Do you ever find yourself staring at an old picture and the first thought that comes to mind is, ‘What was up with my hair?’
I had come across an old snapshot of myself, dating back more than a decade. I was maybe 12 or 13. While I do have a proclivity for changing hairstyles, my fascination with the notion of time offers a far more compelling subject for discussion here.
Time is the common denominator of our existence. It carries immense weight as a measuring stick for how we should lead our lives.
In the short story “A Sound of Thunder”, Ray Bradbury coined the term ‘Butterfly Effect’ to remind us that small changes in the past can have a resounding effect on events in the future. Prolific British writer, H. G. Wells goes onto offer another brilliant piece of social commentary in his novel “The Time Machine.”
Not to quibble over the details of these authors, it’s evident that time in itself is significant. Yet we as a society, toss the concept around so frivolously as if it’s something we can just as easily buyback.
As I continued staring intently at the photo, an equally sharp gaze mirrored itself back to me. A strange air of intrigue filled the room. It felt as though I was peeking into a vortex to the past and somehow communicating with my younger self.
Who was this little boy?
He looked afraid. I wondered if I were to meet him again, what would I say?
I once shared the story of how my mother came to the UK with three children and only £50 in her purse. There isn’t an ounce of fabrication here and her actions demonstrate the dizzying lengths African parents are prepared to go through to ensure their children get the best possible education.
“Education is the greatest equalizer in this world.”
— Steve Sweeney
The modern Nigerian diaspora is one of the highest immigrant populations in the world and prevalent in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. According to the Institute of Public Policy Research, Nigerian pupils are among the best performing student groups in the UK.
In a conversation I had with my former boss earlier this year, he recounted attending a doctorate commencement ceremony at Howard University and being astounded at the number of Nigerian surnames he heard being called up.
Indeed, education was imperative in our household. We arrived Thursday afternoon, and by the following Tuesday, my brothers and I had already been enrolled at Silvertown Primary School, London.
We often use repression as a cognitive defense mechanism to push away unpleasant memories and keep them shunted in the deepest recesses of our minds. However, I vividly recall my first day attending a disproportionately white Anglican school and being utterly terrified.
The experience was not made any easier by the simple fact that I did not speak a word of English. My native language of Yoruba occupied my tongue. It certainly made for an interesting debut.
I remember the eerie cloud that loomed the morning I was due to start and every minute detail that was to follow.
Fiddling with my sweater as my mother and I sat waiting to be called to the reception, vivid. Being ushered down the narrow corridor, where pictures of former headmasters hung crookedly, vivid. The perplexed glares from the room that rained in my direction as the teacher introduced me to the class, vivid.
‘Good morning Year 3. Allow me to introduce a new student. His name is Shoow-ou-ler’.
I thought to myself,
‘Actually, it’s Olu — Nevermind’.
At that present moment, timidity washed over me. I quickly recoiled rather than make any attempts to correct her. After all, she was well versed in English, and I was not. By virtue, that must mean she knew the correct pronunciation of my name, right?
I didn’t utter a word. I smiled and promptly took my seat.
It was much of the same for a large part of my formative years. People would attempt to introduce me, botching my name in the process, and I would jokingly remark, ‘It’s like the singer, Shola Ama’. This routine exchange further compounded my struggle to find my voice and consequently, my identity.
Again, who was this scared, little boy?
While the premise of this piece isn’t to give you, a lesson in enunciation. Instead, I’ll relay the key principles I devised to transform a reluctant boy from Silvertown into a self-actualizing man, on a quest to master his domain.
№1: Pour into Your Craft
At the ripe age of 16, I discovered Track & Field. It saved my life!
From afar, I had witnessed what the sport had done for a number of my peers. The freedom it gave them. The confidence they were able to exude as a result of constant immersion in a high-pressure environment.
Hence, I pledged myself to commit and simply show up to practice.
Several times a week, I would journey an hour and a half to Tooting Bec Athletic Track, where I proceeded to dispatch of my former self. To me, training went far beyond the physical realm, it was metamorphic.
You can be forgiven for believing my coat-hanger frame made me a world-beater at the start. As much as I loathe the trite phrase, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, this became my mantra.
By 19, I had honed my athletics prowess to a national level and qualified for the UK Championship and Olympic Trials. A few years later, I earned a scholarship to attend the University of Memphis. An interesting place that appeared stuck in time.
How naive I was.
I just wanted to find my voice. Track & Field gave me much more than I could even fathom. It was a battleground, where all of my inhibition evaporated. At competitions, I would throw on my tank top like a suit of armor and brazenly strut down the runway.
With confidence, bordering on arrogance, I had been gifted an arena to showcase my toils to an audience. Now, watch me in my element.
Needless to say, this self-assurance spilled over to other aspects of my life. How I related to friends and family? My undertaking of personal projects, artistic endeavors, and academic pursuits. For all things tangible in this world, you can manifest your goal by putting forth continuous deliberate effort.
‘Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.’
— Sun Tzu
Moreover, you cannot circumvent the system. Even if you somehow managed to find a shortcut to your desired outcome, you’re will struggle to keep it.
Because you will lack what the process creates.
So, I challenge you to select your arena. Is it fashion? Graphic design? Or are you into culinary? Identify what that is and pour into your craft.
№2: Find Your Soulmates
Yes, soulmates with an ‘s’. Hear me out!
Films and graphic novels have bloated the perception of finding your soulmate. By definition, a soulmate is a person ideally suited to another as a close friend or romantic partner. My unpopular opinion debunks the common interpretation of what or who a soulmate should be.
While I do believe in the idea of having a soulmate, I do not believe that we are limited to just one in our lifetime. Statistically speaking, the odds of finding one soul in a sea of 7 billion are rather slim.
Along our journey, we will encounter several individuals and they will play a pivotal role in moving us from one stage of our life to the next.
“20 children cannot play together for 20 years”
— African Proverb
Growing up, this was an African proverb that my mother would often cite to me In its simplicity, I found her words so profound. It was not until I matured that I understood the underlying meaning.
We can attribute it to a lack of worldly expertise, but I thought I would stay friends with Jason forever. He was my childhood companion and we spent the better half of 8 years running around Surrey Lane Estate in Battersea.
My affiliation with Jason meant that the neighbor bullies left me alone, for the most part. It was easy to see how my diminutive figure coupled with a strong African accent made me a popular target of choice. Jason taught me the importance of being persistent, speaking boldly, and standing firm.
But eventually, we grew up and grew apart. Nevertheless, I absorbed his teachings, added them to my arsenal, and proceeded to mold my character. It was no different when I arrived at Wimbledon College and every significant juncture in my life.
Accountability, Patience, Integrity, Tenacity, and Emotional Intelligence.
All of these attributes were extrapolated from prolonged periods spent with a specific individual who I thought was destined to be there forever — They were not!
Think back to some of your previous relationships. During its course, every fiber of your being was compelling you into believing your partner was the one. For one reason or another, you broke up and it did not work out.
How could you have been so wrong about someone you felt so strongly about? But you weren’t wrong and they were the right person for you. Except only at the point in time.
Time, the recurring theme of our reality.
Whether or not the relationship ended on a good note, you were bound to have extracted some knowledge of yourself. You can apply these for the betterment of your future relationship.
Soulmates are more than the loves of our lives, they’re our guiding light. They’ll each teach us different lessons and ultimately prepare us for our future loves; spouses, children, grandchildren, and so on. Find your soulmates, adhere to their lessons, and press on.
№3: Ditch the Comparisons
I recently watched the American docu-drama film, “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix. I urge you to set some time aside and check it out. If you do not have a Netflix subscription, ask one of your soulmates lol.
The documentary explores the rise of social media and the detrimental effect it has had on our society. Being digitally connected to everyone on the planet has made our hierarchies of accomplishments astonishingly vertical.
Let’s face it, someone is always going to be better than you at something. Social media has done a very good job of exacerbating this and make it readily available to us. Whether it’s the fitness model, TV presenter, pro athlete, or my personal favorite, the 18-year old YouTuber, who built a multi-million-dollar empire off his smartphone.
‘Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today’
— Jordan Peterson
I remember the little boy that was scared to lose because it gave power to the internal critic that condemned his mediocre efforts. For my own sanity, I needed to win at everything. You can imagine my devastation when Mr. Doran informed me that I did not make the A-team for rugby in Year 9.
As a child, I had not yet acquired the wisdom to form my own individual standards. So, I would look at others and compare.
Over time, with every setback and strike in the loss column, I fashioned my own uniqueness that was exclusive to just me, and no one else. I came to realize that winning at everything was not possible.
You may not be winning, but you’re still growing. And growing is arguably the best form of winning.
Should someone else’s victory in the present, take precedence over your trajectory across time?
So, rather than using other people as yardsticks and drawing harsh conclusions about whether or not you stack up well against them, ask yourself, are you growing? The grass only appears greener on the other side, simply because you are not watering your own.
Time is a funny thing, right?
Carlo Rovelli describes it as an illusion and our perception of its flow doesn’t correspond to physical reality. Time is a man-made construct, one that we are eternally bound by. Perhaps this might go some ways into explaining why we find ourselves locked in the unceasing conundrum that we are always running out of time.
Dilemma aside, let’s imagine you did have the power to request an audience with your younger self.
What would you say? Would he or she be proud of you?
I like to think he would. I remember who I was then, and I know who I am now — Well, I’m getting there.
Rather than let a teacher mispronounce my name, I took on the reins myself, marched forwards with my shoulders back, and proudly proclaimed,
‘I am Olushola Olojo, a radical sharer.’
In closing, hold fast to your dream, work tirelessly, and surround yourself with the right people. Do not be so myopic in your thinking. Take the time out to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come. More importantly, don’t give up as your younger self is counting on you!