Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Reflective Story at 55!

As I sit down to write this piece from my hotel room in Teddington, London, I gazed from my 17th floor room through my window into the rare glorious evening sunshine that descended upon London. And as I looked on, I saw a little boy assist an elderly woman at the ATM point across the road. I saw the woman give him a tip at the end and I observed that he rejected it with a smile. I also noticed that all the cars on the road at that point were on a standstill, including a police van. Why? An ambulance was on the prowl. As I reflected on these negligible but fundamental scenes, I remembered home. I reckon that you will find more swindlers and con men at the ATM points than you will meet genuine helpers. My thoughts raced back to an incident in Sokoto state where even an ambulance with an emergency case had to give way for some minutes because a commissioner was cruising by the road. At 55, this aptly sums up our experience. And for those that are quick to jump into the bandwagon that it is wrong to compare us to the United Kingdom, look no further than the tales of Singapore.

It is also sad that we are a country that is quick to celebrate things and events. That is why I was particularly thrilled by the decision of the Presidency to spend a mere 70 Million naira on this year’s Independence national celebration. While that money is still a significant chunk in today’s crippling economy, it was a great cut from the over 1 billion naira fanfare previous governments has allocated in marking this event. Make no mistakes about it; there is surely a great value in celebrating our independence anniversary. However, the problem is that hitherto this time, the government attached so much razzmatazz and glitz to the events that its saliency is eroded and stripped at the end. We are apt to make merry in this part of the world. We console ourselves that the elasticity of our endurance knows no limit. And while our national resistance as a people is not in doubt, we have to wonder at ourselves on why we still remain in Fela’s words ‘The suffering and smiling nation.’

In many ways, the nation is at a crossroads, a transition of some sort. With the government of Muhammadu Buhari still finding its feet, and a people obsessed for a swift change, this independence is a time to step back and do some reflection in hindsight. So much of us gaining traction as a nation depend on leadership. Leadership as alluded to by Chinua Achebe remains the core issue with our nation. While the place of followership in achieving the new Nigeria is paramount, the leadership direction remains fundamental. If we decide to strip ourselves of our political party affiliations for a moment, we will realize that some living conditions have improved since the new government came into place. The point to note is that some of these improvements did not happen because Buhari brought out the magic wand of change. Interestingly, it is that people have just sat up to their responsibilities. If the records are anything to go by, power situation has improved relative to what it used to be in a vast majority of places. Some agencies such as the NDDC and FRSC have been in the news of recent for more of the right reasons of doing their job. The NNPC and virtually all the staff you talk to from there, have a renewed sense of duty and awakening. This just goes to show what leadership can wrought. And while this is not a eulogy to celebrate the 120 days or so of the Buhari administration, it is important that we outline the facts as they are. It is still too premature to pass a judgment on this administration, and while it has received some knocks so far (justified and unjustified), the jury will still be out for a while on this one. For now, the conclusion we can reach is that people make a system work, and for all the errors we like to point at that is wrong with Nigeria, a lot depends on people not just doing their jobs. Perhaps, that is why the overwhelming criticism of the government under Goodluck Jonathan was not that he was evil; rather, it was that under his watch, impunity, negligence, and untold corruption were on rampage.

At 55, we the people must step back and realize that in this journey, we are all co-travelers and equal stakeholders. Judging by the pulse, we are a more politically aware people than we were a year ago. However, this is not enough in this massive work of reconstruction. We must continue to demand and display the ethics of hard work, the virtue of responsible citizens and the conscience of the nation. It is a cliché, but it is so true that if we all as Nigerians at all levels handle our little responsibilities at work and home with diligence and honesty, we will ultimately form the nucleus for a better Nigeria to thrive. If we all try to banish our lens of ethnicity, tribe and religious dichotomy, we will be laying the foundation for our prosperity.

We are still a work in progress, but this is a time to reemphasize the message that we are all in this together and there is so much we the people can do to bring the desired change. However, the government of Muhammadu Buhari must realize that the clock is ticking against it. The national expectation remains huge and while he is not the messiah, he must realize that he is pivotal to the change we seek. It is worth saying that same goes for the National Assembly and other government officials at different levels. The man in an IDP camp somewhere in Adamawa state is less interested in the politicking of Bukola Saraki and the ‘powers that be.’ His concern is for a change to happen in his life, welfare and that of his immediate and unborn children. His hope is that he can return home someday, feeling more secure and finding a society to help him rebuild his life again. Our politicians must realize this always.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

3 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than It Has To Be

1. You procrastinate to avoid your expectation of problems.

Let’s say you’ve been putting off a big project at work because you’re dreading doing it. Maybe it’s difficult and you feel overwhelmed. It’s a lot of hard work, and you are expecting to have to do lots of things you’re perhaps not good at, expecting mistakes, failure and lots of headaches. But in reality you’re the one giving yourself a headache. Realize this and let go of your expectations. This means you don’t know how this project will go… you go into it with an open mind. You give it a try and see how it goes. And you learn from the experience no matter how it goes.

Honestly, you cannot find peace by avoiding life. Life spins and requires us to spin with it; so instead of avoiding what must be done, take every task and experience as a challenge for growth. Either it will give you what you want or it will teach you what the next step is.

And remember, finding peace in life does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, no challenges, and no hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things while remaining calm in your heart and mind.

2. You give up too soon when you realize things aren’t as easy as you expected.

This is the flip side of the previous point. But again, expectations are getting in the way…

The best things in life don’t always come easy. Some level of difficulty is necessary. Avoiding this truth just makes the hard things harder. Deep down you know this is true, and yet you’ve entered a new endeavor with the expectation that it will be amazing and you’ll do it with ease. And when it’s inevitably harder than you thought it would be, and you’re less successful at it than you expected, you’re disappointed and discouraged. So you lose motivation and give up.

Now imagine you let go of the fantasy of how this endeavor will go, and you’re simply open to what emerges… You can just do it, without worrying about the outcome. You can simply be in the moment with it. Then, no matter how it turns out on the first try, you’ll learn what you need to know.

Bottom line: There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. Reality always rears its head in the end. And the truth about how ordinary people achieve immense happiness and incredible feats of success is that they step out of their comfort zones and do the hard things that their more educated, affluent and qualified counterparts don’t have the courage, drive or determination to do.

So for your own sake, stop expecting everything to be easy and start doing the (necessary) hard things today with an open mind. I guarantee you will be blown away at just how remarkable you really are and just how fast you can grow.

3. People hurt you because they don’t behave the way you expected.

This woman at work is driving you crazy because “she’s not doing her work the way she should,” or maybe she’s being inconsiderate somehow. Your irritation stems from an expectation of how this woman ‘should’ act. She isn’t acting according to this ideal in your mind, and so you suffer because of it.

It’s time to put aside this expectation that people will live up to your ideals… and just be open to them. They will behave imperfectly, just as you will. Of course, accepting people as they are doesn’t mean you do nothing… you can let go of the irritation, and see how they’re having difficulty, and use it as a teaching opportunity, or an opportunity to help them, or to take the next logical step… with no expectation that they’ll love your lesson or follow it, but just with the intention of helping someone and being proactive.

And when your children behave badly, it’s the same problem – they aren’t behaving according to your ideal. Of course they’re not! No child behaves ideally, just as no adult does. Do you behave ideally? I don’t. I’m cranky and impolite when I’m tired. I’m not proud of this, but I struggle to be cheerful and considerate sometimes. Everybody does. Your children are struggling, and you can be compassionate and help them. That is, if you can let go of your expectations that they’ll behave ideally, and accept them as imperfectly beautiful beings who just want to be happy, like you.

Yes, it may be hard to admit, but most of the problems we have with others don’t really have much to do with them at all. Many of the problems we think we have with them we subconsciously created in our own mind. Maybe they did something that touched on one of our fears or insecurities. Or maybe they didn’t do something that we expected them to do. In any case, problems like these are not about the other person – they’re about us.

And that’s OK. It simply means these little predicaments will be easier to solve. We are, after all, in charge of our own decisions. We get to decide whether we want to keep our head cluttered with stressful expectations, or instead open our minds to the positive realities unfolding in front of us.

All we need is the willingness to look at things a little differently – letting go of ‘what should be,’ and instead focusing our energy on loving ‘what is.’


Sunday, September 20, 2015

7 Questions to End Your Week With

1. What pleasant surprises did I discover this week?

Life’s dynamic nature continually renews the possibilities before you; you honestly never can be certain when the next gust of wind will arrive and what it will blow in your direction.  Open yourself to these surprises and pay attention.  Many of them will bring goodness you never knew you were missing.

Some of your best discoveries will likely come when you least expect them, in places you never even thought to look.  What you were not looking for can end up being more than you ever hoped to find.  So seek your goals and dreams diligently, but don’t be so unyielding that you develop tunnel vision.  Do not blind yourself from all the unpredictable wonders and opportunities passing in your periphery.

You are never too old, too young, too busy, or too educated to find value and joy in new, unexpected opportunities.  So stay on the lookout, and keep track of these pleasant surprises.  Be sure not to lose them in the haste of your weekly routines.

2.  What lessons did my work teach me that I could build upon next week?

This question will help you clarify the distinction between activity and achievement.  There will always be routines and mundane tasks that require you to go through the motions, but what else did you derive from your work this week?  What was learned that could be built upon?  Surely there were successes and failures – ideas that worked and those that wallowed.  Think about these events and extract what is useful.

Look at your week from beginning to end.  It was not a week of lounging around doing nothing; it was a week in which you had everything to do, and now you have done it.  Pat yourself on the back, and then acknowledge the week’s lessons – especially the things that didn’t go your way.  If you didn’t get a task done the way you had hoped or a particular solution didn’t work, it only means something better is out there waiting for you next week.  And the lessons you just learned are the first step towards it.

3.  Are my short-term efforts and long-term goals still aligned?

It’s not what you do or achieve every once in awhile (big picture), but what you do every day (small picture) that counts.  Dream big dreams, but realize that short-term, realistic goals are the key to success.  What you want to achieve is directly connected to your daily actions.  The way you spend your time defines who you are and who you will become.

Therefore, make sure what you are doing (small picture) truly aligns with where you want to go (big picture).

While the pleasure junkies of the world avoid pain and discomfort at all costs, be someone who truly understands the value and benefits of working through the tough situations that others typically avoid.  Be willing to sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term happiness.  Be more interested in something being effective than you are in something being easy.  While everyone else is looking for the quickest shortcut, look for the course of action that will produce the real results you want for yourself.

4.  What could I have spent more or less time doing?

As Stephen Covey once said, “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”  In other words, productivity is not just about getting things done, it’s about getting the right things done.

At the end of each week, look at how you have spent your time, and adjust the allocation as necessary for the upcoming week.  Do your best to get rid of your schedule’s complexities so you can spend more time on the things that matter.  This means fine-tuning and eliminating all but the essential tasks, so you are left with only the ones that add value to your life.  And above all, know when to set aside the important things for the vital things, like family.

5.  How did fear and uncertainty affect what I did and didn’t do?

Not knowing which path to take can be painful, but nothing is more disheartening than standing still and never making a decision at all.  This is why it’s imperative to think about your fears and address them on a weekly basis.  You have to stop them so they don’t stop you from moving forward with your life.

So what should you do?  Anything… something small… so long as you don’t simply sit there.  If you make a mistake, start over.  Try something else.  If you wait until you’ve satisfied all the uncertainties in your mind, it may be too late.

The bottom line is that you gain strength, confidence and emotional growth by living through every experience in which you are forced to stop and look fear in the face.  And once the face-off is over and you realize you’re still breathing, you must say to yourself, “I have lived through period of uncertainty, I have learned from it, and I am better off.  AND I am capable of dealing with the next intimidating circumstance that comes my way too.”

6.  What mental clutter can I clear?

Just as you don’t move from one place to another without first sorting your belongings, and leaving behind what is not useful or needed, so too should you follow the same process with what you’ve mentally gathered, before moving on.  Do some purging and clear some clutter.  Don’t carry excess baggage into next week.  Eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may shine bright.

Throw away any regrets, shame and anger that you have accumulated this week, and take only the treasures worth keeping: the lessons, the love and the best of what can be remembered.

One of the easiest ways to sort through your mental clutter, and decide what needs to be discarded, is to perform a simple brain dumping exercise whereby you dump your emotions into a written journal or notepad.  Literally think about this week’s standout moments, make a list of how you felt on each occasion, and then review your findings.  Clear out the negative clutter that’s lingering in your mind by processing your thoughts, filing the lessons, forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and letting this week go.

The bottom line is that you have to close the door on this week’s negativities, change the record, clean the house, and get rid of the mental dust and dirt.  Don’t deny yourself a fair chance at the week ahead.  Stop holding on to what was, so you can enjoy what is beginning now.

7.  What is the first logical step for next week?

Next week is a new beginning – a blank canvas upon which you have the delightful opportunity to create.  On Monday morning you will be standing at the start of an impressive adventure, with the very real and present opportunity to shape your present and future in exactly the way you see fit.


Monday, September 7, 2015

10 Things You Must Give Up to Get Yourself Back on Track

1. Give up pretending that you have to be who you used to be. – When times get tough, our worst battle is often between what we remember and what we presently feel. Thus, one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make is when to stay put and struggle harder or when to take your memories and move on. Sometimes you have to step outside of the person you’ve been, and remember the person you were meant to be, the person you are capable of being, and the person you truly are today.

2. Give up berating yourself for everything you aren’t. – Being kind to yourself in thoughts, words and actions is as important as being kind to others. Extend yourself this courtesy. Love yourself – your real self. Work through your fears (dive deep), your insecurities (speak honestly and loudly), and your anger. Instead of hurting yourself by hiding from your problems, help yourself grow beyond them. That’s what self-care is all about. It’s about facing the inner issues that make you believe that you are less than you are. It’s learning to see that you are already beautiful. Not because you’re blind to your shortcomings, but because you know they have to be there to balance out your strengths.

3. Give up regretting, and holding on to, what happened in the past. – When you stay stuck in regret of the life you think you should have had, you end up missing the beauty of what you do have. Not all the puzzle pieces of life will seem to fit together at first, but in time you’ll realize they do, perfectly. So thank the things that didn’t work out, because they just made room for the things that will. And thank the ones who walked away from you, because they just made room for the ones who won’t. As they say, every new beginning comes from another beginning’s end.

4. Give up getting caught up in the negativity surrounding you. – To be positive in negative times is not just foolish optimism. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of tragedy, but also of success, sacrifice, courage, kindness, and growth. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine how well we live. If we look only for the worst, it destroys our capacity to do our best work. If we remember those times and places – and there are many – in which people have behaved magnificently, and things have gone well, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to sit around and wait for some grandiose and perfect future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live right now as we think we should live, in defiance of all the negativity around us, is in itself an amazing victory.

5. Give up thinking that everyone else has it so much easier than you. – When times get really tough, remember this simple truth: Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. And when you’re struggling with something that’s important to you, and you feel like your life isn’t fair, look at all the people around you and realize that every single person you see is struggling with something, and to them, it’s just as hard as what you’re going through.

6. Give up wanting to be where others are in life. – Stop comparing where you’re at with where everybody else is. It doesn’t move you farther ahead, improve your situation, or help you find happiness. It just fuels feelings of inadequacy and shame, and ultimately keeps you stuck. The truth is, there is no one correct path in life. A path that’s right for someone else won’t necessarily be a path that’s right for you. And that’s OK. Your journey isn’t right or wrong, or good or bad – it’s just different. Your life isn’t meant to look exactly like anyone else’s because you aren’t exactly like anyone else. You’re a person all your own with a unique set of goals, obstacles, dreams, and needs. So stop comparing and start living. You may not always end up where you intend to go, but you will eventually arrive precisely where you need to be. Trust that you are in the right place at the right time, right now. And trust yourself to make the best of it.

7. Give up letting the judgments of strangers control you. – People know your name, not your story. They’ve heard what you’ve done, but don’t understand what you’ve been through. So take their opinions of you with a grain of salt. In the end, it’s not what others think, it’s what you think about yourself that counts. Sometimes you have to do exactly what’s right for you and your life, without giving a darn what your life looks like to everyone who doesn’t even know you.

8. Give up letting toxic relationships bring you down on a daily basis. – Not all toxic relationships are agonizing and uncaring on purpose. Some of them involve people who care about you – people who have good intentions, but are toxic because their needs and way of existing in the world force you to compromise yourself and your happiness. They aren’t inherently bad people, but they aren’t the right people to be spending time with every day. And as hard as it is, we have to distance ourselves enough to give ourselves space to live. You simply can’t ruin yourself on a daily basis for the sake of someone else. You have to make your well-being a priority. Whether that means breaking up with someone, loving a family member from a distance, letting go of a friend, or removing yourself from a situation that feels painful – you have every right to leave and create some healthy space for yourself.

9. Give up over-thinking and worrying about everything. – When your fears and anxieties have you looking too deep into things, it creates problems – it doesn’t fix them. If you think and you think and you think, you will think yourself right out of happiness a thousand times over, and never once into it. Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace and potential. And life is too short for that.

10. Give up believing you aren’t strong enough to take another step forward. – It’s always possible to go on, no matter how impossible it seems. In time, the grief (the lessons) may not go away completely, but after awhile it’s not so overwhelming. So breathe… You’re going to be OK. Remember that you’ve been in this place before. You’ve been this uncomfortable and restless and afraid, and you’ve survived. Take another breath and know that you can survive this time too. These feelings can’t break you. They’re painful and draining, but you can sit with them and eventually, they will pass. Maybe not immediately, but sometime soon they’re going to fade, and when they do you’ll look back at this moment and laugh for having doubted your resilience.