This is how it began: Many years ago, when you were a clear skinned eight-year old, and your class teacher, with her over-starched pink shirt, scored you 96% in Math, and then, tucked that little note in your pocket, the one meant for your mother, the one that said: This boy is special. Your mother handed the note gingerly to your father that evening, doing a little dance, love shinning in her eyes. He pulled you close, your father, his steaming dinner of yam porridge momentarily forgotten. And then he called you My Engineer.
Is that not how it began with most of us? A mother’s dance, the love in her eyes, a father’s approving sentence to a career path? No? Or maybe it was just the nodding affection, the doting words, the idea in your family that you were born to be something special. And so began your journey to an extraordinary life, with perfectly scheduled timelines: Secondary school at 10, university at 16. Msc, PhD, and then dream job at 27.
The only problem was that your 96% slowly became 84%, then 73%, then 62% until you arrived school leaving certificate with a pass mark, your shoulders slouched in resignation to failed expectations. But the chorus of good-will did not stop, because a mother’s love does not die and a father who invested so much in your education will hardly accept an alternative to excellence.
So here you are, many years later, with a degree in physics and a shiny MBA, stuck in a mortgage firm as a customer representative. You hate your job. You hate your life. You hate that your bald, oil faced MD cannot see how phenomenal you are: You, with your 96% in math and the pretty teacher who made a note of your genius. And so, every morning when you arrive at work, notoriously late and disinterested, you begin first with a sermon to the security. Yes. Yes. You were in the UK, and had a stint playing professional football, and almost relocated to Canada except that your mother, love of your life, fell ill with diabetes. Consequently, you found yourself in this vicious Nigeria, a tie snug on your neck, passing time, because you know, you are on your way to something great.
It is not that you are unintelligent, just that you are simply… bored! Every new task appears mundane, unworthy of your mental exertion. Why bother with administrative concerns when you can be busy inventing the new Facebook? And so your time is spread between YouTube videos and funny memes. Occasionally, you nod off with a grating snore, your left hand resting softly on your crotch. When you wake at 5 pm to grab your car keys and leave, it does not occur to you that your teacher’s prophecy has come true. You have become special, a strange brand of it, but still, a marvel. Your colleagues wonder how you do it: sleep for three hours in an eight hour work window.
You think anything that is not wild passion should be despised, that work you do not love should be shoddy. But the real problem is that you lack honour. You are okay with taking a salary you have not earned, with making demands even where you have not invested. You believe the world should bend over for you, create room for your needs, and hand you the future in crisp, foreign currency. You want a pay raise at work, better opportunities and maybe, some day, a seat at the management level. But you are so wrapped around with inconsistencies that every task you complete is a small miracle.
You may not believe this yet, but one day, the years will outrun you, and management and structures will change, yet you will remain the same, save for a growing waistline and an acquired appetite for Asian food. And when that time comes, it may occur to you, as you watch the new intakes climb over themselves to outperform their peers, that this is how your story would end, as the weird MBA flashing supervisor who really doesn’t know how to use a spreadsheet. But before that day comes, before you wonder how to salvage a reputation fraying at its seams, let me tell you how to begin.
Begin with a paradigm shift, a thought, that this slow grinding cliché of existence is in fact your life. That your small cubicle and mounting deadlines and your embarrassing paycheck is a deal you committed to. There was no gun-to-your-head-take-this-job-or-die-moment. You chose this, with open eyes and a hungry stomach. So begin with a shift in perspective, that love is not always pretty, that sometimes it is all the aches on your back, and all the forgotten lunch and late hours, because love, too, is looking yourself in the mirror and saying: well done.
Or maybe begin with an ultimatum: I will do this and do it well, or I will not do it all. Because, let me tell you, there is a gracefulness to walking out of a cause you do not believe in. It takes honour, and grit, and above all, a love for the things that are noble and true. But it is possible, even for you.