Forty-One

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

**

It was my birthday the other day, and in keeping with what is becoming a tradition of sorts, I spent the morning wading through a flurry of WhatsApp and text messages before a fairly lengthy video call with the niece who I almost share a birthday with. The rest of the day was spent off-grid, which has become one of the more enjoyable parts of the day. I don’t remember when the need to unplug on the day first came to the fore but I am finding that in the aftermath of all of that mental stimulation, some downtime is helpful. As I have reflected on here before, the five weeks between the 8th of July and the 15th of August tend to be emotionally draining ones. Dealing with a move – which is quite frankly a culture shock of sorts – has only added to that this year.

Turning forty seems significant, to be the onset of an important phase of life and a milestone (never mind it also being a magnet for slander on the interwebs :)). Forty-one, on the other hand, seems like an afterthought, just another notch on the pole of life occasioned by yet another spin around the sun of the earth. Having spent the first twenty and some in the Nigerian state of my birth, the next ten making my way in the world in Nigeria and the next eleven in the UK, it very much feels like a third phase of life. Interestingly, each move has taken me away from the safety of the cocoon in which I grew up, complete with all the trappings of the evangelical industrial complex. My focus this year is Delve Deeper, I suppose there is no better place to test one’s depths and roots than in a far country – to use the metaphor of the prodigal – with all the trappings of having to build credibility all over again. There is certainly no room for coasting. There are also the challenges of living and thriving in a post-oil world which, given the current source of my livelihood, I need to focus on, using today’s opportunities to create the tomorrow’s ones.

In all of that, I am finding the lyrics of NEEDTOBREATHE’s Hang On particularly fitting:

So hang on to the light in your eyes and the feeling
Hang on to your love drunk original reason
So hang on to the small town you love but you’re leaving
‘Cause you won’t be a fool for so long

Economists suggest I am a few years from hitting the bottom of my happiness u-curve. An uptick in happiness is at least something to look forward to, and the enduring tension of leaving the small town I love but which I’m leaving…

By Degrees: Lessons from My Decade of Being Thirty Something

The year I turned thirty, I was a student battling to put finishing touches to my master’s degree dissertation and pondering what the future had in store for me. That the success or failure of that year, and the year before that, came down to that singular task was the result of an unanticipated turn of events which turned what was a leave of absence to return to full-time study into having to leave my Nigerian job. Grad school, my response to the year before that, had made sense in my head largely because it seemed a low risk, given there was a reasonably high likelihood of returning. I, as it would turn out was ultimately mistaken.

For the first few months after, I was certain I would be up and running in no time – there was still the path to a post-study visa and I was certain my previous experience of pretending to know about rust at an oil major would be more than enough to get my foot in the door at any number of similar companies. A conversation with my Uncle C during this period comes to mind in which, talking post-study plans, I quoted a salary expectation which in hindsight was wildly optimistic. Months later, with comparatively few responses to the various applications I had sent out, and my expectations a lot more realistic as a result, bitterly cold mornings at train stations waiting for connections between Newcastle and the ‘Deen were the sum of my life, broken only by the pleasures of BBM chats with O and F that helped the time pass. Thankfully, things would eventually improve, culminating in a successful interview in the middle of winter and a relocation to the ‘Deen in time to return to full-time work by the first week of January of the next year.

Ten years down the road, it feels – at first glance – that I am in the same space again; wrestling with a desire for more seething beneath the surface and wondering what the big gains of the last ten years have been.The longer I look though, the clearer it becomes to me that the sense of being stuck and stale is the glass half empty version of events. The glass half full version is that there have been lessons learned and victories won over the past ten years. For one, now and again I stumble into conversations with the workmates I left behind back in ’09. These conversations typically segue into catching up on who has left the company (or been pushed out) or which high-flier has earned a move to Houston. Whilst on the level of financial gain and success I have most definitely been left behind by them, the one silver lining tends to be that I have had grown into more positions of authority and influence than they have. I won’t presume to imagine I have done as well as I could have but was is undeniable is that I have grown from the ultra reserved, tentative person that I was then into a more confident person thanks to the various work situations I have been thrown in. That is one of the lessons I have learned from the past ten years – only by letting go and stretching can one grow. It helps if the letting go is by choice of course.

My default setting, no thanks I suspect to growing up a Nigerian PK, is an intensely private one, the general sense whilst growing up that what happened in the house should be kept in the house; keeping up appearances and what not. Allied to that has been a strong sense of independence – if striving to do things by myself for myself counts as independence. Several times over the past ten years, people have come through for me and surprised me. A., who several times has insisted I spend my Lagos nights at his rather than in a hotel even on one occasion he was out of town, O who dropped everything to offer support when H passed and others too many to enumerate have been high points, underscoring for me a lesson that has been difficult to learn, it is OK to lean on people. I can only hope that I can be as a good a friend to others as these and more have been to me.

In the aftermath of H’s passing, and several times over the intervening years, it has felt like grief has acquired a life of its own festering deep within. There have also been several seasons of heartbreak occasioned by unrequited love amongst other things. My memories of the immediate aftermath of these events – thankfully now dim and distant – are of being brought low and unable to properly function. Time though has worked its magic and in the main whilst the memories still linger, the pain and hurt from them have faded into acceptance. That is something I try to remind myself of in the aftermath of disappointment, time usually brings healing in its wings.

My Myers-Briggs type is INTJ – if unlike Adam Grant you don’t think it’s hogwash – which perhaps explains my occasional bouts with analysis paralysis. Seemingly big decisions have often left me crippled with indecision from weighing all the pros and cons to minute levels of detail. A few come to mind from the past ten years – the Azerbaijan question, my Bachelor’s Conundrum to list a few – but with benefit of hindsight, in most of the instances, the individual decision would have made little difference in the end; sometimes the process of deciding is more important than the decision itself.

For all the high points from work there have been low spots too; not least the sense I have had more recently of being left behind. I suppose spending 8 years in the same building will do that to you, particularly when it feels like remuneration hasn’t been the greatest. A reticence to toot my own horn at times has contributed to this I suspect, as has my work visa-related restrictions which were only fully lifted in January of 2017. What key inflection points in my career over the past ten years there are have occurred because I have taken the bull by the horns turning offers from elsewhere into significant upgrades or being very clear about what direction I want my career to go next. Learning to sell myself better is something I suspect I will continue to struggle with but struggle I will until I gain ascendancy.

Of all the faith-based monikers kicking about, I suspect charismatic – with all its trappings – would probably have best described me ten years ago. These days, I self classify as a recovering prodigal, my attempt to describe the evolution in my beliefs on the big issues such as faith, origins and the fate of humanity. Given what we know about the age of the earth, the likelihood of there being a single Adam and all, I have increasingly found it difficult to hold on to a young earth, literal interpretation of Genesis and by extension the doctrine of original sin. Dark matter and dark energy however suggest to me that there remains a huge gap in our understanding of the workings of the Universe, a gap which means that I can completely discount the spiritual dimension with any degree of intellectual honesty. It is perhaps a poorly articulated God of The Gaps argument, but in conjunction with the subjective evidence of the answers to prayers I still get (or the coincidences that occur when I pray), I have to say I still believe, however tenuous that might yet be.

As I write this now with the emotions of the big day now long past – and all the cake and doughnuts well and truly digested – it very much feels like a time in which to draw a line in the sand and begin again, something I suspect I have been too eager to do many times in the past. Much as it was back in ’09, the question of how the next ten years will shape up is front and centre in my mind. What is incontrovertible though is that time marches on, and whether by action or inaction, every passing second is a step in a sequence of movements that will result either in a masterpiece or a very well polished turd. That is the way of the world.

Nine Fridays of Summer: The Not-Quite-A-Milestone-Birthday Edition

East&WestO2

Months ago – when it became apparent that my birthday this year would fall on a work day – I made a mental note to take the day off. The act of making that official – signing into the absence management software we use at work and requesting the day off – never happened, which was how I ended up stuck behind my desk at work on the day. That the only slot for a meeting I had been trying to set up for months opened up on the day, the Friday before, didn’t help either.

The day itself was just like any other. At work there were issues to deal with, the occasional bit of banter with R who remembered, and phone calls. Around all of that were personal phone calls from friends and family and messages on the two  main Whatsapp groups I am part of. I didn’t get the gift I most deeply craved; my subtle prod aimed at pointing (and I use that really loosely here) a few people towards Teju Cole’s new collection of essays failed to convince any one. That the weather was a reasonably warm, dry and sunny 18 C only compounded the sense of misery I felt. My consolation though is that next weekend, Summer Friday #8 (of 9), is being spent in Vienna.

***

The Year of Being Thirty-Six was an interesting one. For key events I would have to point to the trip to St John’s where four years’ worth of catching up with the kid brother were compressed into ten days, finally excising the ghost of F from my memory,  a new job in the middle of the oil patch downturn and turning up on (online) radio.

Having taken a moratorium on travel in the second half of 2015 and into 2016, the last few months have seen a lot more travel; London for visa interviews, Hillsong and S made a few appearances as did Birmingham, Leicester and Newcastle. Not doing Nigeria all through 2015 made it imperative to get it out of the way early this year. That happened in April, providing an opportunity to see J get hitched. On the family side, I became an Uncle again, twice for good measure.

***

This next year, the year of being thirty-seven, has big milestones I need to deliver on.  For one, I take the next big step on my quest to become a global citizen in a few months. If I had my way, after that’s in the bag I’d take the next week off just to breathe a sigh of relief and recover from the subtle pressure of the last few years.

On the Spiritual Practice front, I would like to finally land that discipline of daily prayer and bible study. I made a few big strides in 2015 – morning prayers at church twice a week helping in that regard but the goal for the next year is to reach a place where the desire to reach for my notebook with time blocked off becomes more automatic.

Physically, my weight has see-sawed between 84 kg and 90 kg, currently sitting just shy of shy of the upper bound, far too much pizza – and handmade burgers – having their say, loudly. In this regards, M is as good an ideal as can be. In spite of being in his seventies, he remains a fierce physical competitor; rowing, cycling and hiking being key parts of his non-work life. For me I’d settle for turning my current practice of running between a mile and a mile and half three times a week  into a 5 km run five times a week.

With People, I’ve historically been a very big fan of my own space, tending to favour doing things that interest me than share my space and time. A concious effort earlier in the year to meet up with a few key friends more regularly led to some improvements (but perhaps contributed to far too many downed burgers). A couple of these meet ups are now firmly established. The goal for the next year is to keep those monthly meet ups going and also find a mentor of sorts with whom I meet up once a month to compare notes. I am increasingly keen to see how the S thing evolves over the next few weeks, hopefully I don’t end up in this kind of place again.

Although I notionally make an extra 3% in my new role, it often feels like I am in a worse place financially than I was last year. Keeping the financial numbers in check has to be a key objective for this next year, especially if marriage and fatherhood are phases of life I hope to participate in over the next few years.

Work has been great, bar the  twin pressures of the commodity market and the increasing recognition of one’s skills and knowledge. That is not a bad thing by any means, particularly given how many people are out of work at the moment. Maintaining progress here, delivering consistently and growing my sphere of influence are the key objectives in this category. A promotion, and more than a 3% pay rise would be nice to haves too, i I say so 🙂

The impact of all that work, travel and people time I have dedicated myself to is that sadly a lot less reading than usual is happening. A book a month seems like a sensible target to work towards from a Mental and Personal Development perspective. There is also the keenes on my part to explore addition technical certifications in this rust geeking business. Some more work on my part to identify which add the most value to me is required but the intent would be to pursue this aggressively through the next year. When I was younger, I had aspirations of becoming a programmer of some description (I spent my free time in my service year trying to write a text based football simulator in Visual Basic 6 – it obviously wasn’t very good!!). One side project I’d like to pick up again is something coding related.  Ideally it would allow me understand enough about computers and open source OSes enough to allow me customise one enough to provide a quick, light weight OS that allows me run the key applications that support my life. I suspect it will have to be Linux, Chromium or Android based, but fingers crossed.

Causes and Charities remain near to my heart. Alongside serving on my church’s tech and media team, i currently support a couple of children via World Vision and Compassion as well as a few other charities. Beyond what I believe are the Judeo-Christian worldview imperatives which underpin these, I suppose the feeling that one is making a difference does do wonders for one’s mood too, all things considered. This is something I hope I can continue going forward, with a future visit to be considered. Depending on how much time and energy I find I have to spare over the next year, a technical volunteering cause is one I’d like to add to my current ‘portfolio’. STEMNET springs to mind as one that fits the bill. I hope to be in a position to make a decision in time for the start of 2017.

***

Amidst the less than stellar year in reading I have had, Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before stands out as one of the more useful books I have read.  In it she explores how we change; how habits are built and sustained. New beginnings are one group of triggers she considers as being useful – beginnings which wipe the slate clean being particularly relevant here.

So here’s to my Clean Slate and New Beginning. Let the year of being 37 begin.
– – –
Currently listening to: The Best Is Yet To Come (from the Donald Lawrence Album, Go Get Your Life Back)

A Good Year of Sorts – A Playlist



The continuum: loss, numbness, turmoil, (self induced) heartbreak, surrender and (finally) finding a peace of sorts.. Here’s to Beginning, Again…

The Playlist

  1. Mad World – Gary Joules
  2. Wish – Lighthouse Family
  3. This Too Shall Pass – Yolanda Adams
  4. Shadowfeet – Brooke Fraser
  5. Father Me – Rick & Cathy Riso
  6. Read All About It – Emeli Sande
  7. Airplanes – B.O.B
  8. Love Alone Is Worth The Fight – Switchfoot
  9. Volcano – Rapture Ruckus & Jonathan Thulin
  10. Redemption Days – Josh Ojo
  11. Something New – Axwell Ingrosso
  12. Shake – MercyMe

Goings On: The almost botched birthday edition

I suppose there are worse ways to spend your birthday than being stuck behind a desk, being one of two members of the team available from a full complement of five, praying and hoping no emergency pops up requiring you to suit up and go offshore at short notice. Thankfully that, getting sent offshore, didn’t happen; and I had the pleasure of spending Friday away from work, catching up with myself…

First up was the movie 2 Guns, to set me off on an indulgent potter around the Beach Boulevard, ending up with a super-sized rib, chicken and shrimp meal at TGIFridays, the first time I was going back there since I kicked off my latest regime of healthy, smaller sized eating. Truth be told, much improved blood pressure readings from the GP’s gave me the latitude to wolf that down, and boy did I enjoy it.

I did manage to run into an old chum – odd given this was 2pm on a Friday, when he should have been at work.  It turned out it was a colleague’s birthday and they were out celebrating.

As birthdays go, the phone calls were the highlight. The god daughter F. called and sang me my very own ‘Happy Birthday’ song, complete with hip hip hip, hurray !, as did her Mum and Dad. Mum sent the predictable bible laced SMS, complete with an instruction to read and digest Matthew 6, Sis #1 called and put her 3 year old on the line too, Sis #2 BBMed, Kid Bruv Whatsapped, with a few back and forths. Such is my life, and the variety of interactions I have with my family.

All told, it could have been worse, the key thing was the introspection this has all kicked off. Hello the Year of Living Dangerously.

Baby Birthdays, failed détente and motherly ultimatums

In what must be a first for me, I get invited to a birthday party over WhatsApp. Truth be told, there were mitigating circumstances. Although the parent in question and I have some tenuous familial connection – my grand father and her grand mother somehow managed to get entangled in the far distant haze that is a few generations ago – she and I haven’t stayed much in touch, in spite of us living the the small matter of the length of Union Street apart. I suppose the invitation was one last hopeful punt in my direction. If it was, it worked, the twin attractions of something to do on a Saturday afternoon and proper Nigerian food proving too strong for even I the quintessential recluse. Izzy, the kid in question had just turned One, and her parents keen to celebrate the milestone were putting together a small get together for the guys; for that I was very much a willing eater.

I arrive at fifteen minutes past the hour. Given our Nigerian predilection for African time, I have figured that this is a considered compromise between not being the first bum on a seat and not keeping the hosts waiting. It turns out I have timed my arrival horribly; the only other person besides the chief host by the time I arrive is a Caucasian woman and her two children, with the next person strolling in leisurely at thirty minutes past the hour. Arriving early does prove useful though, as I am pressed into service putting finishing touches to the placement of cups and drinks on the tables.

It turns out to be a fairly well attended event. There are quite a few people I have not seen in a while, each with their children in tow. Both parents have connections to my alma mater and it shows. I end up sharing a table with yet another distant family member, one who was also a contemporary of my youngest brother. He has his girlfriend on his arm when he breezes in just after 2pm, and a few handshakes and a quick swig of Don Simon later, he plumps into a seat next to me. We talk, about Nigeria, about Aberdeen and the looming winter, about work and future plans. He thinks he’ll head off to Nigeria in the next three to five years, I think that elusive PhD needs putting back on the front burner.

The one blot, on a personal level for me, is an extended encounter with the brash tactlessness of a friend of a friend. When he finds out we all went to the same University but that I graduated two years before he commenced studies, he straight away asks which of the children chasing birthday ballons near by are mine. I reply I have none, and am not married, which is his cue to waffle on about how I am wasting time. I am minded to give him a telling off, but given the context and the fact that our host would most assuredly come down on his side, I hold my peace and move off to grab some food instead. In that little six minute and some exchange is all the background and proof that has typically driven my avoidance of these events.

On the subject of my mother, the last few weeks have been somewhat frosty. In a sense she has been feeling the absence of the kid brother who’s upped sticks and headed back to full time study in a different country. Being the fairly accessible ear, she has tended to dump on me. Her mood has not been helped by my uncle down south and his ongoing meddling. True to type, and perhaps influenced by all the things I have going on in my life at this point in time, I opted for withdrawal and managed communication to limit the opportunities for irritation. This weekend I decide to try to mend fences by initiating a call and allowing her unload. Needless to say, she does a lot of the talking, and manages to add an ultimatum at the end.

Mothers! Sigh.

Re-birth

I have died-
Seven times but one;
Crushed beneath the weight-
Of pain’s unrelenting
Hammer blows.

Straight right. Left hook.
Right uppercut. Left jab.
Right hook. Left uppercut.
Cheek bones splintered-
Lip leaking blood, Teeth-
Bludgeoned until loose.

Head spinning. Time, space
Distance blending-
Into a confused blur.
Then over-hand right –
And sight mercifully fades-
Into blissful blackness.

I have died–
Seven times but one;
But like a rubber ball
Squashed flat against a hard place,
I rebound seven times,
Reborn.

About Town: The birthday party edition

Given our propensity to moan about the little corner of the North East where we currently live, it is somewhat strange that I, and the four or so long term friends I have here, do not make time out to meet up more often. In fairness to my friend O, it is not for want of his trying; several attempts to organise a meet up have floundered, torpedoed by our wildly varying schedules and travel plans.

The one thing we do not scrimp on though – and our inner Nigerian might be to blame for this – is on parties, and celebrations. Invited or not – depending on our perception of closeness to the celebrant – we all congregate at those venues, downing copious portions of rice and drinks and catching up on who recently got married to whom, who has a new kid and all the other banalities that everyday life throws up. It has been a little dry on that front this year, bar a couple of weddings and an unintended meet up.

This weekend, O’s son turned one – a small fact I had completely forgotten. Thankfully, Mrs O – ever the efficient wife – sent out text message reminders to a few of us lads – which was how I ended up at the venue a full hour late. This was no small affair. There must have been at least twenty adults in the room, and that many children too, possibly more.

Scanning the crowd looking for a place to grab a seat, I am rescued by the waving arm of another lost friend motioning me to a seat next to him. I make my way through the crowd, careful not to step on any children – who are chasing balloons, and kicking up a racket – oblivious to the jokes the MC is trying to tell. The lost friend, K, stands up to welcome me – firm handshake followed by a fist bump, a relic from our days in undergrad study in Nigeria.

We make small talk, in between spoons of rice and bites of chicken. He’s in town briefly; a small break in the project he’s working on out of Brazil affords him the chance to share in our little celebration. I talk about work, a trip to Nigeria I am planning, and a couple of potential work opportunities I am chasing up in his sector. He offers his thoughts on what changes I need to make in my strategy. He’s chasing a few Nigerian opportunities himself and he shares his uncomplimentary views about doing business there. A woman comes over and whispers in his ear. He rummages in his pockets and comes up with a car key. She takes it and then leaves, four packs of rice in tow.

My fiancée, he explains. I nod and offer my congratulations remarking that he had always had an eye for really beautiful women. He laughs – self indulgently – the laugh of a man who knows he has a keeper on his hands. He asks about EJ – the one thing I can’t accuse my friends of is not staying up to date about happenings in our various lives. I give him the cliff-notes version: didn’t work out. He listens, head angled, fist on chin, looking directly at me – the affected pose of a bloke who is trying hard to understand my dilemma, but can’t relate.

We move on to other more recent matters, a new kid for another friend out of London, a distant acquaintance that has returned permanently to Nigeria, and his own wedding plans. Around us, a child cries after tripping over the outstretched leg of an adult engrossed in winning the battle with chicken bones. Out front, the MC waffles on.