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.

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

Milestones, lessons learned and unintended intermissions

birthday_500

It was my birthday a few weeks ago, and what should have been a routine, barely noticeable bump on the flat line that has become the ultra predictable, safety first, thirty-something year old life that is my lot somehow morphed into a swirling mess of mildly depressive emotions. The trigger was an epiphany of sorts, one that I had no business having. If having that epiphany was odd, where it hit was even odder – midway through my morning ablutions, just before the commode gave way to a four minute duel with sensodyne and a power toothbrush. Leading up to it, I was stoking along nicely, keeping up with my annual birthday ritual – deactivating my facebook account, turning off all but my private phone and lobbing a text message in the direction of the one friend I know whose birthday is in the same week as mine.

I would blame the perfect storm that was the accretion of several niggles for tipping me over the edge this time. My Nigerian inquisition, subtle reminders from my father – ostensibly in jest – about how at the age I was turning he’d met my mother, a not entirely cerebral dalliance with my friend Q, and a general feeling of malaise all played their parts, as did an emotionally fraught two week period where an event in the life of the bloke I count as a work mentor shook me up majorly. There was also the small matter of waiting on three big decisions – vacillating between pumped up anticipation as resolution seemed near and the dull listlessness that boredom, and the sense of nothing happening, seemed to spawn.

Four key conversations ended up defining the period – three random ones which helped kick me out of my funk, and one not quite random one. If there is anyone in my circle of friends who’s earned the right to give me a kick in the gonads and shake me out of any bouts of moroseness, it is my friend Kizz. Between twice uprooting her life to go live outside her comfort zone, expending it for a darn good cause in far away lands and soldiering on in the battle for love, no one has epitomised for me the get-on-with-it-ness and gumption  required to enjoy life. She delivered – one morning texting back and forth as I wove my way to work, head bowed seemingly by the weight of the world on my shoulders and irritated by the piddling rain, she listened to me moan on and on about the lousiness of the life I thought I had and how waiting on a few big decisions had me feeling depressed. She let me blow on for a few minutes and then proceeded to give me a gentle rollicking – if those can be gentle – pointing out all the good things I have had happen to me in 2012, for which I should have been thankful. Suitably chided, I slunk into work, grabbed a large coffee – thankful for summer Fridays and the joy s of having the office all to myself –  and promised myself I would be more thankful.

A few days later, I got sucked into yet another cerebral conversation with Q – about all things work, and how my old nemesis from a Nigerian assignment had come right back into the picture at work. Somewhere in the morass of all the things she talked about, she dropped a nugget, a three legged stool model for deciding what was a good job, namely, a good role that one enjoyed, team mates that one liked enough to work with, and a company one was proud to work for. On that scale, I’m 2 for 3, which didn’t seem that bad after all.

The not so palatable conversation was one I needed to have – if only for the clarity it brought to what at best was an awkward situation. Way back in May I’d sensed (and that not for the first time) that certain thresholds had been crossed, but like all foolhardy blokes on a mission I chose to soldier on in blind hope, biding my time. August provided the opportunity to bite the bullet and seek clarity. That I half expected the response I got did little to mitigate the keenness of the disappointment. Paradoxically, it provided some much needed relief too, not least for the opportunity to deal with a certain elephant in the room and firmly draw a line in the sand. I suppose if being once bitten leaves one twice shy, being twice bitten should put paid to any lingering bits of foolishness.

Birthday eve did bring some cheer in the form of a phone call from the buddy I jokingly call my Strategy Specialist (she still hasn’t sent my Big Bang Theory box set though), as well as my god daughter and her kid brother singing me my very own ‘Happy Birthday’. No thanks to my Linkedin profile, one of the guys from work found out it was my birthday, and surprised me with a paid for lunch at Union Square’s TGIF the Friday after.

It was Jorge Luis Borges who said, in his beautifully sad meditation on love and loss, ‘With every goodbye you learn.‘ Here there have been lessons learned, and re-learned if the truth must be told, not least of which seems to be that the only thing that piques my creativity is emotional turmoil.

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.