Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Fringe Benefits of Failure

Over the weekend, as I was putting together an article titled ‘The fringe benefits of failure,’ I remembered J.K Rowling’s commencement speech delivered at the Harvard graduation ceremony on June 5th, 2008, and thought it conveyed everything i was conjuring. It is a speech laden with pearls of wisdom and quintessential truths for the future. Now, whether you are in school, a fresh graduate, a businessman, a career chaser or a 60 year old retiree, the lessons from that speech are enormous and apt for all. I bring you the best of the speech. Just Read:

“Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this. I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called real life, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination. These may seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me. I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil, now. So they hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor. I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all the subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticize my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools. What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure. At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard I was the biggest failure I knew. Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you fail by default. Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies. The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift; for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.

So given a time turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes. Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Next, is the Power of human empathy. Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life. Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places. Of course, this is a power like my brand of fictional magic that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize. And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid. What is more, those who choose not to empathize enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy. One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch, “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.” That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing. But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege and your burden. If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of real trouble, people who have been kind enough not to sue me when I took their names for death eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister. So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom, “As is a tale, so is life. Not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.”

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Overtly Excited – The Story of the Nigerian People

It has become commonplace to hear comments such as ‘Nigerians are strong and tough people that will take anything and survive no matter what.’ While that statement attempts to emphasize the obvious strength of the character of the Nigerian Spirit, the daily usage of it in explaining our national amnesia or collective docility to the excesses of those in power and our own uniformed inactivity has become a national insult.

Only recently, Tope Aluko, a former chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party did come out to make damning revelations of electoral malpractices in what has now been termed ‘Ekiti-Gate.’ The euphoria that followed that interview was mindboggling. Twittersphere was agog, Facebook comments were unending, the video enjoyed repeated viewership on YouTube and the entire social media space was buzzing. However, few weeks after the incident, life has returned to normalcy and next to nothing has been heard as regards the allegations. Arrests have barely been made. The case of Tope Aluko is not an isolated one. It follows a long list of saga from the Otedola-Lawal brouhaha to the Halliburton probe; nothing has been heard. Ours is not merely a case of prolonged justice but one of justice raped. It is justice denied in broad-day light. Yet, we the people find a way to move on, buoyed by the patronizing cliché that we are ‘tough people.’

There is nothing tough about making incessant hues and cries on social media and leaving it there. In fact, it is not rocket science to coin motivational and provoking snippets with Jack Dorsey’s Twitter 140 characters. While the social media clearly still has it place in galvanizing change and meaningful progress, it is not an end in itself. That is where a vast majority of Nigerians miss the point. There is something fundamentally wrong with a fame that merely comes from being a social media warlord. Sadly, the unintended consequence of smartphone proliferation is that anyone can amount to some form of stardom by devoting more man-hours and coining ideas with just an internet enabled device. Fame in social media has to be derived from something tangible. Afterall, it has been said and not without reason that anyone can rant or to use a more Nigerian term ‘be a wailing wailer.’

There is something fundamentally inimical about the way we get overtly excited by events and news. If it’s not peering on the lives of Davido and family, or lavishing productive hours fighting a case for Olamide or Don Jazzy, then it is trolling over Linda Ikeji’s Hermes bags or mansion. There is a place for such sensationalism but it becomes disturbing if that is all our national life revolves around.

As Chimamanda Adiche once puts it ‘We are quick to celebrate things.’ Our country is currently in dire need of concrete and tangible socio-economic and political solutions. We need a citizenry that will spend fewer pastime on social media and more hours thinking of how they will better their lives, their community and the nation at large. It is small solutions replicated in different parts of our country that will bring us out of our current national quagmire. All the leadership will do is to provide direction and the enabling environment. We can’t always remain in the safe denial that our life problems are as a result of someone else’s actions or inactions. However justified we might be in saying that. I am not sure future generations will take such alibi.

Finally, we must hold our leaders accountable for their actions beyond mere rhetorics. We must follow through issues to their sane conclusions. We must choose not to move on easily to the next story like nothing happened. And we must realize that the evidence of the toughness of our character is how loud we say ‘Enough is Enough’ and truly mean it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

5 Things You Must Leave Behind to Get Ahead

1. What could have been, or should have happened, but didn’t.

Before you can truly live today a part of you has to die first. You must completely let go of what could have been, how you should have behaved and what you wish you would have done differently. You must accept the fact that you can’t change your past experiences, the opinions others once had of you, or the immediate outcomes from their choices or yours.

When you embrace the present truth then you will begin to understand and feel the true power of forgiveness as it relates to others and yourself. From this new awareness you will be free to take the next best step forward.

2. The habit of making excuses rather than decisions.

There is always a lie embedded between a promise you made to yourself and the excuses for why you haven’t followed through. To rush into explanations of any kind is always a sign of weakness.

Stand strong! Life is a continuous exercise in creative problem solving. A mistake or a delay doesn’t become a failure until you refuse to correct it. Thus, most long-term failures are simply the outcomes from people who make continuous excuses instead of decisions, even though they know better. Don’t be one of them.

Decide to do what you have to do, for yourself. Trust me, in a year from now, you will wish you had started today.

3. Relationship situations that shrink you.

You have to admit, to a certain extent, you have spent too much of your life trying to shrink yourself. Trying to bend in half. Trying to become smaller. Quieter. Less sensitive. Less opinionated. Less YOU. Because you didn’t want to be too much or push people away. You wanted to fit in. You wanted people to like you. You wanted to make a good impression. You wanted to be wanted.

So for years, you sacrificed yourself for the sake of making other people happy. And for years, you suffered. Let this be your wake-up call…

The primary reason that a toxic relationship situation holds you back has little to do with what the other person does directly to you; instead, it’s about how you have to constantly shrink yourself to conform to the situation. The pain and toxicity festers when you choose to shrink.

When you choose to pull back, say less, or restrain your magnificence in any way out of fear, out of logic, or out of the cleverness to survive in a relationship, this spells trouble.

So it’s not about them, really, it’s about your response to them.

The next opportunity you have to spend time with this person (no matter how necessary, obligatory or comfortable it may seem), ask yourself:

Will I have to shrink to make this work, or is this a situation where I can grow?

Call on your courage and logic when you answer this question. And give yourself some space if that’s what you need to grow.

4. Old lies you’re still holding on to and living through.

There are absolutely no guarantees when you finally come clean and practice honesty with people. Sometimes you lose what you once had. Sometimes you don’t win love and trust back. Sometimes your mistakes cut ties. Sometimes you break your own heart in the process. Sometimes you lose your footing and your way. Sometimes you end up feeling worse off than you did before. But even a step or two backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction. You walk away from every act of honesty with a heart free from lies and regret. You have closure, one way or the other, and this helps you in the long run.

Over time, you heal and find yourself living a life that’s far from the mental torture chamber you once lived in. This path to freedom and happiness is the scariest one you will ever navigate. However, it is the path that ultimately saves your life.

5. The idea that you have to be perfectly OK all the time.

Even if it’s true that you’re growing and healing, and that it will be OK… it’s not always OK right now, and sometimes that’s all we can see and feel when we’re in the midst of a difficult life event. Sometimes NOT being OK is all we can register inside our tired minds and aching hearts. This feeling is normal. This emotion is human.

The truth is, it’s not OK when someone you love is no longer living and breathing and giving their gifts to the world. It’s not OK when everything falls apart and you’re buried deep in the debris of a life you had planned for. It’s not OK when the bank accounts are nearly at zero, with no sign of a promising income opportunity. It’s not OK when someone you trust betrays you and breaks your heart. It’s not OK when you’re exhausted to the point you can’t get yourself out of bed in the morning. It’s not okay when you’re swimming in failure or shame or a grief like you’ve never known.

Whatever your challenges are, sometimes it’s simply NOT OK right now. And that, above all, is more than OK.

Yes, be OK with not being OK all the time. Those with the strength to succeed in the long run are the ones who lay a firm foundation of growth with the bricks that life has thrown at them. Don’t be afraid to fall apart for a little while, because when it happens, the situation will open an opportunity for you to grow and rebuild yourself into the brilliant human being you are capable of being.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

8 Things Productive People Refuse to Do

1. Refuse to wait around.

Stephen King once said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

An obvious bias toward taking action is the most common behavior found in everyone who’s on track to accomplish something incredible in their life. While proper planning, strategizing and masterminding is important as you begin a new project, it’s also extremely easy to lose yourself indefinitely in the aforementioned.

You must challenge yourself to take action sooner rather than later. The minute you start taking action (e.g. putting words on paper, building a physical prototype, sharing new ideas, etc.), you begin getting valuable feedback that ultimately helps you refine your original idea, so you can move forward with a more informed and educated outlook.

2. Refuse to play the blame game.

Either you own your present situation or it will own you. Either you take responsibility for your life, or someone else will. Blame is a scapegoat – it’s an easy way out of taking responsibility for your own outcomes. It’s a lot easier to point a finger at someone or something else instead of looking within yourself. Blame is not constructive; it does not help you or anyone else – nobody wins in the blame game. The amount of energy and stress it takes to place blame elsewhere takes away from your power to move forward and find a real solution.

It’s time to care more; it’s time to take more responsibility; it’s time to lead from within; it’s time for a change; it’s time to honor your greatest self; it’s time to stop blaming others and grab life by the horns!

3. Refuse to bite off more than you can chew.

When our great ideas are still just concepts floating around in our minds, we tend to think really BIG. And while thinking big isn’t inherently bad, the downside is that it often makes the barrier for taking action quite high. In other words, we tend to overthink our projects to the point where they seem more complicated than they actually are, and so we stall again and again to give ourselves more time to prepare.

To avoid “big thinking paralysis,” pare your ideas down to smaller, immediately testable activities. Can you trial-run the idea of a larger scale conference by hosting a series of smaller local events? Can you draw it before you build it? Once you’ve tested your idea on a smaller scale, you’ll have the insight and data you need to take your idea to the next level.

And if you’re trying to build a new positive ritual or routine, start small. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but no one ever does it. Start with a daily ritual that lasts 10 minutes or less. If you feel incredible resistance and fail at 10 minutes, drop it to 5 minutes, or 3 minutes, and then stick to it every day for 60 days before you even slightly increase the duration. In the beginning, the important thing isn’t how much you do – it’s how often you show up to do it.

4. Refuse to pretend that you must always be right.

To be productive in the long term, you have to not mind being wrong in the short term. You have to take a stand, test your theories, and then admit it if you realize that your theory was wrong. It’s a process of trial and error that helps you discover what IS right. And finding out what is right is a lot more important than always being right.

The process of trial and error is an essential part of any productive person’s life. Truth be told, when any of us execute a new idea for the first time, the outcome often stinks. The important thing is to synthesize the lessons learned during the process to refine the initial idea, and create a new-and-improved strategy.

Expecting to get it right the first time is an exercise in futility. Prototyping, testing and iteration is vital to transforming a decent idea into a life-changing product or service. Rather than being discouraged by your “failures,” watch closely and learn from them. Then use what you’ve learned to build something better. And then do it again and again. Sooner or later, you’ll find the level of success you had envisioned.

5. Refuse to become distracted from your core objectives.

When you are driven and committed and persistent, you will get yourself there step by step. But you have to remain focused on your core objectives.

When working on larger projects, you will likely generate lots of new ideas as you’re making progress. This can motivate you to gradually expand your project’s objectives – we call this “project scope creep.” This sinister habit can make it nearly impossible to ever truly complete anything. The best way to avoid this is to write down a simple statement summarizing your core objectives at the start of each new project you decide to work on. And then – this is the part we often forget – revisit your core objective summary on a weekly basis (at the very least). When scope creep begins to rear it’s ugly head, you’ll be able to catch it before it catches up with you.

6. Refuse to focus on the negative.

Mindfully concentrate on the positive!

A recent scientific study discussed in The Happiness Advantage proved that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual capabilities than doctors in neutral or negative states of mind, which allows them to make accurate diagnoses nearly 20% quicker. The same study then shifted to other professions and found that positive, cheerful salespeople outsell their negative, cynical counterparts by over 50%. College students primed to feel cheerful before taking math exams consistently outperform their neutral and negative peers.

So it turns out that our brains are naturally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are thinking negative thoughts, or even neutral ones, but when they are thinking positive.

7. Refuse to ignore the small wins that ultimately add up to big success.

With large projects that require lots of effort and serious amounts of creative problem solving, it’s extremely important to maintain momentum. How? By celebrating the small wins along the way. The easiest way to do this is to set yourself smaller milestones worth celebrating.

Break each project into phases that only take a couple weeks (at most) to complete. The double benefit of this approach is, first, making each large project feel more manageable, and second, providing incremental “wins” throughout each project.

Bottom line: It’s crucial to pause periodically to take account of what’s been accomplished – even if there’s a long way yet to go.

8. Refuse to say “Yes” to everything and everyone.

You must practice saying “No” even if it feels foreign to you. Productive time and energy is not infinite. Seasoned achievers know they must guard their time and energy (and their focus) closely.

Always keep in mind that you don’t have to accept every great opportunity you’re invited to. When you’re in execution mode, remember that new and unexpected opportunities can also mean distraction from your core objectives and priorities. Saying “no” is an essential part of being productive.


Monday, February 1, 2016

They Raped This Country

Forget about your party affiliations or your inordinate love for one politician over the other. Forget about your so-called political philosophy and idealism for a moment. Forget about your allegiance to any of the political class in the country and let this inimical reality drive home: Our country was raped with reckless abandon. This rape was perpetrated in different phases over the last two decades. It was meted out to us primarily by leaders who for their today mortgaged the future of this nation. It was an atrocity committed by the 180 million dollars Halliburton scandal, the 16 billion dollars Power sector debacle, the 2 billion dollars Dasuki gate, and until recently the millions that were traded in the Ekiti gate; to mention but a few. This rape collapsed our fledging institutions and made a mockery of our nascent democracy. There is only one way of saying it: This nation was mindlessly raped. Consider this: Each day in the heydays of the Oil price at 110 dollars and an exchange rate of 150 naira to a dollar, the country made about 41.2 billion naira daily (At 2.5 million daily production). In a month, that was about 1.2 trillion naira and 14.4 trillion naira annually from Oil production alone.

While Tope Aluko's revelations on the Ekiti gate might have excited discussion points on several media platforms, it was another rude reminder of how much we have been duped in this country. It is true that power corrupt, but the escalated proportion of what we have witnessed in Nigeria is just out of this world. There must be something fundamentally wrong with the mind of a man that will choose to divert funds meant for waging a war against insurgency that is taking the lives of many, primarily those from this man's region, to frivolous activities. In a country still blighted by all sorts of ills and struggling with the basics of life, it defies reason how only a few were able to control the collective wealth of the people. The real question is not whether the revelations made by Former PDP Secretary, Tope Aluko, were true. It is more a question of what more don’t we know. Today, for the actions of those few, we all have to pay. The burden of the foreign exchange, the ridiculous bank charges and the new electricity tariffs are all reflections of how we have to now contribute to building this nation all over again. Over 16 years after a return to democracy, this is our national narrative, our national reality.

Relinquishing power peacefully might have been his finest moment, but one wonders if there is any other positive thing to remember erstwhile president, Goodluck Jonathan for. The atrocities that ran on rampage during his watch were surreal, so much so that we are tempted to believe that while he was a cohort in some of them, he might have been blindsided for the most part. The criticism against him has never been one of him being a bad person; it was more around his capacity, the things he allowed to thrive in his stead. Whatever your conclusions about Goodluck Jonathan were, one fact cannot be eroded: Corruption and impunity attained new status under his regime.

In the light of all these, one is forced to spare a thought for the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari. Many have said that all he has done since his attainment of office has been to wage the war against corruption, allowing other sectors, chief of which is the economy to suffer. The criticism might be a fair one when we consider that policies are required to drive an economic direction. Having said that, it is foolhardy to undermine the current fight against corruption on just that basis. Ours is a broke nation at the moment and recouping any available funds is fundamental to oil any policy of this government. However, the truth is that if we put together all the courts and tribunals in this nation, they are not enough to prosecute all the corruption cases that have been wrought over the past two decades. In addition, this war should be holistic. There are cases of untold malpractices in several sectors that should be attended to. From Economy to Power, some people have some answering to do. This war against corruption is beyond Dasuki gate. Yet, even at this point, with several other revelations still to be unearthed, the truth remains: Our nation was raped, mindlessly.