Once, I had a bad fall, an accident if you may. You see, I’m not much of a sports person, I just run a bit, here and there to get by the day. So, my association in church had a sports event to mark the end of the year and it was all fun and games, you didn’t have to know how to play any of the sports, it was just for fun and to celebrate togetherness but well, McClumsy fell.
You see, I didn’t feel real bad at first, I mean I was in pain, like need-morphine-kinda-pain until they Disqualified my team because of some discrepancies that was committed in trying to make up for a fallen player. I felt really bad, major. For starters, the team was out because of me, technically if I didn’t fall, the game would have continued and they wouldn’t have needed to cover up.
Like I said earlier, it was all fun and games, no one cared about it, but I went to my room and worried myself to a state of depression. I felt a mix of emotions – shame, disappointment, anger. The award night was the next day and I didn’t know to look them in the face knowing we came second, akin to being Disqualified because I fell.
Get the gist! I had an “accident”, my body was bleeding in 8 different places, I was overdosing on painkillers and all I could think of was how it was my fault and I shouldn’t have left my room that day, or played, or fell. You see, everyone was having a good time in their lives wherever they were, not remembering what happened earlier and I was beating myself up over an accident. I got so bad I couldn’t do anything but lie and worry. That was when I noticed there was a problem.
Growing up, I was the whiz-kid, with two double promotions to my belt, I finished high school at a record age of 14. Back in the day and I don’t know if it’s still in practice now but after junior secondary school, in our senior secondary year 1, we were mandated to do about 17 subjects, a combination of pure sciences, arts and social sciences and at the end of the day, the smartest would be moved to pure sciences and the bottom of the barrel lumped together as arts, a practice I’ll like to describe as anachronistic and the product of a failed system.
So at the end of my first senior year, I came out third, not because I’m smart – I’m actually not. I survived on cramming and of course was shipped to the sciences, no questions asked. To everyone, it was an honor, it proved you were smart, only smart people were meant to be in the sciences. Nobody asked, but I wanted to be a writer, I loved literature and had a weak spot for Chimamanda Adichie I wanted to study English literature but nobody asked, I hated chemistry but nobody asked, I hated math and still do, but nobody asked. Getting A’s Was The criteria for getting along and I was about to be bound by this for life. On the other hand, my sister had a knack for biology and wanted to be a doctor at the time but she was lumped up with the art students and I wouldn’t say she was bottom of the barrel, far from it. She led the talk show team in school, debate, presentations and everything, she excelled In government and the conclusion was she would make a good law student, a political scientist perhaps, but nobody asked. Well, we switched places, me to arts and she to her scalpels and diagrams of the human heart.
Leaving high school, my father wanted a lawyer and dreams of English literature fizzled out because you see, it is he that pays the Piper that dictates the tone. Father felt I was too smart to study something not professional, but nobody asked still, what I wanted to do with my life ; it was always about the money and for that reason, in most Nigerian homes, recognized professions are : medicine, law, engineering and others. Nobody asked if you wanted to be a vet or study agriculture, you just weren’t meant to study “others”.
I started my law journey through the diploma program at 15 and for the first year I was angry. Wearing black and white was cool, answering little lawyer was cool too but there was no fulfilment, which translated to laziness and no reading which reflected in the result. It wasn’t a fail, I never got an F or an A, Just somewhere in the middle and middle was not good enough. The competition was stiff, we numbered about 600 for about 30 slots, there was no middle ground, it was either all or nothing and I think for the first time I felt what it was to push yourself.
In the next year, I dumped all my inhibitions and shot up to a 4.2,endless sleepless nights, research, worry, depression and competition was all it took, but at what expense? In my class was a deep seated competition, there was no friendship, Just 600 people competing for 30 slots, you had to be ahead of the next man somehow and I would see people beat themselves up for getting a B or getting a 68 and crying that it wasn’t an A, or getting an A and crying it was just 70 and not 92. I would laugh at them then, I mean I was even grateful for a C and when I saw an A or B I’d be too happy to think of why it wasn’t 98.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the top 30 by a few points and for the next year, I mentally killed myself and wanted to give up. The nights of worrying and being depressed was for nothing. So, Imagine a waste of depression when you could just choose to be happy.
Father insisted I try the next year afresh and i wondered the point, at the time I felt like the dumbest person on earth and couldn’t understand why he could believe in me when I didn’t believe in myself – I guess now that what and Elder sees sitting… well, you know the rest. Plot twist, the next year I tried again, and it clicked.
This time, I started with a fresh fire. I was in class with people who were in junior secondary when I wrote waec but because I finished at 14 we were mostly age mates but I had a diploma certificate already. So, I was under a lot of pressure both from home and myself. It would be suicide to be nothing but the best this time, right? Oh, it worked alright, the A’s and B’s came but this time, I saw myself turn into what I used to laugh at. I would get a 67 and lament for the next week that I could have gotten an A if I wasn’t 3 marks stupid. My roommate would wonder if I had a problem, there would be a mass failure, I’d pass and still bemoan how I could have been better. I was riding a four point, Father was proud as all fathers are wont to, but I wasn’t satisfied still. A lot of people were on a 5 point and I would worry about my 4 point. It’s a good thing to aspire to be the best, right? Problem was, I wasn’t appreciating the journey, everything had become a competition, fear of failure had turned me to an obsessive compulsive monster. So many people wanted my result, my life even. I was a back bencher, perpetual late comer with fiery red lipstick riding on a 4 point, it was the basic dream, everyone wondered how I could do it without being a geek, still, I wasn’t satisfied. To everyone I was doing well but I’d go home and worry myself to depression.
Unfortunately, this describes a lot of us whether we want to admit it or not. That desire to be better, or to make money sometimes overrides our brain and makes us feel useless if we didn’t reach the target we set for ourselves and instead of appreciating how far we’ve come, we worry more about how much we lost, no matter how inconsequential. The state of the system put us in a competition to be the best or nothing, and when you achieve this, you end up not enjoying the process that got you there : A rich man who worries at night about how to make more money, even if he was sleeping on a $100,000 pillow; a student with a 4 point cgpa worrying it’s not a 4.5 or 5.0, a crowd of people finishing tops but missing out on their lives, throwing sadness around – you’d wonder why they say Nigerians are always angry. You’re successful yet happiness was sacrificed on the altar of determination .
You see, determination is good but to every good thing is a bad and that is “excess”. Too much sugar causes diabetes, yet, a lack of sugar can be deadly, see the need for balance? I’ve seen people go mad from reading too much, like raving mad and I kid you not. So you have good grades but drop out of school for some years to be treated in a psychiatric facility because of an overdose of determination, what then is the point? Believe me, determination is good, the drive is better but my dear people, put a rein on it sometimes. In your pursuit of perfection, never forget to live. It’s sad to find out you missed on your youth in a bid to be successful. Nobody prepares you for the emptiness and loneliness, now that a degree cannot assure you anything in our country. Be good, be better even, but don’t lose yourself.
It’s 4:00am and tomorrow I shall go to the award night and raise my head high and laugh at all the jokes. Why? I had an accident and I will not beat myself up for that again. We didn’t finish first but we’ll laugh about that and do better next time. I won’t hide my injuries or scars out of Embarrassment, I will admit to myself that things happen that we can’t change, like accidents and broken hearts. At this point, I recognize this as a psychological problem I wouldn’t let continue. If I get a 4.0 or a 3.9 or a 5.0, I’ll be fine still. Believe me, we’d all be successful someday, maybe not today but eventually. I won’t torture myself for tomorrow that’s largely uncertain and neither should you.
Tomorrow can worry about itself.
Life na jeje.