Stick Your Neck Out

“Behold the tortoise; he makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.”~James B. Conant

Life does not wait for idle hands. If you want to progress, move. Move, shift your butts, stand on your toes, climb the ladder. Like the tortoise, stick your neck out.

In 2003, after my Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (SSSCE), my step uncle asked what career I wanted to pursue. I told him I wanted to be a teacher so I was going to the training college. I had topped my school (a less-endowed school at the time) with an aggregate of 10, and written the private candidates exams (Nov-Dec), clocking a combined aggregate of 8.

Then he asked, “Where do you want to teach?”

“I want to teach in a secondary school,” I replied.

“No!” he protested.” Enrol in a university and become a lecturer and professor. You have the capacity to become a lecturer. So go straight to the university.”

I am very sure my step-uncle did not mean it was useless to attend a training college, nor impossible to become a lecturer if one went to the training college.

In fact, he himself was a retired teacher and had gone to training college. And at the time, I knew a former teacher who had trained as a teacher before becoming a lecturer at the University of Cape Coast (UCC).

My step-uncle rather meant that I look beyond my circumstances (financial set back, lack of motivation) to work towards a bigger vision.

It wouldn’t come easy

My dad had lost his livelihood as a result of stroke. My mum relied on petty trading to take care of the four of us. I recall vacations when I hawked used clothing and plastic bowls.

So it was going to be difficult. And yes it was. I spent an additional year after school teaching to save some money. After a year of teaching, I lent the money to a very good friend of mine who had gained admission to a training college. Because I had one more year before school, I thought it was proper to lend help. He promised to pay back but never did.

Let’s make this simple.

In spite of the challenges I went through, I stuck my neck out. I did not stop walking, moving, running.

Tomorrow marks exactly three years since I started lecturing at the University of Ghana, and when I look back I thank my step-uncle for telling me to “stick my neck out” and “stretch my imagination”. But I am most thankful to God who helped me every step of the way.

Below is what I posted on Facebook at 3.55pm on 31st July 2014, a day before I began lecturing:

“A new chapter of my life begins tomorrow; I assume a new appointment at the University of Ghana. My eyes are filled with tears of gladness as I write this. I look back and all I can say is God is faithful. No matter where you are at the moment, if your plan is to get to that next spot, I can assure you that as long as it is in God’s will and as long as you really want to get there and you work at it, you will surely get there. It could be your spiritual growth, career, marriage, education, project. Just don’t give up. Don’t stop here. Where you are going is far better than where you are now. At every major step of the way in my life, getting to the next spot seemed very impossible, but I held on to God’s word for my life, got up every time I fell, encouraged myself in the face of odds and discouragement from some friends and relatives, listened to good counsel, pressed on, and gave myself to hard work. And this is how far He has brought me. Help me in thanking God.”

Stick your neck out; don’t stop moving!

2027: The Results of Your Decisions Today

Yesterday, I read Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard Commencement Speech.

He made very important points about purpose … about having a sense of purpose.

The question that came to my mind was, “What decisions did he take ten years ago that had resulted in his success today?”

And then I asked myself, “Of the decisions I make today, what will be the results in 2027?”

I think I can ask you the same question: “What will be the results of the decisions you make today in 2027?”

Your decisions about technology will play a crucial role on your success story in ten years.

I am not talking about making any novel discovery. I am talking about the little things, the simple things.

If Facebook were a country, it would have a population of 1.9 billion, surpassing China’s. But Zuckerberg and his friends didn’t just get up and have a bang!

They started from their college dorm, from that nucleus, planting a seed that will grow into a baobab tree. From helping Harvard students network, they moved on to Ivy League schools and then this is what we have today as Facebook. As Zuckerberg describes,

[t]he thing is, it never even occurred to me that someone might be us. We were just college kids. We didn’t know anything about that. There were all these big technology companies with resources. I just assumed one of them would do it. But this idea was so clear to us — that all people want to connect. So we just kept moving forward, day by day. I know a lot of you will have your own stories just like this. A change in the world that seems so clear you’re sure someone else will do it. But they won’t. You will.

Indeed, technology is shaping the world. It is shaping how we think. It is taking away jobs from the technologically unskilled. If it is not too obvious yet, then I want to make a prediction. My prediction is that in the next ten years the things that will SHARPLY set people apart in the job place will not be language or communication skills but technological skills.

So ask yourself: “What will set me apart in the next ten years from that person who also has a first class?”

Is it the fact that you can type 60 WPM? Oh come on. You must be joking. Children are coding and you are here talking about 60WPM?

In 2007 I started writing my first book. And I started my first blog. The following year when I completed the manuscript, the hard disk crashed and I lost everything. I had to rewrite the book.

That experience taught me a lesson about tech that I will never forget: never trust the level of technological skills you have. You must learn something new about technology everyday. You must start developing the necessary technological skills now! Otherwise, in the next 10 years, you will feel sorry for yourself.

What skills will set you apart from the rest in the next ten years? It all boils down to the decisions you are taking today. And it’s not just technology but every other aspect of your life.

Mark Zuckerberg made very important points:

…finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. …. Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. …. But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.

What sense of purpose are your decisions today creating for others? What sense of purpose will your decisions today create for others in 2027?

It is that sense of purpose that made me major in Classics at the University of Ghana when, since the mid-1980s, no one had.

It is that sense of purpose that makes me convene, every semester, an undergraduate mentoring class free of charge.

It is that sense of purpose that makes my wife and I mentor young people from all over, both here and abroad.

So I leave you with this question: When you enter 2027, what results will you see about the decisions you took today?

Wherever I will be in 2027, I will be glad to read your answer to my question.

Not Only About the Money: Sacrifice, Sacrifice and Sacrifice again

As I held the cheque of GHS7,000 in my hand, I felt like jumping, screaming and dancing. I lifted my hands towards heaven and exclaimed, “Jesus you are too good!”

I was holding the cheque I had not really bargained for or expected. It was such a good feeling because this cheque also came with the renewal of my appointment as a Graduate Assistant at University of Ghana.

Having completed my master’s degree, I expected to work as a Teaching Assistant at the Institute of African Studies. But there came the embargo placed on employment by government. I made arrangements with my colleagues for internal recruitment to no avail.

IMG-20160819-WA0002
On my way to class on a very hot afternoon

I felt devastated. I had started a new family and prepared a family budget with the anticipated salary in mind, because it was almost automatic for students who had interest in working with the Institute to be taken on after they had submitted their thesis. With this in mind, I had worked tirelessly on my thesis, spending sleepless nights.

It was therefore a big disappointment not to be able to work because of the embargo. And I couldn’t look for employment in the private sector because of my pregnancy.

My parents felt sorry. They called from time to time to find out if there had been any positive response regarding my appointment. All the time the answer was a NO.

Hmmm, what will I do? I kept praying, “Lord do something about my job”, but nothing happened. I had to depend on my husband for my every single need. Having younger siblings to sponsor in school made the family budget even tighter.

Nevertheless, I followed my love for the job. I loved the discussions we had during lectures. They were always insightful so I kept attending lectures. Apart from the love I had, there was also a need, one that I filled in. Two of our lecturers who handled the gender courses had traveled overseas, one for sabbatical leave and the other on a fellowship at Harvard. So I willingly stepped in to help.

“But who pays for your transportation?” my dad asked when I told him I was volunteering.

Well I took care of it on my own, for the love of the gender class and also to keep my mind active.

It is not as if it was easy for me. I was actually in my first trimester of pregnancy, battlingIMG-20160819-WA0003.jpg with morning sickness and weakness, and the hunger punks.

I remember carrying snacks to class to help manage the hunger. You should have seen me with my ‘big belly’ sneaking to lectures. I wanted to avoid too many eyes because I was shy.

School had vacated. I was resting at home when I received a call. “Patience, would you like to work for the Institute as a graduate assistant instead of teaching assistant?” I gladly said yes. I was called to pick up my appointment letter weeks later.

Guess what.

My appointment was with retrospective effect from 2015, during which I thought I was volunteering. Hallelujah! I was so excited. God had answered my prayers beyond my expectation. I was going to be paid for the full year I had been volunteering.

Oh my God! This world is something else. Sacrifice and selflessness always pay off. These are my core values. That is why I have worked so hard all my life and will continue to do so. Young people must cultivate these attitudes. Do not let money be your motivation for doing things. Of course money is good but there are other things that are most essential.

Think first about the impact you can make, the lives you can affect, the change and transformation that will occur because of your sacrifice. You will be amazed at the dividend you will reap later on.  I am glad to know that sacrifice and selflessness will be your hallmark henceforth.

P/S: Don’t ask for your share of the money. It’s all been spent.

Professor Folake Onayemi: An Angel in A Life

Today I celebrate not just a university professor, but a wonderful woman of God, philanthropist, mother, mentor and inspirer, Professor Folake Onayemi, of the Department of Classics at the University of Ibadan.

I first met her in 2009 when I was assigned to pick her up at the airport. She was visiting our Department of Classics at the University of Ghana as a scholar for the academic year. Her stay was going to open new opportunities in my life as well as influence my crossroad stage.

In the second semester of 2008/2009 academic year, I had failed two Latin papers and performed poorly in my remaining papers (the details will be a subject for another time). Due to this I could not graduate. I had to wait until the following academic year to write the papers. I was a young man with so many challenges. I had lost my mum the same year of 2009 (she was 47); my dad had had a stroke since 1998 and wasn’t in a position to work; and I was the first of four children.

IMG_3796

With Prof Onayemi during my MPhil graduation, November 2013

You can imagine the burden of responsibility I now had to manage. Even when my mum was alive, and in spite of being on financial aid, I had to take a SSNIT loan and send it home for their upkeep. Now, I was out of school, a national service person, with no aid or loan but with three siblings and a father to support. It was a challenging period.

 

Professor Onayemi had already taken me as her son, but when she learned of my situation, she made it her responsibility to provide me with a monthly stipend out of her salary. It turned out I wasn’t the only one on her budget. There were several such people both in and outside Ghana. But one other thing she used to push me was her words. She never ceased encouraging me to clear the Latin papers; she never ceased encouraging my faith in God; and she never ceased monitoring my progress.

In 2010 my financial situation had worsened. I had worked for six months without pay. It was a trying moment. In my quest to get something into my pocket, I enrolled for a malaria vaccine trial, but on one of my visits to the lab, I collapsed. I was starving, depressed, and overburdened. I cried often in my room. I wept bitterly at the thought of my late mum. I sacrificed to make ends meet for my dad and siblings.

But Professor Onayemi always had a word of encouragement to lift me up. God used her to make me see light at the end of the tunnel. There are so many things I can say about her. By all means they will feature in the book I have been working on for the future.

Let me end by saying that her influence has contributed to my spiritual and professional growth and my current position. She continues to monitor my progress and still calls me “Angel”. In future, when I am delivering my inaugural address, she will surely be acknowledged, and I pray that she will live to see that day. Congratulations mum on your inaugural.

IMG-20160709-WA0007
Prof Folake Onayemi during her inaugural, June 2016