Day 13: Usman

​“Don’t worry Usman, you’ll be coming back to Lagos very soon”, said Uncle C as he navigated his car round the narrow streets of Lagos Island. He kept on saying words to motivate me but I wasn’t really paying attention to him; I was wondering when I was finally gonna get a job, I was wondering how long until my girlfriend got tired of waiting for “potential” and pitched her tent somewhere else, I was thinking about the trip back to Abuja, I thought about my mum’s predictable words of encouragement, I thought about Java… Ah yes, Java.

I’d picked up Java as a hobby and I was getting pretty good at it when I received an unexpected invite from an engineering firm for an aptitude test. I had a week or so to prepare so I dusted my old notes and glanced through them, wondering when on earth I wrote them because I sure as hell felt like a primary school kid in a calculus class. This was a couple of months after NYSC but it felt like ages to me and I was frustrated by the search for a job. I’d just been through a grueling recruitment process that ended with a certain bank asking me to come up with a couple of millions to confirm my appointment; I turned it down. I was still reeling from disappointment and I had half a mind to ignore this invite but my optimism got the better of me, as it was a dope opportunity for an engineer but mostly because it was a chance to escape from Abuja and see my long lost Lagos friends.

The test turned out to be quite okay, code for I didn’t know a lot of the answers but I made a lot of guesses which I felt reasonably confident about. I passed, got through to the next stage; some sort of discussion where everything went my way and then got called up for an interview, this was too easy, I thought to myself and the interview replied in kind. I felt like I’d been molested after I was done. Some Indian dude with a nasty grin had grilled me like I’d broken his daughter’s heart; whenever I got an answer right, he hit me with something I couldn’t answer. He smiled whenever I admitted I didn’t know. I went home thinking I’d screwed up. I wondered if everyone else had breezed through theirs and I was the odd one out. Weeks went by and I heard nothing. I fell back on Java once more and saw myself carving out a career in programming but then I got called up for the next stage; it went well, but then weeks of silence went by. I’d learnt not to put my hopes up too much yet the uncertainty ate at me. And here was Uncle C telling me everything was gonna be fine. How could he possibly know? He had built up a successful business from scratch through sheer will and refusal to accept failure, yet his message seemed to tell me to do exactly the opposite; people are weird like that.

Frustration is often a good fuel for doing other things if channeled properly, and so it proved in my love affair with Java, but of what good are fancy database applications if you aren’t getting paid to write them? Or so my inner self told me repeatedly. I was making progress but it just wasn’t fast or good enough for me. I’d long yearned for independence from my parents; they gave me everything and I pretty much grew up in a bubble but I felt like I’d outgrown the bubble and I needed to be on my own.

I finally heard back from the firm that’d made me go through what seemed like countless tests and then the job offer came. A few weeks later I jetted off to the land of Kamasutra to get trained as a Process engineer. You have no idea how much of an irony this was; I made fun of Chemical Engineers throughout uni and here I was about to be one. It’s been almost a year now and it’s been one heck of a ride. I’ve never learnt so much within such a short space of time. It’s amazing how you think you know so much then you get dropped in the midst of smart people and you realize you know nothing. I’ve had to deal with a lot of self-doubt along the way but it’s only reaffirmed my belief in myself. It’s a scary thought when you suspect yourself of being a fraud; I felt like that a couple of times this year and in some ways it has pushed me to strive to be better every day. You really can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.

Ramadan had me soaring spiritually but as usual, I came crashing down shortly afterwards. I’m at my most peaceful during Ramadan but for some reason I just can’t seem to make that feeling last forever. Maybe that’s the whole point; maybe I wouldn’t value the feeling as much if it was always there. My relationship with God is a weird one; for one with such conviction in his beliefs, I sure have a lot of questions and doubts. One minute, I’m soaring close to heaven; the next, I’m teetering on the brink of some cliff that most likely leads to hell.

This year, I held on tightly to my best friends even though keeping in touch seems to be something I’ll never be able to do regularly enough to stop being accused of forgetting people. No worries there, my friends understand me and I, them. I think the quality of the conversations we have, although few, makes up for the deafening silences in-between. I tried to be friendlier this year to mixed results; I made few friends but ultimately, I got stark reminders that my warm cozy shell will always be there for me to crawl back into when human interaction inevitably wears me out. The truth is a lot of humans come off as empty at first glance and they often are but there’s some substance to few of them, and even though it can be exhausting, there are gems to be found in what seems like a “pile of trash”.

I’ve developed a work ethic thanks to my mentors at work. Being smart or at least the illusion of it has this way of making one lazy and it’s hard to shake it off. I’m still lazy for the most part but I sit for hours every day, learning; it’s weird but I like it. While we’re on the topic of laziness, I started working out regularly this year and man, even though it’s much better than what it was, my stamina is shit; I should fix that. I started playing football once more after years of hibernation and even took part in some Adidas tournament. Don’t ask how my team performed, it’s the effort that counts.

I made progress on time management but I’ve had to give up a few pleasures of mine; I gave up Football Manager this year, I’ve watched fewer movies (it helps that Hollywood churns out a lot of trash nowadays) and focused on watching tutorials and documentaries; it’s done wonders for my productivity. I’d like to tell you it’s been fun but it’d be a lie; I love winning trophies on Football Manager (yeah, yeah, I’m an Arsenal fan) but I remind myself of the progress I’ve made elsewhere whenever I get the urge to relapse. Football is my first love and it tested me a lot this year. Our title challenge fizzled out and Leicester won the league. On the plus side, I did so well on Fantasy premier league. We’ve started this season in typically encouraging fashion but I won’t be deceived; I’ve been burned before. It’d be nice to win the league but… You know the rest.

I lost my ability to dwell on things. I had a lot of victories this year but I was often in a hurry to move on to the next challenge. I deciphered what lessons there were in the losses and quickly wrote them off as something God had ordained. I don’t understand God as much as I want to but I’ve learned to trust him. You can’t build emotional resilience without forging through hardship and loss and when things have gone south this year, I’ve had this resilience about me to keep pushing although I was impatient the whole time and a little grumpy. It’s something I should work on. Next year, maybe.

My Dad gave me the biggest compliment this year when he told my kid brother how he wanted him to grow up and be like me; he even used “hardworking” while describing me. He’s never been one to praise me in public and I’ve never been one to yearn for it, but man, did it feel good to hear him say it to my face.

I don’t normally do resolutions; I feel they limit me, but I hope to wake up every day next year with the aim of improving, even if by a little. I hope to spend more time with family and friends. There’s this wonderful woman for whom I’ve got positive irrational feelings and I hope and pray we end up together. If you’ve had a good year, you’d do well to remember not to take it for granted lest you become complacent. If you think you’ve had a bad one, you’d do well to remember that every failure will teach you something about how to succeed.

Here’s to growth.


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