Lessons From Ben Carson
Back in 2005 when I was in my final year in high school at Starehe Boys' Centre, I was having a group conversation with my classmates when my friend John Njiru mentioned Ben Carson in our talk. I can't recall what Njiru said of Ben Carson but there was something in that name that made it stick in my memory.
So much did the name stick in my memory that later on during a school function when a girl asked me which book I was carrying in my hands, I lied to her that it was a Ben Carson's book. To which she disagreed, "No, Ben Carson's books aren't that size!"
The girl must have been right because I didn't know who Ben Carson was back then in 2005. I had just heard his name from my friend John Njiru, you know.
It wasn't until more than a dozen months later that I got to learn more about Ben Carson when I purchased his inspiring best-seller, Think BIg: Unleashing Your Potential For Excellence, from a book-stand at All Saints' Cathedral in Nairobi. Now that I know something about Ben Carson, let me tell you his story and the lessons it holds for us.
Ben Carson is a retired paediatrician who became an overnight success in 1987 after leading a 70-member team in separating Siamese twins conjoined in the head. He is currently serving in the Donald Trump administration as the Secretary of Housing & Urban Development.
But Ben Carson rise to fame and fortune wasn't a walk in the park. His parents separated when he was eight after which he moved in with his mother who sometimes had to work on more than two poorly paying jobs to sustain her family of two sons.
Perhaps as a result of that separation, Ben Carson started out poorly in school. He also had a terrible temper in his teenage years which made him almost commit murder on one occasion a friend angered him. Ben Carson lunged a pen-knife at his friend but luckily, it hit him on the buckle of his belt, so no bodily harm was done.
Ben Carson life changed for the better when he was in 5th Grade after he, under instructions from his mother, reduced the time he spent watching television and instead started reading books borrowed from a local library. That effort paid off handsomely because he bubbled from the bottom to the top of his class in academic rankings, a big boost to his self-esteem.
But when Ben Carson got into high school, his academic performance went on a tailspin as he tried to keep up with peer pressure. He managed to recover from that backsliding in time to earn acceptance letters from Yale and Harvard colleges. He chose to matriculate at Yale.
Then at Yale, he found himself struggling in academics as he endeavoured to keep up with Yale's demanding curriculum and its bright students, some of whom were in the genius category. Thanks to God, he survived and then thrived at Yale as a result of which he was accepted at the University of Michigan Medical School where he earned the papers that set him on his way to becoming a world-renowned paediatrician.
I just like the way President George W. Bush summarized the life of Ben Carson when he was awarding him the Medal of Freedom in 2008 (see photo above). President Bush said:
The story of our first recipient begins in a poor neighbourhood in the heart of Detroit. This was an environment where many young people lost themselves to poverty and crime and violence. For a time, young Ben Carson was headed down that same path. Yet through his reliance on faith and family, he turned his life into a sharply different direction. Today Dr. Carson is one of the world's leading neurosurgeons. He is renowned for his successful efforts to separate conjoined twins and his expertise in controlling brain seizures. He has worked to be a motivating influence on young people. He and his wife Candy have started an organization that offers college scholarships to students across America. The child of Detroit who once saw a grim future became a scholar, a healer, and a leader.And how did Ben Carson overcome a humble background and rise to a position of fame and fortune? He says he thought big. And he has come up with the following acrostic of what it means to think big:
T - Talents/time: Recognize them as giftsThere you have it! The story of Ben Carson, that is, and the lessons it holds for us. As for me, it has inspired me to be grateful for the gift of life and to continue honing my talents. It has also inspired me that should I ever get lucky to have children, I will identify their interests and encourage them at an early age. How about you? What have you learnt from the story of Ben Carson?
H - Hope for good things and be honest
I - Insight from people and good books
N - Be nice to all people
K - Knowledge: Recognize it as the key to living
B - Books: Read them actively
I - In-depth learning skills: Develop them
G - God: Never get too big for Him
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Slaying the Dragon of Guilt
Suppose you felt some discomfort somewhere inside your stomach, then you visit a doctor to find out what's wrong when the discomfort persists for two weeks. And then after the doctor examines you, the HR manager of the hospital drops on you this bombshell - you have only about six months to live because your pancreas has a cancerous growth that is too advanced to be cured and contained.
Now tell me, what would you do next after receiving that bombshell? Me, I would start writing a booklet titled My Last Lecture in which I would pour out my advice to youngsters still in high school on what constitutes a good life other than having a job and a family. And that's developing a life-long passion for learning and building a network of supportive friends.
As part of my last lecture booklet, I would make it known to youngsters that guilt is one of the negative emotions they will have to grapple with in their adult life, wapende wasipende.
For me, I first had my terrible encounters with guilt roughly nine years ago as a 21-year old young man when I was at the university in JKUAT. It was a natural consequence of the way I had messed up in 2008 after I went astray at the university.
I can still vividly recall one of those first encounters with guilt back in 2009. I had just dropped out JKUAT where my family had prevailed on me to report back and repeat the second year I had failed to finish the previous year after I went astray at the university. A friend of mine at the university named 'Sir' Emmanuel Karanja must have discerned something was amiss with me because he remarked of how sedated I looked after we met at the university that evening.
Then later on in late 2010, I was struck by a similar guilt complex after I went for choir practice at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi on a Saturday. Imagine I felt so guilty that Saturday evening that I couldn't withstand being seen on the streets of Nairobi on my way back home. It was like I was running away from people who weren't chasing me.
Since then, I have felt recurring emotions of guilt but most of which have not been as severe as the two guilt complexes I've told you I felt that evening I met with 'Sir' Emmanuel Karanja and the Saturday evening I couldn't withstand being seen on the streets of Nairobi.
To tell you the truth, I've never done anything sinister to warrant the dozens of times I have felt guilty over the last seven years. Maybe they have been God's way of punishing me for the pain I caused to my family pain after I ignominiously dropped out of JKUAT in 2008 and again when I did the same when I was at the University of Nairobi in 2011.
Yes, those are the only two satanic sins I have committed in my life so far. Otherwise I have never oppressed anyone or conned someone of his money.
Over the past four months since the new year began, I have been at peace with myself most of the times. But something happened in the past two weeks that revealed the dragon of guilt is yet to die in me completely. I did feel a little guilty several times last week - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified guilt which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
I once read in a local daily of one columnist named Chris Hart advising us that we acknowledge and embrace our weaknesses. That sounds like a great weapon of slaying the dragon of guilt that has been alive in me since 2009. So let me now make my main weakness known to the whole world.
And that's my tendency to oversleep whenever I have nothing to look forward to the following day. I tell you, I can get terribly lazy by sleeping from 7.00pm at night to 1.00pm the following day like I did yesterday. That's my main weakness and I am relieved that the whole world now knows about it.
As I've said, I usually oversleep whenever I have nothing to look forward to. I am thinking the best way to remedy that weakness is by posting a story everyday in this lovely blog of mine which has brought meaning and purpose to my life. So as from now henceforth, God-willing, I will be posting a story in this blog for you to read in all days apart from weekends and national holidays.
By the way, I am always delighted and very delighted indeed to see from my blog statistics that people all over the world do take time to read the stories I post here. People from as far as Australia to Canada, from Peru to Japan, from South Africa to Denmark, and from Great Britain to India.
Thank you, my dear reader (yes, you!), for being among those who delight me. Without people like you, I would be having nothing to look forward to on most days. Again thank you. For that, please rush to the nearest restaurant from where you are and order any meal you like. And when they ask you to pay, tell them I sent you!
2ND EDITION: I edited my autobiography - accessible by clicking the "About" link in the menu at the top and at the bottom of this blog. Click it to read an updated account of my life.
 wapende wasipende is a popular phrase here in Kenya which means "whether they like it or not".