Why ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ is a dangerous question to ask kids.

Psst: I’ve moved. Visit me here http://streetsideconvos.com. Maybe the new blog will be for you. Maybe not.

A few summers ago, I met up with an old classmate and we caught up on what he was up to and vice versa.  With my background in the sciences then moving to global health, doing lots of traveling and also going on a literary tour in Europe to focus more on my writing, he found this too undefined. He finally answered me with the question , “So what exactly are you?”. I asked him to explain his question and he said you know like engineer, doctor, something specific.

I find these kinds of titles restrictive and I tend to reject them on an emotional level. However I grew up in an environment where this kind of thinking is pervasive. Right from when you start talking, uncles, aunties, teachers, and whoever has an emotional vested interest in you ask you what you want to be -engineer, doctor, pharmacist, pilot, lawyer- being the ones that got the most positive reinforcement.

I want to share about why I think this is a dangerous question to be asking kids, or even ourselves.

First off, we are moving further away from the Industrial Age and the thinking associated with it to an era where we value meaning and awesomeness over mediocre mass production. Think about the goods and services that are doing great in our times. They always have the WOW factor and a meaningful story informing them. If the Industrial Age is ending and we are needing less and less standardization why teach kids to be standardized?

Secondly, studying the truly great in any sphere of life, you’ll soon see how an intense emotional commitment to what they do separates them from the mediocre. That is why they persist even after failing over and over again. If you don’t figure out what you are borderline obsessed with, what you feel you can do with the WOW factor, you reduce your odds for greatness and mastery. Can you see how this is a more important issue to settle before committing to an ‘occupation’ – for happiness or even purely economic reasons?

So I propose a better way.

In an era where we celebrate meaning and excellence over standardized mediocrity, I propose that we ask questions that make us think about how we want to show up in the world everyday. These can be questions like – what kind of life do you want to live? Not only does this question put the whole of life in perspective it also aims at your unique blueprint and gives room for more possibilities. For example, I want to show up as courageous. I also value mastery. I value connection with people but more than that empowering people and in a way that keeps on giving. I value uniqueness. While the expression may change at any given time the most productive way to use my time will have to be at the intersection of these affinities.

Imagine if we helped kids to show up everyday in a way that helped them practice, refine and experiment with their innate affinities. By the time they have to choose careers they would have more clarity about what they are here to do and what they can be great at. Outside the box living has never been more possible so why stifle their creativity and capacity for independent thinking? Why put pressure on them to fit into straight jacket occupations that we are not sure will even exist when they are done school?

Let me give you an example. 

In secondary school, when I heard that no girl had ever been the valedictorian in the history of the school, inspired by my affinity for excellence I did it. The occupation mentality would say that it proves I was made to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer since I was so intelligent. The mentality I propose would rather say it proved that I value mastery and then nurture me to own and feed this desire, while finding out how I can design my life to intersect it with the world’s current needs so I could make a happy living from it.

Which one is more empowering and gives me room to fly? I think the latter.

I think there would be so much more benefit to this world if kids were prepared to show up everyday in a way that represented the things they intrinsically enjoyed and given small platforms to use and strengthen their core gifting instead of just preparing them for careers, especially in the 21st century. Altogether I think this is a more empowering way to think and live life.

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Why your boring job is perfect for you

Psst: I’ve moved. Visit me here http://streetsideconvos.com. Maybe the new blog will be for you. Maybe not.

There are so many interesting things going on in our time in terms of how much more of a space there is for contributing creatively to the world versus back in the day when everything was about mass producing. In that sense I feel like there is room for us to all give our unique contribution to the world.

However truth be told, on the way to that there are so many loops and turns, and I am sure that at some point you can find yourself in a situation that seems so far from where you plan to be, and you just wonder, what am I going to do with all my ideas? Am I even any step closer to my dreams? I’ve been there many times.

I was reading about the example I gave in number 3 below that sparked this post and I thought I should share.  So here are my thoughts on my tongue in cheek title 🙂

First of all, a boring job is a great way to know what you do NOT want to do with your life.

Most of us seem to be comfortable but not excited, possibly living a decent life but not our best lives. At least YOU feel something even if it is tedium or frustration. Sometimes we need that extra push and this can be just what you need to finally overcome your fears and take the risk of giving your dreams a shot.

Secondly, your boring job just might be freeing up your mental energy for your passion.

While waiting for something more fulfilling, this is the perfect time to redirect your mental energy into creative expression. Since your emotional energy is not being fully tapped by your job, you have more than enough of it to focus on the things you are truly passionate about.

Albert Einstein did the exact same thing. When he graduated in 1900 at the bottom of his class, he could not get a job as a teacher for obvious reasons. However his father offered him an engineering job, and he also had the opportunity of getting a lucrative job in insurance but he turned both down because he didn’t want that to drain his mental energy (isn’t that interesting?).

Instead he took a boring job in a patent office where he would just be analyzing applications. Doing this sharpened his reasoning skills; also because it was so mundane he was able to do it quickly and then focus on his own ideas while at work. It was while working this boring job that he did most of the work that would be his theory of relativity.

Maybe there could be an opportunity for your own personal learning goals while working a boring job? Something to think about.

Thirdly, a boring job might be an opportunity for fresh insight. 

Remember the boring article I was reading? It was about the history of public health. I don’t like history BUT, I read about an interesting story from the 1700s. Back then scientists were still arguing about what causes food to go bad. A scientist called Lazzaro Spallanzani discovered that you could prevent things from spoiling by keeping them in air tight conditions and applying heat. While scientists were still debating this (then they didn’t believe microbes were in the air), a distiller and confectioner in Paris took this idea and applied it to his business in the food industry to preserve food and wine. While the scientific world was catching up to reality a Parisian businessman was using this discovery in the food industry.

Sometimes staying stuck in one field keeps you narrow-minded. Getting out of it even if it is due to a mundane job can give you fresh inspiration. Think about it; sometimes the most creative ideas come from people completely out of the field.

So there you go. Even though you might feel stuck and stifled in your creativity or personal fulfilment, maybe there is some value in the mundane if you look closely enough. Your boring job might just be watering those seeds of greatness in you. Maybe the question is not about your circumstances but about whether you will still go to work in pursuing those things dear to you that the world just might be waiting for.

Do you have any more reasons to add? How did you get something generative out of a mundane circumstance?

Work or play?

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Psst: I’ve moved. Visit me here http://streetsideconvos.com. Maybe the new blog will be for you. Maybe not.

Work. It was all those things you ‘had’ to do for very justified reasons. Today it was in the name of commitment, tomorrow in the name of reputation, the next day in the name of tradition, maybe in the name of adulthood, and oh, watch for the big one- in the name of god.

It was all those boxes you had to stuff yourself into because of course you had to be realistic. Yet no one told you that reality was a constantly changing construct that perhaps you had a stake in recreating.

You justified it long enough although when you stopped to listen you knew that it was not wings but shackles that your so called ‘reasons’ gave you, and you were a willing prisoner. Your excuses were many- justified excuses. Everybody agreed to them because they were so wise and reasonable – except that little’ naive’ child inside of you that you just couldn’t get to shut up.

Then there was play. It was not what you had to do, but what you got to do. It was that place where you became a child again. There were no reasons here, all the reason you had was love. Love got you doing crazy things; much more things than tradition, reputation, god or any other thing they made up to guilt trip you into a loveless commitment could get out of you.

Work or play?

The pesky little child scurries off again into distant lands hidden deep inside of you. (S)he comes back, telling you that there is so much more. That there is a place where life can be play. That it is a place where work is play and so no longer work. A place where you give not just your time and your energy but your whole life. A place that everyone is waiting for you to claim but they just don’t know.

But how can you explain this? What if you never find it? What if you end up naive, irresponsible?

So your dreams become nightmares inside of you. And the light that only you carry gets suffocated in the dark musty cupboards where you hide it.

Your dreams get short of seeing because its been too long in those dark musty cupboards.

You dare not voice them and so they will never know that first kiss with the air that could birth them into words, then goals, then reality.

So then you become disillusioned. And you settle for work. Work is justified. Isn’t there something sanctimonious about the ‘sacrifices’ you ‘have’ to make? You hide behind reasons and everyone agrees with you and nods along because God forbid-  what if your dreams came true then their own dark musty cupboards will have to prematurely see the light in a way that will be oh so unbearable.

Except stubborn little child. There (s)he goes off to play and when (s)he comes home you give him/her a good spanking.

“Shut up! Shut up!”,  you tell stubborn little child.

“Say no more of your childish fantasies.”

But what if you went along with stubborn little child?

What if you got to play forever?

Don’t even deceive yourself that it is an easy road. It will not be as easy as hiding behind all those reasons everyone tells everyone.

Here you will fight and fight. At the risk of your life, your reputation, your tradition and all the other things you and they used to hold you bound, you will fight for your right to play.

Work or play?

What will you choose?

10 Characteristics of change makers. Are you one?

ImageChange makers have similar characteristics- from social/civic entrepreneurs to small business owners or people running big organizations or programmes.

I was doing a reading on Public Health Business Planning and thought I should share the key points since they cut across the board. This also helps me remember for my discussion tomorrow afternoon:)

1. Entrepreneurs find out what’s needed

– This involves studying your groups’ needs closely + understanding how to communicate the same data differently to meet the needs of different audiences.

2. Entrepreneurs brainstorm 

– They dream crazy audacious wacky and unusual ideas

– Brainstorming is more about quantity than quality.

– Diverse teams create more diverse ideas and thus they win

-To win, generate more ideas.

– Its not just about creating new ideas but also possibly expanding or redesigning existing programmes to make them better.

3. Entrepreneurs analyze

– To balance their crazy ideas they also analyze them to figure which is worth it.

– The goal is to find a workable idea for a need that exists.

– Something to think about – how will you present the story in a compelling way to your audience?

– Also- How is your new story unique to other previously existing stories?

4. Entrepreneurs build teams

–  There is no such thing as a single great man. Its always about assembling the team to run with the idea

– The ability to create alliances is very important in the 21st century

– Diverse teams will be able to open up diverse networks so build diversity into your projects

– in the 21st century its no longer about people from a specific field, interdisciplinary learning is the way to go

5. Entrepreneurs are hardworking and flexible

The best teams end up with much different projects than they started with BUT they tend to- spend lots of time together

-share the responsibilities

– feed off one another’s positivity

– seek out leaders and make trips to benchmark progress. Think mentorship and goal setting retreats.

– get really into their projects

– spend much more time and energy than planned

… so its more about flexibility and hard work than a great first idea

6. Entrepreneurs find the money

Entrepreneurs are “ambitious for others” and find the resources to fuel this ambition

7. Entrepreneurs start it up 

Think risk taking. Failure is needed for success. Entrepreneurs are not averse to risk but rather show that they have analyzed the risk and that the pay off makes it worth it.

8. Entrepreneurs keep it going

Think sustainability

How will your idea fuel itself?

9. Entrepreneurs keep tabs

– Think evaluation

– How will you make sure that you are doing what you planned to do?

– How will you evaluate yourself?

– Have you planned for transitions possibly if you need to leave the programme to someone else?

– Do you have an exit plan if evaluation shows it is not working?

 10. Entrepreneurs get it down on paper

– If your ideas are not stated down, they will probably not become reality.

Write it all down and it will change later but you have a starting point.

So in conclusion, think analytical skill + heart + finance + creative leadership + passion + flexibility =  great change maker

Where are you here and where could you improve?

Personally I am learning so I can do better especially in the area of number 9.

Do share 🙂

Hope you enjoyed my tips.

Forbes Africa gets behind the camera for a change.

I had the pleasure of chatting with these men at the WOWe Women of West Africa event last week. I sat down beside them, we started talking and ended up doing a video along the way 🙂

Chris is the managing editor of Forbes Africa and was one of the moderators for one of the sessions.He moved to South Africa a couple of years back and he is loving his work. He said he would do it even if he didn’t make a lot of money out of it. I thought Chris sounded like Richard Branson but I don’t think he took it as a compliment haha

Frederic is the head for their work in West Africa. He has been living in Lagos for a while- 5 years- if I remember clearly. He is excited about investing in emerging markets all over Africa and media work in Africa as well.

I should have asked them to share their experience of moving and living in Africa but it didn’t occur to me then. It would have been nice since they’ve seen Africa from a much more nuanced perspective than people looking from the outside in. Oh well, next time.

Watch to know them a bit better and get into their heads about life, success, passion, and making the world a better place. Also- when you get really successful and interviewed by Forbes Africa make sure you tell Chris and/or Frederic that you met them on streetsideconvos first:)

Don’t forget to leave me a comment, subscribe and come on over to twitter to continue the conversation 😉

How to stay passionate about things you don’t like- 2. Get in the mood

We all have our moments of weakness and moments of strength but with time, experience and focus we learn to nurture and feed into those moments of strength so that we have the right attitude to face life. It is a continual process.

To do this, I like to try as much as possible to operate from the best of me. For every one of us, there is something that keeps us in that level of peak performance. It may be something as simple as waking up early, working out, or praying.

For me it is mostly some quiet time to get my spirit, and mind in the right attitude and also – good music. I love music.

Sometimes I get in the mood through getting up and out of my rut- maybe through exercise, cleaning the house, cooking or doing something I have been procrastinating about.

Making gratitude a lifestyle also helps. If you would take a moment to distance yourself from whatever problem you have, you will quickly realise that you have alot of opportunities, talents and privileges that others might not have. From that vantage point, it easier for you to be empowered to see what you can do, versus complain about all the things you can’t control.

Remember the post where I talked about life-giving rituals?

All the things I do to get in the mood do the following for me:

–        They energize me and put me in a creative mode

–        They help me think generatively instead of pessimistically

–        They pick me up and refocus me on my greatness

This is why they are ‘life giving’ rituals.

What about you? What things do this for you? What helps you get in the mood?

Completely unrelated but check out this African version of Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’. My younger brother sent it to me and I love it.

How to stay passionate about things you don’t enjoy. 1- Focus on your greatness

Psst: I’ve moved. Visit me here http://streetsideconvos.com. Maybe the new blog will be for you. Maybe not.

A friend of mine asked me a very interesting question when I posted on passion.

My friend asked me whether I think passion is actually necessary. What do you think?

I just happened to be reading ‘Mastery’ by Robert Greene today and this is how he puts it: ‘In our culture we tend to equate thinking and intellectual powers with success and achievement. In many ways, however, it is an emotional quality that separates those who master a field from the many who simply work a job. Our levels of desire, patience, persistence and confidence end up playing a much larger role in success than sheer reasoning powers. ‘ 

Very interesting book by the way. I can’t put it down.

This reminded me of my promise to write about how I stay passionate about things that I don’t necessarily enjoy. I try to live purposefully, but it doesn’t mean I am always passionate to work on the next proposal, even though I might be passionate about the possibility of it being successful.

One thing that helps me stay driven is focusing on my greatness. I am great. There will never be another me. Does this sound vain? You are great too. There will never be another you.

Think about the fact that your genetic makeup only occurs with you. You are uniquely you- with your unique set of experiences, strengths, idiosyncrasies etc. If you think about the fact that you are the only you to ever grace this world, you realize that you are great.

Sometimes when we think of greatness, we automatically assume that for one to be great, that means others are not. I think this is because when 7 billion of us are conforming to a few established norms then of course, it is always win-lose.

However, when I talk of greatness, I don’t mean preconceived norms of what greatness should be. I don’t mean the degree your parents told you to get, or the title that everyone will applaud you for. I mean that expression of your unique genetic identity that only you have. That imprint that only YOU were designed to leave on this world.

Sometimes we have this either/or thinking ingrained in us where we think that a success implies a failure. You think you being great implies someone not being great. We blame the rich for the problems of the poor. We envy the nerds for making everyone else look bad. We look down on the celebrities that successfully rose to top because they are enjoying life even though they didn’t do what we were told was the right thing to do to be successful.

Look at the immenseness of the universe. Where did we get our scarcity mentality from? There are infinite possibilities for greatness. The only reason why we have the competitive mentality is because we are yet to find our own unique greatness. We are conforming, comparing, fighting to be everything but who we were gifted to be. We are using others as yardsticks for our lives when in fact the only yardstick for you is your greatness.

Since you have a unique scientific makeup, you actually don’t need to compete with others. There is no one like you in the first place, so all you need to do is compete with that greatness in you.

Don’t think win-lose.Think win-win. You can be great and I need you to be great because your greatness is connected to our collective human story. When you find your greatness you don’t put others at a disadvantage, you actually become a gift to the world because your story and the world you create opens up possibilities to others.

Now that you understand my concept of greatness let me get back to my point.

When I keep my greatness -that profound imprint that only I can leave in this world- in sight I merge it with my present mundane task.

Find your ‘why’ and keep it in sight. Make sure that you interpret your present in the context of the story of your greatness. By the mere fact that there is no one like you on the planet, there is greatness within you that the world is waiting for.

Make it happen.

Thoughts, questions, objections, contributions?