Who do you want to be when you grow up?
In Nigeria, when you are a 5 or 6-year-old, your primary school teacher — who is supposed to ensure that your spelling is impeccable and you understand basic math: 1+1=2 instead of 22 — asks you a life-changing question. This mind-boggling question doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their job description, instead, it plants a seed of consistent questioning that continues to plague you even until adulthood.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I have never been able to wrap my head around how a normal 5 or 6-year-old could know what to do with a life that has barely started. I don’t recall much about my childhood but I do remember that it was filled with lots of Cartoon Network and Disney Channel. My childhood was THE childhood. Father was overprotective, yet a loving family man with a wife who was setting me on the path of self-reliance and feminism. Siblings were all younger than me. We all used to take turns, choosing television shows that piqued our fancy while never getting into fights — well no one got into a fight with me. Fast-forward to 2021, I’m a fresh medical graduate in Nigeria where it is assumed that anyone who chooses medicine should know what exactly they are going into because tell me the sort of madness that pushes a young person to spend 7- 8 (even 10 years in some cases) in medical school when there are less painful and time-consuming options. I hear things like “Wow, I respect you people o”, or, sometimes, things like “You must be so intelligent, kudos” and each time I feel like blocking my ears, because most of the time I don’t know why I am a doctor, and some of the time, when I think I’ve finally figured it out, I wonder why I had to go through all this stress when there are less demanding professions. Nearly twenty years down the line and this question of “who do you want to be when you grow up” still lacks an answer.
There are some poignant expectations society has for its youths; something I call DECLARING A STRUGGLE. When you have declared a struggle, you have decided that this is what you aim to do for the rest of your life. You have given people a developmental assessment sheet to score your progression or regression, and when you fail to meet up with the expected scores, you are called a failure. You decide to marry yourself to a goal and like a true partner, she will make you happy, sad, and darn right frustrated. In the next few points, I want to tell you four truths about following your dreams based on my own experiences.
1. You may have more than one struggle.
We aren’t the most advanced species on the planet because we decided to stick to just one version of ourselves. I have learned to come to terms with the duplicity of human nature; the sheer complexity that makes us three dimensional. I don’t know if you like good movies, but if you know a good movie, you realise that what makes it so good is the Character Web. It’s not completely about the dialogue or the cinematography or editing. Voicemail gives us dialogue every day when we call on our mobile phones; good cinematography cannot save bad actors; and editing becomes just as useless when the cinematography isn’t good in the first place.
A Character Web is the interweaving of different characters in a story; how they interact with one another and the hero. The character web is so important because, without it, the hero doesn’t look or feel real. Imagine a Captain America all by himself saving the world, no Avengers or no Peggy Carter, just him all by his lonesome, fighting evil and crime. It doesn’t work. People need to see some conflict, some betrayal, some plot twists, hence, every character has a role to play in making the story a well-rounded one.
It’s the same with human beings. We don’t just have minds that think up ideas without a brain, two hands and two feet for execution. We experience things in our lives; people, situations, opportunities, things that make us question the validity of our dreams in the first place. And like a true partner, we cheat; we try new things, learn new things, spend time in new spaces. We become flexible and learn that life is full of possibilities and our dreams may be too small-minded for the life we eventually wish to live.
As the complex beings that we are, we learn that it is okay to be more than that one thing we’ve promised ourselves. It’s okay to build a web of things to become. The saying Jack of all trades master of none is not completely true; we can be human and being human is not just one thing — it is like a character web in a great movie.
Advice: Try to focus on one thing at a time. Start out with what you want to be, give it your best shot, then when you are established in it (evident by referrals or testimonials), you can slow down and focus on the next thing. The truth is I wish I listen to my own advice because I hear it comes really handy.
2. Your Dreams may take a while.
This was hard for me to come to terms with because I’m a Zillennial, and like any Zillenial, I like my dreams to happen sooner rather than later. I remember writing poetry to myself in 2016/2017. I wrote a lot of dreadful-looking poems, but enjoyed how I could create something that looked so beautiful to me - at the time anyway. I dreamt of being the next Chimamanda (love her writing style) or J.K Rowling (Harry potter Stan!). Slowly and painfully I realised that life has a way of working and its way is not the ideal way. I learnt that being a social media child with a deluge of information at my fingertips did not save me from something that governs all life.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, to become a master at a skill, a person must have spent 10,000 hours or 10 years working on the skill. There have been theories to disprove this, but I like this theory in particular because it has a certain appeal for me as a slow learner. Like Sansa Stark of Winterfell in the Game of Thrones series, I’m a slow learner but I learn and I know that it would take a lot more time to truly be a master at my craft of choice. This is a truth all Zillennials — or anyone really — should try to understand, especially if you are not some Kardashian.
Everyone has their own time and asides from time there is a whole lot of purely random factors that all contribute to the success of an individual. I’ ve learnt that I may never be Chimmamanda or J.K Rowling, but I can be me and as boring as it sounds, being me means following the path that life has set up for me, maximising opportunities and being optimistic.
So you may be like Sansa or you may be like Little finger, either learnt in their own time and eventually realised that at the end of the day, they grew.
3. You absolutely have to be self-aware.
How many hours in a day have you dedicated to knowing yourself? We are so complicated as human beings that we think we are not, we think we are rational and logical when research in Behavioural economics has challenged the rationality of our decisions. I remember reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman , read a quick summary here, where I learnt that there is so much more to human nature, we think we are rational creatures but we are not, not really anyway, therefore there should be some room for self-awareness: awareness about our nuances.
What do you want most in this world?
What kind of person are you?
What would you do if you were the complete opposite of who you are now?
How do you face adversity?
How do you handle relationships?
What is your religion?
It is so easy to get caught up in daily niceties that we forget who we are. When we truly understand who we are, we can then understand the principles that we live by, be they written or unwritten. We understand what we need when we are stressed, what makes us sing and what brings us to our knees. Knowing yourself is a lifelong process, but it is one that you simply must do because it opens the door to how you see other people.
4. Be okay with the unknown.
I’d like to think of myself as a micromanager. Before I revived my writing, I wanted to be sure that I had a calendar as well as a weekly post idea. I agonised over what I needed to say and not say, what I could and could not do. All that inaction was an action in itself because it stopped me from really doing what needed to be done: writing. Regardless of how well I plan or how much I try to think through everything, I never will know how poorly or greatly I am doing if I do not start — and therein lies the problem. So this is me starting and I hope you know I have started a million times before, but this time, I think the difference is that I don’t care about the outcome. The goal is to write better really and I’m pretty sure that, as Ray Bradbury said, “Write a short story every week, It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row, ” I can’t possibly write 52 horrible stories.
So here I am, twenty-something, certain that my primary school teacher is retching, somewhere, appalled that I don’t know what to do with my life despite having a medical degree and whatnot. I am certain that I want to write, write better, write more, write disasters and deliverance; tragedies and comedies. I am certain I want to earn. Who doesn’t like money? I am certain I want to give value to people; that people be blessed because they have interacted with me - this alone is satisfactory.