If you have ever failed before… Or ever been limited in life at any time, this might just turn out to be a good read for you. I am on the conviction that success/growth in life is highly customized and our circumstances/specific events/opportunities are mostly typified for us (alone). I came to this conclusion last night, as a result of a rather dramatic event of the yesterday.
It was the 42nd Convocation Ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University and I was being conferred a Post-graduate Diploma In Business Management Studies. What was dramatic about it was this: there were over 20 individuals graduating from the course, and when it was time for graduants of the course to stand up for the conferment of the degrees by the Chancellor of the University…. no one stood up. No one but me. As I rose, at first I felt this huge wave of shame, then I stood up straight and thought to myself: “Well dammnit, I worked for this degree, I am here, I may jolly well get on with the program!” In a few seconds the quiet Amphitheatre erupted into a rapturous applause, cameras were turned on me, photographers clicking away, parents cheering from the back row… and boy! I smiled, soaked in the moment and attention, listened to the personal conferment from the Chancellor, took my bow and sat down.
For you to fully understand what that moment meant to me, I am happy to share my journey, starting way back from 2009.
It was a late evening, in Fajuyi Hall, Obafemi Awolowo University, I sat on a long bench with my colleague Joshua Adebayo, eyes forward watching the video gamers ahead of us at the basement of Block 5.
“I am graduating with a 3rd class, Josh”
“Same here…” he replied.
“Okayyy, but how do I tell my parents… I mean my Dad. He has these huge expectations you know…”
“Well… You can write him a letter you know… tell him you are made for business and that you gave Microbiology your best shot…”
“You know what… I mean, you are the CEO nah… I am sure you will know what to do” continued Josh.
In all my university days, Joshua was one those friends that believed every single one of my crazy ideas and worked with me on ALL my projects. I have not seen him since then, but I can never forget him.
So I went up to my room afterwards, got in front of my desktop and typed out the most heart wrenching letter I have ever written and will ever write. In the letter, I informed my parents that I was going to be graduating with a 3rd class in Microbiology, apologized for disappointing them and explained that I think had a passion for business and design and not Microbiology.
The moments and months that followed were tortuous and filled with lots of pain and difficulties. I had to fight my way through a whole lot.
Considering this isn’t a diary of events, I would skip into the important details.
Dealing with the reality of failure.
Its kinda interesting that one of the last things we do when we fail is to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the situation. For many weeks I blamed the system, my lecturers, friends, anyone and everyone for my failure; and when there was no one else to blame, I would head to the humanities building, read, cry and just stare blankly at the pages of my notes. It was hard, I dreaded the thought of going home, just how was I going to face my parents with a third class degree.
My turning point came when I saw the movie Invictus, and came across the lines of the poem that inspired Mandela himself in prison.
INVICTUS- William Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
I wrote out the poem on the back-page of all my reading notes and would read it to myself as many times in a day. It was a simple affirmation: I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul, that woke up my self-awareness and set me off on a journey towards self-mastery and actualization.
The 5 part journey towards Self-mastery and Self-Actualization
Once again, I would like to focus on the key lessons and remarkable points in the journey by condensing my journey into 5 parts and being as brief about each as much as possible.
Understanding the dignity of work
I finally found my way home, after the school year ended, I was 20 and aside some small entrepreneurial stints and hustle in OAU, I had never really managed an actual business.
Myself and my siblings were funded through school (at least school fees wise) with “agric money” from my Dad’s fish farm. It was a sprawling network over about a dozen of concrete fish ponds with a minimum capacity of 900 fishes per pond. In case you are wondering what type of fish it was, it was cat fish. I had always worked in this ponds during holidays but there was a bit of difference about things this time around.
First off, I was a recluse, always in my shell and dealing with sharp criticisms daily… so the fish farm was my only outlet to relevance and meaning. So I worked myself away and took pride in seeing the results of a day’s work either in form of fishes that were growing or gleaming concrete walls of ponds whose spirogyra I had washed off.
As the weeks progressed, I assumed more roles of managing the ponds, would go on trips with my Dad to get feeds, supplements and equipment. In those trips I would learn negotiation, valuation and much more. It was subtle
Purpose is built around a skill
Choose loneliness, nothing happens in crowds
Facing the demons that sunk me
A fresh vista