Lessons from Life

Today, many young people graduate (or generally move on in life) as “still births” – dead on delivery, unable to cope with the expectations of the New Economy, and as green horns joining the mass labour market at the mercy of employers. Striving at the base of the pyramid, much of today’s youth stand the risk of being frustrated after years of training within the four walls of our tertiary institutions… but it should not be so! True, dynamic global precedence is not in conformity with the present level of preparation young Nigerians are exposed to but we need to take the bull by the horns and carve a path for ourselves within our chosen career sphere. Let me share seven quick tips with you, as defined by the lessons I have learnt over a relatively busy three-decade period.

A baby will never walk from the mother’s back! Many people love to remain in what has been severally described as “comfort zones,” hoping that they will be able to move on to better things from there. Unfortunately, it never happens that a baby that stays on the mother’s back will learn to walk; it comes with practice, failure (from which one just needs to rise and move on), triumphs (which will always be a great reference point when failure stares you in the eye again) and repeated attempts. I can’t forget the day my younger sister walked for the first time; she would walk a few steps, fall, stand up, walk… and then she really walked without support! Just as a closed palm can never receive anything, a life that will not dare can never achieve the extraordinary. Take the step, get off mummy’s back… and tell the great story of your success later.

1 minus 2 is impossible until you know the answer. In my elementary school, we were told that it was impossible to subtract a higher number from a lower one. The answer, in the rare moments the questions was asked, was actually “impossible!” But a few years later, in secondary school, I was told that if a higher number was subtracted from a lower number, I would have a negative number. It was no longer termed impossible, simply because we had an answer to it at this point. How many times in life are we almost tempted to call certain things impossible? If you could just learn more about the problem, you will soon come to terms with the fact that “impossible” is just an excuse we give when we do not have enough knowledge to tackle a problem. The answer may be strange, but every problem has a solution. As a student who loved his advanced mathematics, I came to realize that the more complex the problem, the better your chance at explaining the solution with some air of confidence (and pride). 1 minus 2 is not “impossible”, you only need to gain enough knowledge to know the answer.

Today is a snapshot, tomorrow is in the full-length movie. Have you ever thought about the difference between a snapshot – that simply shows where things stand only at the moment the shutter went off, nothing more – and a full-length movie, which usually tells the complete story? For a snap-shot, you may see a dull face. But for the movie, that dull face may regain a smile few minutes later. It would be wrong for you to then judge that face by what the snap-shot says. Today is like that, it is only a reflection of the temporary state of things, it does not define the final outcome of any process. Today may look dull and helpless, but there’s always a chance to change tomorrow. While many will look at today’s picture and laugh at you, what they have no access to is the brighter tomorrow that follows – as long as you commit yourself to the efforts that can transform a day of tears into a lifetime of laughter. Move on, there’s still a chance to change the eventual outcome.

20 friends for 20 years? No way! I thought it was a joke each time I heard this said. Twenty years after leaving primary school, I’m now wondering where some of my “20 friends” from St. Peters’ Demonstration Primary School in Akure are. Reality is that some of them are doing very well and I can probably get through to them by asking a few others, but there will be those who have either moved on geographically or down on the social pyramid. Twenty years from now, will I still be able to look around to see my 2008 “20 friends”? I doubt it. Naturally, water will find its level and even if new technologies help friends stay in touch, some of them will find out that they really don’t have much in common anymore. While you speak of career development, some are wondering if you’re not “taking that thing too far”. Twenty friends could even chose to remain in the same location for more than twenty years but the chances are that some will break away from the pack. Where will you be in 20 years? Look around you today, and note that based on the choices we make and relevant actions that follow, only few out of every twenty will break beyond the glass ceiling.

Don’t take that job, build a career! There is a great difference between a job and a career. A job earns you a monthly cheque, and maybe some prestige but a career does all that and also allows you to stand at a vantage position through which you can influence positive change. Many people are trapped in 9-to-5 cages, waking up everyday to the annoying reality of having to perform that boring routine often masked as “work.” While it is true that many young Nigerians do not have a fair idea of what they wish to do by the time they choose (or have chosen for them) their courses of study, it is also true that certain levels of education (and learning, even outside the walls of an academic institution) should expose us to the opportunity of defining what can give us both satisfaction and an opportunity to get reward for the value we provide. Stop and think about what career path allows you to combine your passion with your skills – and offers you economic value – and start the journey towards it. It may not be a straight road to your career path, but you’d be glad you took the time (and pain) to locate that path. There is nothing as exciting as doing what you would gladly do for free, and being handsomely rewarded for it!

The whole world only stands aside for those who know where they’re going. This statement is as true as the fact that day comes after night, and has stuck with me as a life-long lesson. As it were, not much of the world have an idea of where they’re headed – and that explains why the few who do enjoy the ovation of others. If you’ve ever been in a crowd, try this: tell the crowd around you to please make way for you. Some would turn around as if to say, “who’s this rude guy who thinks he knows better than us all” but just as they do that, there’s some room for you to take a step forward. It’s like that when the world comes to know you as a focused person; every time they are aware of something related to what you proclaim as your life’s direction, they send you a text message to notify you. At various points in my life, I have learnt to speak up about my life’s direction and I have been rewarded with many periods when the world stands aside for me because I have given expression to a clear direction. Life gets easier and opportunities become clearer when we have a better idea of where we are headed. Where are you headed in life?

Nigeria is a land of opportunities – only for the prepared! In a few years, we will see some people and call them lucky, saying that they seem to be getting all the attention. It won’t be a matter of luck but adequate preparation. I have often said that Nigeria is on sale because smart people are learning and working hard to position themselves as solution providers in various areas of the economy. As young people, we often stand the benefit of being able to see farther into the future and possibly predict how new attempts will offer solutions to the problems we see around today. It is my submission that there will be two categories of Nigerians in the next few years – those who will keep complaining, and others that will be rewarded for the problems they solve. The choice, really, belongs to each individual. Nigeria has many problems, but haven’t you noticed how certain people have been getting rewards for solving key problems? Actually, I think those things we call problems are actually opportunities begging for exploitation. As I told my Ajegunle.org students in August 2007, shine your eye!

I continue to learn more lessons by the day, and trust that I will be able to share them before my fingers slow down on keyboards. With the opportunity to look back at my life on the 1st of January, 2008, I could only laugh at some of the moments when I failed to heed the lessons of life myself. But as usual, tomorrow (which begins the moment after you read this phrase) presents another opportunity for us to improve our lives based on the lessons we have learnt from life – and those other lessons we are able to pick from others’ lives, through books or other channels.

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