaks to one’s belief regarding her place in the world around her.

Africa is in a dire need of Africans who are so for reasons other than just genetics. There is a call for humans who have accepted that in one way or another, they have a place in our history and that they are affected by our realities today and are stakeholders in the future we’ll all be faced with. The Africans that the continent aches for are humans who think of it in one way or another as home and who are willing and able to ensure that home has enough room for us all to thrive.

Despite the abundance of human and natural resources in Africa, numerous studies project a bleak future for the continent if these resources are not harnessed in a sustainable manner and with a great sense of urgency within the next three decades. According to the UN, Africa has the largest youth population in the world and this is expected to double by 2045. More so, it is being projected that by 2050, Nigeria and DRC shall be responsible for 40% of global poverty. There is an emergence of the need for youth engagement and next generation leadership in order to mitigate the impending disaster of an overpopulated, underdeveloped Africa in the near decades.

From my interactions with both seasoned and emerging leaders on the continent and in the diaspora, I have been able to profile certain issues that are considered instrumental to the effectiveness of African youth as tools for driving radical, positive change on the continent. Sitting with African Diaspora leaders in Washington DC last week, I found these themes recurring, all building to the roles that Africa’s emerging leaders can take on in the collective fight for sustainable development.

In this article, I briefly explain five areas that I think that we next generation leaders must gain an understanding of and engage in order to turn the tides of affairs for the African continent.

  • A nuanced understanding of African history

Ambassador Arikana Chihombori, the African Union Representative to the United States is known to always start with an enthralling account of the Berlin Conference of 1884 which birthed colonization and modern Africa as we know it. She passionately weaves the tale of the disruption of a civilization and the partitioning of a people that births cultures, economic systems and social constructs that have come to define the people.

This motivation behind this being the starting point of engaging problem-solving in Africa is that we must question the progression of our civilization before we can work to influence it from an informed standpoint. We must interrogate our societal trends, who our allies have been, how other civilizations have influenced our evolution and the roles that we played in the regression of our societies.

Africa’s youth must engage indigenous knowledge systems to excavate truths about different facets of our journey through pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial eras. This way, root causes and patterns of the degeneration that the continent has suffered can be identified and then addressed appropriate. One may consider this a pre-requisite for carrying out diagnostic tests on the continent and then customizing an efficient treatment plan tailored towards its peculiarities.

It is from an informed place that we can chart a new course for liberation; improving on the failures of past generations and knowing how we can align ourselves with the rest of the world on mutually beneficial terms.

 

  • A sound understanding of global efforts towards a better world

Africa cannot chart its course for the future without consideration for the global implication of its actions and inactions. Now more than ever, the world shares common challenges and stories despite the diversity that it is couched in. This is evidenced by the increasing efforts of the global community to have conversations about and pursue solutions that are holistic and relevant to all people and nations.

Development frameworks such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Youth2030 and climate action frameworks etc. have been developed to serve as strategy guides in the pursuit of local and global prosperity. This means that a nature of the job has already been done.

Africa’s governance infrastructure is known to be broken and inefficient in most of its operations. However, these ongoing global conversations and development frameworks can serve not only as viable strategies that Africans can adopt in governing different sectors but also as standards for performance evaluation and accountability across the spectrum of local and global needs.

Imagine the ripple effect that will occur if 60% of all African youth pledge to and consistently work towards one or two sustainable development goals, respectively, over the next 10 years. Imagine that 65% of our youth actively engage the global goals through study, professional work, enterprise or advocacy, within the next five years.

Opportunities for learning and adaptation exist as pathways for interacting with other nations and the emerging solutions that they proffer to their issues. Our problems are seldom new and disruptive innovation, in many ways, is a product of the quality of information that one has and is able to leverage in changing the course of a situation.

 

  • A firm grip on leadership development and governance

One of Africa’s most critical issues today is that of poor governance and bad leadership. For decades, the decay perpetuated by these issues has strengthened our role in our own demise as a continent. Even worse is the shift in value system that exacerbates the issue even as emerging leaders fall into the pattern that now exists.

In view of this, two critical elements that African youth must become aware of and actively employ are self leadership and active citizenship. Charity they say begins at home and the entity over which you have the most control is self. Young Africans must cultivate a deep desire for a higher, truer, more conscious version of themselves and for continuous development as individuals and members of society.

In the same vein, active citizenship and a consciousness for civil obligations must be awakened. As citizens, we possess the power to effect organic, widespread change by reason of understanding and exercising our rights, privileges and civic duties. Knowledge of and involvement in socio-political matters must be considered necessary in order to drive transparency, accountability and effective succession in governance.

Young people have to let go of superficial motivations for success and develop a mindset that encourages selfless service and pursuit for shared prosperity. I believe it’s important to note that many of the grave challenges facing us regionally and globally have adverse implications for all and sundry.

 

  • A collaborative approach towards problem solving

Ubuntu is a South African word meaning “humanity”. It is often translated as “I am because you are” and is famous for the philosophy it drives within and beyond Africa. The Ubuntu Philosophy is an ideology and ethic that is underlined by empathy for others which is one of the bedrocks of social change. While this worldview has evolved into several political and theological variants, its central message is that our humanity is hinged to each other’s such that because of this interconnectedness, we must collaborate in shaping our world into a collectively desired state.

Sustainable development can neither thrive alongside an individualistic motivation for ownership and control of resources nor a divisive disposition towards problem solving. I believe that collaboration is a currency with which we can engage development.

A worldview that shuns tribalism, gender discrimination, apathy, nepotism and other destructive social constructs must be adopted if we will achieve inclusion and equity that characterize progressive societies.

The boundaries of Africanness are not defined by the geographical boundaries of the continent. Africans in the Diaspora are also Africa – offspring of the very same Africa. The conditioning that allows an exaggerated sense of entitlement towards identity, resources and recognition must be reversed so that the potential of the continent can be maximized. It is noteworthy that despite our diversity, the African culture is a relational one and this element cannot be ignored in the invention and adaptation of viable solutions to its challenges.

More so, collaboration with other nations and civilizations should be explored without mortgaging the future of the continent for short-lived benefits that yield eventual deficits.

 

  • Principles and values of innovation and change management

Disruptive innovation and technology have changed the course of human evolution. New business and governance models are emerging to cater to the radical changes that man is faced with. These same aggressive forces of change that is perhaps, responsible for some of the world’s most critical challenges are now being harnessed from new dimensions in a manner that enables the reclamation of our world.

Africa is marked with untapped potential and an abundance of non-consumption opportunities across almost all facets of life. This is an apparent declaration for the need for disruptive innovation that will create new markets, new ways of engaging already ones and a massive wave of change capable of unlocking unforeseen market opportunities and social impact.

African youth must rise to the responsibility of continuous learning and insatiable hunger for insight generation, knowledge sharing and application. Principles of innovation, change management and leadership must be propagated by all stakeholders and embraced across the spectrum of human endeavors on the continent.

A deep understanding and practical application of these issues must be pursued with a great sense of urgency and hope for humanity. As the region with the youngest population on the planet, youth engagement in development is non-negotiable and far from a trivial affair. As we continually evolve, the outcomes that emerge and the identity that we will take on as a people and by extension, individuals, greatly depend on the decisions that we make today and our commitment to realizing them.








The Pursuit of Sustainable Development in Africa : Conscious Capitalism vs Social Enterprises

It was December 2017 and I sat in a plainly furnished hotel room with an old friend catching up on the past few months of our lives. It had been a crazy year for me and this conversation with my friend turned out to be a way of taking stock as we meandered through dialogue that related the year’s events to each other. I think it is striking how narratives enable us process the worlds within and around us, usually exceeding the intended boundaries that we set up for what these conversations could achieve. Naturally, the talk about the future came up and so did my budding interest in social impact strategy.

We were soon talking about businesses and the government and their roles in social impact and sustainable development. One of the outcomes of the conversation for me was the term “business conscience”.  I would later come to find out that this term I had coined out pretty much exists conceptually as “conscious capitalism”. Essentially, it is a philosophy that posits that businesses should generate financial wealth but not at the expense of social, cultural, environmental and spiritual wellbeing. Conscious capitalism is neither a business strategy nor a business model.

At the crux of it, we talked about how government institutions and traditional forms of enterprise have seldom driven the much needed positive change in the educational and agricultural sectors. I was of the opinion that our strategy going forward should be to leverage social enterprise and hybrid business models in establishing and running business ventures especially startups. For me, the bull’s eye is having social impact at the heart of the organization’s strategy with profitability being the complementary strategic objective to drive the intended impact.

I posited that is one of the most sustainable systems through which the private sector can take responsibility for the economy without replicating outcomes of the past that have done little good. However, my friend on the other hand had an opinion that was different and interesting to explore.

He felt that the ideal situation should be one in which businesses were run with an ideal sense of morality in terms of how their operations affect all stakeholders physically, mentally, emotionally and socio-culturally. He felt that if businesses were conscious of the impact of their choices on people and the society, then there’d be no need to institutionalize social impact as a strategic objective. In his opinion, doing “good” should ideally come instinctively to the businesses. In exploring his perspective, I would later find out about the concept of “conscious capitalism”.

Conscious capitalism heralds free enterprise capitalism as the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress but goes beyond that to inculcate a consciousness in business to the end that the culture of business should allow for the creation of financial, intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, physical and ecological wealth for all their stakeholders. This sounds grand and even heroic but then I start to question what vehicle should be employed in bringing this to fruition.

Conscious capitalism strikes me as an ideology that organizations who buy into it would most likely entrench in their cultures and values through immersive programs such that business leaders and workers carry that awareness in delivering core business functions and herein lay the problem that I had with the idea of business conscience being a tool for sustainable change. (I am open to opposing opinions regarding this).

While I agree that businesses with consciences would definitely make for a positive climate for change in our communities, I do not believe that they would be sufficient to trigger and maintain sustainable development. My understanding of what my friend had in mind is companies with CSR, sustainability policies & practices and perhaps leaders who have a personal will to effect some form of positive social change and let this inform their business decision making activities. My problem with us depending on these kind of models in driving social change/sustainable development is that in these cases, the natural profit-making and cost-reduction objectives reign supreme, with every other factor being secondary, at most. Business conscience after all, is a function of the mindsets, values and biases of individuals at the helm of decision making in any business.

In many cases, traditional business enterprises that employ sustainability practices and CSR and other “conscious practices” tend do so with objectives like cost-reduction, regulatory compliance, improvement of indicators like diversity, visibility etc. at the forefront of their objectives.  The actual social impact benefits seem to be resultant benefits. The problem with this is that in business, key objectives are what drive strategy and I do not think that we should rely on systems that do not have social and/or environmental change as key strategic objectives as sustainable contributors to development in those areas. While I agree that business conscience/conscious capitalism makes for a more inclusive business ecosystem as far sustainable development is concerned, I think that greater demands can be placed on market forces as drivers of sustainable change.

The way I see it, government, donor organizations and traditional enterprises can deploy some resources, at their discretion, to causes that appeal to them in view of addressing developmental issues. However, solving these problems in a manner that is sustainable and scalable would require that we place a demand on the forces of the market to engage with these problems such that solutions ride on the aggressive evolution of commerce and industry in being propagated and improved upon. For this reason, I advocated and still advocate for social enterprises and hybrid organizations where solving these problems is a primary concern and profit-making becomes an enhancer.

I think that this is an important conversation to be had especially with all the efforts being made to drive entrepreneurship and sustainability to the forefront of global governance. We need to interrogate the approaches that we believe will yield the most value considering peculiarities of different geographical locations and regions.

Personally, I feel like my opinion is strengthened by the peculiarities of Nigeria and Africa in general. The shortcomings of the government, aid programs and traditional enterprises are too apparent for me not to agree with the exploration of models that institutionalize development objectives at a root level and leverage the autonomy of the market in driving this forward.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you stand with me or do you think that there are other models that government and traditional enterprises could adopt apart from social enterprise and hybrid models where businesses run social enterprises or foundations on the side?








#FiveFactsFriday – 5 Roles a Mentor Should Not Play in Your Life

posted in: Business 'N' Career | 1
  • It’s time for another dose of #fivefactsfriday. Real talk awaits us.

Life can be hard. It really can especially for young adults who are hatching into this space that pulses with independence, sole responsibility for decision making and unforeseen realities. Being in my twenties and experiencing this transition with my peers, I would often find myself wondering why I was in a rush to grow up and how elders and academic programs taught us everything but the stuff that would actually matter when I received my grand prize of adulthood.

I was one of the privileged children who were introduced to the concept of “mentoring” as a proactive measure in building capacity. I was involved in numerous programs that allowed successful individuals to impart knowledge to my peers and I in view of career, relationships and really, life in general. These exposures really did accelerate my world view and success at different stages of my development. I felt like I was getting value for my expectations. So imagine my shock when as a young adult, I struggled with navigating the very pathways I figured I’d been prepped to conquer.

Mentoring works! It is plain wisdom to learn from experiences of those who’ve walked the path you seek, to leverage already existing frameworks in innovating new ones, to seek guidance where you are uncertain about next steps. However, for mentoring to be effective and reflective in the overall success of an individual, it must be multidimensional, consistent, immersive, relevant to the internal and external environments of the mentee, and built upon accountability. In retrospect, I can see the absence of these elements in one area or another may have contributed to the realities that youth face in navigating career, finances, relationships and other areas of adult life.

Having recognized this, many young people, organizations and governance systems have increased the attention given to learning programs that allow for access to mentors who serve as guides in the pursuit of personal and societal development. While a variety of models and strategies have been deployed effectively in integrating mentoring into education and human capital development, young people must be adequately informed on how to maximize these relationships lest they become counter-productive or a medium for abuse.

There’s a lot of content out there that define what to look out for in a mentor and how to get a role model to take you on as a mentee. This is a different party. Here are five (5) roles that a mentor should ideally not play in anyone’s life.

  1. The Role of a Crutch

It is well known that people have the tendency to develop a dependency complex when they believe that assistance will be available to them in a certain endeavor whether or not they put in adequate effort into it. While a mentor should provide a measure of support (usually through counsel), you must bear in mind that he/she is not a crutch. They should not become a ticket to loss of initiative and the inability to take progressive steps towards one’s objectives without support. Ultimately, you are solely responsible for your actions and inactions and will be held completely accountable where necessary. Own up to your decisions and show up for yourself even when no one else can.

 

  1. The Role of a Tell-all Diary

This aspect is a tad dicey. An ideal mentoring relationship should allow for transparency and accountability whereby both parties have adequate information required to develop and implement courses of action that will enable the duo meet whatever objectives have been set for the mentee to achieve. However, vulnerability should be protected as much as it is indulged. You must be sensitive to the kind of person your mentor is, what his area of influence is in your life, the dynamics of your relationship and what your real needs really are. A crucial understanding of these would help you apply discretion in how much information about youself should be volunteered especially regarding your personal life or other areas of your life that your mentoring relationship does not necessarily intersect with.

You must also realize that your mentor is a human being who has his/her own biases, customs, experiences and interests that may inform how they process and utilize information that you present to them. This helps you manage your expectations of them as well serve as a compass in navigating how you communicate with them.

 

  1. The Role of a god

A mentor deserves honor and respect especially when the influence they have over you is positive and is evidenced by your advancement in the areas in which they work with you. There are intangible but powerful principles that guide life’s reward systems and the laws of honor, respect for the individual and reciprocity are some of those.

Your mentor is not supposed to be your god. Your relationship ought to be one driven by mutual respect and interests. You owe no one deification or worship as the case may be. You are not meant to feel intimidated, inferior or mentally/spiritually suppressed. Any mentoring relationship in which your sense of worth is adversely affected is inappropriate. More so, one that puts you in a position where you are expected to idolize the mentor to the point where demeaning and unreasonable demands are made of you is toxic and should be discontinued.

Ideally, any interaction that robs you of attaining a higher, truer and freer version of yourself is the very kind you should not tolerate no matter what you have been programmed to believe is the benefit thereof. This should be a constructive, mutually beneficial relationship and not a shrine where your knees are stuck to the ground.

 

  1. The Role of a Slave Driver

Some mentors are simply slave drivers! Not all humans are noble in their intentions towards you and more people than you imagine will be pleased to have a young, enterprising, success-thirsty individual at their beck and call. The truth is that apart from personal and professional fulfillment, stronger relationships, influence and perhaps, favors, there’s not much a mentor gains from their commitment to you – especially when it’s not a work-instituted form where their career advancement is tied to their work with you. Hence, if this individual is not genuinely vested in your success, you might find yourself being more or less an errand person who tags along because you hope it buys you favor and whatever else you may think you’re gaining.

While you should be considerate in dealing with mentors, available to assist them with their needs when you can and also vested in their success, you are not primarily there to help them do their work. They can employ folks for that…except that they already have you.

 

  1. The Role of a Drag

One of the great benefits of a productive mentoring relationship – whether it’s personal or program-based – is speed. This is one of the reasons ‘accelerator programs’ are called that. Amongst other things, participating entrepreneurs are provided with business mentors who guide them through more efficient paths to implementing strategic objectives so that they can quicken their results in relation to those of their counterparts and maximize the economies of the acceleration.

If this is the case, why then are you regressing in speed despite the presence of a mentor in your life? Consider this an indicator with which you can examine the impact for your mentorship relationship or program.

This lack of speed could be because of the aforementioned situations or even more peculiar events. Whatever the case may be, if you realize that you’re been unusually slow or unproductive in an area that you are supposed to be or have been receiving input from your mentor in, you may want to reexamine what is going on. More importantly, be sure to address the issue when it has been identified and if the best resort is to discontinue the relationship, I suggest you do so as gently as possible.

 

I have found myself in some of the above situations and I can tell you that navigating them isn’t quite a walk in the park. However, it is all part of the learning process required to maximize our life experiences in creating successes. While we are relational beings and often thrive by optimizing different aspects of our interaction with others, you must be aware that you are in charge of the energy you curate within yourself and for stopping anything that hinders it and in extension, yourself from flourishing. Our culture in Africa, for the most part, frowns upon questioning authority even when we intuitively know that something is off about a situation. We must evolve and grow out of systems that stifle out ability to grow and change freely and for the better especially when such systems are disguised by constructs that we imbibe as values.

 

P.S – If you’ve ever found yourself in any of the aforementioned situations, please share how you navigated it and how you resolved the issue. I’m positive that some of my learning points reside in your own experiences.

P.S.S – Reshare this post! There’s someone out there who needs guidance on the things you may consider no-brainers. Be the help they need to rise.








#FiveFactsFriday – 5 GUIDELINES TO CREATING A ROBUST, HEALTHY CORPORATE CULTURE IN YOUR SME

 

Culture is an integral part of our experiences and identities and is a common thread across shared history and realities. In recent times, I have become more aware of the roles that culture plays in personal, organizational and societal spheres and now understand that people’s actions and inactions are driven, at least on a subliminal level by culture. From an macroeconomic standpoint, culture influences decision making and behavioral patterns in organizations and communities that lead to their social and economic outcomes.

Corporate culture had always sounded to me like a fancy business term that organizations used to claim that they adhere to certain values and to portray themselves as a great place to work. In fact, culture is one of the major factors that defines work experiences but on a corporate level, goes deeper than that. It took working at one of the biggest international professional services firms for me to realize the full import of corporate culture and its role in driving sustainable development. My role as a corporate governance consultant further allowed me to examine this phenomenon across organizations and industries.

Organizational culture comprises assumptions, beliefs, values and routines etc. perpetuated by an organization that result in the social, behavioral and psychological patterns exhibited by members of the organization. It can be expressed through manner of speech, dressing, how work is performed and even in attitude towards work and opinions regarding one’s experience in the organization.

My interest in this subject stems from observing and interacting with members of Nigerian-owned organizations (especially SMEs) and examining their perspectives and experiences. With unhealthy cultural practices dominating feedback, I believe that indigenous startups and corporate organizations could do better with improving their culture and harnessing it to drive sustainable development. IN many local firms, it is neither considered as a pillar of governance nor an issue that requires a systematic approach in handling. Consequently, such systems reek of poor job satisfaction, poor internal controls, micromanagement, unethical behaviors and poor work-life balance etc. In most of these cases, personal biases and interests of those in authority supersede best practice and even regulatory requirements aimed at strengthening the corporate environment.

Additionally, individuals who work for multinationals with rich cultural practices may encounter disorienting cultural shocks in local firms that might discourage further interaction with them. Hence, this is one of the major reasons that local firms are unable to attract, retain and even develop the best talent in their fields when compared to international counterparts.

I have drawn from my experience working at an international firm with a great culture and as a professional who advised corporate clients on corporate culture as a pillar of governance to come up with simple guidelines on how indigenous firms can establish, develop and sustain desired cultural practices and in extension, productivity, staff retention and reputational capital.

 

  1. Crisp and Concise Articulation of Values, Assumptions and Philosophies

It is quite obvious that clarity should precede execution in any endeavor. It would be difficult to propagate a cultural practice without first defining the “what, why and how”. I recommend that firms should articulate their values and philosophies as plainly and concisely as possible. During my time in KPMG Nigeria, “cutting through complexities” was the clear tagline for the firm. More so, it was articulated so often in print and verbal dialogue – as the firm’s driving philosophy – that it became impressed in the minds of the employees.

When faced with a frightening deadline or a seemingly impossible task to deliver on, the instinct was to think “cutting through complexities”. Even when it was echoed in jest by staff, everyone was aware of the underlying strength that the phrase had in defining the firm and its people.

A simple, well thought out and articulated value/philosophy/routine is the ground block for building a strong awareness with stakeholders about what principles hold meaning to the leadership of an organization. One’s aim should be to eliminate any uncertainty and ambiguity regarding what the organization and its people hold as vital and relevant to their mission.

 

  1. Brand Integration and Stakeholder Awareness

It is one thing to have clearly articulated values, philosophies and courses of action. It is even smarter to have witty slogans coined from them but all of those would be of little use without being translated to the consciousness and practices of the firm’s people.

Firstly, I believe that the first group of stakeholders who should be custodians of an organization’s culture is its staff. Once, they’ve imbibed it, they become vehicles through which these ideas and practices can be translated to other stakeholders like customers, peer organizations etc.

One very potent way to do this is through brand integration. Internal and public relations should be infused with both explicit and subtle cues to elements of the organization’s desired culture. This should be worked into product, correspondence, service and workspace design and implementation.

There are certain organizations with robust corporate brands that one cannot walk into without noticing the innovative ways that their workspaces are designed to communicate their values.

In KPMG Nigeria, for instance, attention to detail and clear communication were such important values that they were expressed in the work flow established for production of reports. In the same vein, the use of analytics, infographics, custom fonts and other innovative visuals in report writing were important. Therefore, most consultants were skilled in visual representation of data and report writing and produced reports that were pleasantly unique and thorough.

 

  1. Repetition and Engagement Across Functions and Processes

This step is where the muscle of culture is exercised and its roots deepened. An organization could never realize a robust, healthy culture without a penchant for systems and structure which are deliberately deployed to facilitate desired practices alongside core and support functions.

This phase requires a top-bottom approach to managing people and resources that echoes all that has been brandished by way of communication and branding. Organizations through their daily affairs, have the chance to exhibit in practice their values and philosophies in a manner that is objective and consistent. Thus, over time, employees, customers and other stakeholders are conditioned to align their values and interests in order to meet both personal and shared objectives while working with the organization.

“Respect for the Individual” was one value that I imbibed in the corporate environment. It was so important at one of the firms where I worked that deliberate efforts were made to reflect it in every way possible. The manner of response to emails, tone of speech, approach towards making demands even a junior colleague, the evaluation process and feedback mechanism etc. all emphasized that disrespect was not condoned. In the event that an employee felt disrespected and escalated the case, it would be thoroughly investigated and addressed. By the time I had been in that environment for a year, my value for respecting individuals had transcended my professional interactions into my personal life and become more instinctive.

The engenderment of culture requires that it is practiced consistently and in this case, in a multidimensional manner such that it becomes more experiential than instructional.

 

  1. Establishment of Immersion and Re-immersion Programs

Culture takes its significance from the interactions of people with themselves, other people and systems around them. Hence, in hiring and retaining people, organizations must make deliberate, strategic efforts to immerse these individuals – who possess distinct philosophies, biases, values and habits – into the cultural environment that the firm seeks to sustain. More so, because human behavior is reinforced by consistent exposure to certain factors, re-immersion programs that seek to re-orientate its people must be run by the organization.

Immersion programs are vital for conditioning new hires as they get into the system right before they begin to adapt their functions to preinstalled values and patterns. These programs could be in form of formal induction and training, experiential learning programs, themed social events etc. It is important for the people to be exposed to situations beyond the regular course of work that reaffirm the culture to them. It would be a great bonus if these events are designed to be fun, unconventional and stress-free such that it induces a state in which people are susceptible to learn.

 

  1. Establishment of Reward and Penalty Systems

One of the most potent approaches to maintaining any practice is to build a reward and penalty system around it that. These serve as an incentive to encourage the practice or culture and inhibit its violation respectively. This can be achieved through a plethora of ways from social events aimed at recognizing people and groups who exhibit desired cultural practices or team building activities that create increased awareness about them. In the same vein, practices that defy the organizations values and philosophies and lead to adverse outcomes should be addressed with penalties that discourage reccurrence.

While there are a myriad of technicalities to the establishment of corporate culture and change management especially with the evolving business and economic systems that exist today, the aforementioned are basic guidelines that can inform an organization’s approach to establishing a robust, healthy corporate culture.








Failure is Inventory Too

 

Failure has no character in itself but people who fail do. Unfortunately, we’ve abused what I consider to be the true purpose of failure and attribute to it the character of people whose responses to it have been far from neat. We label people with ease and dread to wear the same. The corporate world and educational system have even gone ahead to calibrate it – making some degrees of it somewhat acceptable because somehow people who fall in here are salvageable while some degrees condemn people who attain them to the bottom of the ecosystem – poor valuations, demotions, salary freezes, terminations, business and literal suicides, with the worst effects being psychological and sociological. We treat whatever goodness emanates from our failures as serendipitous but what if, failure was designed to always… always bury us in the richness of the true sources of growth – insight and well, discomfort. After all, if life was cozy, there wouldn’t be breakthroughs. The tragedy is that a lot of us consider failure finished goods rather than work-in-progress.

Here’s my theory: failure is a resource, a variable from which the quality of who we are depends upon.

  • Failure is the poorly baked batch of pastries that go back into production and give us a better sense of how to mix or heat next time.
  • Failure is what redirects us to paths of better understanding of… anything.
  • Failure is simple; simply an outcome of disharmony that is either unexpected or unwanted.

It’s not as deep as a character you’d embody so you see, we have reveled in the ultimate state of wrongness by assuming that our infinite intelligence is truly at the mercy of an ideally momentary case of disappointment. It’s never that deep.

This post may come off as lacking empathy but like Vishen Lakhiani would say, “we do not grow from apathy but from insight and discomfort”. Anyway, I hope these definitions are as shallow and unfamiliar as I could have managed. Here’s why. The menace that the notion of failure has created for humanity stems from this destructively romantic idea that we need only beauty and greatness to create value from ourselves.

That failure taints you and obstructs the flow of success from out of you.

That failure is a dead-end that that somehow paralyzes everyone and sows in you a struggle that may share the rest of your lifetime with you.

We have all these deep definitions that have done nothing but deny us of the freedom that experiences should grant us. No matter how it feels, experiences grant us the freedom of knowledge; of taking it and birthing things that the world may never have seen because no two people experience the same thing the exact same way. Ever! So if we do not place a demand on our failure experience to produce something worthwhile, we just about wasted another resource.

You’re probably thinking “It’s easier said than done.” Well I’m not asking you to do anything. I am telling you to learn from the outcome of what you’ve already done. Stop sending potentially universe-changing lessons off to your memory wrapped in despair. Applying yourself to this “new” knowledge is what ensures a progression in whatever it is you decide to do next. And so while you do not go about looking to fail at something, you do want to create room for the possibility of it without resentment or apprehension. It’s the same space that’ll allow you to experience an extra of everything else. It is in this same space that failure might occupy that you can find room to house more of yourself as you evolve and spread in directions that you thought impossible. Do you not see how failure is not static? See how it can be a do-over or a do-different or even a do-anything-else, and these are things most humans feel deprived of.

Know this. Failure was not designed to be owned and therefore, you do not get to accept it. However, people are unsure of whether they have what it takes for their failures to work for them. It is perceived to be an iron ball that falls into your hands and paralyses you; too heavy to carry onwards and too heavy to let you bend enough to drop it. So acceptance sets in.

The thing is that you have to trust yourself enough not to accept something that doesn’t belong to you. You have to trust yourself to make use of every resource available to create something extraordinary; failure is just one more of that.

Let’s deal with the feelings. I know failure doesn’t feel good and that we all like to feel good but let’s face it! Production processes were not designed to always feel good. Consider childbirth, manufacturing, staying married (let’s be honest here), construction and intense training for anything worthwhile. Like the aforementioned, you need to gain mastery of it until it’s etched in your belief system and you’ve developed systems of living that “just quitting” become alien to you.

You should allow yourself feel emotions but remember that emotions are not for your consumption, they are for state elicitation which then determine what you consume and become. See, loss isn’t always a thing of choice, grief is and kills.

 

 

We are meaning-making machines and are unconsciously creating meanings around our experiences which are lodged within us as either empowering beliefs or limiting ones. This is a consistent on-going process such that your conscious mind may not perceive it until its decision making time and then you begin to take sub-optimal decisions. We cannot afford to leave a function as vital as this to volatile emotions so while it may feel horrible to be at some places, remember that emotions are a product of survival instinct that let you express yourself in the bid to find some ease. Do not allow the entirety of who you are be buried by them because when it all passes and you can see clearly, you’ll only see what it robbed you off and you may well count that as even more failure. Raising consciousness and being mindful of this goes a long way in saving you from ‘meanings’ that do not empower you to breakthrough from the bottom of life experiences.

Failure should not get to outlive most of your subsequent life experiences. It is inventory therefore should not take up space in your facility without creating some kind of value that can further your mission in life. Take stock of the greatest people and observe how they took their sour experiences, like inventory, and put it to work in creating the lives that they deserve. Look what Jack Ma, Abraham Lincoln, Arianna Huffington, Steve Jobs did with it. This can be our story. Failure can be inventory for you too and because life is such a sweetheart, it’ll find a way of asking you tomorrow, what you’ve done with yours.

Cheers!

 








MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 13

 

I prided myself in being more mature than my peers. I felt either too old or too young for the things that turned other kids into fire crackers. Fairy tales belonged behind screens and I never wished otherwise. Romance…the real kind with people who looked like the future me would, belonged in the future, right where my future self waited for me.

I understood the adult things on time – things like sacrifice, responsibility and obligation held enough meaning for a child like me to develop a palette that didn’t care much for sweet silly things.

You see, tea parties were for kids who used words like “jammies” and wouldn’t wear anything that wasn’t bedazzled. Things like that seldom lived beyond my thoughts. I was too busy exploring words on pages and regurgitating them as my thoughts on paper, in the best way a child could manage. Somehow, I realized early that there were more important things to do.

My teen years came draped in the same spirit. I’d swallow my emotions whole especially when they echoed desire for silly things. Things like dating your crush were silly to me just because they were – what business did 14 year-olds have with that anyway? Other things like school trips abroad were a tad silly (or at least i thought I’d be viewed as such) because I figured that preserving the finances of the family was my obligation too. My parents would kill me for this later.

It wasn’t so much about my age as it was about the feelings – the rightness of things, how tight or loose my chest felt when I weighed things against “greater causes”. How could my peers not see that there was always something at stake, with all the random, supposedly childish stuff we chose to do? How could folks not see how there was no sense in what a lot of us spent time doing?

It was culture, communal values and personal observations among other things, all taking root consciously or subconsciously. It was all the things that teach a child that personal truth has an order to it. It’s the way our subconscious picks up otherness and how we sometimes let that take preeminence over our needs in this present moment. It’s how we accord the future meaning based on happenings of the past and insist that the present should explore itself only within the boundaries of that formula.

These things worked out greatly in certain contexts. It awakened an early pursuit for purpose and a life with a higher meaning. It balanced me out morally, by societal standards. Heck, I kicked the hell out of school work for most of my academic career. But despite all these, I can tell you, in retrospect, that there are disadvantages of always living like there’s more important stuff to consider before dipping your feet into the present.

It robs you of any taste for disruption and risk; two things you must be willing to joyously embrace, to a certain degree, in order to stand the chance of holding truth that pulses in the same rhythm as your heart beat. Despite my colorful persona and people’s opinions that I can be fiery and daring, I know within myself that the paths they see are not those that challenge me the most. I know that there’s more digging to do and that the thought of calling the relics that may be dug up by name sometimes terrifies me because it’d need me to bury my feet in the heart of the present, damning consequences and tossing the lenses of obligation that have served as a moral compass for a long time. You see, the uncertainty in how that may look or feel can be frightening.

Despite thousands of quotes and memes that urge us to embrace our journeys and interrogate what we hold as true, the fact is that the process of unlearning that follows, is a hard thing. Unlearning that ourselves are supposed to be neat sensible, knowledgeable beings holding a clear map titled ‘Becoming’ is a hard thing. Learning that there is a wildness to us that should not be tamed – one that we need to keep alive so that we can fearlessly walk uneasy paths – is not an easy thing.

Sometimes, the most important thing to do is to acknowledge now; to embrace this phase and bare your skin to it even though it may become like parched desert ground for a moment or two. Sometimes, it’s to jump and borrow feathers from birds on your way down. Atimes, it’s not to wait until you’re twenty to have your first kiss. Even now, it may be to take up honesty with yourself concerning how you became who you are and whether you believe that’s all the story is or could be.

I think it may start out tasting like gravel; something that your teeth resists and your tongue rejects. But soon enough, this becoming begins to taste familiar…something like your soul, something like deep consciousness, something like bliss. I think that this is when we begin to truly thrive as our own people.

I believe that being comfortable with interrogating who we are and why we are, and accepting and exploring the role of where we are, are powerful things; events that no one should be ignorant about. Not us and certainly not our children or those with whom they’ll share their lives.

 

xoxo,

Nma








Great Men Walk the Streets Too

The Beggars and Mad People Society in Aba was an ecosystem of its own – bursting with activities; recruitment, retirement and even transfers. For the sake of this conversation, let’s ignore that those two adjectives stir up unease in the ears of a lot of people and call a spade what the layman in Nigeria would call a spade. I was very young and honestly intrigued by how sophisticated the system seemed to be to my childlike mind. This was an industry that boasted of individuals who had carved niches for themselves and dominated conversations of sane, gainfully engaged people over Ludo games or bottles of Crush. Some were known for their dance moves and others for the shows they unknowingly held for jobless youngsters in street corners. Somehow, they found a way to creep into the conversation of people who may not have realized that they had all along been noticing the trend in the kind of naira notes a certain beggar preferred or that another mad woman had given birth to her third baby in two years. People even went as far as having favorite beggars. I know I found some more interesting than the others.

 

Aba was a rowdy, energetic town whose turbulent energy permeated lives of all who lived in it whether or not it had their permission. Here, spontaneity was thrust upon you; unprecedented events had a way of fastening themselves unto your attention and somehow, whatever it was would seem spectacular enough to have been worthy of your precious time. On some days, it would be the tale of a child who had turned into a tuber of yam or bleating goat after picking money off the floor of Ahia Ohuru. On others, it would be of how the Bakassi boys had slaughtered a random teenager after they had placed their matchet on him and it turned red, indicating that he was a thief. On very uneventful days, a child or two would get missing and then parents all over the town would ground their children for a week or so, constantly reminding them of the dangers of the streets during “mber” months. The commercial verve coupled with the government’s seeming disinterest in the sustainable sanitization of the town only heightened the mounds of debris and chaos that characterized the town especially areas like Ngwa road, Ariaria Market and Obohia. Few residential areas had tarred roads, street gates and clean gutters and mine was one of them. We lived on Nweke Street – a long, clean street in Umungasi that housed everything from residential buildings to hospitals and then churches. Two and three story buildings dominated the street with the most prominent house being the stead of the mother of the current governor of Abia State as at then. The street was ripe with activity, birthing avenues and closes as off-shoots as it snaked its way towards Eziama. The influential and lowly inhabited it alike and in the crevices of this diversity, life sprang forth for children like me. My parents had made it clear that we were to stay indoors at all times and our housemaids did a fine job of enforcing that instruction with threats of reporting our mischief to our parents or in my case, telling my mum that I had bought a lavender-scented lip gloss from the shop opposite Jacob Memorial Hospital. Like most of the apartment buildings of the 90’s, ours on the second floor, had two balconies – one in front, spilling out from the sitting room and another at the rear of the building, just beside the kitchen. Somehow, the rear-side balconies popularly called “backyard” usually served as stores for keeping everything from drums of water to garbage cans, gas cylinders and tripods. Ours was no exception and so the most I experienced of the outside world as a child were from the other balcony which we called “front”. It was through evenings spent on this front that I met people, heard things, decided on who I liked or didn’t like and then learned valuable lessons on acknowledging the journeys of all men and how in some way, every story is worth telling.

 

Zam Zam was a beggar with the voice so powerful. On many occasions, the sun either rose with his voice piercing through our sleep in the dark or set with the melody, a vehicle to roll the day into oblivion. He had a severe limp and always wore dirty brown shirts. My memory gets blurry when I think of his head but I think he wore red face caps. Maybe I cannot remember because I could never look at him. Each time I heard his voice – a high pitched tenor that spread across Nweke Street and its environs with unnerving resolve – chills would run down my spine and I would run to whatever part of the house had the most people in it and rock myself back and forth waiting for the fear to leave with him. But he always lingered. Sometimes, he would hobble his way into our compound singing the same old song; zam zam zam…Chineke zam, zam o. Onye kere uwa biko zam zam o – a plea to God, the creator of the world to answer him. Perhaps everyone else felt it too; the street was always quiet enough for Zam Zam’s voice to be the most outstanding element. Even when it wasn’t quite dark, children rolling tires on the streets disappeared, the hoots from bike men suddenly faded away and the sounds of pestles banging their fists on the chests of mortars became dull. He would sometimes sit in our compound, right beside the parked cars singing his heart out, not minding that no one ever gave him as little as 50 kobo, which was enough to buy one Sprint Bubblegum in the late 90’s. No one gave him anything but no one also asked him to go away. Everyone was fine with the arrangement except for me. The more he sang, the more I cringed in fear until he became a tool with which the housemaids taunted me. All he came to do was beg but in truth, he only taught me to house fear. At least he did so until the streets went on for months and then years without his shrill voice piercing the dark to inflict us with his droning melody. The day we remembered to ask, we heard he had died. However, this was just one man. There were others out there like Emeka.

 

Emeka was tall, dark and gripping in the way that most mad people we had seen were not. He had a strut that did a fine job of hiding his slight limp and full beards, nothing compared to his teeny weeny afro. He wore a soulful look with the same bland expression all the time but there was also an air of dignity that other mad men such as Onye Ike did not have. The soot and grime clung to him desperately but we barely noticed them each time he walked past wearing those whitish tunics. He treaded the streets with his feet bare and smoked every chance he got. I never heard his voice but I always saw his mouth move when he asked a shop owner for a cigarette or bread. I wondered how his voice would sound – Was it soft or gruff in support of his beards and huge appearance? I wondered how he got the money – did he have family who sneaked up to him at night and replenished his pot of gold? Somehow we knew his name was Emeka but didn’t dare approach him or even scream from afar for fear that he might mark our faces and plot a revenge. He had built a reputation for himself of leaping into the air to kick hell out of whoever stood or walked in front of him. When people began to stay away, he failed to realize it so once in a while he would spontaneously leap and kick the hell out of the “nothing” that stood or walked in front of him. The most interesting thing about Emeka was that he disappeared and reappeared once in a while looking refreshed – hairs trim, clothes clean and just a tad more pristine. Whenever he returned to the streets from his getaways, people talked. They said he had sober days in which he would spend time with his family. They’d clean him up, feed him and keep him away from the cigarettes. But they said that his illness always came back – clung to him like the parasite that it was and would not leave him for more than was necessary. They said it was a spell; a man had found Emeka atop his wife and had cast a spell on him.

The last time he disappeared, the news we heard was slightly different. It was said that a powerful pastor had prayed for him and gotten him healed and that he had given his life to Christ. Some said he had even stopped smoking and constantly sat at his family shop at Immaculate Avenue. Anyway, it was hard to confirm the story because no one ever saw him for themselves. It was always someone they knew that came bearing the news and so we took it for what it was, knowing that a narrative that had changed hands so often was most likely adulterated. Even though we were unsure, we hoped for his sake that it was true. We did not see him for weeks and then months went by without seeing him leaping into the air to kick no one in particular. The day we remembered to ask, we heard he had died.

 

Many important things happened in Aba; Ariaria Market happened all the time, wealthy men and their politics happened, Bakassi and their killings happened but these people also happened. Our chests were not too full to house their stories and so in the midst of talking about Orji Uzor Kalu’s mother and how her house on Nweke Street became a party hub each time she returned from her numerous trips abroad, we found time to notice that the man who had sat by Nicholas Street begging for alms was now a cobbler at the same spot. We found it necessary to notice that the new mad woman spoke English well enough to be a former Abia Poly student. We somehow found it necessary to sit on our front porches every evening and tell stories about passersby because they somehow deserved attention whether or not they were supposed to be worthy of our time. Somehow, we found life to be more meaningful when everybody participated.

 

With the Somebody Syndrome a never ending fad in Nigeria, it is easy to ignore those without the standard identity tags – titles, crazy money (Here, for your wealth to be recognized, it had to be regarded as crazy money, bastard money or too much money), ostentatious style or a recognizable share of the national cake through contracts and/or public office roles. This explains why we were forced to notice Orji who was crippled but owned two three-story buildings on Nweke Street and an adaptable automobile. For the most part, in Nigeria, you are either somebody or nobody. From a critical standpoint, it is easy to see how the corruption that has so eaten into the fabric of the Nigerian society is hinged to the exaggerated sense of entitlement of the privileged to the detriment of the masses who have also in some ways been programmed to believe that their impoverished states are perpetual with no elements of importance to the society. Many of those who dare to think that they are deserving of something better are driven by a rabid sense of desperation to be regarded as superior to their reality and then indulge in devious and ruthless activities usually designed to displace the affluent and covet their good fortune at any costs. An intricate system of vices and injustice has scored itself on the heart of society simply because of the inability of people to acknowledge otherness.

Now, I am all ripe with womanhood and no longer have a balcony nestled halfway into the sky from which I can notice whose head is balding or whose husband has returned from wherever it is that family men disappeared to once in a while. So when I walk the streets, I try to find these stories in eyes, scowls and grunts because every second unfurls with humans being and deserving to be seen. I take notes of how familiar faces go missing during certain seasons and how divergent political opinions are no longer expressed only through riots but also queer means like keeping a coffin for months in front of a piece of land as a warning to the government to stay away. The tales of men like Zam Zam and Emeka are only two out of millions of stories that when acknowledged, exercise our humanity and give meaning to the context in which we can give ourselves to the society. All of us are life happening at the same time; no one is just a filler. The stories most untold are usually windows into the anatomy of culture and society within which we can discover what ails communities and decipher problems that can birth sustainable change in the world we inhabit. The thing about privilege is that while we do not always acknowledge it, we bury ourselves in it until all we can see are reflections of ourselves and those who look like us. We sit within our bulletproof cars with tinted glasses and rush past life happening in its fullness because what we have defined as a journey should not include the beggar by the roadside who calls you Oga mi each time you drive past or the cab man who has driven past your mansion every day for the last five years. You see, the thing that makes life itself resides in all of us and a gross imbalance will continue to exist until we become aware of each other even though acknowledging others can sometimes breed unease. It is navigating these kind of uncomfortable conversations that uncovers questions that carry in their bellies, answers whose concealment has left us wanting. The thing about otherness is that it consists of elements without which the wholeness of self cannot be achieved.

Self lies with you but finds its essence in causes bigger than itself. Socio-economic, scientific and political phenomena are explored within the veins of humanity and its evolution as informed by every man’s existence. Tools like language and science are under-utilized when we fail to engage all parameters that can possibly expand their usefulness in forging more sustainable versions of civilization. So I think that we must awaken to a higher consciousness that allows for the celebration of resources that come alive each time a pair of feet hit the ground. It is now vital for us to count it a privilege that greatness may not be as scarce as we believed it to be; embrace the knowledge that it litters the streets disguised in the unusual and sometimes, the unwanted. Accepting this discomfort that comes with acknowledging that greatness lies raw and unrefined in the questions and answers that we embody is gold yet untapped.