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Imitation is Limitation

Featured in this November 3, 1992 Time magazine is Bill Clinton after he was elected the 42nd President of the United States. He looked calm and composed in the face of victory, didn't he?


Bill Clinton served as the President of the United States mostly in the '90s when I was too young to understand politics. It wasn't until much later on in 2006 that I earnestly became interested in his life after I came across his pictures in old Time and Newsweek international news magazines that Dad used to buy for us at home. I admired those pictures of him in which he radiated charisma. And I particularly liked one in which he was caught on camera in a reflective mood.

Then when I matriculated at the university in JKUAT on May 2007, I read his autobiography that my first-semester Communication Skills lecturer named Prof. Paul Njoroge lent me. I read that autobiography with great interest after which I returned it to Prof. Njoroge.

Afterwards in December of that year of 2007, I bought my own copy of Bill Clinton's autobiography which I re-read twice in a span of three years. I still have that personal copy to this day which is now dog-eared and torn apart due to too much referencing.

Imagine I came to admire Bill Clinton so much that I would download his pictures from the web as well as listen to some of his speeches on Youtube. Of the few speeches of his that I listened to, the one that I loved most was his January of 1993 inaugural address which he delivered in elegantly measured cadences.

My admiration of Bill Clinton mutated into a problem when I began imitating him. I used to love plagiarizing some stories from his autobiography and then sharing them with my friends on email and on Facebook.

At one time in 2011, I extracted a quote from his autobiography which I relayed to a certain choir at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi. Guess what the quote said? That "don't blame Jesus if you go to hell".

Although I loved the quote and enjoyed challenging the choir members with it, some of them didn't take it kindly when I told them not to blame Jesus if they went to hell. They summoned me for a meeting a few Sundays later, grilled me and then instructed me to apologize for what I had said. I did apologize later on in 2012 in a speech I felt proud about.

Bill Clinton says in his autobiography that he came across that quote on a bumper sticker. And here I was foolishly relaying it to a choir of devoted Christians. Imitation is limitation.

I also tried to imitate Bill Clinton by seeking to work at Kenya's Parliament when I was at the University of Nairobi like the way Bill Clinton worked in the United States Congress when he was an undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in the 1960s.

Do you know what happened? I was denied access into the parliament buildings and when I tried to be persuasive, the gate-keepers rudely turned me away.

But the worst form of imitation of Bill Clinton that I did was when I attempted to run for my county's senatorial seat in the 2013 Kenya's General Elections like the way Bill Clinton ran for United States Congress seat early in the 1970s when he was in his 20s.

And do you know what happened? I failed to command the sort of respect, charisma and attention that Bill Clinton radiated back in the 1970s when he was my age.

Some time last year, it dawned on me that I failed to radiate charisma because unlike Bill Clinton, I hadn't hit the 10,000 hours of practice that Malcolm Gladwell, the author of Outliers: The Story of Success, says we must complete for us to succeed at whatever we are trying.

You see, Bill Clinton became interested in politics when he was a boy by following political speeches on TV like Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream. When he was in high school, he run for a post in a certain boys' organization and got elected. As a leader in that organization, he was selected to visit President John F. Kennedy in the White House.

Then when he was a first-year student at Georgetown University, Bill Clinton won the election for freshman class president. During his holidays while he was still at Georgetown, he campaigned for his favourite politicians in his home state of Arkansas during which I am sure he got to learn a lot about his state as well as its people and politics.

Because of that proven track record of interest and commitment to politics, Bill Clinton won a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England after his Georgetown years. In his application essay for the Rhodes Scholarship, he had written that he desired to study at Oxford so that he could "prepare for the life of a practising politician" and "mold an intellect that [could] stand the pressures of political life".

After a two year stint at Oxford during which he read hundreds of books, Bill Clinton flew back to the United States to pursue law at Yale University, one of the most prestigious schools in America. Afterwards in 1972, he campaigned for George McGovern - that year's U.S. Democratic Party presidential candidate.

As you can discern for yourself, Bill Clinton had already hit the 10,000 hours of practice in politics by the time he was running for United States Congress in his late '20s. And here was I - Thuita J. Maina with no political experience - foolishly imitating Bill Clinton by attempting to vie for my county's senatorial seat in the 2013 Kenya's General Elections. Little wonder that my campaign was a complete flop.

Moral of the story: imitation is limitation for shizzle. So, as Oscar Wilde put it, "be yourself; everyone else is already taken". Adieu!

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RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on imitation is limitation, you might also enjoy another one I wrote on "Cultivating Love" in which I also mentioned Bill Clinton. Just click that link in blue to jump straight into the story.

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Lessons I Learnt From Books

This is Calvin Morekwa reading somewhere in a library. I have displayed the photo here with his permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Calvin Morekwa (yes, the young man in the photo above) was a primary school class-mate of mine at Kunoni Educational Centre - a private school in my county where I was admitted and sponsored in the last four terms of my primary school years. I used to admire the way Morekwa walked. To put it humorously, I would say he walked in capital letters. So much did I admire his walking style that I would later on in high school try to imitate it.

And I also liked the way he laughed during one happy chance. For this one, I would say he laughed in italicized letters. Imagine I would later on visualize myself laughing in a similar manner.

Morekwa was such a bright fellow when we were in primary school. It was like position one of our Standard Eight class was reserved for him because no matter how the rest of us studied, he still topped the class. And he topped right from the first CAT in Standard Eight till the final national primary school exams known as KCPE.

I haven't seen Morekwa in more than a decade but I am glad we are friends on Facebook where I extracted the photo of him above. And I like the way he looks calm, clean and composed in the photo. I also like the way he is surrounded by neat-looking books because I love books.

Yes, I love books; so much that I always feel better in the presence of a book. If you are an attractive young lady in secret love with me and you wish to win me as a husband, let me tell you a secret of achieving that: just buy me books as gifts!

And because I love books, let me tell you my dear reader of some of the books I have read and the lessons I have gleaned from them:
  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey: I had always wished to read this book since I read its introductory pages earlier on in this decade at the Kenya National Library in Upperhill, Nairobi. So much that I approached several friends of mine for help in buying it but none of them came through to my aid. Luckily though, I got some money earlier on this year with which I bought the book and it didn't disappoint.

    I learnt powerful lessons for personal change in the book and among the lessons is that the way I feel should never be a function of how people behave or treat me. In addition to that, I also learnt from it to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. That reminds me of the lines in the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi which go like this:
    O Divine Master, grant that I may not much seek... to be understood as to understand ... [for it is in understanding that we are understood]...
  2. The Book of Matthew: This is one of my favourite books in the Bible in which Apostle Matthew recorded the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, my best friend from whom I draw strength, guidance and inspiration.

    I learnt from the book to value prayers but not to show it off to others by shouting loudly for people to hear. So, as per Jesus teachings, I prefer praying in the silent chambers of my heart whether I am alone in my bedroom or out there in the streets.

    Also, I learnt from the Book of Matthew not to worry about the future but instead live one day at a time. That has been a hard lesson to implement in my life but I am getting better at it with time.

  3. My American Journey: This is the autobiography of Colin Powell, a black American, born of immigrant parents, who rose through the ranks of the United States military to become the National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan.

    Of the many excellent lessons I learnt from the book, the one that I will tell you is to never be buffaloed by experts. We should always be ready to challenge them even in their own backyard.

  4. The Book of Proverbs: This is also another favourite book of mine in the Bible, especially the Good News version. It is rich with splendid sayings.

    From those sayings, I learnt to hate lies, to value hard work, to think cheerfully, to be wary of the wayward wife, to marry a woman of noble character and to choose my company of friends wisely. Perhaps most important, I learnt from the sayings to involve God in everything I do. And I usually do that every other day.

  5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey: I read this book a few years ago even though I was well past my teenage years. And I learnt from it that laughing:
    • Loosens up mental gears and helps us think more creatively
    • Helps us cope with the difficulties of life
    • Reduces stress levels
    • Relaxes us as it lowers our blood pressure
    • Connects us with others and counteracts the feeling of alienation, a major contributor in depression and suicide
    • Releases endorphins, the brain's natural pain killers [1]
    Those are magnificent benefits, aren't they? God be thanked for the gift of laughing.

  6. A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe: I read this novel as a high school set book for my KCSE exams. And I really loved it; so much that I re-read it last year.

    Although the novel is a bit steamy, it does shed light on the nature of political leadership of many African nations after they gained independence from their European masters. And if someone was to ask me who my favourite fictional character is, I would reply that it is Odili Samalu - the main character of this short novel.

  7. The Book of Psalms: This is yet another favourite book of mine in the Bible. It was authored by David, the pioneering King of Israel and my hero who I am striving to emulate.

    By reading the psalms in the book, I was able to identify with David in the way he was rebellious and oppressed. I also came to discover from the book that I share so much with David but I believe I will never be unfaithful like he was.
There you have it: that is, the list of some of the books I have read and the lessons I have gleaned from them. I hope you have learnt something from this story as well. How about you? Tell me, what have you learnt from your readings so far? Over to you!

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[1] I have extracted these benefits of laughing from page 233 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey, published in 1998 by Simon & Schuster.

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