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Some Bad Days I Once Had



In his book, The Lost World of the Kalahari, the writer Laurens van der Post recollects clearly asking his father once, "Why do [these plains and hills] always look so sad?" His father replied with unexpected feeling, "The sadness is not in the plains and hills but in ourselves."

I think the same can be said of the bad days that we all experience once in a while: that the badness is not in the days but in ourselves.

Yes, we all do experience bad days as we journey through this crazy journey called life. I mean those days when we just don't feel like getting out of bed in the morning, become irritable or deadly bored during the day or just lacking in our usual energy and zeal. You must have had such bad days, haven't you?

Don't worry, you are not alone. Even people in high places do have bad days. Like in the year 2000 when Bill Clinton was leaving the White House and his wife Hillary was beginning her campaign for New York Senator, they went looking for a house to live in New York after their days in Washington were over. Bill Clinton chose one in Chappaque, about forty miles from Manhattan. And when Hillary asked him why he loved that house in Chappaque, he replied, "Because you're about to start a hard campaign. There'll be some bad days. This beautiful room is bathed in light. You'll wake up every morning in a good humour."

Personally, I have also had my own share of bad days. Okay, let me tell you of some that I had a decade ago in 2008.

I told you the other day in this lovely blog of mine of how miserable I felt when I got rejected by MIT in March 2007, didn't I? Well, I also got rejected by Cornell, Stanford and Dartmouth, the other colleges I had applied for admission in that 2006/07 application round.

So I had no choice but to matriculate in May 2007 at a local university called JKUAT where I had been admitted to pursue a BSc. degree with a nice-ringing name of Electronics & Computer Engineering by virtue of having excelled in my 2005 KCSE exams.

But guess what? I still could not dismiss from my mind my desire to study in America, the so-called land of opportunities, where I could study alongside students of other races under a renowned faculty consisting of Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winning authors.

So when I matriculated at JKUAT on a lovely day in May of that year in 2007, I had a dream of eventually acquiring my degree in America. As a matter of fact, I had already began improving my word power in an effort to perform better on the SAT 1 Reasoning Test which is a requirement in applying to any top college in the United States.

I however didn't choose to re-apply to Cornell and Dartmouth in the 2007/08 application round. I instead chose to apply to Yale and Harvard in addition to MIT and Stanford. But unlike in the previous round when I really wanted to attend MIT, this time Harvard was my first choice.

My father didn't approve of me re-applying to those colleges. He strongly recommended that I concentrate on finishing my engineering course at JKUAT. He also thought those colleges were too competitive. Had it not been for a loan I was receiving for my JKUAT education, I wonder who would have financed the SAT exams I re-took that year in 2007.

And I managed to make a great improvement in the SAT 2 Subject Tests that I re-sat in November thanks to the Physics, Chemistry and Calculus I was learning at JKUAT. But I only improved by a small margin in my SAT 1 Reasoning Test when I re-took it a month later in December. That small improvement in SAT 1 got me worried for a few days but I soon re-bounded with hope that I could still get into Harvard if I submitted compelling stuff in other parts of the application.

When we closed for the long December holidays at JKUAT in December 2007 after my first year at JKUAT, I was sanguine that I would never return to the local university but would instead fly to America for my undergraduate studies as it had been my dream.

As a matter of fact, I didn't touch any engineering book during that long holiday that began in January 2008 till early May. I instead read books about America probably to learn more about the land of opportunity where I would acquire my degree, or so I hoped.

Of the few books I read on America during that long holiday, the one I enjoyed most was a collection of essays on the life and times of Thomas Jefferson, the admirably gifted third president of the United States. The book was titled Thomas Jefferson: The Man... His World... His Influence.

But then came the night of March 15th, 2008. My hopes were dashed when I logged into my MIT account only to find out I had been rejected again which made me feel miserable.

Somehow though, I felt strangely happy and clear-headed the following day when I turned up for church at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi. I guess that resurgence of vitality in me sprang from a hope that I could still get accepted at Stanford where several of my school-mates at Starehe Boys' Centre had been admitted in the previous years. And for the next two or so weeks as I eagerly waited to hear from the other remaining three colleges, I hang on to that hope as a drowning man clinches on a twig in mighty river.

Then the eagerly awaited Yale, Harvard & Stanford decisions finally arrived online in early April 2008. I viewed them all in one browsing session at a cyber-cafe in down-town Nairobi. And wa! I became sick with disappointment again on learning that I hadn't been accepted into any of those colleges either.

Imagine I felt so emotionally sick that afternoon after receiving the rejections that I had trouble getting out of bed the following day. And the gloominess spread into the next few days because I didn't turn up for church either as it was always my habit. To this day, I don't think I have ever experienced such a series of bad days as I did when I got rejected by Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

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Tips On How to Leave a Legacy

This is my younger brother Symo, who I shall mention in the story of mine below, back in the late '90s when he was in his pre-teen years. He now works for KPMG as an audit associate.


Fresh concrete has a way of attracting young "artists" who like to leave their mark for posterity. Like I recall back in the year 2001 when a bedroom I shared with my brothers was re-carpeted, my younger brother Symo [pictured above] scribbled his full name "Simon Noru" on the laid out cement floor when he came back from school only to discover it was still fresh.

This desire to leave a mark for posterity seems to be present in most people because other folks do it in other ways. Some scribble their names on walls of public buildings in schools, hospitals and other institutions. Like if you visit a public toilet here in Kenya, you might see a writing on a urinal reading "Kamau was here". I am sure that must also be the case in America and other developed parts of the world.

Then there are those in power, especially here in Africa, who love naming prominent places and streets after themselves. They also love having plaques bearing their names erected in their honour. Like if you visit the Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi here in Kenya, you will find one that reads:
"THIS PLAQUE COMMEMORATES THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF NYAYO NATIONAL STADIUM BY H.E. HON. DANIEL T. ARAP MOI, C.G.H., M.P., PRESIDENT AND COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA ON THE 22ND DECEMBER 1983."
And coming to think of it, if young kids like my younger brother Symo can scribble their names on fresh concrete when they are too young to understand life in detail, then this desire to leave a mark for posterity seems to be wired in every human by God. Or how else can you explain that everyone from children to presidents do it all the time?

Yes, we all wish to be remembered after we die. That's what drives young kids, like Symo did, to scribble their names on fresh concrete while they are in their pre-teen years. And that's also what drives presidents, like Daniel T. Arap Moi did, to have plaques erected in their honour.

So because everyone wishes to be remembered after they die, I thought today of a few ways in which each of us can leave a legacy. Let me share them with you, my dear reader, because I am sure as death that you too would wish to leave a mark for posterity.

The first way I will suggest is by capitalizing on your wealth if you are a rich person. Like you can start a scholarship fund and name it after yourself like Cecil Rhodes who started the coveted Rhodes Scholarship that is awarded every year to students across the world to study a Masters' degree at Oxford University. Or you can offer to help a school fund-raising money to construct a library and recommend the library be named in your honour.

Once you become rich, I think leaving such kind of legacy by capitalizing on your wealth is one of the easiest ways to leave a mark for posterity because money talks. But since not many of us have the ability to become rich, the other way of leaving a mark for posterity I can suggest for those of us who aren't rich is to capitalize on our talents.

I believe we all have talents. And talents come in a variety of packages. Like you may have a knack for reading, writing, or speaking. You may have a gift for being creative, being a fast learner, or being accepting of others. You may have organizational, music or leadership skills. You may be excellent at chess, drama, butterfly collecting or just being nice.

My suggestion to you is to identify your talent, develop it in all the ways you can and who knows, you could end up leaving a rich legacy like some of the people I will give as an example below.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, an Austrian who lived in the 1700s, became interested in music at a young age. He developed that interest into a talent and went on to compose some of the greatest classical music that is still listened today by millions across the world.

Some time last year while leafing through Tony Buzan's Age-proof Your Brain, I came across the following interesting facts on the effect of listening to the music of Mozart:
The Mozart Effect

Back in the 1990s, American psychologist Frances Rauscher made the extra-ordinary discovery that listening to Mozart's music improved people's spatial skills and mathematical reasoning. The effect was so marked it could even be demonstrated in laboratory rats negotiating mazes. Soon, Rauscher discovered that a Mozart piano sonata actually activated genes involved in nerve signalling in her lab rats.

In another study, young children given music lessons improved their IQ scores markedly over contemporaries given drama or computer lessons. The same could be true for adults. [1]
You see, Mozart left a mark for posterity by capitalizing on his talent in music. And you can see how rich a legacy he left given the enriching nature of listening to Mozart's music as the multi-million copy best-selling author Tony Buzan reports in his best-seller.

St. Paul left his mark for posterity through his writing skills by penning the epistles in the Bible that have guided millions of Christians on how to live godly. Personally, I love and adore those epistles of Paul.

Thomas Edison, who had little formal schooling, left his mark for posterity by following his passion for tinkering with things. That passion led him to invent many things such as the light bulb and the movie camera. If you didn't know, Thomas Edison is still recognized as America's greatest inventor.

Mother Teresa, who's now a saint, left her mark for posterity by capitalizing on her talent at just being nice and went on to become famous for helping the poor in Calcutta, India. She once counselled: "Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be a living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."

There you have them, my dear reader: that is, my few tips on how you too can leave a mark for posterity. So live, laugh, love, learn and leave a legacy!

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[1] I have extracted these facts on the Mozart effect from page 33 of Age-proof Your Brain by Tony Buzan, published in 2007 by HarperThorsons.

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