Sunday, 7 February 2016

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Investing in our success - the book

The "Investing In Our Success" marathon has ended. However, six chapters of the book are still here for your reading pleasure.
 
I hope that you all have had a great time reading it, and will continue to have a great time reading this book and reflecting on the ideas it contains.
 
This is a draft of the book, so you may find a few errors here. The final version  should be virtually error free.
 
After reading, I would appreciate it if you would go here to purchase a copy for a friend or relative and to share your thoughts in a review of this book. Thank you for stopping by.  
 
 



 
INTRODUCTION

For whom is this book?

This book, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world, is for all of us.

It is validation for all of us who have grown up in circumstances in which poverty has been pervasive, but instead of allowing our poverty to dictate the circumstances of our future, we have been taking matters into our own hands. We have been following a course that we have charted for ourselves, and we have been rising above our circumstances.

This book is for all of us who have grown up in circumstances of privilege, but who have decided to improve on the foundation that we have been given, instead of settling into what already exists.

This book is also for people who have grown up in circumstances in which poverty has been pervasive, but instead of taking matters into their own hands and trying to rise above their circumstances, have been allowing this poverty to dictate their futures. People who are in situations like these can find some inspiration in this book to start their own journeys to their own versions of success.

Purpose of this book

This book, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world, is inviting all of us to invest in or to continue to invest in our own success because this is what all of us want – success. It is inviting all of us to engage in a process of stock taking, our selves containing the “stock” of which we will do a detailed inventory, write our own reports, and spend time studying these reports, then taking the necessary actions to improve our stock in terms of its quality and therefore its value.

Inspiration for writing this book

This book, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world, is the product of my reflections on my life so far, as well as the reflections that some of the friends with whom I have interacted along my continuing journey through life have shared with me. It is also the product of my observations of others who have been sharing similar experiences to mine, as well as my observations of others whose experiences have been diverging markedly from mine.

This book reflects my understanding of my experiences and observations, as well as my understanding of the experiences of others with whom I share space in the many environments in which I have my being. My reflections, in concert with the reflections of relatives and friends, as well as my listening in on the reflections of strangers whom I have met along the way – strangers who proudly tell their stories to all and sundry of rising above their circumstances in spite of the odds that they have been facing – have convinced me that we have powerful stories to tell, stories which I have told in this book.

The stories of our lives which we have only been able to process on reflection have been the fodder from which this book has taken its form. These stories have always been simmering just below the surface of our consciousness, but now have escaped their constraints. These stories now constitute this book that is now before us, urging us to read it and to do further reflections.

The impetus for our journeys

Many of us have been born into circumstances where some form of deprivation has been a feature of our existence. Some of us have lacked many of the material things of life, or have not had them in the acceptable quality and quantity that society holds up to us as standards of success. Some of us have lacked the nurturing that we have needed to develop the emotional strength to cope with life’s challenges. And, for some of us, we have lacked both the material and the emotional resources as a result of the circumstances into which we were born.

Having developed an understanding of our circumstances of deprivations, we have decided to leave these circumstances behind because we have realized that there are more and better things “out there” than the ones to which we have been accustomed. We have therefore, struck out into the unknown, being determined to find our versions of success, the kind of success that we know will not be possible within the confines of the circumstances that we have come to know.

Our versions of success, we have realized, differ in many respects, and, in many cases, do not reflect the standards for success that some elements in society hold up to us as the ideal. Our versions of success reflect what we believe is important to us. Therefore, it is this success – our versions of it – that we have embarked on our journeys to realize.

We have been on this journey since the dawn of our understanding of the circumstances of our lives. We have not been satisfied with being bound on all sides by deprivation in some or all of its forms. Therefore, we have been committed to this journey, and we have been managing to gradually rise above the circumstances into which we were born.

Our stories

This book, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world, tells our stories. Our stories recount our journeys from environments where we have been surrounded by poverty, to our destinations, yet to be finally attained, but which we hope to reach. These destinations are our versions of success which we have envisioned for ourselves.

Our stories are multifaceted, and we are the characters with our diverse personalities, motivations, beliefs, experiences, orientations, body types, features, colors, ethnicity and races, among other differences. We have had our beginning in diverse environments. We have suffered through many disappointments, fears, and hurts. We are at different stages on our journeys to the success that we have envisioned for ourselves. But at many points along our journeys our paths have crossed, literally and/or figuratively, as we hurry along the roads that we have chosen to lead us to our versions of success.

Our stories are ones of struggles: emotional, mental, and physical struggles. But, they are also stories about winning; winning some of our struggles against the odds. Ours are also stories of strength; emotional, mental and physical strength that we have been depending on to confront our circumstances, and rise above them. We have been searching for and have been finding our emotional, mental and physical fortitude that has been buried deep within us, and we have been using this fortitude to chart our courses to our versions of success.

Ours are stories of reflection; that is, staring our past in the face, and examining all its characteristics. Ours are stories of self-discovery and decision-making. Ours are also stories about possibilities; what is possible if we are willing to exert the effort to attain the reality of our dreams.

The structure of this book

I have written this book in the third person plural, and, for the most part, in the present tense. I have done this because this book tells our stories of our journeys that are still in progress.

This book has an introduction and twelve chapters. Each chapter explores a different element of our stories. Chapter one explores the issue of our past in our present. Our stock taking and our SWOT analysis of ourselves are explored in chapters two and three, respectively. Giving up on failure is the issue that we explore in chapter four. Chapter five explores our ambition. The issues of sacrifice, effort, and reciprocity are explored in chapters six, seven and eight, respectively. And, the issues of faith, choices, rest and success are explored in chapters nine, ten, eleven, and twelve, respectively.

This book chronicles the journeys that some of us have been taking to our versions of success. We are on our journeys because we have wanted better and/or more than we have had for ourselves and our families. This book provides the reader with a glimpse into our travels on these journeys that we have been on, as well a glimpse of some of our accomplishments.

Reading this book

In reading this book, the reader is invited to note that the book is not presenting a linear process that we who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been carefully following. Far from that! Our journeys have been iterations of all the steps that we have listed in our action plans.

In addition, the reader is further encouraged to note that I have not presented any prescriptions that are to be slavishly taken by persons who have found themselves in conditions of poverty on which the book focuses, and have been trying to overcome their circumstances. Instead, I have outlined some of the strategies that some of us who are on our journeys to our versions of success have been employing as we move away from our circumstances rife with poverty toward the kinds of success that we have defined for ourselves.

These strategies have been working for us. You, the reader, may choose, after reading this book, to reject all or some of the strategies that we have been utilizing, and replace them with those that have been working for you. You may even choose to write your versions of your journeys. What we have in common is the similarity of our goals – we are moving toward success as defined by us.

You may choose to read selectively any chapter of this book that has peaked your interest. Each chapter tells its own story. Or, you may choose to accompany us on an exploration of our journeys by reading this book from the beginning to the end. The choice is yours.

Thanks

I am thankful to relatives, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, who have shared their stories about overcoming the odds and being on their way to achieving their versions of success. I am also thankful to the many strangers who have chosen some of the oddest places to share their stories: bus stops, in the buses, train stations, in the trains, and for choosing to strike up a conversation with me on the street – for just celebrating their joy in their achievements when their tongues have been made loose by thinking of the great distance that they have traveled from where they started out, and all that they have been achieving.



CHAPTER 1

Our past in our present

Many of us who are on our journeys to our versions of success try to run away from our past but, the faster we run, it is always one step ahead of us, demanding that we take notice of it. This is a source of irritation for many of us because while we would like to get rid of it by pretending that it does not exist, or that it is something other than it is, we have come to realize that our past is part of our essence. It is always going to be with us because it is embedded in our memories. Anything from our present, we have been realizing, can transport us back in time to the circumstances of our past, of which all of us have our own perspectives.

Some of us look back on our past with nostalgia. It holds some good memories for us.

Some of us look back at our past with regret: there are things that we have wished that we had not done; there are things that we have wished that we had done; there are things that we have wished that we had not said, and there are things that we have wished that we had said.

Some of us look back at our past with disgust. “Good riddance!” we say. We refuse to be constantly tormented by our memories of hurts and deprivations that have been hallmarks of our past. But even though we think we have put it to rest, like a cheeky child we see it peering and smiling at us from around the corners of our consciousness.

Some of us look back at our past with a mixture of nostalgia, regret and disgust, each at times fighting for ascendancy, but none quite winning. There is no escape for us from our past.

1. Memories of our parents or caregivers

At times, memories of our past flow through our consciousness like a swift moving river. At these times, our senses are roiled and our emotions are in spates. For all of us, different memories of our past take precedence at different times. But, for some of us, our parents or caregivers are the recurring subjects.

We sometimes, still hear the murmur of their conversations with each other. Sometimes, we hear the roar of these conversations. Sometimes, we hear the silences. We remember the tone of their conversations. Sometimes it is amicable. Sometimes it is quarrelsome, and sometimes it is indifferent. They have had their moments.

We still remember the nature of these conversations. We hear them discussing the state of their finances, their work, and the businesses in which they were engaged. We hear them discussing our neighbors’ business. We still hear the worry in their voices as they talk about our needs and the things that need to be done in the home. We still hear their approval, their disgust, their dismay, their shock as they discuss the news of the day. The topics of their discussions are still with us, and some of us are realizing that we are becoming our parents or caregivers.

From the interactions of our parents or caregivers, we have learned about their beliefs, and the principles on which these beliefs are based – whether religious or non-religious. We also have learned about their practices relating to their beliefs.

Some of us still remember their insistence that we follow their beliefs and practices because they are the “truth.” Some of us remember voluntarily embracing their beliefs and practices.

However, some of us remember reluctantly embracing their beliefs and practices and, at the first opportunity that we have had, finally rejecting them for our own versions of the “truth.” But, from an early age, we have learned from the interactions of our parents or caregivers about our place in the world that they have created for us.

In our memories, their faces drift by. Some of us still see our parents or caregivers always lazing around the home with no care in the world. Some of us still see our parents or caregivers engaging in their daily activities. Some of us still see them bustling about the home, always busy, their faces studies in concentration. Some of us still see our parents or caregivers getting ready to go to work, anticipation written on some of their faces, dread written on others, while written on some of their faces, we see resignation.

We still see them returning from work. In some of their faces we still see the imprint of the day’s toil. In some of their faces we still see purpose; there is much more yet to be done before the evening is over. In some of their faces, some of us still see the glimmers of recognition of who we are, glimmers that they quickly replace with indifference or distraction.

2. Memories of being disciplined by parents or caregivers

Some of us remember being flogged by our parents or caregivers for any of a number of reasons. We remember being flogged for getting our clothes dirty, when our parents labored to get them clean, and because we are not buying the soap, and we cannot wash them for ourselves.

We remember being flogged for eating too fast because if food gets stuck in our throats we will be punishing them to take us to the doctor where they will waste time by “dragging their bottoms” on benches for the whole day, when they could be doing something useful. We remember being flogged for eating too slowly because time is going and we still have chores to do.

We remember being flogged for running when we should have been walking because we can fall and hurt ourselves, and we hear the story about dragging their bottoms on benches again.

We remember being flogged for doing what we have been told to do because we have not done it well and because we are not learning to do anything. We need to learn to do things for ourselves because we do not want to grow up to be worthless, so that people can take advantage of us.

We remember being flogged for not doing what we have been told to do because we are behaving like we are men and women in the house, but only “one man” or “one woman” is in “this house.” We are still children so we should do what we are told.

We remember being flogged for not hurrying to do our chores because “time waits on no man” so we should get a move on.

We remember being flogged for being back late from doing our chores because we have been wasting time gallivanting with our friends, and their bread is buttered on all sides while we do not even have the first slice of bread.

We remember being flogged for waking late in the morning because if we waste half the day in bed, nothing will get done.

We remember being flogged for going to bed too early because we have chores still to do, and we must not shy away from work because work will put food on our tables.

We remember being flogged for going to bed too late because if we go to bed late we will not wake on time in the morning.

We remember being flogged before going to school because we need to make sure we learn what teacher is telling us; we do not want to become anybody’s toy.

We remember being flogged for returning home from school late, and not being able to readily recite all that we learned at school that day because they are not wasting their money on nobody who is not interested in school.

We remember that the floggings have all been punctuated by lectures. We also remember that the number of the slaps that our parents or caregivers have given us during these times have seemed to us to be commensurate with the number of words that they have uttered while doing so, unless we managed to escape from their clutches.

Some of us remember that most of our parents have been careful in their flogging of us so as not to leave any lasting physical damage on us. We have since realized that the beatings that they have given us have been the only effective form of discipline that they have known, having gone through it themselves.

We have realized that our parents or caregivers have not had any malicious intent when they have beaten us. This pastime of theirs has always been intended as discipline. So, every time that we have, in their eyes, infringed one of their rules, or anytime that they have believed that we have needed encouragement, they have drawn for their trusty belts.

We remember being resentful of these beatings, but many of us can expound on all the lessons that we have learned from them, lessons that we have been putting to good use in our lives.

3. Memories of our communities and living conditions

As we have grown older and have traversed outside of our immediate environment, we have developed a much keener awareness of our circumstances than ever before. This awareness has, more often than not, been driven by our exposure to others who, we have come to realize, have been more privileged or less privileged than we have been.

This awareness of our circumstances has dictated every move that we have been making to get us to this point in our lives.

Our travels outside of our neighborhoods have opened our eyes to ways of living other that that to which we have been exposed. We have been able to compare our neighborhoods to other neighborhoods, and because we have done this, some of us have found our neighborhoods lacking.

As our eyes have been opened to other possibilities, some of us remember wishing for bigger and “prettier” houses than the ones our parents or caregivers were able to provide for us.

We remember wishing for electricity, water and telephones in our homes, as other people outside of our communities have had.

We remember wishing for paved streets and street lights that other communities have had.

We remember wishing for well-maintained, demarcated and equipped areas for sports and other recreational activities.

Some of us remember wishing for quiet neighborhoods in which there was no incessant reverberation of sound systems in our heads to keep us always awake.

Having become aware of other communities that have seemed to be “better” than ours, we have also focused our attention on our living conditions. And for some of us who are on our journeys to our versions of success, we do not have fond memories of them.

a. Growing up in rural communities

Many of us who have had our beginnings in deep rural settings, and have not been “well-off,” remember our houses made of board with its one, two or three rooms, in their dilapidated states. Some of us remember having always with us a view of the outside world, presented to us by the multi-shaped holes in the walls of our homes or in the roofing. We remember not minding this view during the day time, but remember our terror at nights when the moving shadows outside have seemed to be getting ready to invade our space.

Some of us remember the leaky roofs that have often forced us to have an even tighter bond with our family members than we normally have preferred, but have had to enjoy on rainy days.

Some of us are still seeing our tiny, outdoor kitchens in which our parents or caregivers have spent countless hours preparing every meal – breakfast and dinner. It is a tiny wooden building or a lean-to that is standing apart from the house.

We can still see or hear our parents or caregivers creating their own magic inside. We can still smell the aromas emanating from there, and some of us can still feel the anticipation that we have had for whatever has been dispensed from its dark interior.

Some of us are experiencing the opposite reaction.

However, for many of us, every time that we think about our childhood meals, we have been amazed at the seeming wizardry of our parents or caregivers who have managed to feed their multitude with so little.

We remember our dining tables and chairs: the steps leading into the house and our laps; or the tree root and our laps; or the rails of the veranda, for those of us who have lived in houses with them; or anything else that we were able to find to accommodate our weight at meal time.

Some of us who remember having “proper” tables and chairs remember our parents or caregivers either using them for decorative purposes or only on special occasions. And some of us remember these as being either the preserve of the father in the home, if there has been one, or them being used for additional storage.

Some of us remember our toilet facilities. We can still see them; tiny wooden or zinc-framed structures. They are standing far away from the house and kitchen. They are embracing the woods whose mysteries we have had no intention to meet at nights. We remember rushing to them any time nature has made her calls on us, whether day or night. We remember the races that we the children have always run to get there first, and we remember the discomfort that we have always endured when we have lost.

Some of us can still see our river, sometimes lazily, sometimes urgently making its way along its bed, all the way to the sea. This is our bathroom and washroom on the good days, huge and unconstrained on all sides, affording us unfettered views of the heavens, and unlimited amounts of water for all our hygiene needs. We can still see its pools, small and large, deep and shallow in which we have spent countless hours frolicking until either the voices of our parents or caregivers or our consciences have alerted us to the passage of time.

However, on rainy days, some of us remember our bathrooms being the back of the house under the great expanse of the sky, while some of us remember the lean-to in which we have been able to enjoy our privacy, away from the prying eyes of passers-by.

And, we remember the pitch blackness of our environment at night. We can still see our mobile, trusty lamps, framed by the “home sweet home” lampshades, providing the light from which we have read, and studied and stayed awake until bedtime.

We can also see our makeshift lamps that we have used to chart our paths through the thick darkness to church at nights, to the party down the road or to the shop to get something that is so important, we cannot wait for the morning to get it. We can still see the circles of light that these contraptions have emanated, and we can still feel the dread as we have put one foot in front of the other in navigating the wall of darkness in front of us. Our hearts still race every time we remember our neighbors springing at us out of the darkness, and we, throwing off all good sense and taking off in the opposite direction at speeds unimaginable, with their laughter chasing us.

b. Growing up in inner city communities

For those of us who have grown up in urban centers, and who have been from poor families, we can still see our wooden or concrete framed homes, or all zinc structures, or high rise structures that we have called home. Some of us who have grown up in these wooden, concrete or zinc framed structures can still see the corrugated zinc fencing that seems to have been carelessly constructed that has separated our yards from our neighbors.

We can still see the containers of different shapes and sizes that we, or our parents or caregivers, have strategically placed to catch the water that has found its way inside by seeping through our inadequate roofing – an exercise in futility that we have never failed to engage in on rainy days.

Some of us can still see our crowded homes, with hardly any space to put our feet because every available space is taken up with the furniture that our parents or caregivers have believed that they needed, furniture which we have had to keep in pristine condition, or else.

Some of us can see not much beyond the bed that takes pride of place in the room we call home.

Some of us can still see our communal shower and toilet facilities in their dilapidated structures. We can still see and hear the battles that have been fought over these: somebody has wanted to urgently use them while we have been using them; somebody has left them in an unsanitary state; only one person has been cleaning them – our communal shower and toilet facilities have been the sources of many of our quarrels.

We remember the feuds between and among rival groups over either guns, or politics, or space, or women, or men or a combination of all these factors. We still remember the perpetual dread and discomfort of our existence then.

Many of us who have grown up in living conditions such as these remember our communities, rife with either underemployment, unemployment, violence, or a combination of all of these. We remember our states of poverty.

Some of us remember our family members and other members of the community using unorthodox methods to eke out a living. We remember many of these family members and friends who, in their quest to survive, have perished in their plots. We remember attempts by the masterminds of everything devious to draft us into that seemingly unending game of “Russian roulette,” but either fear or self preservation or both seem to have restrained us. We have survived our environment.

And for some of us who have had tough beginnings, we just remember our past as a stream of never ending poverty. When we look back, we realize that we have lacked. We have lacked the material things of life that we have believed would complete our lives, if only we have had them. We remember our poor and overcrowded homes with everyone jostling for a little space, a space to be.

Yes, we have wanted nicer homes, we have wanted our own space, we have wanted access to all the utilities, we have wanted toys, fast food, new clothing, enough warmth, less warmth, yards with a few trees, yards with no trees, paved yards, vacations, books, schooling – we have wanted much. But, we have not had what we have wanted.

4. Memories of inadequate schooling

Some of us remember lacking schooling. We have wanted to go to school regularly like other children in our communities. We remember the school in our communities and we remember the one or two days per week that we have graced its walls, and being excited by all the information that have floated this way and that, but being unable to grasp its significance, being stymied by debilitating absence. We remember vowing to ourselves that one day, one day, we’ll figure it all out.

5. Memories of abuse

Some of us remember our whole past as a stream of never-ending abuse. Some of us remember our parents or caregivers as persons who to us have seemed to have had frustrated ambitions with regard to professional boxing. Or, we have thought that they may have had too much zeal for the sport, and because of poverty, or stinginess, or both, or because of some other reason that we have never been able to fathom, they have chosen to use us as their punching bags, over and over and over – again, and again, and again, until we have become as frayed and worn as the punching bags, themselves, limply going through the motions of life.

Some of us have memories of being molested by people in our lives who we have believed have had the responsibility to protect us, but who abdicated their responsibility to do so: fathers, or mothers, or uncles, or aunts, or siblings, or cousins, or friends of the family, or other friends, or people in positions of trust or a combination of these people.

Some of us remember bringing our abuse to the attention of a significant person in our lives and being unceremoniously turned away, being called liars and worse.

Some of us have endured this abuse for years. But now, having grown up, we are filled with disgust and contempt for ourselves and our abuser/s. Some of us have felt such a deep sense of shame that we have refused to confide in any one. We have been carrying this burden alone, all of our lives.

6. Memories of our relationships with family members

Some of us remember with anger and resentment our past relationships with our parents or caregivers or siblings. We remember the actions of our parents that we deemed to have been excessively unjust, and for which we have been unwilling to forgive.

Some of us have memories of what we have perceived as ill-treatment by our parents or caregivers. We remember them deliberately giving us less food than our siblings, or the worst part of the meat – whichever part we think that is. We still remember the floggings to which we have been subjected, which we know we have not deserved. We still remember mistakes that we have made, and what we believe have been overreactions from our parents or caregivers to these.

We remember our having to go without the new dress or pants or whatever item of clothing that we have wanted, because our parents or caregivers claimed that they could not afford it, even though we knew otherwise.

We remember their treatment of us in relation to our other siblings. We remember our siblings making fun of us, abusing us without our parents or caregivers reprimanding them.

We remember things they have said to us in the past that they are now pretending not to remember.

We remember our relationships with our parents or caregivers as bouts after bouts of discrimination and disadvantage.

7. Memories of the insults that have been tossed at us

For some of us, our memories of the past have centered on the insults that we have endured. We remember every insult that the people in our lives have carelessly tossed our way. We can still hear the voices: the voices of our family members; the voices of those whom we have considered to be friends; the voices of some of our teachers; the voices of strangers. We can still hear these voices taunting us.

Our minds spin as we hear these voices, voices which refuse to be silent, reminding us that we are ugly; “so and so” is prettier than you, we still hear. We are afraid to look ourselves face to face in the mirror because we remember that our nose is too big, or too small, or too pointy; they do not meet the ideal standard that someone has set for noses.

We hear the voices telling us that our eyes are too beady or too big; again, our eyes do not meet the ideal

standard that somebody has set for eyes.

We hear voices telling us that our foreheads protrude too much, or that they are too flat or that they are shaped “funny”; yet again another one of our features does not meet the ideal standard set by some random person for foreheads.

We hear that our hair is too short, too curly, too nappy, too stringy, too dry or too oily; even our hair does not meet the ideal standard for hair that these random people have set.

We hear that we are as black as tar or as white as ghost, or as yellow as any comparison that they can pull out of their hats at the moment; our complexion is far from whatever that person thinks is the ideal.

Every part of our being has been found wanting; the criticizers all have different opinions of our person.

We hear ourselves being called lazy, no matter how much work we do or how little. We still hear the voices telling us that we will not amount to anything; that we are dunces; the negative superlatives never cease to haunt our memories.

These voices have been inhabiting our memories and therefore our present.

8. Memories of the provision of parents or caregivers

Some of us, in spite of lacking much, remember our past as being bound up with a parent or parents, or a caregiver or caregivers, who have had a dream for us. These significant people in our lives have never let go of the belief that education is the door through which we must pass to achieve success in life. As such, never failed to send us to school every school day whether it was rainy or cloudy or sunshiny. We remember our parent/s or caregiver/s encouraging us to go to school and to do well because they want us to achieve much more than they achieved from their schooling.

We remember going to school and doing our best, yet constantly being reminded by our more privileged friends and foes that we were dunces because we were poor. We remember teachers glossing over our work and giving us poor grades, no matter how hard we tried. But we remember, well, those teachers, friends and strangers who encouraged us to do well at school, so that one day we would be able to help ourselves and family.

We remember our chores that we had to do before and after school, and during the weekend, chores like walking great distances to water and feed the animals, to tote water for the family’s use, to do laundry at the river or spring, to collect the harvest from the farm, among a host of other chores which our parents or caregivers thought would be essential to our survival in the “real” world. “Horse must not be too proud to carry its own grass!” they drummed into our heads.

9. Memories of neglectful parents or caregivers

And while some of us remember with gratitude the care and love of our parents or caregivers, there are some of us who remember with regret and/or anger the laissez-faire attitude of parents or caregivers who have managed our upbringing by what has seemed to us like remote control.

We remember being left to our own devices, left to make our own decisions about our lives and we have taken what we have thought has been the easy way. We have enjoyed all kinds of freedoms: freedom from what we have perceived to be the boredom of school; freedom from observing etiquette; freedom from any constraint on our time; freedom from familial obligations; and freedom to be who we thought we wanted to be.

Some of us have been managing to find a path out of this situation, while some of us have been hoping for some kind of anchor to keep us grounded in the uncertain environment in which we have found ourselves.

10. Memories of our middle-class upbringing

Some of us remember our past as one in which we have not been rich, neither have we been destitute. We remember being privileged in many respects. We remember being relatively comfortable. We remember that our parents or caregivers have worked hard, and have been able to satisfy our material needs. We remember having access to nice clothing and to satisfying and, more often than not, nutritious meals. We remember always having access to all the utilities. We remember that our parents have either created recreational centers for us in our homes, or we have had uninhibited access to them in our communities. We remember that though our homes have not been huge, they have been comfortable. We have had a good family life when we have compared our lives to the lives of other persons who we have been meeting along the way on our journeys.

11. Memories of our very privileged past

Some of us remember our past as a stream of never ending privilege. Our parents have had much money, and have not been afraid to spend it on us. We have gone to the best schools; we have worn the best clothing; we have gotten every material thing our hearts have desired; we have been exposed to every opportunity and we have enjoyed many enviable experiences. We have had a good life and we continue to have a good life.

Yet, for some of us who have had privileged backgrounds, not all of us have agreed that it has all been idyllic. While we accept that we have had many enviable experiences and have enjoyed all the privileges that our parents or caregivers have made available to us, some of us have also believed that we have suffered from deprivation.

We believe that we have suffered from a lack of acceptance, and we have suffered from a lack of confidence to chart our own course. And so the memories of the constant scrutiny of our family, friends and strangers, the scrutiny to ensure that we are “perfect” in their eyes keep on haunting us.

We remember the constant criticisms: We remember criticisms of our features; of our clothing; of our attitudes; of our choices, and we remember being condemned to failure unless we toe the line that they have drawn for us. In addition, some of us have now realized that we have been trying unsuccessfully to live up to the expectations that these people have of us.

12. Our pervasive pasts

Many of us who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have accepted that our past will always be a part of our present circumstances. We have been realizing that it has laid the foundation from which we have been expected to build, and from which we have been building.

We have also been realizing that the end result of our construction will be the result of our innovation and care with the resources with which we have been presented, whether much or less. We have also been realizing that whatever we have been constructing will remain mostly unfinished because, until we die, we are navigating the complex process of just being, and being requires that we keep on adjusting to the vagaries of life.

So, we have accepted that our past and subsequent experiences will continue to shape us into the persons who we have been becoming as the years roll by. Therefore, we have been examining our memories of the past every time that they have invaded our present. Whether or not we believe that they have been good, bad or we are indifferent to them, our emotions have been aroused.

For those of us who relish our good memories of the past, we have resolved to continue our journeys in order to acquire the resources to be able to continue to make good, even better, memories for ourselves and families.

For those of us who remember having had bad experiences, we have resolved to continue our journeys because we want to acquire the resources to create better memories for ourselves and our families; better memories than the ones that sometimes push past the barriers that we have set up to keep them out.

And, for those of us who are indifferent about our past, we have resolved to continue our journeys to our versions of success because we have been realizing that the more resources that we have, the more we have been able to satisfy our needs and wants.

We are all on our journey to our versions of success, and we have decided not to quit. We have decided to do whatever it takes to prepare us to take on the ravages of our journeys, and we are confident that we will reach our destinations one day.

13. Our baggage

We who are on our journeys to our versions of success have started out with much baggage that we have been accumulating through the process of living. As we travel along on our journeys, we have been realizing that this baggage has been weighing us down. As a result, we have been finding it difficult to take great strides, or travel great distances daily on our journeys because of the weight that we have been carrying.

We know that we have many miles still to cover, and we know that we have a limited time in which to do so. Therefore, many of us have realized that we need to stop and sort through this baggage. We are aware that there is much of this baggage that we need to throw out, but there may just be some of it that we want to keep. So, we have been stopping at intervals on our journeys to our versions of success and we have been taking stock.



Chapter 2

Stock taking

Just as the retailer, at intervals, takes stock by doing an inventory of items in her store, making note of those items which need to be re-stocked, removing items which have spoiled and/or have passed their expiration dates from the shelves and store rooms, many of us pause from time to time as we travel through life to take stock. We take stock of our lives.

1. The nature of our stock taking

Some of us have been realizing that even though the stock taking process for the retailer is oftentimes scheduled and organized, for us, it is oftentimes not scheduled and it is oftentimes not organized. We have realized that we have been forced to deal with the experiences that persistently clamor for our attention.

These experiences may be from our past – where we are coming from. They may be from our present – where we are in our lives right now. Whichever set of experiences, whether from the past or present, that seem to be having a hold on us at the moment is that to which we tend to direct our attention. These experiences that have a pervasive effect on us are usually the negative ones and they all impact us in different ways.

For some of us, however, stock taking has been a deliberate process – one that we have scheduled. We have been taking stock because we have the trajectories of our lives in terms of accomplishments carefully planned. We have set objectives that we hope to achieve at predetermined points in our lives. We have been modifying these objectives as we navigate the twists and turns on life’s road.

As one friend on this journey to her version of success once said, after taking a new job which saw her elevating her status, “this is where I saw myself at this point in my life.” She has been achieving the objectives that she has set for herself, and she is noting another of her achievements – evidence of her success.

Our lives are store houses which have a number of items that we have been collecting along life’s way. However, there are times when our store houses become too full, much of its contents being junk. We do an inventory of all these things in our store houses; things that we have been carrying around with us for a long time. We have been sorting through these items, separating the ones we deem to be good from the ones we deem to be bad. Some of us have been discarding the “bad” items, which we believe are inhibiting our progress on our journeys, and we have been keeping the “good” items that we believe are causing us to make progress on our journeys.

Taking stock, for us, has meant doing an evaluation of our lives with a view to making changes, positive changes. So, like the retailer who in taking stock, wants to ensure that she has the quality goods on hand to satisfy the anticipated demands of her customers we, too, have our purpose for taking stock.

We take stock because we want to ensure that we can satisfy the demands that we have been making on ourselves. We want to make space for what we consider to be some of the more desirable collectibles that we have been acquiring as we travel along on our journeys to our versions of success, and we want to ensure that we have been traveling on the right road and in the right direction to our versions of success.

Some of the items that many of us have in our store houses are the memories of our backgrounds and the experiences that we have had; relationships that are shaping our present; concerns about the future; issues with our physical being and our personalities, among other concerns. We begin the process of stock taking by examining these items.

After examining these items, we have been finding much that we have overlooked before. , and we have been making some decisions. We have been making decisions about what we have to keep, what we want to keep, what we will repair, and what we will throw out.

2. Examining our memories

First, we have been spreading all our memories of where we are coming from on any surface that we have been able to find, and we have been examining them.

a. Poverty of our past

Some of us, when we examine these memories of where we are coming from, see poverty in all or some of its guises: poverty in the physical infrastructure of our communities: poverty in the quality of our homes; poverty in the material possessions of our parents or caregivers; poverty in their provisions; poverty in the interactions between members of our communities; poverty in the interactions between members of our families; poverty in the relationships in which we have been engaged; we just see the bareness of the existence that we have had to endure.

We realize after seeing our past in all its starkness that we have to do better. We tell ourselves that we can do better, and we have determined that we will do better. So, we are on our journeys. We have been looking for something that is much different and better than what we have left behind. We have been looking for our versions of success.

b. Poverty encased in love

Some of us when we examine the memories of our past that we have been spreading out in front of us see poverty encased in love. We see the deprivation but, superseding all that, we see love in the actions of our parents or caregivers. We see this love in the actions of relatives, and many of our neighbors.

We see the positive community spirit in spite of everything else that is lacking in our communities. We remember feeling safe, protected, looked over. “Not bad,” we say. But we also realize that we can do better.

We have determined that we will do better for ourselves and our parents or caregivers, and for all other members of our communities who have made an investment in our future. This has been the purpose of our journeys, to find our versions of success by bettering ourselves, so that we can extend some help to those who we have left behind.

c. A rosy view

Some of us when we examine the memories of our past that we have been spreading out in front of us stare at a rosy view of the existence that we have had. Instead of poverty, we see plenty and fullness. We see satisfaction. We see entitlement. We see success.

Since, we have a first-hand experience of the possibilities that success can afford us, we have not been content to sit back and savor our existing success. We want more. This has been the purpose of our journeys, to find more success. We have been building on the foundation that our past has laid for us.

d. Examining our memories – our decisions

Having been examining our memories of our past, we all have been seeing different pictures of them that are painted in different colors. Some of us are repulsed by some of our pictures. We do not appreciate their dark hues and grotesque shapes. Some of us do not mind looking at our pictures; they are not the prettiest pictures, but they speak to us in ways that only we can understand. Some of us are always looking at our pictures. They are beautiful, we think.

But, having looked at the pictures of our past, we see some that we will have to keep, we see some that we want to keep, we see some that we have to repair, and we see some or many that we will discard. We have determined that from now on, we will take our own pictures in the colors that we like; we will frame them the way we want to, and they will be just to our liking.

3. Examining the memories of our experiences

We have been spreading the memories of the experiences that we have had in the past in front of us, and we have been examining them. When some of us examine the experiences that we have had so far on our journeys through life, we have been caught in the throes of a myriad of emotions.

a. Memories of our charmed experiences

Some of us smile. We smile smugly when we examine the experiences that we have had, and where we have been. We smile smugly because we have lived, and have been living charmed lives, not because of our backgrounds, but in spite of them. We have not wanted for much.

We have always had benefactors who have been providing for us. Our journeys to our versions of success are bound up with their continued provision. We are confident that this provision will continue, so we skip blithely along the road as we continue on our journeys to our versions of success, thumbing our noses at the stragglers that we meet along the way on our journeys. “If we can do it, why can’t they?” we ask. “They are sitting on their gold mines, and do not know it.”

b. Bitter-sweet memories of our experiences

There are others of us who also smile when we examine the experiences of our past and where we have been. But, our smiles are bitter sweet. We have been achieving much since we have embarked on our journeys to our versions of success, from way back in grade one. We are not happy with the experiences that have made these achievements possible – the experiences of deprivations – but we have been realizing that these experiences of deprivations have been fueling our ambition.

We wish that our circumstances were different. However, we are happy that we have been achieving. But in spite of all that we have been achieving, we realize that we still have a far way to go because we have not yet helped our parents or caregivers in the way that we would like.

c. Memories of idyllic experiences

Some of us smile when we examine all the experiences that we have had in the past, and where we have been. Our smiles are unrestrained. We have been to many places, and we have had great experiences, but there are still more places to visit and many more good experiences to have. There is much more for us to achieve.

We see no obstacles along the road on our journeys to our versions of success. We only see opportunities, and we have been taking them. We briskly walk along the road on our journeys to our versions of success, genially greeting those who we have been meeting along the way.

d. Memories of our bitter experiences

Many of us, instead of smiling when we examine all the experiences that we have had, and where we have been, find ourselves being weighed down in desolation. We shed heart rending tears. The bad experiences that we have had still take their toll on us.

Some of us have had pasts that have left us vulnerable, with stifled ambitions, with deep seated hurts, lacking the will to exert effort, tightfisted, and negative and despondent. For years, we have been searching for an escape route out of our malaise.

We have been unable to loosen ourselves from their power in the past; this time is different we tell ourselves. It is time to move on. We have determined that we will exert the effort to wrest ourselves free, and we have been succeeding.

For too long, we have been locked in our prisons of despair, getting slight glimpses of what is possible, but never quite getting the chance, or taking the chance to hang on to these possibilities.

e. Our memories of our experiences – our decision

We have been examining our experiences that we have had in the past. Our experiences have been different, and have elicited different emotions in us, but we all have realized that these experiences are permanent fixtures in our lives. We have to keep them. And we have realized that the nature of the experiences that we will have in the future are not guaranteed to be better than those that we have had in the past, but since we have decided to take control of our destinies, we know that we have a choice in the matter.

4. Examining our relationships

We have been examining the relationships that have been shaping our present. We have been examining the relationships in which we have been locked: relationships with parents or caregivers; relationships with spouses; relationships with friends; relationships with colleagues; relationships with acquaintances and relationships with ourselves. We have been examining the nature and quality of these relationships, and we have been making decisions about them. We have been examining our relationships in our homes, in our workplaces, in our social groups, and we have been making decisions about these, as well.

a. Examining our relationships – our decisions

When we have examined the relationships that have been shaping our present, we have seen a number of them that we have to endure, some in the short term and some in the long term. We see some relationships that we want to nurture. We see some that we want to repair, and we see some that we will discard.

5. Examining our physical beings

Many of us have been examining our physical beings. We have been concerned because we have been afraid that we do not meet the standard of beauty that our societies have set for us. So, we have been worrying.

Some of us have been worrying that we are too old.

Some of us have been worrying that we are too thin. Some of us have been worrying that we are too fat. Some of us have been worrying that we are too plump. Some of us have been worrying that we are too big boned. Some of us have been worrying that we are too small boned. Some of us have been worrying that we are too tall. Some of us have been worrying that we are too short, and some of us have been worrying that we are not tall enough or short enough.

Some of us have been worrying about our complexion. We have been worrying that we are not fair enough; some of us have been worrying that we are not dark enough; some of us have been worrying that we are too black, and some of us have been worrying that we are not black enough.

We have been worrying that our hair is too nappy or too curly or not curly enough. We have been worrying that it is too straight or not straight enough. Some of us want hair other than that which we have inherited from our parents.

Some of us have been worrying about the sizes and shapes of our lips, noses, eyes, ears, and breasts. We have been worrying that they are too big, not big enough, too small, and not small enough – we find much that we do not like about ourselves.

Some of us are not content with just being a part of humanity, a part that is unique in its own way. We want to blend in.

a. Examining our physical beings – our decisions

We have been hearing the rhetoric about beauty that is being bandied about by many “experts” in our societies. We have been listening to this rhetoric, and we have been doing an examination of our physical being in relation to this rhetoric. We have been realizing that there is much about us that we do not have any choice about whether or not to keep or discard. We are stuck with ourselves.

Some of us like what we see in the mirror, even though it does not meet the standards that others have set. We have decided to keep it as is.

Some of us like what we see in the mirror, but we have decided to make some improvements.

And there are a few of us who are totally miserable with what we see in the mirror.

We all have been making our decisions, and we have been taking action.

6. Examining our personalities

Some people who we have been meeting along the road on our journeys to our versions of success have been commenting on our personalities. So, we have been examining our personalities.

a. We are the life of any party

Some us have been realizing that we have “big” personalities. We like to be the center of attention. We talk loudly. We are assertive. We are the life of any party. We recognize when others are stealing our thunder, and we know exactly how to get the spotlight back on us.

We have many opinions on everything and everyone, and we are not afraid to share them. We laugh at ourselves all the time, and we are always ready to laugh with, and laugh at others.

We know that we are a bit bossy. “This is who we are,” we say, even though we recognize that we aggravate others with our bossiness.

We want positions, the higher the status the better for us, and we have been relentlessly pursuing these to the detriment of anyone who gets in our way.

We are social butterflies. We prefer to delegate what we believe to be unpleasant or difficult tasks, leaving ourselves free to do what we do best – engage an audience.

We have been examining our personalities and we have been realizing that we have decisions to make, and we have actions to take.

b. We are reserved

In examining our personalities, some of us have been realizing that we prefer our own company. We are reserved. We listen more than we speak. We have opinions on everyone and everything, but we choose to guard our tongues. We like things that we believe are wholesome and right, in our estimation. We believe in doing our fair share of work, and even more if it is required. We genuinely care about people, what they think, what they need, how they are feeling. We are not shy about encouraging others.

We participate willingly in activities in which we are interested. We are quietly assertive. We are not lacking in respect, but we are not easily cowed. We believe in personal and professional development, and we are always pursuing these. We accept responsibility if it is given to us and we feel that we can commit ourselves to it, but we do not go searching for it, neither do be begrudge others who are in higher positions than we are. We are comfortable with ourselves.

Having examined our personalities, we know that we have decisions to make and actions to take.

c. We are loners

Some of us after examining our personalities have been realizing that we do not like people much. We are happiest when the spotlight does not shine on us. We have our opinions of everything and everyone, but we rarely contribute to any conversation. We are not interested in much, except that which directly relates to us.

We want to be left alone to do things our way, and only the things that we want to do or have been contracted to do, nothing more. And if more is asked of us, we expect to be rewarded. No reward, no work.

We think that other people do not like us. We have a list of possible reasons for this. And we believe that people are always talking about us behind our back. We can discern shade in every comment that anyone has ever made to us. Most times we feel all alone and abandoned.

We see the flaws in everyone. We have a long list of complaints that we are ready to share with anyone who is willing to listen to us. We believe that nobody likes us, but we don't care, we say.

We, too, have been examining our personalities, and we know that we have decisions to make and actions to take.

d. Our personalities – our decisions

We have been examining our personalities. We know exactly who we are, we say. We have been achieving some of our goals in spite of our personalities. Therefore, some of us have decided that we will keep our personalities intact. We are who we are. Some of us have decided to make a few changes.

7. Examining our hygiene

Some of us have been examining our hygiene. A concerned traveler on the same road as we who have been traveling to our versions of success has pointed out this failing to some of us. Some of us have immediately remembered that our parents or caregivers have always told us that if we are going “amongst” people we must be clean. We have learned from them. These persons have always demonstrated this belief in their daily lives, and it is one that we have been practicing as we travel on our journeys to our versions of success.

However, some of us on our journeys to our versions of success have been so busy chasing after success that we have been ignoring this issue of hygiene.

a. Examining our hygiene – our decisions

Some of us have decided to practice good hygiene because on this journey we have had to invade each other’s space, at times. We do not want to offend, so before we begin each day’s journey we ensure that we have paid very close attention to our personal hygiene. This has been an easy decision for us to make.

Some of us, after our initial embarrassment and anger at the temerity of this stranger to have raised this issue, have listened. We have been examining every element of our hygiene, and we know that we have decisions to make and actions to take.

8. Examining our dress

We who are on our journeys to our versions of success have been told that if we want to attain success, we need to dress for it. This has meant different things to all of us. Some of us have examined our wardrobes because we want to know whether or not we have the necessary items of clothing to allow us to dress for the success that we have been chasing.

Some of us have been satisfied with what we have found. Others of us have been dissatisfied, but we all know that we have decisions to make, and actions to take.

a. Examining our dress – our decisions

Some of us have decided that we will keep everything that we have in our wardrobes. We have been managing quite well with them.

Some of us have decided that we will make some changes to our wardrobes. Probably, doing so will make a difference in our prospects, we think.

And, some of us have decided that we will discard everything in our wardrobes. We will start anew. Our clothing will define us, and set us apart from the other travelers with us on our journeys to our versions of success.

9. Examining our achievements to date

Some of us have been examining our achievements to date, and some of us have been finding that we have been achieving much, educationally and financially.

Some of us have been finding that we have not yet achieved as much as we have wanted to achieve at this point in our lives. Some of us have been finding that we have very few achievements to our credit because we have just started our journeys to our versions of success. However, we have all have been finding that we have had some achievements.

Some of us celebrate just being alive. Many of our friends have not been so lucky. Some of us celebrate just having a job, any job. There are many people we know who do not have one. Some of us celebrate our promotions on the job. These are validations that we have been moving in the right direction, and that our success is not out of reach.

Some of us are happy to have finished our secondary schooling. Some of us celebrate just having had some schooling. Some of us are happy that we have completed tertiary level schooling. Some of us are happy that we have started the process. Some of us are happy that we have a skill. Some of us are happy that we are in the process of acquiring one. Some of us celebrate having a spouse and/or children.

We are happy about our accomplishments because we see them as one stage in laying the foundation on which we will build the rest of our success.

a. Examining our achievements – our decisions

We have been examining our accomplishments to date. We know that we have decisions to make and actions to take. Some of us have decided to keep on doing the things that have been working for us, and some of us have decided to make some modifications.

10. Envisaging our futures

All of us think often about our destinations and the experiences that we are likely to have when we get there. Our destination is success, our versions of it. Success means different things to all of us, but we all dream of having the material things in life that our pasts have lacked.

Some of us just dream of having enough food to eat, adequate shelter and clothing. Some of us dream of being able to afford anything we want to eat, a nice house, nice car and nice clothes. Some of us dream of living the life of high-fliers. Some of us dream of having some money. Some of us dream of having more money than we can ever spend. Some of us just want any job. Some of us want high profile jobs. Some of us want status.

a. Examining our envisioned futures – our decisions

We have been realizing that we all want the same thing and different things. We hope to find these at our destination. Success is our destination. We have not quite reached this destination, but we are determined to get there. There is still action that we need to take to get there. We have decided to continue to follow our plans.

11. Findings from our stock taking

For some of us who are on these journeys to our versions of success, we have been realizing that we still have much work left to do where our stock taking is concerned. We have been realizing that our stock taking is incomplete.

For some of us, the shadows of our tough upbringing have been our constant companions through all our wanderings through life. They have been with us as we navigate all the relationships in the social groups that we have been passing through on our way to the destination that we have charted for ourselves. And if life has proven to be too difficult for us, and we have become lost in its maze, the shadows of our past have been unhelpful companions, but we have stuck with them.

We have been realizing that instead of staring down our past and confronting head-on those things that are strangling us in the present, we have summarily been dismissing it any time it has attempted to intrude on the present that we have constructed for ourselves. Sometimes, we have been reluctant to fully face the reality that our past represents, and we have not.

From our stock taking, we have been finding that there are items in our store houses that we are running low on, that we need to re-stock. For some of us, we are running low on confidence, faith, empathy, among other such items. And, for some of us, we have totally run out of these items.

Some of us have items that have long passed their expiration dates on our shelves and in our storehouses: self-pity, self-doubt, jealousies, and all manner of negativity. But we refuse to get rid of them. We just dust them off as we do our stock taking and carefully put them back in place.

Some of us have been realizing that the present that we have been constructing for ourselves has been laid on a foundation of pretense. We have been pretending to be people other than who we really are. The more steps we take on the roads on our journeys to our version of success, the more we have been realizing that our construction is unstable. We have been realizing that our building is tottering because the foundation on which we have built it is cluttered with delusions.

Some of us have been realizing that our construction is unstable because we have not cleared the foundation of its rubble: the hurts, the hatred, feelings of worthlessness, the despair, the feelings of abandonment, the feelings of betrayal, and all the other negative emotions that have plagued our formative years. But, what’s worse, we have been realizing that we have been constructing our present atop of this rubble, our present in which we view every joy

suspiciously and we have been allowing every new hurt to become affirmation of what we already know – that nobody likes us and they are out to get us, that the system is against us, that we cannot win.

We have been coming to this realization by talking to other travelers who, like us, are on their journeys to their versions of success. Some of us therefore have been doing damage control.

12. Confronting our pasts

Some of us have been confronting head-on that reality, the reality of our past. We have been realizing that our past is still present with us and has been handicapping us, limiting our progress on so many levels. We have therefore chosen to embrace the reality that our past represents, learning from our experiences and have been using the lessons learned to construct the future that we have been envisioning for ourselves.

Having examined our past, we have been removing the rubble from beneath the foundation on which we have been trying to build our future. We have been realizing that if we bury our past without properly treating it, it will come back to haunt us, making any future for us untenable.

After traveling for miles with our baggage on our backs that have been pressing us into the ground, we have gotten fed-up, and have tossed much of this baggage in the dumpster that has been strategically placed alongside the road on which we have been traveling. Having been freed of our burdens, we have been hopping and skipping and running and dancing along the road on our journeys to our versions of success.

13. Benefits of stock taking

In undertaking this process of stock taking, we have been clearing a path out of the maze that our lives have been, and trying to find our bearings so that we can chart our course to take us where we want to go. We have been finding that the process is a complicated but necessary one. Clearing this path has been requiring that we employ several strategies in order to arrive at an understanding of our positioning as regards the myriad of situations that proliferate in our environment in which we have our being, so that we can best navigate them.

Moreover, taking stock of our situations has been providing us with options after we have answered these questions: Are we going to stay hooked to the things that are holding us down? Are we going to wait for someone, anyone to release us from that which has snagged us? Or, are we going to rock ourselves free from our bonds? Our answers to these questions have been “No”, “No”, and “Yes”, in that order. Since we have been in search of some measure of success from our sojourn through life, we have decided to take the initiative and free ourselves from all that is constraining us and preventing us from this pursuit.

Furthermore, this process of stock taking has been giving us the wherewithal to create our own plan from which we have been building the rest of our lives. Through the process of our stock taking many of us have been developing the courage to systematically repair and strengthen, or in some cases, abandon the old foundation on which our lives have been built. That is, the foundation that we have been willed by virtue of the environment in which we were born.

We have all been searching for our versions of success. In finding our versions of success, we hope to enjoy our versions of the good life. In whatever state that we have started our journeys, we have been finding that the process of stock taking has been a useful tool to keep us focused on our destination and, it has been helping us to steadily steer towards it, while navigating the obstacles in our way.

14. Negatives of stock taking

For some of us, this process of stock taking has seen us resurrecting experiences and emotions that we have thought carefully buried, but now we have discovered have been all along festering and eating away at us leaving us in need of urgent reinforcement and rehabilitation.

Many of us on our journeys to our versions of success have been realizing that when we seriously take stock by looking closely and honestly at where we have been, the experiences that we have had and what these experiences have done to us, then seeking and accepting help to resolve the troubling issues that will not let us be, we have been taking the first step towards healing.

For many of us, healing holds out the hope to us that we can begin to create the type of structure that is authentic to us, and on a foundation that is able to support it. Having begun this process, we have been finding that we have been able to achieve some measure of genuine enjoyment from the life that we have been creating.

15. Reflections on our stock taking

In doing an examination of the items in our store houses that we have been collecting on our journeys through life, we have been seeking answers to this question: What is this past that is having such a pervasive influence on our present?

As clich├ęd as this is, we, somewhere along our journeys through life, have realized that we really need to understand where we are coming from in order to determine where we are going. Our examination of our memories and experiences of our past has been providing us with the answer to this question.

16. Our next step

We who are on our journeys to our versions of success have been realizing that we all have diverse pasts, which, for many of us, still have a controlling interest in our lives. Many of us instead of sitting down, folding our arms and being overwhelmed when we have been faced with the challenges that life continues to throw at us, we have been active, we have been aware, we have been finding innovative ways to overcome. Being passive, that is, covering ourselves in a cloak of helplessness, has not been an option that we have ever considered. We have been finding the strength to deal when we positively reinforce ourselves.

So having done an examination of the issues of concern in our lives that are in our storehouses, we turn to doing a detailed analysis of ourselves – a SWOT analysis.

CHAPTER 3

Our swot analysis of ourselves

We have been doing our stock taking. We have been examining our lives with a view to making positive changes to them. This examination has led us to the SWOT analysis of ourselves, still a form of stock taking, but this time, we have been analyzing ourselves with a view to identifying the strengths and weaknesses that we possess, as well as the opportunities that are available to us in our environments, along with the threats that can negatively impact our ability to take advantage of these opportunities. We have been borrowing an idea from business.

Some of us have been working for businesses or for other organizations where, as part of our jobs, we have been engaging in SWOT analyses of our organizations’ practices and processes within the environmental context/s in which they have been operating. And, through our work, we have been able to assist our organizations to derive an understanding of the environmental contexts in which they have been operating, and their positioning in these contexts. This understanding has been helping the people who manage the work in these organizations to craft suitable policies to improve the operations of their organizations with a view to achieving success that is either measured in monetary terms or otherwise.

We have been realizing that the strategies that are inherent in a SWOT analysis can be usefully applied to our lives so that we can also derive an understanding of ourselves within the contexts in which we have our being, with a view to improving ourselves in order to achieve our versions of success. We have come to the realization that we are just as important as these organizations, probably, much more important, considering the fact that we are the resources that can make or break any organization. It is through our actions that these organizations gain value and, conversely, it is through our actions that they lose value.

We have therefore been doing a SWOT analysis of ourselves. It is time, we think, that we have the data to make the necessary changes to ourselves with a view to self improvement.

We have come to see ourselves as projects with an indefinite time-line. That is, we have been realizing that we are constantly under construction. So, we have been opening up ourselves to our own gaze. We have been doing this by engaging in the process of stock taking, and we have been continuing to do this by doing this SWOT analysis of ourselves.

The SWOT analysis

1. Doing the SWOT analysis – our purpose

In doing this evaluation, we have been trying to further our understanding of ourselves by attempting to isolate our strengths and weaknesses. What is positive about us? What is negative about us?

We have been realizing that as we continue our journeys to our versions of success we need the answers to these questions in order to take action to improve those areas of weaknesses that we have been identifying in ourselves and to attempt to stamp out the negative. We have also been realizing that we need the answers to identify, based on the resources that we possess, all those opportunities that are present in our environment, in the spaces that we inhabit, of which we have yet to take advantage.

Furthermore, these answers we believe will help us to identify all the potential threats that are in our environment; specifically those threats that are in the spaces that we inhabit that may retard our growth, if we do not act decisively.

2. The SWOT analysis – the beginning

To do this SWOT analysis some of us have been either putting down on paper or committing to memory all of the perceived Strengths and Weaknesses that we believe that we have, and all the Opportunities as well as all of the Threats that we perceive are in front of us.

In doing this SWOT analysis, we have been asking this question: “Why are we embarking on this process?” And we have been answering this question: “We crave understanding of ourselves, and of our place in the contexts in which we have our beings.”

This is a realistic goal, we think. And we believe that it is attainable if we commit ourselves to this process of getting to know ourselves. We have determined that we will exert the effort that this process requires because we really are committed to improving ourselves. We believe that in improving ourselves, we are making it possible to reach our destination while avoiding the pitfalls in our way.

How have we been doing this SWOT analysis of ourselves? We have been employing some or all of the techniques of critical thinking. We have been questioning everything about ourselves. Some of us have been iconoclastic. We have been challenging ourselves to answer questions that have been prefaced by the words “what,” “who,” “when” “where,” “why” and“how.” We have been creative in framing these questions about ourselves and many of us have been trying to be as honest as possible in responding to them.

Asking the questions, we have been finding, is quite easy. Answering the questions, though, has sometimes been quite difficult because we have been realizing that the answers have been exposing us to some deeply buried “truths” about ourselves that we do not yet want to face, or they have been revealing to us a “truth” of another kind, that we have very little understanding of ourselves.

As we have been progressing with our question and answer sessions many of us have been realizing that we have much work to do. We have been realizing that we have work to do to continue to unravel, then to put ourselves back together again to reflect our rebirth; our new understanding of ourselves.

3. Our SWOT analysis – understanding ourselves in relation to others in our social groups

In addition to asking and answering questions, we have been engaging in a process of comparing and contrasting. But, we have also been keeping our toolkit of questions close by.

What or who have we been comparing and contrasting? Some of us have been comparing and contrasting ourselves to others in specific respects. However, some of us have been objecting to doing this activity because we believe that we humans are all different and unique and special, so there is no need to engage in this process. We believe that if we begin to compare and contrast ourselves to others, we are doing a disservice to our individuality.

We who have been comparing and contrasting ourselves to others agree with this issue that some of our fellow travelers have been raising. However, our focus in this exercise has been to compare and contrast ourselves with others in our social groups in order to ascertain whether or not there is any similarity or difference among us that trumps our common humanity, and which will prevent some of us from enjoying some of the good things of life.

We who have been going through this process have not been able to find anything in us humans – difference or similarity – that does this. However, we have been finding lesser similarities and differences that we have been realizing are at the root of the discord that seems to be a perennial feature of many of our interactions in our social groups as we travel through life.

These petty similarities and differences we have been discovering are rooted in our physiology and in our personalities. And we have been allowing these to create tensions between and among us.

Having arrived at this understanding, we have extracted the “why” from our toolkit, and like a dog with a bone, we have been worrying these vexing issues that we now have been understanding as being the sources by which we have been creating separations among ourselves.

These issues we have been realizing are many and some are multifaceted. These issues we have been discovering are related to race, to color, to accomplishments, to our features, to our place of origin; anything that has been preventing us from settling into our skins, our groups, into the spaces which we inhabit.

And in our worrying of these issues, we have been discovering that it is quite a useful exercise to move beyond accepted wisdom, to impose our knowledge that we have been gaining from our life experiences on the issues that we have been scattering on the surfaces in front of us, and from which we have been trying to construct an edifice of understanding.

This process of comparing and contrasting, some of us have been discovering, has been quite enlightening. It has been making us aware that for all our years of struggling to find our place to be, we have been giving up our voices and have been replacing them with the discordant tones of others promoting their own agendas, which we now recognize run counter to ours.

As we continue to go through this process of comparing and contrasting, we have been reclaiming our voices. We have been choosing to reclaim our uniqueness.

4. The SWOT analysis – finding our strengths

We have been trying to identify our strengths. In trying to uncover our strengths, we have been realizing that we have to do so in context. What does this mean? It means that since we human beings are gregarious, we exist in groups, and we need the cooperation of everyone to coexist in order to achieve our individual and group goals, it follows that we will try to identify our strengths as they relate to others in the groups in which we have our being, and the relationships that we have been forging with them over time.

So, we have been asking, where do our strengths lie? Do our strengths lie in our physique or in special parts of our physique? Do our strengths lie in our personality, our learning or our natural aptitude for learning, our work ethic, our ability to achieve results, or our business acumen? Is it in our domestic skills, that is, in our ability to cook, wash and clean and take care of our families? Is it in our special gift of discernment; or of healing; or to teach others and to facilitate their learning; or to entertain; or to listen?

Why do we classify these qualities or characteristics that we have been identifying as strengths? How do these strengths rank in comparison to the strengths of others in our groups? How can we utilize our strengths to benefit us while benefiting those in the groups of which we are a part: our groups at school, at work, at our places of worship, at our clubs, in the home?

And we have been trying to evaluate our strengths in terms of our roles that we have been playing in these groups: roles of workers; roles of mothers; roles of wives; roles of friends; roles of congregants; roles of caregivers – any role that we occupy, and many if not all of us occupy multiple roles. All this is under the purview of our evaluation.

The strengths that some of us have been identifying in ourselves from our SWOT analysis, we have been realizing, are internal to us. In our attempt to identify our strengths, we have been realizing that our strengths are those facets of our personalities which have been giving us the drive to have dreams and to pursue them, no matter what obstacle is in our way.

We have been realizing that our strengths are those facets of our personalities that have been giving us the courage to face obstacles head on and to devise strategies to circumvent them. Our strengths are those facets of our personalities that have been allowing us to critically look

at ourselves and dispassionately identify the positive and negative aspects of ourselves, and to make the effort to maintain the positives while rejecting the negatives. Our strengths are those facets of our personalities that have been giving us the wisdom to realize our beauty and to accept that beauty is relative, that we are only one of the billions of beautiful people in the whole world, and that beauty is part of our being but it also transcends the being that is on display to the beholder. And our strengths are those facets of our personalities that have been allowing us to see beauty in the body types that we possess as well as in our character, in spite of what detractors may tell us. Our strengths lie in those facets of our characters that have been allowing us to walk the paths that we have chosen for ourselves, in spite of the criticism of others. Our strengths lie in those facets of our character that have been allowing us to be responsible citizens, responsible neighbors, responsible parents, responsible colleagues and responsible humans. And our strengths lie in those facets of our character that have been allowing us to rise above our circumstances and to continue to do so in spite of the hazards that we have been facing and will continue to face as we journey through life. We are still mulling these discoveries.

5. The SWOT analysis – finding our weaknesses

Having been painstakingly examining our strengths in terms of the resources that we possess and the roles that we have been occupying in our social groups, we also have been turning our attention to our weaknesses. We all have at least a few, we have been discovering from our systematic evaluation of ourselves. We have been asking ourselves a number of questions, answers to which we hope will further enlighten us on our journeys toward self-discovery as we continue our journeys to our version of success.

What are our weaknesses? Where do our weaknesses lie? Do they lie in our physiology? If weaknesses lie in our physiology, how so? Do we think we are ugly, too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too dark, or too fair? What part of our physical beings do we find offensive? Is our reaction to the part/s of our beings that we have been finding to be offensive rational? What or who has led us to form this opinion? Why do we value this opinion? Do our weaknesses lie in our personalities? If our weaknesses lie in our personalities, what are they? Do our weaknesses manifest themselves in our management of the roles that we have taken on or have been assigned in our social groups? What are the specific weaknesses that we have been identifying?

We believe that we have been good workers, yet we have always been bypassed when promotions become available. What could possibly be the reason? Are we ineffective at our jobs as defined my some measurable criteria? Do we lack the skills that would make us competent at the tasks at which we have been employed?

We notice that we have often been ostracized by some of our friends. What are some of the characteristics that we possess that others may find off putting? Are we unreliable? That is, do our promises go unfulfilled? Do we take advantage of our neighbors, family members, colleagues and others with whom we come in daily contact? Do we treat our colleagues, family members, friends, those whom we supervise, and strangers with blatant disrespect? Do we see ourselves as being superior to those with whom we have to interact? Do we see ourselves as being inferior to them? Do we create and disseminate rumors about our friends and colleagues just because we can? Are we quick tempered? Do we speak before we listen? Do we, oftentimes, get caught up in our hurts, perceived or real, ignoring loved ones who try to help? Why do we exhibit the behaviors that we do?

From our evaluation of ourselves, some of us have been determining that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our character that are self-defeating, those facets of our character that confirm to us all the negatives with which we have been saddled by family members, relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. Some of us have been discovering that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our character which have been constantly discouraging us, telling us that our dreams are “pies in the sky,” thus should be abandoned, that nothing will work out for us because we are unlucky and everybody knows it.

Some of us have been discovering that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our character which have been causing us to hate ourselves. Some of us have been discovering that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our character which have been causing us to think of others more highly than we think of ourselves. Some of us have been discovering that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our character which have been causing us to continually procrastinate. Some of us have been discovering that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our character which have been blinding us to any inkling of good in other people while failing to realize that we are not perfect, that we too have our flaws – flaws that we have been refusing to acknowledge.

Some of us have been realizing that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our characters that have not been allowing us to be happy for other people’s success. Instead, we trivialize them and commit ourselves to putting stumbling blocks in their way, justifying our actions by reiterating that “they deserve it” because of some infraction, real or perceived, that we believe that they have committed against us in the past.

Some of us have been discovering that our weaknesses lie in those facets of our personalities that have been preventing us from taking responsibility for our actions, past and present.

We have been realizing from our evaluation of ourselves that our weaknesses are basically those facets of our character that we have been nurturing over the years that have been self- defeating, and which have been allowing us to be unforgiving, ungrateful, suspicious, jealous of others, sad.

As we have been identifying our weaknesses through the painful process that our self-discovery has been, we initially have been asking ourselves this question: “How are we going to deal with these weaknesses?” But, many of us have been realizing that having asked ourselves the difficult questions and having honestly answered them, we now can begin to address them.

Many of us have not needed anyone to tell us how to do this. The understanding that we have been gleaning from pulling ourselves apart, we have been realizing, has been sufficient for us to be able to draw up an action plan to solve the problems that we have identified in ourselves.

Our strengths and weaknesses – our reflections

We have been progressing slowly, but quite satisfactorily, we have been realizing, on our journeys of self-discovery through our SWOT analysis of ourselves. We have been managing to identify our strengths and weaknesses and we have been resolving to take what we have determined to be the necessary actions to maintain and improve that which is positive about us and to attempt to eradicate all that we have been identifying as being our weaknesses.

Many of us have gone beyond the resolve and have actually implemented our interventions; some of us are still considering our options.

6. The SWOT analysis – identifying the opportunities in our environments

As we travel along on our journeys to our versions of success, many of us, after identifying our strengths and weaknesses, have also been keen to identify any threats in our environment that has the potential to negatively impact our journeys. So we have been asking ourselves some questions: What are the opportunities that are available to us, waiting for us to either knock politely on the door for someone to let us in to take advantage of them, or waiting for us to kick the door in to access them?Is there an opportunity available for a promotion? What tangible steps are we taking to ensure that we prepare ourselves to be shortlisted for it, if we are interested in it? Is there an opportunity within our communities, at work, at school to learn a new skill, to improve our educational capability? Are we interested in taking up this opportunity? What is holding us back? Is there an opportunity to make amends with a spouse, a friend, a relative, a tormentor? Have we taken that opportunity? Is there an opportunity to escape from a dead end job? Are we taking it? Is there an opportunity to get help on a project that is too difficult for us to manage alone? Have we asked for that help? Is there an opportunity for us to get help for a personal issue that has been preventing us from being as happy and productive as we believe we can be? Have we been making use of this opportunity?

a. The potential opportunities that we have been identifying – our reflections

We have been finding that our answers to the questions that we have been asking ourselves are quite revealing. We have been able to identify some of the possible opportunities in our environments. We have been pondering them, and have been asking ourselves further questions. Now that we have been able to identify some of the possible opportunities in our environment, what have we been doing to take advantage of any of them? What has been holding us back?

Again, we have been realizing the usefulness of this SWOT analysis of ourselves. The answers that we have been furnishing to ourselves have been making us aware that we just need to draft an action plan to exploit the opportunities, that through our question and answer sessions, we have been discovering have been right there in front of us, but which we have been unable to recognize until now.

Our journeys of self-discovery continue. We have been identifying the strengths that we possess that will help us to be competitive in the environments in which we have found ourselves. We have been identifying the weaknesses that we possess that may prevent us from fully maximizing our potential, and we have been identifying the opportunities that are there for the taking if, and only if, we are willing to do the taking.

7. The SWOT analysis – identifying the threats to us in our environments

In addition to identifying our strengths and weaknesses that we possess as well as the opportunities that are available to us in our environments, we have also been trying to ascertain the threats that are present in our environment, those things in our environments that we have been realizing have the potential to negatively impact us on our journeys to our versions of success. So, we have been asking ourselves some questions.

What are the threats that beset us? What is the state of our relationship with family, friends and colleagues? Do we know that we need help but we refuse to get help? Do we feel constantly overwhelmed by life? Do we keep on lying to ourselves about our circumstances? Do we live above our means?

These and other such issues raised by our questioning of ourselves, we have been coming to realize, are threats that have the potential to prevent us from fully maximizing our strengths and take advantage of opportunities. “How do we deal with these threats?” we ask ourselves. Some of us have been realizing that we need to draw on our strengths to be able to exert the necessary effort to overcome.

a. Threats in our internal environment – our reflection

From our on-going evaluation of ourselves we have been realizing that the threats in our environment that have the potential to impede our progress on our journeys to our versions of success are double-edged. We have been able to identify some threats that are emanating from within ourselves. These are the facets of our personalities that have been preventing us from seeing the positives in ourselves, in others, in our circumstances and reveling in these positives.

However, we have been recognizing that there are other serious threats in our environment that can seriously impact our journeys. These are factors that are external to us, some of which we have the ability to neutralize, but only if we exert the effort. As we continue our journeys to our versions of success, we have been realizing that these threats that are external to us have been lurking in the environment in which we have our being. Some of these threats, we have been realizing, lie in the economic, socio-cultural, political, technological and even the physical environment that we call home.

The concerns that we have had, that have been forcing us into carrying out this SWOT analysis of ourselves have taught us that we cannot ignore anything that is causing us worry. And we have been determined that our attempt at arriving at self-understanding must proceed beyond ourselves since we have our beings in different contexts which impact us and which we, in turn, impact. Therefore, we have been examining the elements of the external environment that we have been realizing have been impacting us on our journeys to our versions of success.

8. Threats in the external environment

a. The economic environment

The economic environment, we have been discovering, has the potential to limit our ability to access satisfactory employment. For many of us, employment has been dictating our survival, but it also has been given us the chance to really live.

Furthermore, it is the vehicle through which most of us hope to achieve our versions of success, so we have been concerned about the state of the economy in which jobs have been few or non-existent in the areas in which we have our competence.

Some of us have not been allowing ourselves to be deterred by the threat that the economic environment has been posing. We have been finding that our strengths that we have been identifying in ourselves have been helping us to cope in the uncertain economic environments in which we have been finding ourselves. We, therefore, have been willing to take whatever jobs that we can get, while we continue to make attempts to get the jobs that we want.

Some of us, however, have been finding that our weaknesses have been causing us to be constantly frustrated and aggravated as we continue to be challenged by the adverse economic environment. As a result, some of us have been deciding to opt out of the market for employment.

b. The socio-cultural environment

We know that the socio-cultural environment is rife with relationships, norms, mores, attitudes and behaviors, personalities, institutions, beliefs, and practices that form the canvas of social life. Since we all do not share the same traits or beliefs or practices, this environment is a hotbed of conflicts with which we have to cope.

As we navigate our way through this socio-cultural milieu, we have been making decisions about the experiences that we have had, and the new ones of which we have been willing to take advantage. And these experiences, we have been realizing, make up what we call life.

This life, we have been discovering, can be overwhelming, but we have also been discovering that it is a powerful teaching tool for us and can be for subsequent generations, but only if we are willing to avail ourselves of its lessons and learn from them. In addition, we have been

realizing that the complexity of this environment can, indeed, be a threat to the type of success that we have envisioned for ourselves, but only if we let it.

c. The political environment

We also have been contending with the political environment in which we find ourselves. We have learned that we have been thrust into a political environment from the minute we enter this world. And, we have also learned that this political environment has extended to every other sector of society: school; the church/mosque/temple or any other religious institution; to the workplace; to social groups and everywhere else where people congregate and decisions are made.

But, we have now been realizing that we need to develop our political skills in order to navigate within and around this environment, diplomacy being the chief of these skills that we have been realizing that we need to develop. We have therefore come to the conclusion that this political environment can be a threat to the success that we have envisioned for ourselves, if we are not willing to compromise.

We have already accepted that there will be winners and losers in the political games which we have constantly been finding ourselves playing in this environment, and in which we have had our roles.

Some of us have been realizing that if it were not for our strength of character, we would be absolutely miserable in this environment. Some of us have been realizing that we are absolutely miserable. But, as we have been evaluating ourselves, we have come to the conclusion, some of us quite reluctantly, that we must hone our ability to compromise because our ability to compromise is an essential skill that we need to possess in order to mitigate the effects of the interactions that we will continue to have in this environment.

d. The technological environment

The technological environment has been proving to be quite challenging to a number of us who have been on our journeys to our versions of success. As such, we have been discovering that this technological environment in which we live and work has the potential to be a threat to our achieving our versions of success.

We have been realizing that since we are living in a world that is increasingly being powered by technology, and that the Information and Communication Technologies, (ICTs) are being constantly refined and updated, we have to actively participate in this environment if we do not want to be isolated.

To prevent this technological isolation, some of us have been discovering that we have had no recourse but to acquire the technological skills that permeate almost all of our social interactions in society. Some of us have been embracing this technology, adding its use to our repertoire of skills that we believe will enable us to add value to ourselves, and to increase our accessibility and productivity, therefore bringing our versions of success closer to us.

However, there are still some of us who have been refusing to incorporate this technology into our lives because our idea of success lies in a different direction. For those of us whose goal of success is bound up with the vagaries of the external environment, we have decided to minimize this threat to our success by adding the use of technology to our repertoire of skills.

9. Lessons from our SWOT analysis

This SWOT analysis of ourselves that we have been conducting has several end points. This is a process that we have been realizing that we will have to engage in at strategic points in our lives. This time round, though, we have been learning much about ourselves in the environments that we have been navigating. We have been asking all the right questions, we think. However, some of us have been realizing that it is very difficult for us to furnish the answers that our conscience and our experiences in life have been urging us to give. Instead, we have been giving ourselves the answers that we think we want to hear.

Based on these answers that we have been furnishing to ourselves, we have gone about constructing plans for our futures. We have been making some progress in the execution of these plans, but some of us have been realizing that every time that we take several steps forward, we have been taking more than a few, backwards. Our journey has been tiring and, at times, has been littered with frustrations and annoyances, but, we have still been moving along on our journeys to our versions of success that we have been envisaging for ourselves.

Yet, there are many of us who have truly gone on a journey of self-discovery. We have been asking ourselves even the difficult questions and we have been furnishing answers according to what we have believed has been our true understanding of the issues that we have been exploring, issues relating to our strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities and threats that are in our environment. And, though we have been riding an emotional roller coaster in taking this journey to our self-discovery, we have been appreciating its worth.

We have been learning so much about ourselves, some of which have been making us smile and some of which have been making us wince. However, we have not been wavering in our resolve to construct the “we” that we know we can be. And we have not been wavering in our resolve to continue to move toward our versions of success, hoping to one day finally reach our destinations.

From doing the SWOT analysis which has been entailing that we open ourselves up to our scrutiny, some of us have been having our moments of great insight. Some of us have been accepting that we have, instead of consciously remaining mired in the poverty of our circumstances, waiting for some help to extricate ourselves, we have had to extricate ourselves, and we have been making great progress.

From doing the SWOT analysis of ourselves, many of us have been realizing that we have the strengths to survive in any environment, whether it is beset with opportunities or threats, this in spite of the weaknesses that we have been identifying in ourselves. We have been realizing that our achievements to date, whether small or great, have been our affirmation that we have the strengths that are necessary to repel, and/or circumvent any threat that is in our environment.

Many of us have been realizing that we have been rising above the straitened circumstances in which we were born. We have been seeing the difference in our lives and in the lives of significant others who depend on us. Therefore, we have been continuing our journeys with renewed vigor.


CHAPTER 4

Giving up on failure

Many of us who have been traveling along on our journeys to our versions of success have, for much of our lives, been bogged down by poverty. Some of us have chosen to equate this poverty with a deep kind of failure, which has been restraining us, and therefore restricting our options. If failure means, “lacking in accomplishments;” “losing;” as some of the dictionaries tell us, then some of us believe that we have had pasts which have been failures.

We have been coming to this realization in our examination of our memories of our pasts that sometimes flow without restraint through our minds. We have been coming to this realization as a result of the stock taking in which we have been engaging ourselves. And, having been

engaging in the process of doing the SWOT analysis of ourselves, we have been confirming this realization.

However, having come to an awareness of the strengths that we possess from the SWOT analysis that we have been doing of ourselves, many of us have been making the decision that we will not entertain anything in our environment that reeks of failure. We have decided to give up on it.

We have been realizing that our acceptance of failure has been preventing us from seeing the opportunities that have been before us, and therefore this acceptance of failure has been preventing us from taking advantage of them. We have been realizing that because we have been accepting failure, we have been revering our weaknesses. This has therefore been causing us to magnify the threats that are before us, therefore being overwhelmed by them. So, we have given up on this failure that we have been allowing to dictate our actions, this failure that we have been allowing to retard our progress along our road to our versions of success.

In giving up on failure we have been developing “thick skins.” We have been realizing that we need to have “thick skins” and that these “thick skins” have been a necessary resource, which have been keeping us impervious to the darts of mischief that our detractors have been firing at us as we travel along the way on our journeys to our versions of success. These detractors have been trying to keep us down where they think that we belong. We have been repelling their efforts because we have not been sharing their vision of our future.

Having developed our “thick skins” we have been able to weather the storms of jealousy, bad mouthing, sabotage, and guile that daily surround us. In addition, we have been, as best as we can, trying to ignore the words of the naysayers and all the prophets of doom and gloom. We have been realizing that they are dream crushers, and we have been determined that our dreams will not be crushed. With this resolve, we have been traveling with confidence on our journeys to our versions of success. And we have been realizing that step by step, we have been accomplishing much.

1. The nature of failure

We who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been realizing that failure is a parlous state. For many of us, it has been the state of our births. For many of us, it has been the state of our existence, for a very long time. Some of us have been realizing that it has invaded our being, and for a long time, it has been our state of mind.

Failure is the enemy that many of us who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been waging a war against because we have been realizing that it is a combination of the issues that have been burdening us in the present – old issues from the past and new issues from our present which have intersected but, instead of creating clear passages in every direction for us to roam, has been creating blockages which have been keeping us stuck, restricting our ability to move freely in our preferred direction.

Some of us, in looking back at where we are coming from, now understand that the circumstances in which we have had our beginning have set us up for failure. We have been born into circumstances where we have lacked the necessary resources to improve our lot.

We have lacked the capital to invest in ourselves. We have lacked the people around us who have possessed the necessary skills and competencies to manage our development. Moreover, in the past, some of us have had very little guidance in determining the nature of our role and purpose in this organization that is called life. Therefore, our lives of struggle have been overwhelming us.

However, we have been responding to the revelation that we have had. This revelation has been quite simple; we need to take charge of our lives by creating the means to invest in ourselves because if we do not do so, we will be joining the ranks of the chronically poor, whose lot in life is constant struggle, constant struggle among the ruins of life. This prospect has not appealed to us. Therefore, we have been making the decision to write our own stories, a different kind of story, with success as the main motif.

However, failure is still taunting some of us today. It pops up from where it has been feeding itself every time our pasts flit through our present. Failure has been infused into our senses.

a. The sight of failure

Some of us can still see it in the homes that we have left behind. It is indelibly impressed in our memories. It is still there, taking a hold on our family members and neighbors who have not given up on their relationship with it. We still see them, sitting on their doorsteps, or on any other place that will provide a resting place for their weary bodies, just watching as life trickles along before their eyes.

We can see failure shrouding that neighbor, staring blankly ahead as he wanders, now down, and then up the streets, full of uncertainty. Like this neighbor we, too, have seen failure as we have walked along these same streets, taking care not to slip into the stagnant waters filled with the debris of our lives.

Failure is there with the mangy dogs that are sniffing along the sidewalk for anything that is edible and, having been disappointed, continue to move along to other rounds of disappointment. It resides with the other mangy dogs that are in the same condition as these. But, these other dogs do not have the strength to join their mates in scrounging for pickings. Instead, they either lie under the half dead trees that give partial shade to the dusty street, or they are lying at the feet of their owners who are sitting wherever they have found respite from another bout with failure. These dogs, too, having been living with failure their whole lives have gotten used to its demands, its beating, and have accepted it as their lot. Now, their most pressing order of business is to dislodge the bothersome fleas that have attached themselves to their rear ends.

Their owners, for a brief moment, disinterestedly watch their contortions. “Stupid, dogs,” they say, and turn back to their musings that refuse to be pinned down and examined. These musings only show themselves for the space of a blink, and then swiftly merge into each other, forming an unrecognizable blob in the minds of their hosts who, after unsuccessfully trying to pull apart this blob, eventually give up, and drift off into a land where sweet dreams do not exist and rest is fleeting.

We can see failure everywhere. We have not had to search for it, as if we would deliberately do this! It has been standing there, now sitting there, sometimes lying there, sometimes sauntering by, and we have been suspiciously watching its movements.

b. The voices of failure

Some of us can still hear the voices of failure. We have grown up with them, and they have not left us. These voices have been those of many of our neighbors, our friends, our acquaintances, strangers, ourselves, and our parents or caregivers. These voices are angry, now bitter, now sarcastic, now mocking, now disdainful, now dismissive, now whimpering, now frantic, now petulant, now rebellious, and now authoritative.

We hear their changing tones in the quarreling between spouses. We hear them in the quarreling between spouses and children. We hear them in the quarreling between siblings. We hear them in the quarreling between parents or caregivers and neighbors. We hear them in the quarreling between neighbors. We can still hear them in our voices that we have been trying to leave behind. We hear them in the incessant quarreling that is still the music of our communities that we have left behind. Its tones are grating and discordant.

These quarrels that we have had with each other have been about the deprivations under which we suffered. We remember tossing out blame left, right and center. Our ears and our hearts still burn when we remember the unflattering words that we have gladly accepted from failure, words that we have unabashedly and recklessly tossed at each other, doing our best to outdo each other by trying to be the first to grab each malevolent word that failure has held out to us from its seemingly inexhaustible store.

We can still hear the voices of failure in our desperate and fervent hope that we have, on many occasions, expressed in frustration; the hope that one day we would be able to leave the hell hole that our lives have been, either to find better because there must be better somewhere, or to find permanent release from the aggravation that our lives have been.

We know from experience that failure is never silent. We have heard its voice every time others who are far removed from our situations speak disparagingly about “people like them,” and point the finger at us. We have heard the voices of failure in the past, always whispering to us, “you can’t, you can’t, you can’t.” These voices have been like the sound of scratched compact discs, the whiny, tinny voices singing the same note over and over and over.

Failure has been a constant ringing in our ears. Some of us have accepted these voices and their utterances as our truth; some of us have been waiting for an opportunity to distance ourselves from them. Then, there are some of us who have been refusing to be swayed by its perennial voice.

c. The taste of failure

Some of us still can taste failure. Its taste is bitter. Its taste is heightened every time our plates from our past with their meager amount of victuals flash through our minds.

Some of us can taste the bitterness of failure when we remember the lingering hunger from which we have been unable to fully escape, even though, sometimes, we have had enough. Failure has left its lingering taste in our mouths.

Some of us still remember the taste of failure in our attempts to get employment. We remember the many attempts that we have made in the past to get employment, and the failures that have accompanied them. Some of us have discovered that our lack of success in this endeavor has had everything to do with the communities that we call home, and nothing to do with our capabilities.

Ours have been labeled failing communities and, we, being from these communities, have been seen as failures in indeterminate respects, therefore not fit to grace the hallowed halls of the employing organizations. We have not, however, been swayed from our purpose of seeking employment. Good friends who live in more salubrious neighborhoods than ours have been allowing us to use their addresses. Before long, we have been achieving our purpose.

Some of us have been tasting failure when we have been unable to do some of the things that we have needed to do, like making a visit to the doctor and taking care of our responsibilities; every time that we have been unable to pay our way through life. We have been tasting failure for many years. It has been our breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. For a long time, bitter failure has been our constant diet. Amidst our blooming success, its taste has lingered.

d. The smell of failure

Some of us remember smelling failure in our youth, every time we have had to return to our communities after a day out of its choking embrace. We have smelled failure there, under the lean-to, where the boys and girls, men and women spend their days, arguing, cursing, smoking, drinking, gambling, plotting – slowly helping life along.

It has been in the stench of some of the relationships in our communities. It has seeped out of the soaked earth after a shower of rain. It has been in the parched earth desperate for rain, advertising its presence as it covers everyone and everything with its pall of dust. It is embedded in the sprawling wasteland which has been our community.

Some of us have been realizing that failure is the combination of the scents of hopelessness, violence, abandonment, acceptance and the different kinds of poverty that have permeated some of the communities in which we have lived.

Our breathing has been inhibited for a long time. Some persons have learned to live with its scents. There are others who have been waiting for their release from the stench.

However, we who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been finding a way to neutralize its scents. We have been managing to do this as we achieve more and more good things along the way as we journey to our destinations. We have been realizing that as we achieve more good things, our ability to breathe well is slowly being restored.

e. The touch of failure

Failure has been palpable for some of us. We remember having touched it in the past every time the exciting new ventures that our parents or caregivers have embarked on have failed in spite of their belief in, and the effort that they have put into them. Their failures have been our failures because their failures have impacted our lives. When they have failed, our expectations of more and better things have been dashed.

Some of us, in the past, have touched failure every time that we have tried to pick up and put back together our broken dreams that have been shattered, after having fallen on the harsh surfaces of the life that has been ours.

Some of us, in the past, have touched failure every time we have bumped into our neighbors as we have jostled to grab at the rare bits of hope that occasionally have visited our communities, only to leave as soon as they have come, leaving us grasping at air.

Some of us have been touching failure every time we have come together with our spouses.

Some of us have touched failure every time we have tried to fix our leaking roofs, every time we have prepared our meals, every time we have tried to be resourceful.

Failure has touched us every time we have awakened in the mornings, every time we have made it through the day, and every time we have gone to bed. Failure has helped us out of bed in the morning, it has guided us through the day, and it has guided us to bed at nights. Some of us, in the past, have touched failure in the tenuous hold that we have had on life.

Some persons are always touching failure because it has never let them be, and because these persons have never tried to elude it. But, we who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have let go of failure, and we have been trying, successfully so far, to keep it at bay.

2. The persistence of failure

Some of us remember having glimpsed failure now and then when it has slunk into our communities, but its scents have been neutralized, its sightings have been rare, its sounds have been muted and, we have rarely tasted it or felt its touch. But, we have known that it is there, encouraging us to walk into its paths. We have been playing a game of “hide and seek” with it. We have been winning so far, and we are determined to continue on our winning ways, no matter how warm it gets.

3. Burying failure

Some of us who have been engaging in the process of stock taking have been realizing that our stock taking is incomplete. It has been incomplete because we have been refusing to throw out some of the items in our store houses that have long passed their expiration dates.

We have been keeping some of the pictures from our past that have only reminded us of pain, hurts, desperation, destitution and the bad things of life. And, we have been realizing that these pictures have not been negatively impacted by the brunt of time. We have no sepia colored prints. All our pictures are still in pristine shape, still in their original colors, their images in sharp relief in their frames. Everywhere we move about in our space, we have been feeling them boxing us in, and forcefully dragging our gaze to them. In every direction that we have looked, we have been seeing failure.

Some of us have made the resolve to get rid of these pictures because we have been realizing that they have been cluttering our space and preventing us from freely moving about. But getting rid of these pictures has been easier said than done, some of us have been finding. We have been living with them for such a long time. They have become part of our being. Getting rid of these pictures will be like getting rid of a part of ourselves, we tell ourselves, and so we procrastinate.

We, for a long time, have been promising ourselves that we would soon take care of them but we have been lacking the will to do so. Eventually, we have made the decision to pack these pictures away in boxes, hiding them in an attic or a basement, or under a bed, or in a cupboard some place; somewhere out of our direct gaze. But, the ghosts of failure are just only a few steps away.

But some of us have been having no qualms about destroying these pictures. They have been a part of us for a long time, but they have been bringing us nothing but hurt every time we have looked at them, we tell ourselves. “It is time to take some new pictures, anyway,” we say. So, we gladly light a bonfire with them, watching the fire carefully until all that remains are the ashes of our painful past. These, we douse with cold water. We do not want any stray spark to ignite anything in our path.

After this ritual, some of us have decided to keep the ashes of our past in a nice container that we will look at from time to time just to remind us of where we are coming from and where we still need to go. Some of us have decided to inter these ashes. Some of us do this by scattering these ashes of our past in what we consider to be a suitable place for them. And some of us dig a hole in which we put these ashes of our past out of sight.

Having satisfied ourselves that we have gotten rid of the pictures from the past, we have been venturing beyond what has been, for a long time, the boundary that we have set as our world. Walking along, we have been gazing on the new world that has been opening up to us, and we have been selectively capturing moments on our memory card that is now ready to accept new images.

Some of us have begun to understand ourselves, and have been realizing that we need to forcefully point our gaze directly ahead of us, instead of fixing it backwards at the past in which we have been bogged down by the grip of failure. We have been realizing that we have been allowing ourselves to be controlled by the forces in our environment whose vision of our future is one in which we will be struggling to survive. But, we have been telling ourselves that, in spite of the designs of these forces, we will rise above our circumstances. We have been coming to the realization that we have not been exerting enough effort to learn the lessons that our circumstances have been teaching us. We have been deciding to start taking notice.

We have decided to wrest ourselves from the clutches of failure because it has been an unreliable companion to many of us. We have become jaded by it. We have become tired of living in a state of failure, a state where there are no successes or accomplishments that we can call our own, a state in which we are always losing. We have given up on failure.

We have decided to give up on the idea that it is our lot to endure constant material and non-material deprivation because it is our inheritance, and it comes with the territory. We have decided to give up on the harsh conditions which have been our lot, and which have been keeping a stranglehold on us, keeping us trapped in the mire that our lives have been. We have decided to give up on poverty, all kinds of poverty: whether poverty of material things or poverty non-material things; or poverty of intellect; or poverty of morals; or poverty of ambition; or a combination of some or all of these factors that have been the lot of many of us.

We have decided to give up on failure which has been embedding itself in our very existence, an existence which we have had to embrace because of our distressed circumstances but, now, we have rejected.

4. Embracing failure’s opposite

After all these years of trying, some of us have finally been stepping out of the shadow of failure. We have seen failure’s opposite and we like it and have embraced it. We have seen that it is underlined by some material possessions, and that some of us have been acquiring some of these. We have seen that it is underlined by the attitudes and behaviors of others, attitudes and behaviors that we have been finding more appealing than the ones to which we have been exposed by many members of our communities in which we have grown up. We have seen it underlined in gainful employment. We have seen it underlined on our pay checks. We have seen it in our ability to satisfy some or all of our needs and wants. We have seen it underlined in our freedom of movement and association. We have met the possibility of success.

5. Giving up on failure – the action plan

Having reflected on the backgrounds from which we have come, having taken stock, having done the SWOT analysis of ourselves and having resolved to give up on failure, we have been following a plan. This is the action plan that we have realized belatedly that we have been following all this time as we have been traveling along the road on our journeys to our versions of success. We have been following a road map that, for many of us, has had its
genesis in our past.

What does this plan look like? It is an action plan that many of us have only inscribed on the surfaces of our minds.

Here is an example of one of our plans. It has been drawn up by one of our fellow travelers. We have already introduced elements of it to the reader. The farther along that we have moved on our journeys to our versions of success, the more we have been learning about how to refine and articulate our plans. The steps in our plans do not necessarily logically follow one another as they have been outlined here, but in hindsight, this is roughly what our plans look like.

Name: DESTINY WEAVER

AIM: To achieve my version of success by committing to following a number of named strategies ...

OBJECTIVES

  1. To qualify myself to be able to get the job I want
  2. To earn enough money to improve my circumstances by being able to satisfy all of my needs and, if not all, some of my wants
  3. To continue to exert the necessary effort at my job so that I will continue to improve my position, and therefore my earning power

ACTIONS

  • Take stock

  • Do a SWOT analysis of myself

  • Give up on failure

  • Activate my ambition

  • Make sacrifices

  • Exert effort

  • Have faith

  • Reciprocate

  • Make choices
  • Rest
  • Enjoy my success

MEASUREMENT

  • Ticking off my objectives as soon as I have achieved them

RESOURCES

  • Time
  • Effort

TIME FRAME

  • As long as life lasts

D. Weaver

Our plans – an overview

Naming our plans

Note that this traveler has proudly affixed her/his name to the plan. We have all done the same. These are our plans for achieving our versions of success. We have owned them. They are our road maps to our futures.

Our aims

Notice that after we have named our plans, we have clearly outlined our aims. These aims are our ambitions that we have written in general terms. They express the hope that we have with regard to our lives.

We have, over time, given much thought to our lives. We have been pitting them against the lives of others who we know, and who have been occupying less distressed positions than we in the social milieu. We have been observing these people as they go about their business. We have been questioning them because we have always wanted to find out how they have been managing to make the transition from situations like ours to the ones that they have now been enjoying. We have been observing all these people who seem to be successful and we have been dreaming about our own success.

Some of us have listened to the advice of our parents, or caregivers, or teachers or well wishers. All of us have drawn our inspiration to achieve much for ourselves from different sources. We have been doing our research. Now, we have some direction. We have an idea of what we want to achieve from the rest of our lives. And we who are on our journeys have success as our aim.

Our objectives

We understand that our aims encapsulate our ambitions, and we understand that we need to have some direction on how to achieve our aims. So, we have broken them down into manageable parts. These parts are our objectives which we have tried to make as specific, achievable and measurable as possible. These objectives are the tangibles that we are working toward achieving.

Some of us have added many more objectives to this list. Some of us have different objectives. This list is not exhaustive and the objectives are specific to us, and to our

circumstances. We have started out with the hope that, having achieved the objectives that we have set for ourselves, we will have achieved our aim. However, hoping is not enough, we have been realizing. We have been realizing that our objectives will only be achieved with action. So we have included the actions that we have committed ourselves to take to ensure that we achieve our aim.

Our actions

Destiny Weaver has chosen the following eleven actions that she/he has been using as points of reference to achieve her/his version of success. Many of us who have been traveling along on our journeys to our versions of success have included similar actions in our plans.

First, we have been taking stock of our lives. We have been examining where we are coming from and the experiences that we have had, where we are at certain points in our lives, and where we are going.

Second, we have been doing a “SWOT” analysis of ourselves. Many of us have never heard this term before until we have done some studies, or we have heard it in relation to our work. We have been finding its processes useful after having examined them, and after reflecting on our lives. We have been realizing that we have been crudely going through this process for much of our lives, because we have, in the past, worried about our lives and their prospects.

We have constantly asked ourselves these questions: “What can we do to earn some money?” “What am I good at?” “Who am I going to turn to for some help, just to start something?” “I need to help myself, but how?” We have been examining ourselves without having a name for this examination. We have been seeking direction through our questioning of ourselves. We have been trying to identify our strengths and weaknesses, as well as trying to ascertain the opportunities and threats that are in our environment.

Third, we have decided to give up on failure, and reach for success instead.

Fourth, we have decided to activate our ambitions that for some of us have remained dormant since we have voiced them during a period of childish exuberance. We now have been discovering that our ambitions are, indeed, our visions of our lives; they are the mission statements of our lives. We have decided to be guided by them.

Fifth, we have realized that we will have to make sacrifices if we want to have any resources to help us to get to where we want to be. We have learned this from our parents or caregivers. We have learned it from our circumstances. We have learned this as our ambition has taken a hold of us. So, we have been making many sacrifices.

Sixth, we have been realizing that if we want to achieve our vision of our lives, our ambitions, we will have to exert effort. We have to work for what we want. Our lives, so far, have been symbols of effort, effort that has caused us to have some accomplishments. We have decided to continue to exert effort because we have been seeing its products.

Seventh, we have not been able to do much without our faith. Many of us have manifested this faith in every aspect of our lives. So, with our faith we have been traveling along on our journeys to our versions of success, holding on to our faith in difficult times.

Eighth, we have added reciprocity to the list of actions that we have been taking to achieve our version of success. A number of persons, either family members, or friends, or acquaintances, or strangers, or colleagues or a combination of any or all of these people have invested in our journeys in many ways: financially, emotionally, physically and otherwise. We have been getting some returns on their investment in us. As a result, we have made the decision to pay it forward.

Ninth, we have been realizing that there are choices that we have to make about a myriad of issues in our lives as we journey to our versions of success. We have been pondering these.

Tenth, many of us have decided that we will take periodic breaks from chasing after our dreams. We have been realizing that we have been able to see our way forward quite clearly when we are rested. So we have been taking rest at intervals as we travel along the way on our journeys to our versions of success.

Eleventh, we have decided to enjoy our achievements that we have been accomplishing on our journeys to our versions of success.

Measurement

As we have been engaging in the actions that we have outlined above, we have decided that we need to have a way to measure the extent to which we have been achieving our objectives. So we have added measurement to our action plan. We have been measuring our progress in a holistic way. That is, the extent to which we have been making progress in our endeavors.

Our measurement has not only been restricted to the achievement of our objectives, however. We have also been measuring the extent to which we have been completing the actions that we have outlined as being necessary for us to achieve our objectives.

In our review of these actions that we have been taking, we have been asking ourselves these questions: “Have we been honest in taking stock, and doing the SWOT analysis of ourselves? What really is our ambition? Is it attainable, given the resources that we possess? Should we modify our ambitions? Have we been exerting as much effort as we can on the tasks that we must accomplish to realize our ambition? Is our faith still strong? To what extent have we been reciprocating? Have we been making the sacrifices that we need to make? What are the choices that we have been making as regards our path through life? To what extent have we been taking rest from our labors? Have we been enjoying some of the fruits of our success?”

The answers to these and any other questions that we have cared to ask we have been using to determine our future actions. We have been realizing that measurement has been a useful tool that we have been using, as from it we have been able to gauge the progress that we have been making on our journeys to our versions of success.

Resources

In order to achieve our aim, we have realized that we have had to have some resources. So we have added resources to our action plan.

Time frame

We have all been approaching our journeys with different time frames in mind. Some of us have wanted to achieve success as quickly as possible. We have put a time limit on achieving this success. Some of us have achieved our versions of success within this time frame, while some of us have not.

Some of us have left the time frame open, seeing our journeys to our versions of success as a work in progress. We have only committed to taking advantage of the time that we have to exert as much effort as we can on the things that we deem to be important in helping us to achieve our goals.

Our signature

Having outlined our action plans, we, again, affix our names to them, this time, our signature. We are affirming our commitment to following them.

6. Failure – our reflections

Our action plans are our road maps to our versions of success. We have been following them, and they have been leading us far away from where we have started out on our journeys. Our destinations are therefore much closer to us than before. We will continue our journeys because, having already had some achievements, we know that there is much more in store for us to achieve, if we are willing to take advantage of the opportunities that will come our way.

But, in this journey to our versions of success to which we have committed ourselves, some of us have been achieving more than others, but we have all been achieving. Our achievements have been enabling us to be constructing our now, far away from the original circumstances of our lives. We have been committing ourselves to maintaining our construction in good condition. We want to one day be finally rid of failure in all its guises.


CHAPTER 5

Having ambition

Some of us have grown up in circumstances in which our parents or caregivers or friends of the family have introduced us to the word ambition. They have asked us on a number of occasions, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We remember eagerly sharing our dreams.

Some of us have wanted jobs as firemen, policemen, teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers, pilots, businessmen and women – mostly “white collar” jobs. These responses have been met with murmurs of approval. Those of us who have wanted to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and pilots have gotten more approval than those of us who have had aspirations to enter “lesser” professions. The responses of our parents or caregivers to our gleeful proclamation of ambition have depended on their place on the existing ladder of success, or their perception of what is the ideal place on the ladder of success.

At moments like these, when we have been invited to share glimpses of our vision of our future selves, and the roles that we envisage ourselves occupying in society, there have always been a few of us, our lone voices in the mix piping up: “farmer,” “truck driver,” “baby sitter”, “carpenter”, or any other such “blue collar” job. These answers from us, more often than not, have been met with laughter and ridicule from our parents or caregivers, whoever the questioner has been, as well as our peers. Moreover, some of us remember getting a glancing cuff or two, these cuffs being accompanied by the words, “no ambition! That child has no ambition!” This utterance has usually been followed by a lecture of what a “proper” career choice ought to be.

From these interactions, we have eventually figured out the essence of the meaning of the word ambition. We have come to learn that it is linked to our choice of careers, and we have learned that it can be a positive thing or a negative thing. Having no ambition, we have learned, is not a good thing. So, we must have ambition, a good thing.

As we have matured, we have learned that ambition is one of those words that is “loaded.”

We have learned that it is a thing which is intrinsic to the person who displays it, and it is something that, if we care to, we may recognize in ourselves and in others in whatever setting in which social interactions take place: the home, school, religious institutions, the workplace, sports teams, and in every other social group.

We have learned that ambition is that drive to be more than we are. It is that drive to achieve the “good” tangible and intangible things of life. It is in the achieving and in the achievement of the “good” tangible and intangible things of life. It is success.

Much later in our lives, some of us have come to understand that our ambition encapsulates the mission statement of our lives. It is our vision of our lives that we want to achieve, and we have realized that to achieve this vision, we have to go through a process that is quite involved.

As we have grown older, some of us have been learning that ambition starts with a strong belief in ourselves. It is a rejection of the thought of spending a lifetime with failure as our best forever friend. It is a rejection of any notion of thinking that we are inherently inferior to anybody because we lack any of the desirable material or other desirable resources, as a result of the status of the families into which we were born.

We have been realizing that ambition is something in us which encourages us to set goals for our lives as soon as we developed the understanding to do so. It is the rejection of all negative predictions from detractors about the trajectory of our lives. It is a deep seated desire to achieve a particular goal that we have set for ourselves. More generally, it is the deep seated desire that we have to achieve something in life, to be “somebody”, to be a success in our eyes, and for some of us, to be a success in the eyes of some others.

Ambition, we have been learning, starts with a belief which engenders a desire in us, a desire to achieve, to do well at something, to own something, to have certain experiences. And it will only be achieved, we have been learning, with confidence, the confidence manifested in our “thick skins,” the confidence that we evince when we lift our heads high and laugh in the face of our detractors, turn our backs on them and forge ahead.

We have been learning that our detractors are only some of the stumbling blocks that we will come across on the road to our versions of success. So, we have been ignoring them, we have activated our ambitions, and we have been working toward achieving our versions of success.

There are some of us who have had no guidance as regards the need to have ambition, but whether or not we have had this guidance, or whether or not we have ever heard the word – which is unlikely – we have realized from the nature of the lives, that for the most part, many of us have lived in our formative years, that we want more than we have or had. We want better than we have or have had, and we have set our aim on that which we believe will get us to where we want to be. To this extent, we have demonstrated that we, too, have ambition. We have activated our ambition.

Ambition, we have been learning, is not the sole preserve of those persons who are more privileged than we. All of us have ambition, in spite of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

When we have examined ourselves, and the life that we have been living, we have been realizing that all these years we have been, either consciously or unconsciously, making a choice. We have been making the choice to either remove ourselves from failure’s grip or to stay locked in its grip. Our lives have been evidence of this choice.

We who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been refusing to remain firmly locked in the grip of failure. We have been wriggling free. We have been activating our ambitions. We have been pursuing our dreams.

1. The meaning of ambition – our definitions

What does the word ambition mean to us? This word ambition means different things to all of us. Our ambitions are our dreams of our future. And we who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been going toward our ambition, which is simply success. This success, though, means different things to all of us. And this success, we have been hoping to realize through our pursuits.

For some of us ambition means achieving our success by getting a job, any job, and from the proceeds of this job, being able to provide for ourselves, and our family – if we have one – the basic needs of life: food, shelter, clothing and schooling, among other needs which we consider to be essential.

For some of us, ambition means achieving success by getting a job in the professions or a specific type of job.

Yet, for some of us ambition means achieving success by being a leader in our field, or being a leader of an organization, or just being a leader of any enterprise.

For some of us ambition means achieving success by getting out of the communities of our birth, as soon as possible, and by any means necessary. For some of us, this means moving to a community in the city – we have found our rural communities to be too small for us.

For some of us, ambition means moving to the country away from our cluttered lives in our congested urban environments – the promise of the great expanse of space and greenery beckons to us.

For some of us ambition means moving to a country other than that of our birth. If we manage to do this, all the objectives that we have set for the trajectory of our lives would be complete.

For some of us ambition means achieving success by becoming highly paid sportsmen and women, singers, actresses and models – celebrities.

Some of us just want to be known. So for us, ambition means achieving success by being famous.

For some of us, our ambition is to be rich, just that. If we become rich we can achieve our versions of success.

For some of us, ambition means achieving success by being able to afford the high end material things in life.

And, for some of us, ambition means achieving success by being married and/or having a family.

For some of us ambition means achieving success at the pursuits that we have chosen, the symbols of our success being the achievement of trophies, plaques, titles, accolades – any other form of recognition – money and the best of all material things.

And, for some of us, ambition means achieving success by doing what we love.

Underlying all our dreams, though, is the desire to be able to satisfy all that we consider to be our needs, and, for some of us, some or all of our wants. And most of us work at achieving our ambition by following the career path that we have chosen for ourselves or someone else has chosen for us.

2. Our career paths

While some of us are well on the way toward achieving our ambitions, some of us are now at the early stages of our journeys. We have been revealing our interests to our parents or caregivers. Some of us are being directed into areas in which our parents or caregivers believe will yield the most benefit for us. Some of us have been listening to them and have been revising our aspirations. Some of us, however, are hell bent on going in the direction that we have been charting for ourselves.

Some of our parents and caregivers have gotten their wish and are happy. We have accepted the path that they have chosen for us. Some of our parents or caregivers whose advice we have been ignoring are angry. Some of our parents or caregivers, whether their advice has been heeded or ignored, support us in our career choice. And some of our parents and caregivers have not bothered to offer any career advice. They will accept our decision, they have assured us.

a. Following the dictates of our parents or caregivers

Some of us have listened to our parents or caregivers and have set our aim at one of the well established professions or one of the emerging desirable professions. Some of us have been successful at these, and are now proud lawyers or doctors or engineers ... We are enjoying the benefits of being in these professions, being able to afford some of the best material things in life, among other things that we desire. We are the pride of our parents or caregivers.

Some of us have failed to attain the dream of our parents or caregivers, or probably ours as well, and have had to settle for “lesser” pursuits (any career that is not medicine, law or engineering or any of the emerging desirable professions). However, we have been enjoying the benefits of our pursuits, and have been able to afford some of the desirable material things of life that we desire, among other things that we desire. But, some of our parents or caregivers are bitterly disappointed.

Some of us, on the advice of parents or caregivers, have chosen the “lesser” pursuits. We have been successful, and our parents or caregivers are proud of us. We have been able to afford some of the desirable material things of life. However, some of us have failed, and have had to settle for other pursuits. Even though we have been able to afford some of the desirable material things of life, some of our parents or caregivers are quite disappointed.

Some of us, on the advice of parents or caregivers, have chosen “blue collar” jobs. Some of us have been quite successful at these pursuits, some of us enjoying more benefits from these pursuits than others in more desirable professions. Some of us have already been able to afford many of the desirable material things of life. However, some of us, at this time, are only able to afford a few of these desirable material things of life. Our parents or caregivers are proud of us.

b. Following our hearts and/or the advice of concerned others

Some of us have had only our hearts to listen to as to what our ambition should be. Some of us have had the guidance of teachers. Some of us have had the guidance of benefactors.

Whether we have had to depend on ourselves, or we have depended on benefactors, or we have depended on teachers for career guidance, we have all embarked on a journey to find something that is much better than what we have had. Some of us have been achieving the ambition that we have set out to achieve. Some of us have had to modify our ambitions along the way, but we have all had some success. We are enjoying some achievements.

For those of us who have had to rely only on ourselves to conceive of our ambitions, and have been successfully working to achieve them, we are extremely proud of ourselves. Many persons who know about our past and our struggles are also proud of us. We have been making “something” of ourselves.

c. Pursuing our ambition – impact on parents/caregivers

However, some of us will never know the extent of the disappointment of our parents or caregivers in our career choice because they have been concealing it well, except to vent now and again to a trusted friend who has thought it necessary to mention this conversation to a few others in their circles.

Some of us who have failed to succeed in entering the career field that we have chosen, or have had chosen for us, have constantly had this failure tossed at us. “If you were a “this” or a “that”, you would have been making “good” money and you could have done “this” or “that,” or, “if you had studied as hard as Mary Brown’s boy, you would be just where he is now,” we have been told, quite often.

For those of us who are choosing, or who have chosen, and are already pursuing the “ideal” professions, we are constantly being reminded about the benefits to be had, or which we will have. For some of us who have chosen, or have been pursuing less “ideal” career options, we are constantly being reminded to reconsider.

The career paths that we are taking toward realizing our ambitions, the successes for which we have been searching, may not be approved by some of our parents or caregivers or others who have a stake in our lives, except for the ones that promise much gain, but we have made our choice, which we have been modifying as necessary as the years have gone by.

d. Lessons learned

Our ambition, we have been learning, is ours. But, some of us have also been learning that it is, sometimes, also our parents’ or caregivers’ or anyone else who has made an investment in our lives, directly or indirectly. They want to live vicariously through our successes and some of us, they believe, have let them down. We have deprived them of an anticipated joy.

However, many of us have been able to rid ourselves of any feelings of guilt or unworthiness that the reactions of significant others have engendered in us because of our seeming failure to achieve the kind of success that they have envisioned for us. We have been achieving a different kind of success, our versions of success.

3. Factors delaying the achievement of the ambitions of some of us

    a. Having unrealistic expectations of ourselves

We have been realizing that it is a good thing to have ambition, that it is even better to activate our ambitions, but it is best to ensure that the steps that we take to realize our ambitions are realistic, and are based on the resources that we possess: education, certifications, personality traits, interests, friends in high places – resources that are specific to all of us. However, some of us have had lofty expectations of ourselves. Many of us have a story to tell in this regard.

One of us has wanted to achieve her version of success by being a nurse. What is her reason for having wanted to be a nurse? Is it the calling to provide care for the sick? Is it the salary that could help her to improve her lot in life? The answer is no to all of these questions. She has always wanted to be a nurse because she held the belief that she would look good in the uniform.

She has not achieved this dream because she has lacked the intellectual fortitude that is a major resource to have in order to realize this dream. However, even though she has not realized her dream, she has settled into a more realistic option, and she is achieving much on the way along her journey to her new version of success.

There are other dreams that some of us have had, and we have set our hearts on achieving them, only to realize much later that we did not possess the necessary resources or the quality of resources to make these dreams come true. We have all looked back at some point along our journeys to our versions of success, and we have laughed, some of us ruefully, because we now realize the improbability of our having achieved the dreams that we were previously chasing.

We have now been realizing that we lacked the resources that were necessary for us to have possessed to have achieved these dreams. We are now comfortable in the new spaces that we have been carving out for ourselves, but we still regret the time that we spent, and effort that we exerted on something that was leading us to nowhere.

b. The fear of more failure

Many of us who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have already realized that failure is a crippling state to be in. We have been working assiduously to amass the resources to finally turn our backs on it. We have realized that it is a state that has the potential to hold us back from trying to engage in activities, from taking advantage of opportunities, from striving, if we let it. And we have realized that if we allow it, it will prevent us from venturing too far out of our comfort zones, and, then, we will remain in its grips. So we have been taking action by staying the course on our journeys to our versions of success.

We have been refusing to allow failure to cling to us like a parasitic plant that is benefiting more from the nutrients that the plant has absorbed than the plant itself. We have been refusing to allow failure to continue to suck all the substance from us. We have been refusing to be like others who are so afraid of failure that they have been locking themselves out of the job market. After experiencing a few set-backs, they have concluded that they will not get any jobs so they will not bother to waste their time by applying for jobs again and again.

We who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have all suffered rejections in our quest for jobs, but we have never quit. We have been persisting, and some of us have been finding self-employment to be a viable option. We have not, like some persons, rejected this option, when in our distress someone has suggested it to us. We have not cared that other people are already doing whatever it is that we have chosen to do. We have welcomed the competition.

Though some of us have this option, we have chosen not to lock ourselves away at home with our parents or caregivers, and reality television. Our ambitions being fully activated, many of us have been finding legitimate ways to chart our courses toward the kind of success that we have set our hearts on achieving.

Many of us have been observing some of our relatives, friends, and acquaintances who have not been bothering to brave the world of employment. We have been observing them as they lend an ear to the complaints of their working friends about their bitchy co-workers, their evil bosses and their unreasonable clients, the drudgery of the work and so on, and we have been observing them as they commiserate with these friends. And we have been observing them as they lend an ear to other friends for whom work is a dream, listening to them regaling them with the highlights of their day.

We have been observing them as they live vicariously through these second-hand experiences. These friends, relatives, and acquaintances, we have been realizing, have been remaining trapped in a state of failure, a state of what could be, because they lack the will to exert themselves. They are afraid of failure, so they do not take action like finding gainful employment.

Rising above our circumstances has been demanding that we have “thick skins.” We who have been traveling along the way on our journeys to our versions of success have not been lacking “thick skins”. So, whenever any kind of failure has tried to invade our space we have been able to repel it. We have been refusing to move to the fringes of life, being shoulders to cry on for some of our friends, while being cheerleaders for others.

When we have chosen to examine ourselves and the progress that we have been making on our journeys to our versions of success so far, we have been refusing to do it through the lenses that failure has prescribed for us. Therefore, we have been strengthening the positive aspects of ourselves, and have been building on them. We have been trying to work on our weaknesses, and have been devising strategies to mitigate the threats. We have activated our ambitions and we have been working to achieve them. We have been focusing on the possibility of success, instead of on the possibility of failure.

c. The ghosts of history

Many of us have been observing life in our surroundings, and we have come to the conclusion that the ghosts of history have settled themselves in our midst, and this is manifested in many of our attitudes to work. Our attitudes to work may have led some onlookers to conclude that we are lazy, that we have an aversion to work, but this is not necessarily the case, some of us have been realizing.

This apparent laziness that some of us display, we believe, has its roots in our history. Some of us have had ancestors whose lot was to face hard labor on plantations, planting and tending crops, taking care of the children of others, doing domestic work in the homes, taking care of all the menial tasks, and being abused by their bosses. Having heard of this history, there are some of us who have refused to do any job that smacks of plantation labor, even when it is one of the few jobs that we are qualified to do. We equate them with slavery, and we do not want to be reminded in any way of slavery. Furthermore, in some societies, engaging in these pursuits is unprofitable.

These ghosts of history have also been negatively impacting some of us who are eminently qualified. Some of us are ambivalent to work. Even though we have made the decision to travel to our versions of success, many times we have become complacent, lethargic even, so have not been taking full advantage of the opportunities to which we have had access.

This does not mean that we do not have ambition. We certainly do have ambition. Some of us want to have a nice house in a nice community. Some of us want to have a nice car. Some of us want to have an expensive wardrobe. Some of us want to be well-fed. Some of us want it all. We, however, are creeping toward our versions of success because work holds very little charm for us.

d. Our laissez-faire attitude to life

Then, there are those of us who have ambition, but we have been on journeys with no particular destinations in mind. We have been choosing the now over a future that is yet unknown.

Some of us are from privileged backgrounds and some of us are from less privileged backgrounds. What we have in common is our resolve to enjoy the now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. We depend on others: either government or relatives or friends or benefactors for our livelihoods.

We have potential. Our parents and/or caregivers have sent us to school. We have done well, passing the requisite examinations as we have gone through the education system. We have reached the end of high school. We have been getting opportunities to take advantage of further studies and/or to work. We have been wasting these opportunities by promptly failing out of college and/or refuse to accept the jobs that we have been offered because we believe they do not fit the image of ourselves that we have been creating, or for any other reason that we have devised.

We have become obsessed with things. Social media holds much joy for us. Partying with friends holds even more joy for us than study or work. And some of us, men or women, are regularly on the prowl to find a benefactor to replace the ones who have just walked out on us. This is the life that we have chosen for ourselves. This is our ambition.

e. Fear of walking alone

There is a saying that we have come into this world alone and we will leave it alone. This saying is reinforcing the idea that we need to have some kind of independence.

There are some of us who have had our ambitions over the years. We have wanted our versions of success, and we have wanted to achieve this success by engaging in any of a number of fields. We have wanted a career in the field of nursing, or in teaching or in the hospitality industry, or, we have wanted to start a small business – we have had our dreams. And we have had opportunities to realize our dreams.

But, we have kept on deferring our dreams because our friend has not been ready to commit her or himself to the path that we have chosen. We have only been willing to attend the nursing school, the teachers’ college, hospitality school or start our small business if our friend is going with us. So, the years have been rolling by. Our friend has been getting by. We have been getting by.

Then one day, our friend tells us that she/he will be doing the very thing we have wanted to do all along. The problem is that we now lack the resources to join our friend on this journey.

We exhaust all of our sources in order to get the resources to join our friend. But, alas, we have had no luck. Our sources’ resources are “tied up”, they tell us. They are sorry they cannot help.

We share our disappointing news with our friend. She/he commiserates with us, but starts the journey without us. We are left behind, despondent. We blame one or all of our sources, who have not been able to help us, for stomping on our dreams. We do not take responsibility for our current state.

By the time that we have amassed the resources to begin to chase our dreams, our friend has moved on, having made new friends, having been introduced to new ways of thinking, new activities, being only able to spend minutes with us instead of the hours we usually have spent together, seeing us as not having the understanding to make sense of the things she/he wants to talk about, treating us like ignorant younger siblings. We are annoyed at this person who once used to be our friend. We tell those who will listen about all the good things that we have done for our friend. We trace our journey together and we resolve to “drop” that friend.

Some of us who have wasted all those years, waiting for our friend to come on board before we begin to chase our dreams have eventually been realizing our ambition, but some of us will continue to rue the time that we wasted, waiting to take our friend along.

f. Poverty

We who are on our journeys to achieve our versions of success have big dreams. We not only have the dreams, but we have the acumen to achieve our dreams as our performance in school has shown. However, some of us have had to temper these dreams because our parents have not had the resources to assist us to pursue our studies to the level required for us to have a shot at achieving our dreams. We have, instead, settled and are pursuing another dream. For some of us, this is a second or third tiered one. We have been having some achievements, and we are content.

Some of us have not been willing to give up on our big dream. We have taken advantage of the assistance that our parents or caregivers have been able to provide. For some of us, this assistance has helped us to complete high school. While, for some of us, this assistance has helped us to complete a college education at the level of a first degree or a lower level certification. We have reached as far as our parents or caregivers can carry us.

Our dream is still out of our grasp, but we have every intention to eventually grasp it. So, we have found a job, we have been saving, and some of us have been studying at the same time. We know exactly what we want. We have realized that it will take us some time to get there, but time is one resource that we have, we think, and which we intend to use to our advantage.

We have been enjoying some achievements, and we are much closer than before to making our dream a reality. We are confident that we will eventually achieve our versions of success.

g. Unplanned events

There are some of us who have lofty dreams, and we have charted a course for realizing them. We know that we have the potential to achieve them, and we have been taking many strides along the road to achieving them.

Then along come a number of setbacks. Some of us have taken on early motherhood and fatherhood. We now have responsibilities, so we have to put our dreams on the back burner while we take care of the responsibilities to our child or children. Some of us eventually have been reaching where we want to be, but we have been having quite a journey.

Some of us have had to contend with illness that has slowed us down to a crawl on our journeys to our versions of success. We have been disappointed, but we have been learning to accept our situation. In spite of our illness, some of us still see the possibility of attaining our versions of success, and we have been working toward achieving our success. We have been having some accomplishments along the way.

Some of us have been realizing that the nature of our illness has been making it impossible to achieve the career goals that we have always set our hearts on, and therefore our versions of success. We have therefore had to settle for another career goal that is more easily within our reach. We have been working to achieve our revised career goals, and we hope that, through achieving them, we will one day go very close to achieving our revised versions of success.

h. Lack of support from parents or caregivers

There are some of us who have activated our ambitions and have been working toward achieving them. However, at some point along our journeys we have had to stop. We have had to stop because we have not had the financial support that we have needed to continue. We have parents or caregivers who can offer this support, but they have refused to do so.

Some of them have refused to help us because they do not like the choices that we have been making in our lives: subjects that we have chosen to study at school; our course of study at college; relationships that we have chosen to have; the way we dress; or for any other of our choices that we have been making with which they disagree.

Some of our parents or caregivers have just refused to give us any financial assistance. We know they can help, but they always claim that they have something else that they have to invest in, something more important than our needs. Some of them have promised on more than one occasion to help, but every time we have gone for that help we have discovered that we are on a wild goose chase.

We see our situations as temporary ones, though. Some of us have found jobs, and we have been working to make our dreams come true.

i. Abandonment

Some of us have been left to fend for ourselves from as long as we can remember. We have had no parents or caregiver who has been active in our lives. We want success because we are tired of the life that we have been living. We have been relying on our own resourcefulness, and we have been seeing our way more clearly than we have ever done before. We have been accomplishing much, and we are intent on accomplishing much more. We have been following our paths that we have charted for ourselves to our versions of success that we have envisioned for ourselves.

4. Our ambitions - reflections

Many of us along this journey to our versions of success can add other factors that have slowed our progress. However, in spite of these factors, we have been continuing our journeys. We have not lost sight of our ambition. We all want better from life, better than what we have grown up with. This is our ambition.

For us, we see this better being realized in our lives through our working at particular jobs that some of us intend to make a career of. For some of us, these jobs have been temporary, until we are able to get the ones that we want, the ones that we see our ambitions being realized through. Some of us therefore have been changing jobs at intervals as we continue our journeys to our versions of success.

Some of us have chosen to achieve our ambition through other means than work. We have been enjoying our lives, so we continue on the journeys that we hope will continue to be fruitful.

In everything that we do, our ambition has been our driving force. And, we who have been on our journeys to our versions of success have been following its directions.

CHAPTER 6

Sacrifice

We who have been on this journey to our versions of success have activated our ambition, which we have every intention of realizing. We have, however, realized that in order to realize our ambition we have to be prepared to make sacrifices. Sacrificing is a lesson that many of us who have chosen our paths to achieve our versions of success, and have been walking along these paths, has learned in our early years.

Sacrifice, for many of us, has meant that we have either been forced to, or persuaded to, or chosen to forego some things which, at a moment in time, we have deemed, or someone else has deemed to have less utility for us at that point in time than other things. Some of us have been forced to forego many of the things that we have desired, primarily because of our circumstances. We just have not been able to afford them.

Some of us have chosen to make sacrifices because of our circumstances; we have always wanted more than we have had, which has not been much. On the other hand, some of us have been persuaded to make sacrifices by our parents or caregivers. It has been their belief that if we want to achieve anything in life, we have to be prepared to make sacrifices.

So, sacrifice, for us, has been a feature of much of our existence as a result of the circumstances of deprivation that have been our lot for a significant part of our lives. We

have never had the luxury of taking any thing in life for granted. We who have been born into poor families have been thrown into situations that have been proliferated by people making tough decisions: sacrificing repairs to a dilapidated home to be able to feed the family, send the children to school and to put clothes on their backs; sacrificing foods deemed to be luxury items to be able to give a child a well needed pair of shoes; sacrificing pride to work at jobs where injustice is rife, just to be able to meet the needs of the family. We have grown up on sacrifice.

We have learned from our parents or caregivers that their motivation for making these sacrifices has been borne out of their hope to get something better in return – an improvement in our lives. There is better out there and we should strive for better, they have often told us. We have realized that all the sacrifices that they have been making for us, and have made for us, have been investments in us, which they have been hoping that we will, in time, repay with interest.

Because many of us want things that are much better than what we have known, we have been making sacrifices, and we have been willingly doing so as we travel on our journeys to our versions of success. In learning this lesson about sacrifice, some of us have had some able teachers in our parents or caregivers. Their lives have been our textbooks, of which we have not been allowed to skip any of the chapters. It is in their stories of struggle and sacrifice that some of us have gotten the information that we have been using to create our action plans to improve our lives.

Looking back, many of us marvel at the little that our parents and caregivers have had. And with this little, they managed to do so much. The little that they have had, and with which they did so much, was achieved through their hard work and much sacrifice.

They are very proud of their achievements. They have, on many occasions, recounted to us the many battles that they won in their struggles against the adverse circumstances in which they found themselves. They learned many lessons, lessons that they eagerly shared with us. They reinforced these lessons that they learned and taught us through repetition, comparison, and storytelling.

1. Stories of sacrifice from parents or caregivers

Our parents or caregivers told us about the conditions in which they grew up. In their day, they had to walk many miles to and from school during all kinds of weather. They told us that they had to walk barefooted on unpaved roads, gingerly picking their way through animal dung as they went about their business. And in telling this bit of their story, they invited us to imagine the conditions of the streets during the rainy season. We had things easy, they often told us, because we could afford to wear shoes on much improved roads, without having to pick and choose where to put our feet. And now, we children just have to hop on a bus or hop into our parents’ vehicles, or just walk down the road to get to school.

They told us that the river or the spring or the stand pipe was their Laundromat, their hand operated dishwasher, their bathroom, and their source of potable water. And, again, and again, they reminded us of the great distances that they had to walk in their days, often barefooted to get to these sources of water, playing hop scotch along the way to avoid stepping into that which was not dirt, a journey that they had to take many times a day for years, just to get their household chores done. Then, we were reminded of how lucky we were. We had piped water in our homes or at a nearby stand pipe, and could easily and comfortably complete our daily chores.

Since they were able to make something of themselves with the little that they started out with, we could do much better with the great start that they gave us, they told us.

Some of our parents or caregivers told us about the sacrifices that they made to watch over other people’s children, washing their dirty laundry while leaving us with others who left us to fend for ourselves. This was a sacrifice that they made, and whatever they earned was used for our welfare. So, in spite of everything, we must have some gratitude.

Some of our parents or caregivers told us about having to travel far distances to where jobs were available, leaving us in the care of other relatives, friends or siblings. It was a sacrifice, and they made this sacrifice, all because of us. “Do not ever forget that!” they warned us.

Some of our parents or caregivers told us that they spent long hours on the job trying to advance their careers just to earn more money to give us a better life. We had a good life, much better than most. “Stop whining, and be content with what you have,” they admonished us when we dared to complain when they forgot to do something that we considered to be important to us.

2. Memories of the struggles and sacrifices of our parents or caregivers

Some of us remember our parents or caregivers getting out of bed before daylight. We remember them making ready to take their daily treks to their farms. In our memories, these farms were located miles, and miles away, up several hills or across several valleys; painful journeys that we have had to take, sometimes.

These farms were sources of our livelihood. These were the places at which many of our parents or caregivers labored from dawn to dusk in order to meet our basic needs. At the end of a hard day's work, they trudged wearily down hills or across valleys with another day’s meal on their backs and heads to our humble homes.

Some of us remember our parents or caregivers complaining of having to struggle to find a market for their crops after they were harvested, in spite of the assurances given to them by the agricultural experts that markets existed for their crops.

We have heard them complaining of having to take great losses by selling their crops to the “thieving” women and men who plied their goods in the market. We have heard the pride in their voices when they declared that in spite of all the aggravation that they have had to go through, and from the little that they earned, they were able to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and clothes on our backs. And, we remember them charging us to aim to do much better than they did for themselves by learning from their lives and “take in” our lessons at school.

While some of us remember our parents or caregivers being small, struggling farmers trying to eke out a living from the land, some of us remember our parents or caregivers as market vendors, as well as small, struggling farmers. We remember them regaling us with stories about their experiences as vendors in the market. We remember them coming home, despondent because of their inability to sell much of their goods because either there was a glut of the goods on the market, or because of their location in the market.

We remember them telling us that they had to leave their locations in the market and walk with some of their goods around the market to get a few sales. We remember their lament when they told us that on going back to their stalls, they found much of their goods missing, and their neighbors in charge of whom they left their stalls were not able to proffer any explanation for their absence, except that they sold nothing.

Many times, they told us that they had to practically give away their goods by selling them cheaply just to get some money to take care of our needs. And, if this was not bad enough, they told us of the indignities that they suffered daily or weekly from those who transport their goods to the market, shoppers and other sellers alike.

We can still see them, sitting in their favorite chair, or at the edge of the bed, or wherever seat has been available, sometimes rubbing their palms together or cupping their cheeks in their hands as they told their stories.

Some of us remember that they always concluded these stories by giving thanks to God for helping them to provide for us. And, we remember them encouraging us in all earnestness to take a look at their lives, learn from them, and do our best in school that we would not have to suffer as they suffered.

3. Demands that we made of our parents or caregivers

Some of us remember making what our parents or caregivers deemed to be unreasonable demands on them, in light of the financial hardships that they struggled under.

We have wanted many things. We have wanted new, fashionable items of clothing and accessories. Our minds sometimes drift off to the times when we have wanted just one new piece of clothing. We remember walking by the stores and admiring their wares through the glass display windows. We remember finding this one dress, or skirt or blouse or pair of shoes or pants – that one item of clothing that we believed was just right for us.

We remember that in excitement, we hurried home to share our bit of good news with our parents or caregivers. We remember them listening to us, and some of us remember that some of them even agreed with us that the item of clothing was, indeed, perfect for us after we enumerated its merits. Then callously, they doused our excitement and anticipation. They could not afford to get us this item.

Some of us can still feel our disappointment as we remember listening to them listing all the things that needed to be done: the roof needed to be repaired; our younger sibling needed a pair of shoes which was more important than what we wanted; food needed to be bought (we would not go hungry for the sake of pretty clothes); they had to find our lunch money and bus fare to send us to school … the list of things that we needed and things which needed to be done seemed unlimited to us then.

We remember eventually slinking away to think of our desperate states and dream of other more pleasant possibilities, ruing the fact that we have had to, yet again, suspend our chance to shine among our friends.

We wanted to eat foods that our more privileged friends told us that they had. We wanted to party like our friends. We wanted our parents or caregivers to provide us with the good life, the symbols of success, but when we made our demands, our parents or caregivers never failed to take the opportunity to, again, recount tales of their past of struggle and the effort that they continued to make to give us the life that we had. These lives that they gave us were far superior to the ones that they have had, “so, don’t ever forget that!” they always warned us, their tone uncompromising.

Our parents or caregivers reminded on more occasions than we can remember of what it meant to be content, and encouraged us to be prepared to work for what we wanted, like they did. We remember them telling us that we needed to start by doing well in school. Some of them went so far as to tell us that if we could not wait to get what we wanted, then we needed to find a job. Some of us remember some of our parents or caregivers giving us other suggestions of financing our wants, but they are too far in the realm of the unorthodox, that we choose not to repeat them here.

Many of us remember the life histories of our parents or caregivers. And many of us remember examining the conditions in which we have lived. The life histories of our parents or caregivers, as well as our examination of the conditions in which we have lived have confirmed to us that our parents or caregivers have come a long way from where they started their journey along life's road.

We, however, have realized that where they have reached is not as far as we want to go. Therefore, some of us have decided to suspend our desires and work to achieve what we want. We have decided to make the sacrifice.

    4. Learning about sacrifice from our own struggles

While some of us have had able teachers in our parents or caregivers who have pointed us away from our poor circumstances and toward other more desirable possibilities, there are some of us who have been self-taught. We have had lives of struggle with no one around to guide us. We have wanted much more than we have seen around us. Therefore, we have been scrounging, and saving.

We have been making many sacrifices, foregoing many of the things that our peers take for granted. After floundering in many directions, we have eventually stumbled upon a path that we have been following, and have been finding many good things along the way. But, we believe that there are more good things that we can find along this road, so we have decided to continue along this path.

    5. Our sacrifices

a. Sacrifices for our families

We remember the times when we wanted to spend time with our friends, to just chill and have a good time. But our parents or caregivers needed our help. So, while our friends played, we spent our time in the fields helping to harvest and transport the crops on our heads, or on our backs from the field to our homes, or to some other destination that our parents or caregivers had seen fit to designate. Or, we went on other missions that they sent us on, missions that always seemed to be urgent.

Some of us remember the times when our primary parent or caregiver fell ill, and we, then no more than children, had to assume the role of breadwinner while maintaining our good grades at school. Or, the times when we had to stay home to take care of our younger siblings, foregoing school on many occasions while doing so because our parents or caregivers had to go to work to “keep the roof over our heads” and to “put food” on our tables.” We had to rely on good friends who never missed a day at school to teach us the lessons that we missed.

b. Sacrifices for an education

Some of us remember that sometimes, we went to school with the breakfast of simple ingredients that our parents or our caregivers provided for us in our stomachs, and only our bus fare to take us there and back. We remember making the decision to be content with the little that we had, this decision being reinforced by the reminder of our parents or caregivers that one day things would be better.

We remember that sometimes, our lunches consisted of nothing at all but our regular sips of water from the pipe or cooler on the school’s compound. We remember that as we stocked up on water, we tried to ignore the sweet smells of the lunches that wafted in different degrees of pleasantness in the air around us. In spite of all this, we remember being prepared to do it all over again the following day.

We remember having sacrificed having new school uniforms and or clothing for every year of school. Instead, we were willing to make creative use of “hand me downs” to tide us over our school years. Sometimes, our more privileged friends than we teased us about our “washed-out” tunics and clothing, our out of date clothing, and our inability to live up to their standards of what was fashionable. Their teasing hurt, but we remember choosing to follow our own paths. So, instead of matching their excesses, we remember making the decision to put our limited resources to the best use possible; that is, buying a few of the required texts, and/or making use of the library. We were on a mission to improve our circumstances, so we focused on what we deemed to be essential then.

At college, some of us remember sacrificing a vibrant social life that we believed would negatively impact our work there. We remember that while others engaged in non-stop partying, we either stayed on campus or traveled home, where we focused on study, and not much else. Some of us remember finding paid employment to supplement our meager resources while, at the same time, focusing on our studies. Some of us remember engaging in volunteer activities.

Today, some of us still remember the installment plans that our former colleges made available to us, and we are still thankful to them for having made these plans available to us. For many of us who relied on installment plans, we have memories of times when our parents or caregivers missed the deadlines to pay. Again, we give thanks to our colleges for the understanding administrators who made the decision to give us numerous extensions, and, sometimes, revised the payment plans in our favor which allowed us to complete our programs of study. In addition, some of us continue to be thankful for students’ loans. Without having had the benefit of these initiatives we would struggle much more than we did to complete our studies.

When we think back to our college days, we remember that we missed some things. We did not have the chance to enjoy the excitement and joy of not having many cares in the world. We did not enjoy the freedom of knowing that all our needs and even our wants were satisfied. But we also remember that we were not dismayed because we had our eyes focused on our circumstances, and had consciously made the decision to suspend such activities until the right time, when we had the resources to do so. We were realistic, and were careful with our limited resources.

School has always held out its charms and promises to some of us, charms and promises that some persons around us still cannot understand. So, when other persons around us have questioned our decision to continue our schooling, we have ignored them because we have had a plan. Our plan has always been to realize our versions of success, and we have always believed that the sacrifices that we made, and which some of us are still making to get an education will pay off in the end.

When some of us view our past, we realize that in choosing schooling over the other exciting distractions that have been available to us, we have made a wise decision. It is a sacrifice that we have been willing to make, and one that is paying off.

c. Sacrificing an education

Some of us remember foregoing an education because our parents or caregivers needed our help to work to “make ends meet.” We remember that our poverty was such that every hand was needed to eke out a living on the farm, or in the market or on the street or in the store or in whatever business in which our parents or caregivers were engaged. We learned to pawn, to haggle, to earn and to survive. We picked up a little “book knowledge” on the way but life has been our teacher, and we have learned many of its lessons.

The skills that we picked up from our lives of hustling have been serving us well. We have started our very own small businesses and we have been enjoying our versions of success: having food on our tables; being able to take care of our needs; being able to acquire some of the material things of life; being not wanting for anything that we desire.

Some of us have had to fight battles with the new spouse of a parent or caregiver who viewed us as interlopers. Their animosity towards us has had them withdrawing resources from us, with the seeming support of our parent/caregiver who has seemed to have made the choice to sacrifice us for their new relationship.

We have been therefore left to our own devices, and school has been optional in our world. But, we have had the drive to succeed. So, we have left our homes which we have seen as hostile environments in which everything that we have done has been wrong in the eyes of our parent or caregiver.

We have since been working at whatever jobs have come our way. We have been learning new skills, and even though we are barely literate, we have been improving our status through our industry. We have started our own small business and it has been doing well. And, some of us have decided to take advantage of the literacy initiatives that are in place in our areas.

Some of us have been forced to forego an education because our parents or caregivers have not believed that education held any useful benefits for us. They have invited us to look at their lives. They have not had an education, but look at what they have achieved, they have many times told us. They have houses, businesses, vehicles – they have everything they have ever wanted. Therefore, they have deliberately kept us away from school and inducted us, at an early age, into the family business. This decision by our parents or caregivers has stunted our ambition, some of us have come to realize, because we have wanted different things than those that they have forced us to accept.

Some of us after attaining adulthood have been taking steps to rectify this situation by going to evening classes. We have steadily been making progress toward achieving our versions of success.

Some of us, however, have accepted the philosophy of success that our parents or caregivers have given us, and we have been enjoying the fruits of this success, our way.

d. Sacrificing to get the education that we have deferred

Some of us have had to take jobs after we left school. We have put college on hold because we have not been able to afford it. Now that we have jobs, and we have been

earning, we have been managing to take care of our needs: food, shelter and clothing and some of our wants. But we want more. We want a good education so that we can improve our job prospects and our earning power. We have decided therefore to make do with less, while we spend on this education.

Ours is a difficult life. We have been managing the demands of our jobs, our colleges, our relationships and, for those of us who have families, those demands as well. It has been a constant balancing act that we have had to learn. However, we have decided to struggle through all of our challenges because we have our goal in sight.

Our goal is to improve the quality of our lives, and the lives of our families, while ridding ourselves of the shroud of poverty that our environments have cast on us.

e. Sacrificing ourselves

Some of us, now, in examining our lives have been admitting to ourselves that we have made some questionable sacrifices in the past, sacrifices that, on looking back, we have not necessarily been proud of, but these sacrifices, we have accepted, have given us a boost on our journeys to our versions of success.

Instead of being satisfied with the little that our parents and caregivers have been able to give us, some of us have sacrificed our dignity for the achievements that we have been enjoying today. Some of us remember the times when we have sold ourselves to the highest bidders, sometimes to any bidder, for the money that we have needed for what we convinced ourselves have been necessities, or for an escape route out of our situations.

Sometimes, we have looked ruefully back and we have tended to judge ourselves harshly for the decisions that we have made. But, we have rationalized the situation and have chosen to move forward. Although this is not one of the sacrifices of which we are proud, we see our achievements, now, as our pyrrhic victory. We have been achieving our objectives, and we have been able to see, just ahead, our versions of success that we have always wanted.

f. Sacrificing relationships

Some of us have been sacrificing well-established relationships for nascent ones that we have believed would yield more rewards than existing ones. We have always believed that our dream life is outside of the spaces in which we have been living our lives. We have therefore wished to live in another part of the country, preferably in a city which we have heard has more opportunities for us than we have been able to find in our locales. So, we have been moving away from our locales, leaving everything behind to create a different future. And we do not see our existing relationships as part of this future.

Some of us have been pinning our futures on what we see as a dream life in a foreign country with a spouse to be acquired in that foreign country. So, we have been making the deliberate choice to rid ourselves of relationships with spouses and children, and even parents, to search for this better life.

We have been finding our better life, we have been managing to convince ourselves, and we have been learning to suppress every prick of conscience that ever so often intrudes into our consciousness. “This is life,” we have firmly been upbraiding ourselves when doubt and remorse have begun to fight for ascendancy. “Everybody is looking for better.”

We have been finding better, we have been convincing ourselves, and we have been throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into taking advantage of this better. Better is the remuneration that we have been getting for the jobs that we have been doing, the same kind of jobs that pays far less back home. Better is the opportunity to save. This is something that we were not able to do before. Better is the chance to afford quality clothing quite cheaply. Clothing is so expensive back home. Better is the opportunity to enjoy all kinds of foodstuff that we were never able to afford back home – we have even put on weight and have been beginning to look like thriving people, instead of having those deep “holes” in our collar bones that water could settle in, if we were not careful. We have been convincing ourselves.

We have been convincing ourselves that the people in these foreign countries are not as “bad and wicked” as the ones who we have left behind. We have been relishing and reveling in the new experiences that we have been having, and we have constantly been asking ourselves the question: “Could we have done this if we were back home?” Our response has always been a resounding, “no, only in our dreams.”

And the faces of all those near and once dear who we have left behind have, now and then, briefly flashed in front of us like the images of a slide show. When this has happened, we only have to blink and they all disappear. We wish them well, but just as we have been finding our way, they will have to find their way, too, we tell ourselves, as we turn our focus on all that lies ahead of us.

g. Sacrificing for the sake of sacrificing

Many of us who have been achieving the objectives that we have set for ourselves have still been sacrificing much. We realize that all that we have been achieving can all disappear in a moment if we are not careful in our use of our resources.

Our memories of our depressed past have been providing a check to any impudence that we may harbor. So, we still give up much in the hope that we will gain more.

h. Sacrificing for our children

For those of us with children, we, like our parents or caregivers, are making sacrifices. We want our children to achieve much more than we have, so we have been sacrificing to send them to the best schools where they are being exposed to a rich curriculum, as well as getting the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities that we have only dreamed about.

We send them to extra classes to ensure that they get a good understanding of the concepts that they should learn. We want them to do well in school, pass their examinations and go on to university, and we hope that they will choose careers that will enhance their earning power.

We want them to improve on the foundation that we have laid for them. We want to ensure that their lives lack all the deprivation that we have endured. So, we sacrifice some of our wants to ensure that we meet the needs of our children.

Some of our children have gone on to college or university. They have studied hard and have found jobs in their chosen professions. Some of them have not yet gone to college or university, but have been finding jobs which are allowing them to take care of their needs.

Some of them have chosen the jobs that they want. They do not see a college or university education as being vital to the attainment of their goals. They are earning, and are able to take care of their needs.

Some of us now rely on our children for assistance with our living expenses, and many of them have been helping us. Our efforts and those of some of our children have been dulling the edges of our poverty.

6. Sacrifice – our reflections

Sacrifice has been a key feature of our action plans to overcome all forms of deprivations that we have had to endure. Some of us have been forced to make sacrifices in the past. Now, we have all been making a decision about what we are willing to sacrifice. Some of us have been sacrificing much, some of us have been sacrificing little, but we have all, who have been willing to make some sacrifices, to an extent, been achieving some or all of the objectives that we have set for our lives.

Sacrifice is one of the lessons that we have learned from our parents or caregivers that we have kept at the forefront of our minds because we have seen, and are still seeing the results of what our sacrifice has been helping us to achieve. Therefore, when we, in a pique of frustration, have started to complain about our lot in life, we have remembered the journeys that our parents or caregivers have taken, and what they have realized from their journeys to make the now that we are enjoying possible. As a result, we have been reminded to give thanks, as we continue our journeys to our versions of success. We are seeing the results of our efforts, so we will not allow impatience to cause us to make any detours.

Most of us are where we are today because of the investment that our parents or caregivers, as well as benevolent others have made in our lives. They have made these investments by sacrificing things that they have needed and/wanted to ensure that our needs are met. Many of us will be forever grateful that they made the choice to invest in us.

As we continue to achieve the objectives that we have set for our lives, our parents or caregivers will be one of the most important priorities in our lives, some of us have resolved.

And, as we continue to achieve our objectives, many of us are now able to enjoy some of the things that we have deferred until now. Today, we still remember the tales of our parents or caregivers recounting their histories of bitter struggles and sacrifice. We, however, hope that our histories will be much different than theirs. We hope that ours will be tales of success that have been realized by sacrifice and some struggle, since struggle is a feature of many of our lives who share the same kinds of circumstances, but we hope that our struggles will not be as bitter as theirs.

 
https://amazon.com/author/janettefuller

I am an Educator with many years of experience in the teaching profession. I am also the author of two books, Investing in our success: A glimpse into our world and The Teacher's Gift. Look out for more titles as I am in the process of writing other books, exploring a myriad of issues in society. In addition, I blog about the art of writing and my books here and about issues in education on  a sister blog. I welcome your comments, so feel free to start a conversation by leaving your comments below.