When I was much younger, I remember always asking my daddy for a bicycle. His response was always, “don’t worry, if you come first in school, I will buy you a bicycle”. I guess that happened to a lot of us growing up yeah? Our parents operated a reward system for us where they measured our hard work based on our results and rewarded us for it. In my days as a university student, it was different, for every distinction I made, I got N5,000. My point? Reward. Hard work usually paid off. I grew up believing that life was not a bed of roses and so I hard to work hard to earn success. I had to go through the process you know, study, take exams, go to the next class… I also had to learn about failure and how that is not the end of one’s life. You fail once, you try again… I learnt, that everything good thing comes in time and you can never hurry your future.
Now those were the kind of principles I was raised with. Enter the real world now. Young people these days don’t want to wait. They want that car, and they want it NOW. They want that house and they want it NOW. They want fame and they want it NOW. They want the exotic life and they want it NOW. No one wants to work hard or go through the process. They just want to make it and make it now, and make it big. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but life don’t work that way. Hardly does one wake up one morning to be a billionaire or the world’s most famous celebrity. Let’s even come down to a more accessible reality. Nigeria. Most graduates do not just get out of school and land a job in an oil company where they are given a fast car, great house and all-expense-paid trips to the Bahamas every year. You don’t get out of school and start your own company and all the profits will roll in from the first day. This is real life and real life in Naija for that matter, not fairy tales, Nollywood or even Hollywood.
Here in the real world, you essentially have to work hard to amount to anything and I mean work really hard. Except you’re privileged to have a father or mother who is high up there in the society and can pull some strings for you, but really I don’t see how anyone can gain fulfillment from getting things they do not deserve. Let’s not go into that one because I’m sure a lot of us will not agree. Let me however make a quick illustration so you get the idea. I know someone where I’m serving who got into the organization based on the recommendation of one of the senior directors. His parents are highly placed, no doubt and he essentially just does what he feels like. Last month, he came to work just 7 times in the entire month. Now that’s the point I’m making. How can such a person feel comfortable riding on his parents’ relationships with others, gaining favours and yet doing nothing to be worthy of it? I’m digressing… Anyways, sadly, hardwork doesn’t always seem to pay in Nigeria and people lose the ability to persist…
Back to the main point. Making a success out of your life does not happen in one sweep, neither does it happen overnight; it is a gradual process. As babies, we learned to crawl, stand, walk and then run. That’s mostly how life works. Processes. Because a lot of us are moved by what we see, we tend to be intimidated by peers and other people who made it big when they were our age. What we mostly fail to understand is that those people have stories that we likely know nothing about. They endured the process and finally got to where they are. Mark Zuckerberg did not wake up one morning and launch the facebook social media. Actually, it did not result from weeks or months of incubation. It resulted from years of incubation. He started out by developing computer programs and building softwares and then many years later, Facebook came. My point? There was a process and he stayed in it.
My next case study is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, an author I have deep respect for. If you haven’t read any of her books, you must! They are absolutely brilliant! Her first book “Purple Hibiscus” won her the Commonwealth prize for best first book. Her first book; not her first work. Adichie wrote several articles and short stories before she eventually wrote her first book that launched her into limelight. Did you know that Adichie was studying medicine at the University of Nigeria but quit at some point and went to the US to study a totally different course? (Communications and Political Science) Her coursemates back then ridiculed her and said she did not know what she was doing, but I guess today, it turns out she really did know what she was doing. I know this because one of them happens to be a friend to my elder sister. Adichie did not wake up one morning and become one of Africa’s most celebrated authors. She went through a process of editing other people’s works, researching, learning and writing random works, some of which were probably never even recognized and after a few years of staying in the process, she finally “hit the jackpot”.
So I’ve given a couple of examples so I can keep this brief. But there are several more. None of the most celebrated people in the world today got there by wishing it. There was a process, a build-up of activities. It usually involved starting at the bottom of the ladder and gradually working their way up. Sadly, most young people today want to just magically find themselves at the top of the ladder without having to go through the rigors of climbing one rung after another.
A lady I respect so much came to Nigeria from the US (she is Nigerian) and after a few months, she had this to say. “Every young person I have met here is a Chairman, CEO or President of some organization, initiative or the other. Everyone wants to be a boss.” I couldn’t agree more, especially as I know a few; CEOs of companies that are made up of just two or three people without even an office space. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage anyone from setting up a company. I’m just saying you must be realistic in your planning. It’s great to have big dreams but you must learn to start out small. The best and strongest of structures were not raised in one day or one week, or even a year; they were raised over time.
Someone asked me yesterday how you “start out small” when I tweeted that. Here’s my honest answer to that question. Begin with what you have. I was privileged to meet with a prominent Nigerian who was once a leader in this country and in that meeting, he said to my team “start with what you have.” We had this big dream of changing the world, hosting major events and all what not and yet we had no money and no means of getting any and so he said to us, start with what you have. He also told us to expect difficulties and challenges. This brings me to my next point; the role of mentors.
Mentors are extremely important, especially when they are much older and have garnered more experience. Igbo people in Nigeria have a saying. “What an elder sits down to see, a young lad even if he climbs the tallest iroko tree will never see it.” With age usually comes wisdom and experience so it is important to listen to those who have gone ahead. The future in this context is not now, it is tomorrow. And for tomorrow to come, you must get through today. You must be willing to start out small, you must expect challenges and failure too but you must never quit. You must be willing to work hard and not be lazy. It is popularly said that “there is no food for a lazy man.” You must also persevere. Be patient. It is a priceless virtue young people must cultivate. Unfortunately, ours is a restless generation and we want everything to happen now, in the instant we snap our fingers.
Listening to your mentors and associating closely with those who have gone ahead helps you avoid making the same mistakes that they made more often than not. Listen. But beyond listening, do as you’re instructed. I know why I’m emphasizing this. Some will get it, but others will not. If they are your mentors, it means you trust their judgment, so if you take advice from them, you’re not likely to go wrong. I’m saying this from my little experience.
Above all, think impact. In all you do, never think of how much you can make off people but how much you can impact them. When we get our motives right, we are definitely on the path of success. Mind you, success is not just about money or luxury. It is about finding fulfillment in whatever you do. It is about being able to positively transform the lives of people around you. I guarantee you, you focus on the right things and the wealth, comfort and luxuries will come. Lose the get rich quick syndrome. Guys, quit thinking of whom to dupe to make fast money, ladies quit thinking of the Chief or Alhaji that you can sleep with to afford the Brazilian and Peruvian weaves and the BB Z10 too.
I’m not out to “get” anyone so if you read this and it struck a nerve, don’t take it personally. I’m only writing because I care about making people better. So here’s to you becoming a better person. It’s okay to want the finer things of life, just don’t be in too much of a hurry to get them. Start with what you have.
I look forward to your feedback and don’t forget to share.