By John Obidi: A mortal human said it once and it quickly became a popular aphorism mostly amongst those who needed comfort in the face of unending despair.
While I appreciate the power of patience, I find it impossible to ignore the momentum of will.
I’ve found that with the right amounts of courage, creativity, determination and persistence, closed doors cannot hold up for long.
Being born in the lower middle class of Nigeria forced me to explore this in detail.
We weren’t dirt poor per se, but I grew up in circumstances I considered unfair. I was born and gifted with incredible intellect and an uncommon wit, but not an equal chance to compete on my level of intelligence.
Most of my childhood and adolescence (before the Internet), I felt like I was in a prison, unable to renegotiate my position in this world because well, I was still under the care of my parents who were also caught in the web of lack and debt themselves.
As a child, my escape from this prison was to daydream and reimagine my position in the world.
This was why my favourite Shakespearean story (despite its tragic end) was OTHELLO – the negro soldier who ‘bought back his equality’ through excellence.
When I was 7 years old, my Primary 3 teacher once summoned my parents to school to ask if there were problems at home because I was often absentminded and detached from the other kids.
I still remember her face and her name, the eternally sweet Miss Adade. While she would be teaching, I would look out the window and drift away in thought. I would dream of the worlds I’d read about in books and write myself into their stories.
She was right in assuming that I was troubled, but wrong in thinking it was because of my parents’ bickering. Other kids were affected by that sort of thing, but I was pulled by something else.
Like a young, skinny Cassius Marcellus Clay from Louisville, Kentucky who believed he was destined to be Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of All Time; Or a Jesus of Galilee who was convinced of his own divine destiny to change the world outside of his hometown.
I knew I didn’t have to take ‘this’. The ‘how’ was a Science I was determined to figure out.
She made me stay behind after school one day and grilled me to find out the problem. She was certain my parents had problems.
What was this woman’s problem? I always aced my subjects with little effort. Just let me daydream in peace. It’s not like I threatened to blow up the school.
I didn’t know how to explain what was going on in my head so I admitted that my parents were indeed quarreling so she’d let me go back to my daydreaming.
I made it believable too. That was the day I learned to cry on demand. Lol. She eventually moved my seating position from the window to the middle row at the front where she could watch me. Whenever I drifted again, she’d call me to her desk to help her mark scripts.
My parents did quarrel from time to time, but it was nothing that low income couples didn’t go through in that time. The lack of money was the root of all shenanigans.
Oh well… I kept on getting tossed by circumstances I couldn’t control until I turned 17. That was when I got shipped off to the University of Port Harcourt where I met my first in-person role model – Uyi Ebhuoma.
Oh the sweet smell of freedom. For the first time in my life, I felt like the keys to my life was handed to me. Here, I would figure out how to claw my way up to where I knew I deserved to be.
I was walking into my hostel (on Choba campus) one afternoon and saw an ad on the notice board. It said “Learn Website Design at 500 Naira. Contact Uyi at Room something”
I went there to find him. He paid for ‘all night browsing’ at the then Net Express cybercafe and in 2 days, Uyi taught me Website Design in exchange for 300 Naira only.
My mind exploded and you can bet I spent more time in school than I did at home.
However, my time in Uniport had to end. Third world shackles tried to hold me down through the broken Nigerian public education system.
I wanted to study Computer Science but the ‘system’ decided I was to study Physics.
I knew clearly, what my path was to be. Who the hell was a mostly corrupt human-constituted government agency to decide the course of my life?
While many didn’t mind (and some actually thrived in) the public schooling system, it was killing my spirit. It wasn’t my path.
After 2 years, I made a compelling, dramatic and exaggerated case to my parents and uncles (who were actually paying my fees) and they let me transfer to Benson Idahosa University in 2005.
I had just turned 19 when I arrived in BIU, Benin City.
BIU was a merit-based Private University led by its President, Bishop F.E.B. Idahosa, the son of the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa.
It was free from most of the corruption that bedeviled the public education system. The first point of entry was the Guidance and Counseling unit were I was welcomed by a woman who looked genuinely happy to see me.
She asked me what I wanted to study and why.
What a wawu! I had options?
I told her I wanted Computer Science because it had been my dream since I was 5 years old.
She looked at my NECO results and because I had the required grades, I was admitted to the department of Computer Science. No lobbying, no begging, no bribery, no need for connections – just good old merit.
I didn’t have a computer but I was delightfully surprised to see that BIU had a functioning Computer Laboratory, equipped with the latest software and we were allowed one hour of internet access per day. This was where I spent most of my time.
Our courses included Web Design, Computer Networking, C++, Visual Basic and Assembly Language.
I stayed in the lab and practiced to stupor. When I learned that those skills could in the future, buy me even more leverage in the game of life, I pumped up the pressure.
When I went home on holidays to my hometown of Ibusa, Delta State, I faced another quagmire.
There was no electricity there but that’s where I and my family lived. Refusing to accept my constraints, I took a bus to the capital (Asaba) everyday so I could find a cybercafe to charge my laptop and practice my programming.
My life has undergone a number of twists and turns leading up to the present day, but one thing has been constant – I don’t take an option simply because it’s the only thing on the table.
I’ve always tried to renegotiate my position – with prayer, skill, application of wit and force of will.
From realizing that I had to move to Lagos in 2014 to taking my chances on the international stage in 2018, I know that I must keep moving, bobbing and weaving.
There are many stories in between but I’ll skip them for the sake of brevity.
I’m writing this for people who think they must take what life serves, for those who think that just because their lives began a certain way, it must’ve been God’s will.
I’ve heard people say that religion is the problem of Nigerians. They’re wrong.
I see the Bible for example, as a buffet. There’s so much in there and you can choose your own manifesto.
Some would choose bible verses on patience and waiting on God. I choose the ones on urgency of purpose.
Some focus on the verses that glory in affliction. I focus on the stories of the people who broke through.
Some focus on stories of Cain who was cursed and it remained so. I focus on Jabez who though born into sorrowful circumstances and was named so, renegotiated his destiny.
I focus on the story of Jacob who because of his background as a cheat and his mother’s prompting, was condemned to suffer the consequences of his deceit, running in circles with no meaningful progress. The day he decided he had had enough, he wrestled with an angel all night long for a chance to rewrite his fate.
If you’re weak and helpless, you’ll find an interpretation that provides you comfort in your misery.
But if you’re the sort that is always looking for and willing to fight for better, you’ll find verses and stories that quicken your creativity.
What verses do you choose? The ones that you can use as alibis for laziness or the ones that trigger your pursuit for more.
When I tell my stories, there’s usually that cynical Nigerian who acts like we’re in a suffering competition.
They’d say things like “Your own good na. If you hear my own ehn…”
Be quiet sah! We are not of the same bloodline.
Your idea of suffering is existential – food for the belly.
My idea of misery is the restlessness from unused potential – knowing what I’m capable of, but unable to do due to man-made constraints.
My message to you all is that you keep on renegotiating your position.
Don’t accept your circumstances just because a mortal human wrote “Man proposes, but God disposes”
Don’t accept it when people say you must endure a certain lifestyle because it is destiny.
Through force of will, historical figures have renegotiated their destiny.
Jesus said “What is bound on Earth is bound in Heaven”
I read an Igbo proverb in my father’s diary – “When a man says yes, his chi says yes also”
Les Brown notably wrote “History is being read, but it’s also being written by people with imagination”
My life story is still unfolding but I never forget that I hold the pen. I’m not where I want to be yet, but knowing that at every crossroads, I can negotiate my direction and momentum, is in itself a hack.
Are you battling constraints of age, location, finance, health, education, network?
Muster your courage, creativity, determination and persistence.
While I appreciate the power of patience, I find it impossible to ignore the momentum of will.
I remember writing here once, “The cards are being shuffled everyday, and children of commoners are being offered a shot at first generation royalty”
Don’t take it as it is.
Through prayer, skill, application of wit and force of will, RENEGOTIATE YOUR POSITION.
By all means, escape the tragedy of an unlived life.
John Obidi is a Social Media Strategist, Online Business Consultant and founder of Headstart Africa a 100,000 member strong community of experts and thought leaders. https://www.johnobidi.com/
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