#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.

THE MONEY MISTAKE NO ENTREPRENEUR SHOULD BE ABLE TO AFFORD

 

Ladies and gentlemen of the Start-up World get in here!

One mistake you cannot afford to make as an entrepreneur is not understanding how money creation works as a function of value creation or refinement. Corporate employees can get away with this provided they have a specialized understanding of the aspect of the finance equation related to their job description. As an entrepreneur, you absolutely cannot afford this luxury. What happens is that you frustrate every idea that you cannot bring to life because of lack of knowledge of how monetary value can be created from an idea and the consequences would mostly be the loss of benefit(s) that could potentially be yours: investors, market share, recognition etc.

Let me give you an instance, I always wanted to do something in T.V (I probably still will) but I just couldn’t figure out how money was made from T.V. I mean the real generation and flow of money via T.V programs. Because of this, I could never quite develop my ideas around this because I could not map out how to allocate resources or what my value propositions would be for collaborations or anything that could potentially be of help to the development of the idea. I tell you, it’s just a long messy business.

So let’s start from the very beginning.

  1. Indulge your curiosity

Somehow, just somehow, we have been made to believe that expressing curiosity unveils your ignorance and tags you “slow” especially when there is a certain level of expectation of you to know some things. The truth however, is that expressing curiosity truly dispels ignorance. We need to recondition our minds to understand that no matter the reason or circumstance, the only outcome of not asking a question is not having an answer. This is exactly what we do not want because while questions are a pathway to knowledge, the knowledge itself resides in the answers.

Thanks to the millennial disposition to embrace google at the expense of 1001 other viable forms of learning, it is actually in a sense, easier to access a wider range and depth of knowledge including opportunities to meet and impress mentors especially if your approach is brilliant. People are actually willing to offer you more experiential learning experiences than you think through conversations, assignments etc. provided they recognize your inclination to deploy the knowledge being dispersed to you.

Take advantage of this and ask right. You really do not have to burden a particular person with the responsibility of curing your 20-something years’ worth of financial ignorance. You can glean from the experiences of different maestros and sources and embrace the robustness that comes with fitting the jigsaw pieces together. The good think about genuine thirst for knowledge is that it is seldom satiable.

  1. Task Yourself to Deploy

True understanding of a subject matter comes with being able to exercise your knowledge of it in various forms. I cannot say that I am a well-rounded person if I was a great child but am clueless about being a functional adult. I cannot call myself a pastry chef if all I know how to make are fish and meat pies; I would simply be a meat and fish pie chef. Linearity is great for specialization but the thing is that as an entrepreneur, you have an equally great need for generalist skills, one of which would be finance. General here does not imply a basic understanding because you certainly need to be darn good at certain things for your outcomes to leave the comfort zone. Or don’t you think it is more comfortable to manage smaller wealth portfolios than the larger ones.

My point? Deploy the knowledge you gained from indulging your curiosity. This is vital whether or not you have a functional financial system to apply it to. Have conversations that’ll allow for you to regurgitate what you know and be challenged, write about and invent scenarios, design case studies or at least try to solve already existing ones, volunteer to help solve a money problem. Just do whatever that allows you to exercise that knowledge and make sure that in the end, you create some form of value other than money itself.

Let me tell you something important: You unconsciously make demands on yourself for the resources you’ve been provided with. That is to say that when your mind probes and cannot find gratification in you applying the knowledge that you were privy to (either through increased financial gain, competence or recognition), you will begin to feel frustrated about that issue. You’ll find yourself saying things like “I just can’t get a hang of it”, “Despite my efforts…”, “I need more clarity” etc. You see, clarity on anything comes be engaging that thing.

  1. Engage Money

Money is a busy-body that craves attention. Take a look at your bills for the month and tell me that that’s a lie. You also need to work out ways to demand money’s attention and have it flow in your direction. Make rules for your money, track how it walks in and out on you. What are your beliefs about it and how healthy are they? What are your expense triggers and how much control do you have over them?

What I am basically trying to say is that as an entrepreneur or anyone really, you need to learn the behavioral patterns of money in your life and business. That way, you can put a leash on it and in more ways than a few, get it to function in a manner that is favorable to you. The goal here is to heighten your consciousness of the roles money and finance in general play in your everyday life and business and being able to navigate these events with a higher degree of awareness.

Part of this engagement is enjoying the dividends of controlling money. There’s very little that hails money and spurs you on to making more than a functional reward system. Learn about those and deploy. Actively try your hands at earning, investing, saving and spending wisely. Don’t overdo just an aspect of this engagement and if possible, make this exploration with someone with shared values and interests.

In being consistent with these seemingly easy steps, you’ll find yourself demystifying the concept of wealth creation and being able to explore it in manners that you once considered beyond you. You must understand that you will continue to be a creative who runs around in circles of ideas and brainstorming sessions until you figure out how you can string these ideas like beads onto a string, with money/finance being the string in this case.

You should come to see that while it seems as though money is the outcome of implementing your ideas, it is really more importantly, a vehicle for driving execution. The wealth that you build as dividends of your successful business can be considered a favorable outcome for your personal life as the entrepreneur but as long as were talking business, it’s capital and you must know how to source and explore it to its limits.

Don’t brush the simplicity of these tips aside; personally, I sought the deep, technical and cutting-edge answers to my money mindset issues but had to learn that a great deal of the answers that I kept on getting fit nicely in these three boxes. And no matter how you’re pocket is, I am learning that there’s no perfect place to start. For what it’s worth, broke makes for a more dramatic start, a possibly more interesting journey and more jaw-dropping testimonials when you hit milestones, so get started anyway.

Cheers!

 

SAPIOSEXUAL AND OTHER ADJECTIVES

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 4

I appreciate a man who’s inspired, who knows this and that about anything and is competent at what he does. Great hair would be nice and I certainly think that a voice box dipped in honey would be fantastic. Oh and there are things that I haven’t yet labeled that I look out for – like the style with which he wears his skin and how he controls the rhythm of his mannerisms to suit the atmosphere around him. Some of these are not things that you capture with “Oh! He’s handsome”. So I don’t! This explains why describing someone who got my attention is always a delightful speech punctuated by gestures and mimics and onomatopoeia. People are too rich in themselves to be treated like a monotonous maroon-themed ensemble. People are rainbows.

The day I learned of the word “sapiosexual”, I was glad that I found another adjective that could describe people, perhaps even myself, without making them seem too plain, like vanilla-flavored muffins. I do not consider myself to be simple; the blend of full brows, bold eyes, full lips with a perfectly shaped cupid bow and a forest for hair are not simple on any face. My mind on the other hand has always been a whirl pool of anything that fits right in. Again, not simple and after rocky phases that led to finally rising above most of my insecurities, I honestly don’t care for stereotypes and cheesy punch lines in describing me. So perhaps, the harder I am on the tongue, the more convinced I am that you’re getting close. And every smart woman can tell apart the texture of flattery from her truth. J

I guess the point is that there is no right place for stereotypes or single stories of people and what they embody and this holds true even when you think that your motivations are right. You do not set defining walls around your idea of a person using just what irks or fascinates you the most about them. Even when you intend it to be a compliment, an over-used label or impression of a person tends to lose its complimentary effect and become grating on the nerves. Because, a person is a great communicator and loves it when you brandish words like eloquent, expressive, articulate etc. in describing them, does not make it okay to forget that they are dynamic people with the capacity to evolve or thrive in other spaces.

I recently had a personal experience in which a friend ticked me off. This person apparently has a knack for intelligent, highly driven women and was probably drawn to me for the same reason. Even though he’d acknowledged some other traits of me that he found endearing, everything always circled back to me being brilliant. It was great to be seen as more than just a pretty face but intellectual prowess soon became the underlying explanation for anything that I did right. I could make a choice on a whim to do something that I felt was interesting or even purely random and this friend would come up with a theory of how some realm of intelligence was responsible. Sometimes when I did things that didn’t fit into neat boxes of brilliance or were silly, I could sense the disorientation it brought to the idea of me. On one occasion, I went off on him because even though the underlying intent was meant to be approving, it started to stifle the idea of me being anything than a few neat adjectives that he felt were apt.

I know that it can be easier to fall into the habit of describing or addressing people in a certain way, even when we have the best intentions. However, it can have a counter-effect on the subjects. When we label people – especially in relationships – either through the way we describe them or treat them, we are unconsciously building a narrative around them and creating reference points that will form basis for evaluating their actions and inactions. It’s also essential to be sensitive to the whether there is an aspect of themselves that the subjects might seek to express at a particular time. In as much as, most people (and I think I speak for the women here) would appreciate not being describe with cheesy, textbook lines all the time, we also do not want you to take that one remarkable thing about us and turn it into walls that we can only pray to jump over.

The thing about stereotypes is that they do not have to be totally false. On the other hand, they also can be hinged to pleasant attributes. However, what makes them negative is the idea of people holding them to be true and obtainable at all times, despite varying situations that may have caused change to occur. While this may seem like an issue relevant to only relationships, it is noteworthy that all aspects of our life are fed by the quality of relationships that we maintain whether personal o professional. I also think that empathy has a great role to play in how we address, treat and even describe people.

It is truly rewarding (in both romantic and platonic relationships) to be intentional about how we label the other person especially when we communicate these impressions of them with. And for heaven’s sake, let’s be done with tasteless adjectives when we’re trying to win the other person over. Take them all in and make an attempt to articulate the miracle that they are.

The “Journey to the Centre of Yourself” Series: The Introduction (Ep. 1)

“A man’s chief delusion is the conviction that there are causes order than his own state of consciousness”

– Bob Proctor

31st December 2016 is still a blur. I cannot quite remember the events that took place on that day but I definitely remember the emotions that I felt. All I wanted that day was for 2016 to come to an end. I didn’t care for the new year; I just wanted 2016 to crawl into eternity and never show up again. And yes, wanting a year to come to an end and being eager for the next can be two unrelated things. When it struck 12.00 midnight, I cried profusely in relief and I knew that I did not want to feel that way about 2017.

Last year was the most grating year in which I had proprietary claims over most of the challenges that I faced. Before this time, most of the hard times I had faced either stemmed from family-related issues that certainly didn’t have to sit on my shoulders alone or turned out to be personal problems that I could solve without rocking my boat. I thrive amidst challenges so I would seldom tag one a “problem” unless it was grave. However last year, I dealt with the most intense situations that I had ever faced in both my personal and professional lives.

In that one year, I was stretched in ways I could not believe and tasted life in the most exotic flavors I had come to know. This was in itself, a beautiful thing but things somehow spiraled out of my control and I soon began to amass failed outcomes in a lot of areas. I have always set and lived up to high standards that I set for myself and so in the face of erratic outcomes, I was thrown off balance. My tussle to stay on top of things led me to a whole new level of decision making and kick-started patterns that I had been subconsciously conditioned to set in motion during times like this. So, all hell broke loose.

By the end of the year, I was choking on aspirations, unexecuted commitments (to both myself and other people), toxic emotions and a desperate need for redemption. Somehow, I managed to keep my professional life fairly above the storm (I’ll address how and why as we progress in the series) but other aspects of my life were the opportunity cost.

It’s almost a year later and unimaginable things have happened. I have sacrificed self, time, financial resources and even some relationships to pursue personal transformation and development and raise my level of consciousness. In the last 11 months, I have quit my job, read tens of books, consumed over 130 transformational multimedia resources, written a memoir (don’t wait for it to get published just yet), volunteered, evolved alongside my aspirations, gone on a social media cleanse and spent an insane amount of money on training and coaching programs. I have inspired myself, disappointed myself, broken myself into jigsaw pieces and spent late nights trying to create “the dream” from this pieces.

Right now, I can say that I have grown and learned a lot about my truth but the fact is that growth doesn’t always resemble what you envisage it to be. I am owning my truth and now feel more responsible for my reality. Like my mentor says, “clarity messes you up”; clarity and the pursuit of purpose aren’t just the romantic reasons that you list when asked why you attended a self-help seminar. They are terrifying responsibilities but they are infinitely rewarding. Frankly, I am still adjusting to exploring myself in the way that I am right now and silence has served me better than it ever has in my decades of living. However, I have had the privilege of interacting with incredibly bright minds this year and I can say that there is more commonality in humanity than we know. In more ways than makes sense, our journeys, as people, are alike and we are all seeking self-actualization in increasingly complex and dynamic societies. So as this new year comes to an end, I am bursting with a sense of responsibility that nudges me to share what I now call “the journey to the centre of myself” even though it’s a never ending one.

The beauty of this is that even though I will disperse what I know in the context of my own experiences and probably draw from those of people that I’ve interacted with, the essence of it all lies in principles, mindsets and approaches to life as we know it. We will talk about a plethora of things that, even though are not technical, will span across diverse facets of life including business and career.

If we’re going to have this conversation, then we’ll have to do it right. This means that I am going to endeavor to be as honest as possible and because this is a series, we will have the luxury of having a multi-dimensional approach to issues that are relevant to our journeys especially as young, inspired people hustling for positive change. Articulating some issues might get a tad uneasy and for you – following the series – dealing with some realizations might be rocky but I’ve learned that you can’t relate with your truth based on the level of ease that it affords you. These pieces of yourself that you might find, will form building blocks that will open you up to the real work – living intentionally and owning your truth. I hope that with this series, I’ll be able to pass on the torch that has set me one on of the most rewarding paths ever.

So grab your tickets guys, it’s time for the homecoming!

P.S: This is not a motivational series so stay home if that’s what’s you’re after. This is not also a tell-all reality show in print. This is intended to be an expository journey for people seeking to learn from another’s experiences to raise consciousness regarding life issues common to us.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified neurolinguistic programmer or psychologist. So as far as professional psychotherapy is concerned, manage your expectations wisely.

A Penny on Tragic Change

posted in: Free Thoughts, Ink Africa | 2

It is this phenomenon of change that accords the present its value. It is what makes us seek our preservation so that we can have something from today, something familiar, when tomorrow comes. It is uprooting of a version of self to birth another that colors experiences and gives meaning to memories and hope. It is here that the future gains its significance – the ability to take what we currently have and make it into something new and ours too, whether or not it’s positive. It is this nature of ours to cast off deep-seated parts of ourselves, knowingly or not, to take on forms that ultimately mark our procession to another realm that defines what we all call life even though we all own different versions in the most similar way.

I think that in many ways change, especially tragic change, is abrupt. Even when the process seems slow, giving enough time to erase or unlearn some things one backspace tap at a time, the momentum gained is never enough to make relearning easy or healing swift. The weight of “alien-ness” is not something designed to be familiar neither is it permitted to be avoidable. How then have we not mastered the inevitable? How then can we find meaning in this?

It had been a year since I last saw her but I could almost bet she’d look the same – fair scalp clothed with short hair too curly to be Nigerian, skin still glowing from over seventy years of being polished with lemons and a smile still sterling like a crescent moon bringing youth to the old night sky. They had told me over the phone that she – my grandmother – whose mind was sharp as a pin was now experiencing age-associated memory impairment. I had spoken with her a few times to scold her over not taking her drugs but her resolve was always intimidating and I would always cajole and plead instead. So when I walked into her room, I was unsure of what to expect but was certain I would encounter something unexpected. She beamed when she saw me, my siblings and our friends and then rose slowly and reached out for me. I hugged her, making sure to bury myself in her familiar softness. I asked how she was and what had happened all this while and she told me everything except that most of it were unknown to her, resident in her imagination. My sister had already told me how our little cousin and his mum had come to visit her and how afterwards, she announced to everyone that her grandchild had come to show her his wife. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when she told me the same thing and how my father who had come the previous day to plead with her to take her drugs, had come to warn her sternly not to take any of her routine pills until he gave his approval.

Each time she said any of these bizarre things, my sister and I would share a look and silence that said “Old age is taking her away from us”. She had become a colorful tree in autumn, losing a leaf after another the more she said and thought those unreal things. After a while she turned to me and said in Igbo, “Nwadiuto (the name she calls me which means ‘Sweet Child’) went to serve her fatherland (referring to the NYSC program) for many years now and never came back, not even to see me. I smiled at her and said “I am here Mama” and that was when I saw that even she was before now, was not fully aware of how much of herself had been evaporating. She bowed her head and exhaled and was silent for a minute as though she was mourning the loss of her youth – herself. She looked up at me, smiled and patted my shoulder and then went on to tell us how she was no longer herself because she could no longer change into shorts and fight off anyone hassling her grandchildren.

I can see it already; how we all are scrambling for more time with her, making her promises that we hope would be potent enough to extend her time with us, trying to make room within ourselves to house the inevitable and hoping that our love, deeds and prayers are enough to elongate this path of relocation that she treads. We hope like anyone else would, that the more we care, love and live, the easier it would be for us all to transition into the space that we now prepare for her eventual absence. What is striking is that what is a slow march for us is a sudden fall for her – not being able to recognize her grandchild even after 45 minutes of sweet talk, seeing the young ones as adults and ignoring common sense on a whim. So as we seize the gift of time to make room for oncoming change, we must now remember that within her is a raging wind, ripping up elements of her that she once thought permanent and that these free spaces must be filled with positivity and enough of our presence to yield growth. You see, change, especially tragic change is always in some way, abrupt.

Like Anais Nin once said,

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically.

We grow sometimes in one dimension,

And not in another; unevenly.

We grow partially. We are relative.

We are mature in one realm, childish in another.

The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present.

We are made up of layers, cells and constellations”

It is sometimes in the bosom of anguish and discomfort that we are empowered to make room for ourselves to breathe and thereby grow in some way. Loss has popularized itself as unwanted and people have spent verve and time combating the occurrence of the inevitable. Society evangelizes strength in the face of tragedy and people are led to latch unto broken pieces of themselves, fastening them together with duty, memories and an exaggerated sense of loyalty. Herein lies the danger of a single story; clinging to what is now the past at the expense of allowing yourself room to accept that that absence is here to stay and can be filled with a legacy that will birth a more rewarding narrative. Until we begin to truly see how discomfort and insight from these experiences can spur growth, we would never be able to harness the potential that is embedded in change, no matter the kind. Our strength should show up in letting us feel emotions without consuming them ourselves because as hard as it is to accept, loss in itself doesn’t kill but grief does. It should show up in graceful acceptance of the present and objectively and radically applying resources within our reach to create value for ourselves, others and even the legacy of what we had just been lost. This applies not just to personal lives and relationships but to professional affairs and communal ones too. It is in our interpretations of events and reactions to them that we have the chance to make change – no matter the kind – precious and productive.

Focus: Redefining Perfection

Somehow we’ve been made to believe that since we cannot house perfection beneath our skin or even exude it, images on paper always should. Perhaps a reminder of what we could be with more “effort” and faith. Somewhere in this age, standards have been etched unto  “paper-worthy” narratives and like a plantation of blooming palms, they all pose, leaning on their perfection with hair billowing like palm fronds and jewels signing off their majesty in our minds. Someway, mannequins and humans have managed to look like doppelgangers in everywhere that isn’t reality.

It all seems forgivable until we begin to submit our wellness to the standards of inanimate images who ironically only reflect dreams that people like you think they cannot quite embody. It seems forgivable that all models and sketches are of women with lush pliant eyelashes until women whose kinky hair found their way to their eyes begin to carry shame upon themselves in handfuls. It all seems pardonable until it just isn’t and right now, it isn’t.

Recently, I made a sketch of a lady and believe me when I say it was a decent sketch [I am a decent artist ;)] The only thing was that as a result of the angle at which my head was bent while I drew, her own face came out somewhat angled. I made do with her and went ahead to give her great hair and shape; people in real life have all sorts of heads and facial features and each unique stroke of character that their flesh wears makes it all the more striking. Beauty really doesn’t need permission to thrive and until this resonates as truth in us, we will keep submitting our glory to the unrealized dreams that images on mag covers and canvasses carry, for validation. Tell me you see the tragedy too.

Anyway, as you already expect, a number of people seemed unnecessarily unsettled about something being quite wrong with the appearance of the lady I had drawn. I couldn’t help but think about how, perhaps, the standard really isn’t on paper anymore. These images of unrealistic versions of what human beauty should look like have crystallized in our minds that every other person including even the “models” on paper are now passed through the lens of these socio-culturally imposed reflections in order to earn the definition of being that they ‘deserve’.

With people, perfection thrives with focus – focus on the individual miracles that only you can shed light on. Miracles that can reside anywhere, from bones to heart to mind. There are no limits to where the pieces of perfection you embody can lodge themselves. It’s all you so do not disregard the whole simply because where your glory lies happens to be a blind spot for someone else who needs repositioning.

Sometimes, the ugliness (and I do not refer to just physical beauty) we say we see in ourselves has nothing to do with what we hear others say about us and everything to do with the blueprint we have of self. The problem is that a lot of times, we forget that one of the things love and beauty have in common is that it is not their job to be easy on the eyes. Always remember that the interpretation of anything draws its essence from dimension of focus and that functionality cannot be maximized unless true knowledge is attained. Focus on everything that is right about yourself and watch how your impression of yourself evolves into true self-awareness from which you can explore and optimize the creation of sustainable value exclusive to you.

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