In our progress from toddlers to teenagers, we are taught many things that are relevant to our education in schools, but there are so many things that we aren’t taught to prepare us for real life.
Sure, we may know everything of Napoleon the Great’s conquest and how many kingdoms there are among living things, but I don’t think that’s going to be necessary in living everyday. Well, unless we’re all going to be historians and scientists that is.
In Rick Warren’s words; “Life is like a game of poker you have to play the hand you’re dealt…But a wise player can play what seems to be a weak hand and win the game.”
Owen was a smart young man growing up. I remember how we were always competing for “the most intelligent” as if there was an award we were gonna receive from our parents for beating the other in class. He had a lot of life, passion and excitement for things. He liked to build and then destroy. Fast forward to high school, Owen got introduced to calligraphy and painting. He fell hard and fast for it. He envisioned himself as the 21st Century Mi Fu. While I loved Owen’s dream, I was also worried for him. You see, we’re from a marginally corrupt African country and our government doesn’t do much when it comes to education, skills acquisition or talent building. Owen had dreams that could not provide for him in the long term. I talked to him as a friend to go for something else he could handle and do calligraphy on the side. Owen’s dad was probably not the best to give advice as he was majorly dictatorial but I know deep down he wanted what was best for Owen. He paid for Owen to start a degree in Medicine and Surgery, in one of the well known schools in Europe. Owen failed first year, not due to a learning disability or a panic disorder. He was lazy. It was as if he lost the will to live. He was either hanging out with his friends or just sleeping. He didn’t attend lectures or clinicals, he missed coursework deadlines. He re-wrote five courses that were capped at forty percent at the end of the semester. He barely got into second year. I called him aside and we talked at length. He promised to do better, attend lectures, read and work on his calligraphy to be better.
Barely into second year, he started slipping up again. He became withdrawn and distant from me. Eventually, he failed second year again. And he was consequently withdrawn from school. In addition, he developed a hand injury that has prevented him from ever becoming a calligrapher unless he has somehow found a way to be ambidextrous.
At the other end of the stick is Zivah. Her story is somewhat similar. All her life, Zivah had always wanted to be a big lawyer in one of those big city firms. Whether her love for the legal profession stemmed from watching too many legal fiction TV shows or reading too many legal books or from her intellectual disposition I don’t know. On the other side, Zivah’s father was gently pressurising her to study a management degree so that she could do what he was unable to do and take over the family business. By the end of high school, Zivah set about planning the timeline of her life and goals she planned to achieve. Zivah had a “problem”, she couldn’t take a step without appropriate planning. I would call this a problem because occasional spontaneity promotes a sound mind.
The application process for universities began and to Zivah’s utter surprise, Law can only be studied in the US as a second degree. Her inability to recover from the shock quickly in addition to her slow response to changing her mind and looking for alternatives, Zivah unknowingly entered into a crocodile’s lair.
You see, Zivah’s dad had ultimately convinced her to study Business. He gave her daily lectures on accomplished lawyers who read Business for their first degree.
First year of her degree, she struggled. She barely made it pass the average mark. As she had always been an intelligent person, high expectations were required of her and failing to meet those expectations knocked down her self-esteem to an all time low. She wondered within herself how she couldn’t understand what she was doing. She read and studied and took extra classes yet she was always short of her expectations. At the end of her very first semester, she tried telling her mother that she couldn’t cope with it and she wanted to switch courses to something a little bit closer to the legal profession.
Zivah’s mother: Zivah my daughter, a business degree is good for you. It will give you an added advantage.”
Zivah: But mummy, I’ve tried my hardest, I’ve overworked myself. I even fainted at school because I became hypoglycaemic. And still I don’t understand anything. I don’t know if I can still do three more years.
Zivah’s mother: My daughter, it’s all in your mind. You know you have always hated this. This is a very lovely course.
School resumed again and so did the phone calls. “Are you understanding everything you learned?” “You’re going to get the highest GPA and become the best graduating student, after that you’ll do your Masters and PhD in Business.” “Did you answer all the questions correctly in your tests” “Don’t disappoint us my daughter. Make us proud of you.”
Midway into final year, the mental breakdowns started. Every small mistake in tests or exams that she made were irrefutable proof of her inadequacy. She was hard on herself, She grew listless and empty. Living was limited to eat, study, sleep all in a bid to be the best graduating student. Zivah thought to herself, “I have done this before. I have gone from 0 to 100. So I can do this.”
At the end of everything, she was only able to get a second class honours (upper). She blamed herself for many weeks. Hid her result from her parents for three months. She felt that she had failed them, they were never going to be proud of her. This was her one chance to make them proud of her but she blew it. As the weeks went by, her sleep went increasingly restless. Her dreams and her thoughts were all about an apology letter to her parents under the line of “I am sorry to disappoint you mummy and daddy, for not being able to make you proud and stand tall at my graduation.”
She tried to reapply for a second degree in Law. I mean finally, a dream come true. For years she had waited for this. There was only one problem, she had forgotten why she wanted to be a lawyer. And just like that in the blink of an eye, that childhood dream became fear. Zivah couldn’t even come up with one sentence on why she wanted to be a lawyer. She was utterly confused. She was very sure she hated Business and never passed the exams but somehow she understood how to make theoretical knowledge practical and on the other hand, she doubted if she had the courage to read law. Her public speaking skills had degenerated over the years, she couldn’t bear the thought of having to “fail” another exam whilst doing her law degree and she just didn’t think she could do 3 extra years of education.
Finally, Zivah had to kill the dream of becoming a lawyer no matter how painful it was and decided to further her education in the Business route.
Moral of the Story:
1. Sometimes, it’s our dreams that stand in the way of our purpose. And we might have to kill those dreams ourselves. It’s never easy, but if someone couldn’t see what they want to do, beyond that it’s something they’ve always wanted to do, chances are that when they achieve it, it will feel good for a while, a dream fulfilled, but afterwards, you might find yourself wondering if it was worth it in the end.
2. It will have been to good to have been taught that what you wish for isn’t always what will come to you, to know beforehand that adult life is messed up. Very few actually get to where they want to be exactly when they want it. And also to have learned to apply the good ‘ol phrase “whatever your hand findeth to do, do it well.
So to those young teenagers out there already building the future of their dreams in their minds, I want you to borrow a leaf from Zivah and Owen’s books.
Zivah was lost, empty, clueless, but she found her way. Or I would like to believe that she has. I don’t know if she would have come out as the best graduating student if she had been allowed to follow her own path. We will never know now. And as for Owen… well, his future is in his hands, whatever his next move is in this chess game, I’ll sure write about it.