Lessons From My Heroes
A True Story
on Jun 29, 2021
When I was applying to Harvard College in 2007, I wrote in an essay that my heroes were Bill Clinton, Ben Carson and Barack Obama. "These three great Americans," so I said in the essay, "are exponents of my philosophies. They have overcome great difficulties on their way to the top of their careers... and I do draw a lot of inspiration from them."
I still draw a lot of inspiration from those three great Americans. And having read their books over the past ten years, I have noted they all grew without a father figure. Bill Clinton's father died in a car accident before Bill was born while Ben Carson's and Barack Obama's parents divorced when Ben and Barack were young boys. Despite growing up without their biological fathers, they managed to achieve astounding success at a relatively young age.
Bill Clinton was elected as the governor of the U.S. state of Arkansas at the tender age of 31. He was eventually elected as the 42nd U.S. President in 1992. Ben Carson became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins Medical Institution at the age of 33. And Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state legislature at the age of 35 and eventually elected to the U.S. presidency in 2008.
Yes, I have read quite a number of books by Bill Clinton, Ben Carson and Barack Obama. So I now know much about them. And on analyzing their lives, I have been able to distill the following traits that made them eminently successful at a young age despite having grown up without a father figure:
- Faith in God: All those three heroes of mine have always had a deep faith in God. When Bill Clinton was asked in 1992 what he would do first if he was elected president, he replied that he would thank God. Ben Carson advised young people never to get too big for God. And Barack Obama said in one of his famous speeches that he believed in things not seen.
- A passion for reading: All those three heroes of mine have always been avid readers ever since they were young. Bill Clinton read hundreds of books while he was at Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship. And Ben Carson mentions in one of his books that it is reading that lifted him from the bottom of his class to become one of the most distinguished neurosurgeons in America.
- Valuing hard work: All those three heroes of mine worked hard in their chosen careers. Bill Clinton described himself in his autobiography as a hard-working politician. And Ben Carson said in one of his books that hard-work had always been a part of him. Same can be said of Barack Obama.
- Practising the virtue of hope: All those three heroes of mine have always been hopeful, optimistic individuals which is what contributed to their success. Bill Clinton pointed out in his autobiography that hope has always been the fibre of his being which has stayed with him in moments when he has lost all his power of analysis and articulation. Barack Obama was elected U.S. President by inspiring his fellow citizens to believe in hope.
- Marrying right: All those three heroes of mine married right. Bill Clinton married his law school sweetheart, Hillary, who supported his political ambitions and who forgave him for his well-known infidelities. The wives of Ben Carson and Barack Obama have also been instrumental in the success Ben and Barack attained in their careers.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on lessons from my heroes, you might also enjoy another one I wrote three years ago on "Lessons From Ben Carson". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Bright & Brilliant
A True Story
on Jun 24, 2021
A prestigious institution in Nairobi called Starehe Boys' Centre prides itself on educating bright but needy boys in Kenya. Well, I was in Starehe for close to six years for my high school as well as college education but I don't think I was one of those bright boys. Given the way I was often accused of being mentally mixed up during my days at Starehe, a better description of me was "confused, timid but determined needy boy".
Yes, I was often accused of being confused during my days at Starehe. Those accusations took a heavy toll on my confidence and self-esteem. They also affected my social skills as I could hardly make eye-contact with the people I interacted with. And due to my poor social skills, I was unable to forge meaningful relationships with the girls I admired.
I tend to think I became timid and confused as a result of the way I was brought up. Growing up in the '90s, I was often criticized for the way I did menial tasks at home and for not excelling in school the way some of my brothers did. My family may not have known that by subjecting me to constant criticism, they planted in me seeds of confusion and timidity that I struggled with well into adulthood.
During my university days at JKUAT where I matriculated to pursue a degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, some of my classmates accused me of being confused just like schoolmates at Starehe used to do. Like during one lesson in 2007 while we were having a practical laboratory session, an engineering classmate named Leonard Waithaka bluntly asked me, "Why are you confused? Are you a [Form 1 student]?"
Then when I was on university holiday in 2008, a farmhand employed here at home pointed out to me that he had observed I had difficulty remembering where I kept things. Imagine the farmhand had never been to high school and here he was correcting me who was pursuing an engineering course at the university, a further proof that I was indeed timid and confused.
My timidity and confusion must have played part in the way I ignominiously went astray at JKUAT in August 2008 by hanging around the university without attending classes and communicating home. If I had been bright and brilliant, I wouldn't have behaved that way. Don't you think so too?
Because I wasn't bright and brilliant, I eventually dropped out of JKUAT in 2009 and went back home. I find it interesting to note that in the years 2009 and 2010 as I stayed here at home fetching firewood, cooking meals in a sooty kitchen and milking cows in a muddy cowshed, some of my Starehe schoolmates were receiving quality education at Ivy League universities in America.
It was also due to my lack of brilliance that I dropped out of the University of Nairobi in 2011. If I had been bright and brilliant, I wouldn't have enrolled at the university without considering where I would get tuition fees. I also wouldn't have sent my family text messages that I wouldn't go back home when I was unable to raise tuition fees for my second semester at the university.
After I dropped out of the University of Nairobi in 2011, I repeatedly made choices that now make me believe I wasn't that bright and brilliant. Choices such as keeping company with the good-for-nothings that the book of Proverbs warns us not to associate with and setting very high goals which would depress me when I failed to attain them.
Over the past five years, I have worked hard at improving myself socially, emotionally and intellectually. As a result of that effort, I can honestly say I have grown into a bright and brilliant person. I have become better at making good decisions, at discerning people's motives and at choosing wisely the people I associate with. And I can now think, write and express myself like any Ivy League graduate.
Although I have become a better person, I do sometimes wallow in guilt instead of delighting in the fact that I am bright and brilliant. That makes me agree with the author Marianne Williamson when she observed:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?" Actually who are you not to be?My dear reader, to sell yourself to yourself - that is, to convince yourself that you are bright and brilliant - can be more difficult than selling yourself to others. Which is why I have resolved to be regularly pumping myself up with positive affirmations of how bright and brilliant I am. Hopefully by so doing, I will develop the confidence and the good self-esteem that I have always desired to possess.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on being bright and brilliant, you might also enjoy another one I wrote four years ago on "Celebrating JKUAT: Kenya's MIT". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.