THE BEST YEARS?

At thirty two, Yi had been the oldest junior officer in his regiment. The other officers, sprightly young turks in their teens and early twenties had taken great pleasure in calling him ‘the old man’. One of them in particular loved to walk bent over like an octogenarian in mockery. He wondered what they would think if they saw him now, freshly released from prison and even lower down the pecking order than he’d been when the young ones had loved to torment him. He shuddered at the thought.

He was forty years old and no more than a private in the army. Despite years of loyal service to his nation, he’d been rewarded with no more than a pat on the back. Then jealousy and betrayal had chewed him up and spat him out like stale chewing gum. Now he was no more than a victim of the system he’d fought to preserve for so many years. Was he angry? I’m sure he was. Bitter and disillusioned? Maybe. All the same, he continued to do his duty and fight bravely, knowing that if he fought well enough, there’d at least be a pension for him to look forward to.

But the impartial winds of time and chance were about to blow his way. A foreign enemy was at that moment getting ready to invade with a massive army. In a few years, they would be sweeping across the land like a plague, destroying everything in their path. When that moment would finally arrive, YiSun-sin, a man who hadn’t joined the army till he was in his thirties, who, between prison and taking time off to mourn the death of his father hadn’t looked like he was destined for anything great, would become a national hero.

He would never lose a battle.

He might be the greatest military leader of all time.

 

The Best Years of your Life?

There’s this idea making the rounds through dormitories and halls of residence in institutions of higher learning the world over. It’s like a disease, like a flu that spreads from person to person disrupting lives and killing people’s joy. I’ve talked about a whole set of ideas like that, here and there, and now I’m going to tell you about another one that falls right in that category: the idea that the twenties are meant to be the best years of your life.

In her book, The Defining Decade (which you can download here), psychologist Meg Jay tackles this virus and its many mutations repeatedly. We first meet it in the shape of a nerdy student from Tennessee who thought that life after school would be a crossover between endless party and soul-searching, with a bit of baby elephant saving in Africa thrown in just for good measure. She was wrong, and ultimately found herself depressed and alone, with the baby elephants sadly unsaved and the parties having lost a lot of their savor.

“I thought the twenties are supposed to be the best years of my life,” she laments.

The psychologist’s response was quite telling: “In my experience, these are the most uncertain and some of the most difficult years of life.”

She sure got that right.

The world is filled with exceptional people who excel greatly at the things they do right from a young age. There’s no way I could argue with that, so I won’t even try. I would simply be crushed under the overwhelming weight of all the examples that you could think up: Albert Einstein, who came up with his special theory of relativity when he was 26 years old, Steven Spielberg was already the most famous film director in the world by the time he was 29, and Bill Gates was already driving his first Porsche by the time he was 21.

Two facts are worth pointing out, though, amidst all these examples: firstly, however many examples you can think up, the fact of the matter remains that most people don’t experience any spectacular success while they’re still young. It’s the tyranny of statistics, I know, but it’s no less true.

Secondly, many of those who achieve great success when they’re in their twenties go on to do even greater things later on: Bill Gates doesn’t become the richest man in the world for the first time until he’s 40 years old, Steven Spielberg doesn’t win the Academy Award for best director until he’s 46 years old and Albert Einstein doesn’t win the Nobel Prize in Physics until he’s 42 years old.

The conclusion to be drawn is pretty clear: the best years of our life come in later in our life than most of us think, whether we’re a superstar or another average Joe. Or, as Meg Jay put it: “Contrary to what we see and hear, reaching your potential isn’t something that happens in your twenties — it happens in your thirties or forties or fifties. And starting that process often means doing what doesn’t look so good.”

It’s in our forties and fifties, that we get to be leaders in our society, that we’ve established enough connections to make those millions and that we have struggled long and hard enough to earn those awards. Sometimes the struggle is particularly long and painful, like it was for Yi Sun-sin. Other times, it’s just a job that you hate, a boss who wants to make every day hell, late nights and early mornings at work, or a blog only five of your friends read. But the struggle is always there.

What do we do? Sit around and pout over how unlucky we are to be young?

I’ll leave the answer to that question to my good friend Kemi Maranga, award winning poet, through her poem Average.

AVERAGE

By Kemi Maranga.

 

This is for the underachieving overachievers.

Those complacent in their mediocrity.

Not discouraged by unflattering labels,

but rather melting into them.

Finding comfort in its embrace.

Shielding them from the devastation of disappointment.

Not a hindrance to discovering their abilities.

But a challenge to try.

Even if they’ll fail whilst seeking significance in bleakness.

This is for those who’d rather run through empty fields screaming,

Praying the universe hears them.

Instead of sitting quietly in corners of rooms

filled with people who will not hear them, or try to.

Those with a handful of gifts

But whose grip is too tight to let the seeds fall and sprout.

Or those who do, and the thicket thickens uncontrollably.

Choking them.

Leaving them gasping for air.

But smiling,

Happy they took the risk.

This is for those always crying,

Silently slowly dying.

An uninspired tortured existence painting their world gray.

Their bones creak.

Their hearts ache for the unknown.

Their sparks never ignited,

Unsure if they can be.

Too much time has passed.

This is for those who don’t think they’re good enough.

They probably aren’t

(Or maybe they are).

But still do things with their best capabilities.

Life’s too short to be perfect.

Life’s too long to not do something.

Anything.

Everything.

It doesn’t really matter.

Love yourself deeply.

Fail miserably.

Cry uncontrollably.

Talk incessantly.

Discover daily.

Work moderately.

Do or don’t.

To whatever capacity.

Be free and happy.

 

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BIG DECISIONS

BIG DECISIONS

Wilee is always the smartest guy in the room. He’s the kind of person who does Soduku and scrabble when they need to unwind after a mentally draining day at work, the kind that play chess and checkmate you in less than ten moves. When he was a kid, everyone knew him as the smartest; when he was in high school, he was voted most likely to succeed. They were all sure he would found some multi-million dollar company, or make some Nobel- Prize winning discovery, or something like that. They weren’t too far off, too. After a BA from an Ivy-League University, Wilee shipped off to Columbia, a law school that’s produced two presidents, nine justices of the supreme court and enough millionaires to fill two football teams and provide an audience for their match too. He’s set for a life of prestige, power and wealth, and if that isn’t quite his style, he could quit his job, go to the DRC and serve the poor at a free legal clinic, or something like that. All the options in the world are still on the table.

But, right in the middle of it all, Wilee has a quarter life crisis. He doesn’t know if law school is what he really wants to do anymore, or if he wants to do anything at all. His best friend thinks that he shouldn’t go on with law school unless he’s absolutely, one hundred percent certain that it’s what he wants to do for th rest of his life. But every night spent in the library, or cup of coffee he has to get for his boss only leaves him feeling more uncertain of whether that’s really the case.

So he makes a bold decision. . He packs up all his earthly possessions, leaves law school and goes to New York to be a bike messenger.  He figures he’ll do that for a few years, until it becomes clearer what exactly he should be doing with his life. But since no voice ever comes from heaven, and the money isn’t as bad as most people would think, he keeps going for one month, two months, six months, one year, five years.

"...ten years at college must count for something."

The Defining Decade (which you can download here) is a book written by a Developmental Psychologist and lecturer Meg Jay. It’s a book that written primarily for people in their twenties, which is where the title comes from. Dr. Jay argues that the twenties are ‘a developmental sweet spot’, which is her way of saying they will determine a lot about who you are and will become later on in life. In fact, she goes a lot further than that, saying that there are the single most decisive period in a person’s life, even more than childhood and the troublesome teenage years. She says it is because there’s a ‘great reorganization’ happening at this point in our lives, and this is shaping the kinds of adults we will become and the kinds of lives we will lead. It’s not a period that should be taken lightly or thought of as unimportant; the strategy at this period of life shouldn’t be to just close your eyes and hope for the best. There are specific things twenty-somethings should do to kickstart their lives and make build the kinds of futures they desire.

What do we do when we don’t know who we are is one of the questions she tackles in her book. It’s the question facing Willee and millions of other twenty-somethings every day? Do you stick to the program, even when you feel like it might not be for you. That might look like a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery Degree, a position in the family business, marrying that girl you’re parents like, becoming a registered architect, the list goes on and on. Or do you take the Willee route and curve out a path far from the beaten track? You know, finally become an artist like you always wanted, or drop out of engineering school to start that business, or leave the corporate world forever to move into a job the average Joe doesn’t take too seriously. That’s the dilemma facing many who feel like they’re out swimming on a raft in the midst of a vast ocean, able to head in any direction but having no idea which direction is the best.

quater-life-crisis-5

It’s kind of like going to the supermarket to buy jam. There are all these different flavors that you have to choose from; some are cheaper, while others are more expensive. You are absolutely spoilt for choice. How do you decide which flavor of jam you want? You could try consulting a horoscope, or asking your friends from advise. You could even pay thousands of shillings per hour to a jam selection specialist to help you decide which flavor of jam indeed fits you best. All the methods you could possibly use have one thing in common: at the end of the day, you will have to taste some jam, and only then will you be able to say for sure whether you like it or not.

So it is with trying to figure out our identities. You don’t figure out what you’re supposed to do with yourself by sitting down in the lotus position and meditating for sixteen hours straight or at least, not by doing just that. Part fo finding out who you are is the crisis, where you run away from the world and go work as a bike messenger, far away where no one knows you. But part of it is also where you plug into a job at home, get to meet people, network and all these other ‘conventional’ things. The two ideas are always mixed in there together: the searching and the doing, the meditation and the nine-to-five job.

So that was Willee’s mistake, then, running away from everything that had the slightest scent of conventionality about it. At the end of the day, trying not to be conventional just led him down a dark road of underemployement that he otherwise would never have gotten on. And why is that so bad? We all need to have that little bit of crisis in our lives. We all need to run off for a while and be a bike messenger, or go off to the mountains and be a monk. You can’t spend your whole life running without first figuring out where you’re supposed to be going. But once you figure that out, you need to get back into the world, or else the world will leave you behind. That’s something Meg Jay talks a lot about in her book. The twenties may seem like they’ll last forever, but that’s just an illusion. They’ll be gone in the blink of an eye, and all we’ll be left with will be the consequences of the decisions we made.

It’s twenty years from now. Willee has just retired from his career as a bike messenger after being a victim of a hit and run accident for a second time. He’s forty five years old when he sits at his table one day and reads the about his classmate from college who’s just been named the Chief Justice of the USA. And for one fleeting moment the thought will cross his mind, “That could have been me.” And the worst part of it is that he will be right.

Regret.png

 

 

 

 

DEAD?

DEAD?

Imagine the day the universe dies.

You are floating out in space, in a pitch black darkness. All around you is a vacuum of absolute emptiness, all of it barely hovering above absolute zero, the coldest anything can ever get. There is no light. Anywhere. There were stars, once. O, the universe was once filled with them: billions upon billions of balls of unimaginably hot gas, bubbling and churning and giving off the energy that made grass, worms, Acacia trees, giraffes, human beings, agriculture, houses, cities, Toyotas, the internet, Whatsapp Groups all possible. But they all died off one by one, starting with the heaviest and densest of them, but going on until there was not a single one left. Now there are no more stars, not even the smallest, brownest of them anywhere in all of everywhere. And without them there is no life, from the smallest earthworm to the most giant whale, and that includes us! There are no more human beings; the years we’ve been dead make a number so long that, if I wrote it out, you’d get to the bottom of this page before you got to the end of it.

But the universe is still not dead.

Out in the distant darkness, the universe’s last candle is melting down the last of its wax. To call what it’s been giving off for unseen ages ‘heat’ seems like you’re going too far, because that isn’t even one degree warmer than everything else. But it’s this universe has got left in the tank. You can’t see it, no matter how hard you try or what eyes you look at it with. You can try getting closer, but then it will drag you into itself with an irresistible force until it and you are one. It’s a black hole, the last black hole, the stuff of science fiction, become the beating heart of an old and tired universe that can’t muster anything better in its arsenal to make up for the untold number of stars that have died. It’s called ‘black’ because no light can ever escape from it under any circumstances.

Until today.

Suddenly it’s a bit warmer all around you. The death cry of every black hole is that the process that lets it quietly hum away for eons giving off a tiny bit of energy — Hawking radiation — accelerates. And then, for the tiniest fraction of a second, there’s a rush of heat, ice-cold by today’s standards but blazing hot by the standards of a universe on its deathbed. And then it’s all over. The last black hole, the last candle in the universe has just gone out. Energy is everything in this universe of ours: you need that plate of rice and stew to have a productive afternoon, your car needs fuel and the universe needs stars. It had them for a long time, but one by one they all died, until eventually it had to make due with the slow burning Hawking radiation of black holes. But the last of those has just died.

The universe is dead.

1 osOHSMStDnCoeYjy1yTJsA

Well and truly dead. There are no more sources of energy left anywhere in it. Now there is nothing for it to look forward to but an eternity of unending silence, cold and darkness. Energy was everything: without it, nothing will ever happen again.

Bleakness

Five hundred and sixty words aren’t a lot when you have to communicate an idea as heavy as absolute hopelessness. People understand things by comparison: when I say my car cost twenty million shillings, you think I must be a high roller because yours cost five million; when I say I go for holidays in Mombasa, you feel like offering to pay for my lunch because you take yours in Dubai. But for something like absolute hopelessness, there is no frame of reference, nothing I can compare it to so that that light bulb goes off inside your head and then you say, “O, so that’s what he’s talking about!”

Take the case of a poor little orphan boy, let’s call him John. When John’s parents die, he gets adopted by his aunt and uncle, who are mean, angry drunks, and beat him up every day, calling him names. One day, John’s uncle comes home in a drunk and looking for something to hurt. He goes into John’s room with a hammer, and, by the time he’s out, John has broken both his hands and a leg. Then John’s angry uncle and aunt send him out to the street to beg. He struggles under the pouring rain and the beating sun every day, and no one ever gives him any money. Then, one day, a man who was on his way from lunch throws him the leftover banana that he has.

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John’s case is hopeless, but it’s not absolute hopelessness because there’s that one glimmer of light — the guy who throws him the banana — shining through the pitch-black darkness. Simply put, there is nothing in our human experience that allow us to comprehend absolute hopelessness.

But that is precisely what the death of the universe represents.

So, why does this matter?

Remember when I said that it is impossible to imagine absolute hopelessness. Well, despite that fact, absolute hopelessness is exactly what’s at the heart of what so many people believe about the universe we live in.

The video I’ve linked to above is about one such theory that tries to paint a happy face on what is actually a very bleak prospect: that humanity is just a speck on the universe’s windshield, with no ability to move or affect the universe or anything in it to any degree, ever. That the whole of human history represents the briefest instant in the history of the universe, and that before and after are uncountable years of empty darkness.

UNIVERSE

Just think about what all this would mean. Nothing you have ever done or will ever do has any meaning at all. You do not really affect reality in any way, big or small, whether you are the president or a pauper, a miracle worker, or a mass murderer. You are just a raft floating in an ocean of meaninglessness.

All that suddenly makes the philosopher’s statement make sense: “The only question I cannot answer is why I have not yet committed suicide.”

shutterstock_166395998

That is what absolute hopelessness looks like.

There is an alternative view, though. I believe in it for many reasons, but one of them is that it gives me something that image of the last candle burning itself out could never give me: hope. When I think of it, I feel I have the strength to get out of bed in the morning, rather than being dragged down by the weight of a deep depression.

This is how the universe ends in my worldview:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will [a]dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them[b], and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

This universe has no last candle in this worldview. There is no moment when the last source of life and energy is extinguished, and all that we’re left with is eternal night. Instead, there is the moment when God arrives. Yes, the world ends, but only because it is replaced by a new one, the new heaven and the new earth, that shall never end. Instead of eternal night, this worldview has infinite day.

sun-light.jpg

Let’s just forget everything but these two ideas for a second. First, we have that image of the last candle slowing fizzling out, leaving a cold, empty, dead place in which nothing could ever happen again, versus the alternative: the end of the universe as nothing more than the beginning of something completely new and even more beautiful than what we have now.

Just on that basis, which one would you prefer to believe in?

 

THE POVERTY OF NATIONS, part one

THE POVERTY OF NATIONS, part one

Let’s finally admit to ourselves that Kenya is an extremely poor country. I mean, yes, in terms of culture, sports and sense of humour, we might be in the top five worldwide, but when it comes to economic matters, we’re not doing too well. We have a GDP per capita of around $1,500 which is around a fifth of the global average. That’s the highest in the region, much better than surrounding countries like Tanzania and Uganda, but even then we’re not doing too well. We are one of the most unequal countries in the sub-region (as you can see here), with forty two percent of the population living below the poverty line, according to UNICEF.

GDP_cartoon_04.11.2016.png

It’s the context of statistics like these that the question of how to deal successfully with the problem of poverty is significant. You and I are privileged citizens of a poor country. The simple fact that we both have decent food to eat, a nice home to live in, and access to education and the amenities of modern life like the laptop or smart phone that you’re reading this on means that we are among the richest people in Kenya. We shouldn’t take that for granted; we should try to do what is within our power to try and make life better for everyone in Kenya.

GDP_cartoon10.07.2016

The Poverty of Nations by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus is an ambitious book. It claims to have information that grants that ability to you and I: the power to make things better for everyone. “The Poverty of Nations should be required reading at every Christian college” is what one reviewer said about it. Now, I’m not an economist, nor the son of one, but I found such an audacious claim, especially when made about someone like Wayne Grudem (You have Google. Use it!) made it a book worth reading. And once I’d finished the book, I was so impressed that I decided to dedicate quite a bit of time to writing not one, but several blog posts to expound on some of the powerful ideas that I read in there. And I also chose to provide you all with links to download the book, or listen to Wayne Grudem as he gives a discussion about it:

This is a layman’s summary of a book on a technical subject that’s not quite my area of expertise, so if I mess anything up, bear with me. Don’t kill me, or if you really, really have to, do it in the comments section below. And on that note, let’s dive in!

WHAT IS THE GOAL?

When we say we want to get rid of poverty, what exactly is it that we want?

It seems like a pretty straightforward question, doesn’t it? But just think about it for a moment. I mentioned two different statistics several paragraphs ago: GDP and inequality. GDP is basically a measure of how much a country produces (for the textbook definition, just Google it J). So, in the first paragraph, I basically said that Kenya as a country produces very little, and the little we do produce isn’t shared out very equally among Kenya’s forty five million or so people. Just how unequal are we? Well, according to Wikipedia, we are abysmally low on lists of both  GDP per capita (production per person) and income inequality.

GDP_cartoon_02.29.2016

So, if you were made president and dictator for life of Kenya today, and you wanted to deal with the problem of poverty, what would you do? Would you embark on an ambitious programme of wealth redistribution, or would you try to increase the overall production of the country?

redistribution-of-wealth-2a

The opinion of the writers, and it’s become my opinion too since then, is that there’s really only one response to the question. The process of becoming wealthy, for individuals and for nations, is to be like the Proverbs 31 woman. Listen to what’s said about her:

“And works with her [h]hands [i]in delight.
14 She is like merchant ships;
She brings her food from afar.
15 She rises also while it is still night
And gives food to her household”

In other words, people and nations become wealthy by being more productive. I have a classmate who makes sandwiches and sells them to us between classes. If she wants to increase her income purely by the sale of sandwiches, she only has two options: sell a greater number of them, or sell sandwiches that are more profitable.

This idea of increased productivity is not just something happening in our minds, the writers argue. When I make something that people want and sell it, I’m actually creating value that did not exist in the world before. If I take bread, onions, tomatoes and avocadoes worth twenty shillings in total, and slap it all together to make a sandwich that I then sell for thirty shillings, you can look at the extra ten shillings as being something that I created, not out of nothing, like God does, but created nonetheless.

That’s the reason the simple redistribution of wealth is not enough. Becoming wealthy, for both individuals and nations, is based on that amazing process of creating value that did not exist before. The redistribution of wealth has nothing to say in the wealth creation conversation because redistribution creates nothing (it’s all in the name).

I hope I’ve convinced you. When you become president and dictator for life of this great country, don’t go all communist on us and say you’ll redistribute all the wealth. It won’t do as much as you’re hoping.

So, I’ve answered the question of what the goal is. Now, how do we go about it? I’ll talk about that next time. Until then, see ya!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.https://www.unicef.org/kenya/overview_4616.html

2.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_income_equality, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita

MOTIVATION

MOTIVATION

 

Greetings one and all! Welcome back to nerdy254 for the final installment in my series on Cal newport’s very interesting So Good They Can’t Ignore You. If you haven’t read the first two posts, you can check them out here:  And you can download your own free copy of the book from this site.

In my first and second posts on the subject, I spoke about the great lie that the key to a good life is to rush blindly after some preexisting passion, without heed to anything else. this-business-is-my-passion-baby-onesies-whiteBabies aren’t born knowing what they’ll spend their whole lives doing; passion is something you’re meant to take with you, rather than follow. Instead of living our working lives focused on fulfilling some powerful passion that we have deep inside, we should try and make ourselves marketplace diamonds by mastering skills that are rare and valuable. Then, and only then, we will be able to find jobs that are equally rare and valuable, the kinds of jobs that people dream of having.

What kinds of jobs are those?

Motivation

In his inspirational TED talk, The Puzzle of Motivation, which you can find below, author Dan Pink tries to answer the question ‘what makes people work?’

He gives two reasons. The first is a group of factors he calls extrinsic motivators, the most notable of which is money. To be extrinsic is to not be part of the essential nature of someone or something. When we say money is an extrinsic motivator for a doctor, we mean that the KSh180,000 they receive every month has nothing to do with seeing patients, writing prescriptions, performing surgeries, or any of the other duties they have; it’s just some random, valuable thing they’re being given to motivate them to go to work every day. If society valued brown caterpillars more than money, then doctors would be getting paid in brown caterpillars.

Intrinsic-Extrinsic-Motivation1.png

Intrinsic motivators are different. You can’t separate an intrinsic motivator for a certain task from the task itself. In the case of our doctor, the joy of seeing a patient kiss his wife after a long, grueling surgery in which he stared death in the face multiple times is an intrinsic motivator. You can’t separate the motivator (the joy) from the task (the surgery), and you can’t take it and give it to someone else, short of having them perform the same task. A used car salesman can earn Ksh180,000, but they can never know what it feels like to perform a life giving surgical operation.

Dan Pink and Cal Newport both give a list of what they feel to be the list of most important intrinsic motivators. I’ll leave it to you to figure out, over the course of your reading, whether they were both talking about the same thing. For now, I’ll list them use the terms from Dan Pink’s TED talk;

  1. Autonomy
    Everyone wants to have control over what they do and how they do it. Just think about how much better you seem to work without your boss looking over your shoulder and judging the quality of your output every single second by his own arbitrary standard. Chances are you wouldn’t last very long at that job. You’d probably get out the very first chance that you got, rather than stick around and struggle through the long days of feeling like you’ve been sucked into the novel 1984, with Big Brother looking over your shoulder.
  2. Mastery
    Everyone wants to be an expert at something, and to be known as such. Just think of how frustrating it is whenever you have to do a project, or assignment, or test, and the only thing you can say for sure is that you have no idea what you’re doing. Now think how satisfying the opposite usually is: when you open that test paper, and, just from skimming through it, you know you’ve aced it!
  3. Purpose

Everyone needs something to live, and die, for. We all need something that’s greater than ourselves to push us through the pain and the struggle. If the cause is important enough, we would die for it, like all those early Christians who were tortured to death because they wouldn’t deny their faith, or those war heroes who go out to fight battles they know they will not survive, just so that their children can have a better future (300, anyone?).

And then on the other end of the spectrum is the stereotypical government bureaucrat: unmotivated, cynical, living for nothing more or less than the end of the month, though, when you look at them, it seems they only want to get paid so that they can complain about the size of their paycheck. They are the kind that seem to take a sadistic pleasure in showing you some small measure of what makes their jobs so painful whenever they have to ‘serve’ you; that’s how far they are from finding any purpose greater than themselves in their work.

 

A job that has those three characteristics is a dream job, it doesn’t matter what industry the job is on. But here’s where things get dicey: jobs with the three characteristics I’ve described above are extremely rare. How many jobs do you know that don’t involve some kind of manager looking over your shoulder? And how many do you know that give you chance to become one of the most knowledgeable people in the world at something? Would you die for your job?

The world is drowning in extrinsic motivation.

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In every industry and every part of the world, when they want you to do a task that is boring, frustrating and pointless, they throw money at you. They know you will never enjoy the job for its own sake, so they give you something else to make it worth your while. It’s not that truly enjoyable jobs aren’t out there; the problem is that they are extremely rare. Rare things are expensive. A rare job can only be purchased by rare skills.

I guess that’s the lesson, then. Diamond professionals end up in diamond jobs and charcoal professionals end up in charcoal jobs. So Good They Can’t Ignore You doesn’t end where I’ve concluded this post today. Cal Newport continues, providing great insights into how, specifically, you become exactly what the title of the book tells you to be. Get the book, read it, watch the TED talk, and don’t live out the adage that says, “my people perish for lack of knowledge.”

 

 

DIAMONDS

DIAMONDS

Greetings one and all! I hope you’re doing well, wherever you are right now. This is the second part of my series on So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport’s insightful book. If you hadn’t read part one, you can check it out here.

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And, of course, you can get the book itself from here.

Last time, we saw that ‘Follow your passion’ is an absolutely rubbish piece of advice that no one should follow, and which pretty much everyone that has followed has ended up regretting. I also mentioned that the real path to success in your endeavors is through self-discipline, hard work and effort. Well, today I want to expand on that a little by looking at what that kind of life looks like.

Suppy and Demand

When someone tells you to follow your passion, they’re making a very provocative statement. To follow something, you have to be the one deciding where you’ll go, the guy at the steering wheel. You can only follow your passion in your career if you’re at the steering wheel of your career, making all the decisions.

“Of course, I am! What does this nerdy254 prick think he’s telling me?” Easy does it, cowboy. Just hear me out for a second. If you really think about it, unless you’re the president and CEO of whatever company you founded, you’re not really in control of your life and career. You’re career path will be influenced by the interaction of dozens of factors, most notably the supply and demand for professionals from your field of expertise, in the free market. In other words, the kind of work you end up doing will be determined not by your passion, but by what someone out there in the wide world will be willing to pay you to do. That’s a rule that applies for everyone, be they Cristiano Ronaldo or the neighborhood trash man.

The price of diamonds is around $1400 per carat. A carat is 200milligrams, so the cost for a gram works out to $7000, or Ksh700,000. Meanwhile, on the roadside somewhere near your house, there’s some old lady hawking charcoal at around Ksh50 for a 2kg debe, which is 28 million times cheaper. Yet charcoal and diamonds are both just carbon, and you can even argue that charcoal is far more useful. Just think about it. If you were stuck at the South Pole in the dead of winter, with a million shillings in your pocket, which would you buy: charcoal or diamonds?

Why the unbelievable price difference, then? It’s very simple: the demand for charcoal worldwide is massive, but so is the supply. The demand for diamonds might not be as large, but the supply is extremely small.

Be a Diamond

And that’s the case that Cal Newport builds in his book. The road to career happiness begins with making yourself a diamond by getting skills that are rare and valuable and which most people don’t have. It’s not because those skills will satisfy you in and of themselves, but, once you have them, you can use them to purchase the kind of career that people dream about. Without said skills, you’re, sadly, just charcoal: common, inexpensive and not really valued highly by anyone.

The case for skills over passion is so airtight it’s surprising that anyone, anywhere sees any alternative view of the world. Yes, I’m sure Cristiano Ronaldo loves playing football with all his heart, but so do a thousand kids scattered over primary schools all across Nairobi. Ronaldo gets paid $58 million dollars a year by Real Madrid, not because he loves football, but because he is so good at it he’s been named the best player in the world multiple times.

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The same argument can be used for every successful professional anywhere in the world, from Will Smith to Kendrick Lamar to Mark Zuckerburg and even, ahem, Donald Trump. Behind the millions (or billions!) there’s always some rare and valuable skill, ability, possession or expertise.

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That idea that your goal, if you’re looking for a career you will love, should be to acquire some rare and valuable skill is what he dubs the craftsman mentality. That is what he had in mind when he entitled his book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. He’s telling us to become so good at our chosen profession that they (those who might want to ‘buy’ us) can’t ignore us anymore.

The road to acquiring a rare and valuable skill passes through a small, unpopular little town called deliberate practice. Deliberate practice of the relevant skill is something that sports professionals and musicians know a lot about, but white colour workers don’t. The book itself goes into great detail about that, so I would really urge you to check it out for yourself.

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Then there’s also the sticky issue of what kind of job you should seek out once you become rare and valuable. That’s what I’ll tackle in the third and final part of this series on So Good They Can’t Ignore You.  Until then, keep reading the book, watch the video from last time and LIKE, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE if you found this worth your time.

 

FOLLOW YOUR PASSION? RUBBISH!

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” heres-the-full-text-of-steve-jobs-famous-stanford-commencement-speech.jpg

Famous, immortal words. It’s just one paragraph from Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford commencement speech, but it’s the words that everyone remembers. In that single paragraph, he captured the spirit and ideals of an entire generation — my generation — the millenials. We read those words over and over, heard them repeated by our teachers, celebrities, films, books and television (YouTube!); we tried to live them and be guided by them in school, in choosing a career, and when we finally got to the workplace. Love what you do is the Millenials’ Creed, perhaps the single most valuable gem for sale in the marketplace of ideas.

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And it’s all a lie.

Follow your passion?

In 2010, a guy by the name of Cal Newport became obsessed with an idea; why do some people end up loving what they do, while others end up hating it? That simple question led him on a quest that over the next several months saw him interview dozens of people from all walks of life, and which ultimately gave us So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a comprehensive manifesto on the mechanics of finding a job you will absolutely love! (You can download a PDF of the book here.

Finding, or rather creating, work that you love is a lot like building a house. It’s a painstaking process that takes quite a while and demands a lot from you in terms of raw materials. It’s such an involving process, in fact, that I’ll probably dedicate several blog posts to it. Like any construction process, however, step one is always to tear down whatever rickety, old, termite-eaten structure is currently sitting on the land you plan to build on. When it comes to building a career you will love, the old structure that needs to be torn down is what Steve Jobs expressed in the first paragraph: the idea that you should keep searching until you find work that you love.

It’s terrible advice, especially for teenager or college student who doesn’t really understand what life’s really about. Steve Jobs certainly never followed it. Read a bit of his biography on Wikipedia; it’s fascinating reading. Before founding Apple, Steve Jobs was a bright but troubled student, the kind that always has to let everyone know that they’re the smartest person in the room. He attended a liberal arts college for a while, dropped out because it was too expensive, but kept on attending the classes he liked, most famously calligraphy (which is why we have multiple fonts on our computers.) He moved out of his parents’ home, then moved back in, he worked in a video game company for a while, went to India on a pilgrimage, and for a period considered going to Japan to become a Buddhist monk. This isn’t someone who knows what they want out of life and is walking fearlessly down that road; it’s a guy who has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and isn’t finding satisfaction in any of the things he’s trying.

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The fact that ‘follow you passion’ might not be the best advice is something I’ve seen in my own life. I have always loved both science and art. I spent a lot of my teenage years searching for some career that would involve the perfect ratio of the two, convinced that, if I didn’t find it, my life would be miserable. Of course, since what I was searching for didn’t exist, I never found it, and that only stressed me out more.

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So, what’s the right path?

Love the Process

 

Well, as the guy in the video says, finding work you’ll love is less about finding and more about creating. You’re not so much meant to follow your passion as carry it with you on your journey. You’ll have to learn to love the journey, love the process, because that’s what the work is. But you won’t always love it:  you’ll always need self-discipline.

Or, as a wise man once said, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things… I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

The ‘how’ of finding work you will love deserves its own blog post, and don’t worry: it’ll get it. In the mean time, watch the video and read Cal Newport’s amazing book. And if this post was worth your time, don’t forget to SHARE, LIKE and SUBSCRIBE.

Till next time, au revoir!

And don’t forget…INSPIRATION FOLLOW YOUR HEART BUT TAKE YOUR BRAIN WITH YOU CARTOON.png

 

 

HOW NOT TO HOLD AN ELECTION

HOW NOT TO HOLD AN ELECTION

Greetings one and all! It’s election month in the 254, and even though the poll date was only a few days ago, we’re still swimming in an ocean of speculation and rumour, arguments and counter-arguments. All the various petitions being filed left, right and center should be enough to keep the judiciary busy for a good, long while. And doubts still persist over the system used to transmit the results of the election. Right from polling day, and even before that, doubts were being cast over the electronic transmission system, whether or not it worked, etc.

Everyone wants to know whether or not the tallied results were accurately transmitted. This whole time, I haven’t heard anyone ask what I think is a much more significant question: that of how we tally our votes.  To explain what I mean, I need to explain the electoral system used in Kenya.

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Plurality/First Past the Post

This is the voting method used in Kenya, the United Kingdom, the United States, and every other democratic country that I can think of. It’s a simple system: every voter is entitled to one vote only; voters indicate on the ballot papers their favourite candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

But first-past-the-post plurality has some serious issues. With the help of my three friends below, I’m going to let you in on one serious one.

So, Lion, Monkey and Zebra are running in the election to decide the next president of the Animal Kingdom. In the last opinion poll before election day, they received 44%, 43% and 13% respectively. Antelope is a big Zebra fan: she attended all of his rallies, bought his t-shirt, and she even gave money to the campaign. But she’s also a realist; she knows for a fact that her favorite candidate will not win the election. What’s more, her least favorite candidate, Lion, is in with a serious shout of being the next president of the Animal Kingdom! Just the thought of that gives antelope nightmares, so she enthusiastically rallies all her friends and family and urges them to vote for Monkey, even though she really would have preferred Zebra instead.

The phenomenon I’ve just described above is called strategic/insincere voting. It’s when a voter chooses a candidate other than their favorite because of some other factor. Maybe they don’t think their candidate can win, or they desperately want to block someone else from winning, as happened with Antelope. Strategic voting reduces the effectiveness of the electoral process, since the whole point of having an election is so that the public can express their opinions about who they would prefer most. Furthermore, it’s because of strategic voting that first-past-the-post electoral systems always end up with just two parties. No, that’s not a peculiarity of the United States: it’s a verifiable mathematical fact that you can check out here:

A Better Way

So, if the system we have now is rubbish (and it is!), what are the better alternatives?

The ballot papers you are used to seeing look like this765px-Plurality_ballot.svg,

but there’s no reason why they can’t look like this.

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In the second example, the candidates have been ranked in order of preference, from favorite to least favorite. It’s a simple action, and one that doesn’t necessarily require too many mental gymnastics, since you usually have some idea of your order of preference for candidates. Just doing it opens up a world of possible alternative voting systems, which you can check out here:

https://www.math.ku.edu/~jmartin/courses/math105-F11/Lectures/chapter1-part1.pdf

They mention five in the website above, but I’m just going to talk about one: the two-round runoff. Sound familiar? It should: it’s the version of the first-past-the-post system that Kenya has right now. The first-past-the-post electoral system is a horrible, inefficient, ineffective mess, but I don’t deny that it’s the one we have right now. All I’m trying to prove is that even this messy system could be improved, just by using ranked ballots.

How?

In the two-round system, voters each cast ballots for their preferred candidate in the first round. If one candidate wins a majority (more than half) in the first round, they’re the winner of the election. If, however, no single candidate wins a majority, then a second, runoff election is held, this time featuring just the top two candidates. The winner of the runoff will definitely have a majority (there are only two candidates!), and they’re the winner of the election.

It’s an expensive, time-consuming process because it involves going to the polls twice, with all the assorted paraphernalia that goes along with that. All that time and all those billions could be saved if voters ranked their preferences from first to last. The first round would happen as usual, but then, for the runoff, all you would have to do is reallocate the votes from the other candidates to the top two, based on the ranking. Going back to the photo above, if apples and pineapples were the top two, then the voter’s runoff vote would go to pineapples, because for the runoff, all the other candidates have been removed from the ballot. And just like that, you have your runoff election!

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There are many, many better ways of doing elections than the way we do them now. What’s holding back their implementation is the great Paradox of Power. Those in power are always in favor of the status quo, because they’re the ones who have benefited from it. If they hadn’t benefited from it, they wouldn’t be in power. That’s why true change will never come from them.

Ponder that fact this week. And LIKE, SHARE and SUBSCRIBE if this article was worth your time.

THE END OF THE ROAD

THE END OF THE ROAD

The World Athletics Championships have been going on for exactly one week today. You might not have noticed with all the election hullabaloo that’s been out there, but they’ve been happening. It’s been a wonderful competition for Kenya so far, with 3 glorious gold medals won so far, and the promise of many more to come. There have been unforgettable moments all round, but also one or two that have really given me cause to reflect.

They say that sport is a metaphor for life. Don’t ask me who ‘they’ is. Probably some obscure journalist writing for some newspaper that folded a hundred years ago. The point is the quote is fairly true. You can learn a lot from participating in (and watching!) sports. I’ve been watching athletics longer than any other sport, but I don’t return to it as often as I once used to. That’s why this year’s world championships are powerfully nostalgic for me, but they’ve also left me with something to meditate on. And on that note, here are some of my thoughts.

Usain Bolt: Everything that has a beginning has an ending

We’ve all seen the iconic image of the tall, powerfully built smiling black man in his unique lightning-themed pose, wearing the yellow and black of Jamaica that ten years ago only a staunch track and field worshiper could recognize, but which is now a part of our culture. Usain Bolt has changed athletics forever. I’m not the first person to say it, and I will certainly not be the last. He’s transformed it, first and foremost, through his extraordinary success: nine Olympic gold medals, eleven world championships gold medals and counting and seven world records and a hundred million dollars, all in ten years. Usain Bolt has become to athletics what Michael Jordan became to basketball. For an entire generation, athletics is Usain Bolt.

And yet, almost like some movies, just when you feel like you’re getting to the best part, it’s over. The 100m final was the last individual race of Usain Bolt’s career. We will never see him race again. Ever. It’s sad, really. It seems like just yesterday we were watching him scorch the entire field to win the 100m final (and his first global title) in the Beijing Olympics. He looked so young, so fresh, so hungry.

Now compare that with this.

It’s the same guy, but older, slower. Bolt in 2008 was a showboat so far ahead of the rest of the field that he could afford to waste precious time thumping his chest and dancing a jig. In 2017 he’s straining every muscle and squeezing everything he can out of his wearied body just so that he can win a bronze.

That’s you. Yes, you. Today you’re young and strong and healthy. You’re right at the beginning of your career, rising fast in the corporate world; everyone says you’re ‘fresh’ and ‘new’; you pound away for ten hours straight in the library or seeing clients or writing code and not even feel it. It’s only temporary, though. Sooner or later, time will catch up with you. It took ten years for Usain Bolt the runner; it might take a hundred years for Wanjohi the accountant. However long it takes, it will happen.Agespecific_

The realization that every second that passes is gone, forever, is one that should sober us up. We don’t have all that long. We can’t keep delaying decisions that we know we should make for whatever reason. We can’t keep living our lives with mixed up priorities, thinking that we can just change tomorrow. Sooner than we can imagine, we will run out of tomorrows.

So if there’s anything you need to do, do it now.

If there’s anything you need to say, say it now.

The clock is ticking. Today is the day of salvation.

THE CURSE OF THE SEQUEL

THE CURSE OF THE SEQUEL

Greetings everyone! Happy madaraka day, labour day, easter and any other holiday I might have missed out on. Yeah, I know: it’s been a really long time. What can I say? The longer you don’t do something, the more justifiable it becomes to you to not do it and the harder it is for you to start doing it again. So, what’s woken me up earlier than usual this Monday morning to write a blog post for the first time in an eternity? I’m so glad you asked.

I loved Fast 5. Like really, really loved it. I use the past tense here because I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch it again, knowing I probably won’t find it as entertaining. Times have changed. I’m not smack in the middle of doing KCSE this time. So yes, I loved it the one time I watched it largely because of how and why I watched it (to de-stress after some hard studying). I didn’t love its two sequels as much. Yes, I know Fast 5 is itself a sequel; let’s ignore than for now. Anyway, Fast 6 and 7 are probably my two most disappointing cinematic experiences of all time — an all-time that includes Scooby-Doo 2 and Christmas with the Kranks. And now they’ve made another one.

All that really got me thinking about what plagues sequels. Why do the movies in a series keep getting worse and worse, never quite recapturing the magic that made the first one so great? Here’s my answer to that question.

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Firstly, sequels have this really bad habit of negating the entire point of the previous film. This is my personal pet peeve. A lot of the time, the very existence of the sequel is enough to make the previous films pretty meaningless. Think Avengers: Age of Ultron and Iron Man 3. The whole of Iron Man 3, Tony Stark is battling a whole host of personal demons that include a funny, substance-abuse-like relationship that he has with the Iron Man suit. At the end of the movie, he defeats the external enemy — played by Guy Fawkes — then proceeds to conquer the internal one, by destroying all his suits and leaving the life of Iron Man forever.

We all knew it wasn’t really ‘forever’: Iron Man was definitely going to be part of the next Avengers film. I just didn’t expect his return to being a superhero to be so, well, chini ya maji. So far as I can remember, Age of Ultron basically acts like Iron Man 3 never happened. Which is horrible, because I honestly believe that Iron Man 3 was a much better movie than Age of Ultron.

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That’s not the only example out there. Think Jason Bourne, MI5, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Some sequels do have a fully-functional, complementary relationship with their preceding films a la The Lord of the Rings and The Avengers. Those ones expand upon and complete a story that was started in a previous film.  So why is there this huge divide? Which brings me to my second point.

NO REASON TO EXIST

Sequels tell us about the circumstances in which they were made. Actually, this is true of all films. The circumstances in which the story is being told always show up in the story itself. I can’t turn of my internal GPS: if I’m writing a first person story like Tom and the Shark Attack, unless I’m suffering from schizophrenia, at no point will I start to believe that I am Tom. That will influence the kind of decisions that I make in telling the story. For example, I’m less likely to insert a steamy kissing scene between myself and my girlfriend knowing that my mum will be reading. You follow?

If a sequel has no reason to exist within the fictional universe of the story, will show that within the story itself. That’s the difference between those sequels that exist in perfect harmony with their preceding films, and those that just can’t get along with them. The Lord of the Rings and the first three Bourne films are a set, telling a single unified story. The Hobbit trilogy and Jason Bourne were just added after the first films in the series made a ton of money. The story itself was completely irrelevant to the producers. Jerry Bruckheimer would have shown us two hours of paint drying on a wall for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean film if he’d thought that would make a billion dollars. Unfortunately he knew it wouldn’t, so he had to find someone to stitch together some semblance of story to keep us from leaving the theatre in between action sequences.

So what’s the solution here? Well, there’s always…BOYCOTT-THE-BOYCOTT.png

I can’t think of anything else. If you have any ideas, you could always, you know, leave them in the comments.

Otherwise, lovely week ahead!