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Lessons From Colin Powell

This is the cover page of My American Journey, the endearing and well-written autobiography of Colin Powell. More about it in the story of mine below.


There is this friend of mine called Ben Sang who I once teased on Facebook, "Which song did Ben sing?" He must be a talented computer programmer because he successfully pursued a degree in Computer Science at JKUAT where I failed to complete my degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering.

I visited Ben Sang during my last days at the university in 2009 in his room where I found him engrossed on something in his personal computer. After exchanging pleasantries in a spirit of brotherhood, I sat beside him to continue reading My American Journey, the endearing and well-written autobiography of Colin Powell - a black American born of immigrant parents and who rose through the military ranks to become the National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan.

As I became hooked to the autobiography, Ben Sang interrupted me to ask, "Now, how will that book help you?" Apparently, he thought programming books were the only meaningful materials to read. But I didn't get discouraged because I continued devouring the 606-page paper-back edition with the zeal of a he-goat on heat.

I could feel myself absorbing Colin Powell's clarity and fluency of thought as I read the book which led me to be the great writer that some people say I am. And I ended up learning a number of valuable lessons from it. Okay, let me tell you what I learnt from book.

First, I learnt that no one ever made it to the top without getting into trouble. That was an encouraging lesson given the way I have messed up on a number of occasions in the last ten years of my life.

Secondly, I learnt to never be buffaloed by experts; I should be ready to challenge them in their own backyard. That's a lesson I have strived to apply in my life.

Thirdly, I was touched by Colin Powell's description of great leaders in his reference to President Ronald Reagan with whom he worked on ending the Cold War that would have potentially led to a nuclear holocaust. He wrote, "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who cut through arguments, debates and doubts to offer a solution everybody can understand."

Perhaps the best lessons I gleaned from Colin Powell were his rules that he hid at the end of the autobiography. So if I had gotten discouraged by Ben Sang from reading the book, I would have missed the gems of wisdom which were pertinent to a young man like me who was contemplating his future. The rules of Colin Powell were, or rather are:
  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done!
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don't take counsel of your fears and naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.[1]
The autobiography impacted my life wonderfully which I will have to mention to Colin Powell if I ever get a chance to meet him. And to Ben Sang who tried to discourage me from reading the book and who I know is reading this story, I yell at him, "Grow up!" Or better still, "Evolve!"

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If you've enjoyed this story of mine on lessons from Colin Powell, you might also enjoy another one I wrote on "Lessons from Ronald Reagan". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.

[1] I have extracted these rules of Colin Powell from page 603 of My American Journey by Colin Powell, published in the United States by Ballantine Books in 1995.

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Battling My Weight Again

This is me in 2011 looking young and determined. I have set a goal of regaining that youthful swagger by December 12 of this year, God willing.


To tell you the truth, I have never wished to grow fat and big. I remember during one choir get-together in 2008, a friend of mine asked me to eat as much meat as I wished but I mentioned to him of my fear of growing plump.

And guess what? When I went astray at the university in JKUAT several weeks later after that get-together, I gained the excess weight I had always dreaded.

What happened was, I just stopped attending classes and started hanging around at the university without communicating home. When I was apprehended, the professor who handled me thought I was mentally ill. So he referred me to a psychiatrist who had me admitted in hospital for several weeks where I gained weight because all I did was eat and sleep.

Several people commented on how big I had grown after I was discharged from hospital. And that lowered my self-esteem. For months afterwards, I tried to lose that excess weight without success. Like I once visited the offices of a company that sold weight-loss supplements but their high cost discouraged me from buying them. I also tried fasting but I didn't enjoy going without food for several days.

Then when I matriculated at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in late 2010, I found myself feeling full of life again - a part of me I had lost in touch with after I went astray at JKUAT in 2008. With such kind of high spirits, I ended up doing a lot of walking and writing which led me to lose weight (see photo above).

But then, the circumstances that befell on me at JKUAT in 2008 happened to me again when I was at UoN in 2011. I was forcefully admitted to the university's clinic after I sent messages to my family that I would never go back home. What a wretched young man I was!

After dropping out of UoN, my weight gradually ballooned again over a period of several years. I did try losing that weight but I found myself lacking the will-power to follow through with my resolutions.

Late last year, I couldn't stomach that excess weight any more. So I got into the habit of jogging every morning. And alas! After several weeks of jogging, I lost weight to my desired levels.

Somehow in the course of this year, I lost in touch with that habit of jogging every morning. For that reason, coupled with eating a lot, my weight has again ballooned. So I am now back to square one and I badly need to lose weight.

This time round, I want to lose weight the way I did when I matriculated at the University of Nairobi in 2010. That's by writing and walking a lot as well as by limiting my food intake. I will stop waking up in the middle of the night to eat - a bad habit I picked up when I was at JKUAT hospital ten years ago.

Why have I included writing as part of my weight loss program? Because I love it. Writing an interesting story elevates my spirits which makes me enjoy my walking. I love playing with words in an effort to weave a compelling tale.

Again, let me say I am now back to battling my weight. Hopefully by December 12th of this year, I will have regained my youthful swagger, this time once and for all. Watch this space!

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