When I was a kid, Nigerian folks would ask me “Chibuzor, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a question we’re all asked at some point in our lives.
Left to my own devices, I imagined myself doing all sorts of things.
I aspired to be an astronaut, race car driver, ninja, superhero.
Things an 11 or 12 year old kid could envision.
Being raised by two no-nonsense Nigerians, though, I always had a scripted answer to the old “whaddaya wanna be” query.
The response rolled off my tongue so genuinely and effortlessly, that it always elicited knowing nods of approval.
“That Chibuzor is such a good boy!”
I mean, what else would the son of a PhD and holder of two Masters’ degrees be, but an engineer?
My siblings and I each had our own pat response: “A doctor.” “An engineer.” “A banker.” “A scientist.”
Noble professions that would make any Nigerian parent proud.
And it’s not like we were talking shit.
Our parents went hard with the brainwashing.
If we hadn’t fully projected our future selves in our developing adolescent brains, it was up to Uneze and Nnenna to implant the seeds of our inevitable success themselves.
The fruits of their insidious psychological labor?
My sister went to Harvard and became a doctor. My brother went to Harvard and became a banker. My other brother went to Notre Dame and got his PhD in Economics. And the youngest brother recently graduated from Yale, is probably going to Harvard for his MBA, and will likely be another banker.
But that was them.
There was no Harvard for the kid.
I didn’t need no stinkin’ Ivy League degree to be successful.
If my future were based on things I liked to do at the time, I’d have been a professional masturbator, comic book collector or kung fu movie sound effects creator.
When I was growing up, it was enough just to have a response.
There was no follow-up. No “What kind of engineer?” “Where do you want to get your degree?” “Do you know who you want to work for?”
Nowadays, there’s so much pressure for kids to figure out exactly what they want to do with their lives.
This pressure starts early, with parents projecting upon children their unfulfilled dreams and desires.
“Ya gotta do better than your old man!”
Then society takes over, telling them they’ve got to go to school, get a degree and find a good job or profession.
“You’ll never get a good job if you don’t have a degree!”
Throughout life, there’s the mad dash up the corporate ladder, everyone vying for the elusive brass ring.
“If you ever want to make partner, you’ve got to put in overtime!”
So where did this leave me?
I never really bought into my father’s desire for me to become an engineer.
I didn’t even know what an engineer was, what an engineer did or who engineers worked for.
Weren’t engineers the guys who wore overalls and drove trains?
Who wants to drive a friggin’ train?
Although I did own
several a pair of overalls…
Aside from pleasing my dad and relatives, I was just regurgitating party propaganda.
But true to form though, when I graduated high school and got to college, what was my major?
No one tells me what to do!
For two years, I took the required math and science classes and towed the engineer party line.
But my heart was never in it.
And two years later I transferred college, changed majors and graduated with a degree in economics – agricultural economics to be exact.
What the fuck is agricultural economics, you ask?
Agri-ecom (as I like to call it) deals with the production, consumption, environmental and resource problems of the agricultural sector.
What does one do with a degree in agricultural economics?
Go to law school of course!
Now did I want to be a lawyer?
Hell fucking no!
But what else was I going to do with an agri-ecom degree?
And when you tell a Nigerian you’re going to law school, they’re impressed.
Graduated. Passed the bar. Practiced law for a bunch of years.
You know what I learned?
I hated practicing law.
Was good at it. But hated it with a passion.
I’m not going to go into it in any great depth.
Suffice it to say that most laws are written to keep the ignorant masses in their place. As long as you have enough money and influence, laws are almost irrelevant. And when you hear about avarice, corruption and graft in the halls of justice, believe it.
I shall now step off my soap box and continue.
After trying my hand at things I did just to be doing shit, I decided to just do me.
What, pray tell, does that mean?
It means that I accepted that my greatest gift, my raison d’etre, was to guide other people.
Help folks get out of their own way and realize their untapped potential.
I’m great at
telling other people what to do giving advice.
I have an analytical mind, think well on my feet and can quickly assess any situation from multiple angles.
Combined with an awesome bedside manner, charm, wit and an wicked sense of humor, I make an excellent consigliere.
Don’t be mistaken, I am not a “yes” man.
Far from it.
I’m the guy that’ll tell you the truth, not what you want to hear.
Over the years, I’ve helped many a budding entrepreneur realize his or her dreams.
I’ve also disabused quite a few of their pipe dreams.
Why am I blathering on like this?
Simple, if you’re struggling to figure out what you should be doing with yourself – your life, seek counsel.
Don’t ask your mom or dad, unless they’re titans of industry – and even then take their advice with a grain of salt.
Hellooooo? They’re the ones that got you into this mess in the first place!
Seek out folks in the industries that interest you, who are doing things you find intriguing, or have achieved some level of success that you could see yourself emulating.
If you can’t find someone like that or gain audience with them, get a career coach.
Someone professional and detached, who can assess you, your skills and aspirations objectively.
I went to one, several years ago, and it really helped to focus me on my mission – to conquer the world MWAHAHAHA!
I’m sorry, did I say that out loud?
My point is, don’t paint yourself into a corner trying to live up to other people’s expectations of you.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
Rather, focus on things that you enjoy and find challenging.
And if you don’t know what that is yet, that’s oaky, you’ve got a lifetime to figure it out.
If you get stuck, ask me.
I did tell you that I was an Emissary right?
Above all else, do you.
19 responses to “Let me give you some advice. Do you. No, seriously. Do you.”
I really liked this post (more than any I have read recently). I love the idea of “just do you”, not trying to be what others expect. How refreshing! Have you ever considered marketing this as a pep talk for high school students or preteens? I think it is great message, especially as you mentioned how you responded to parental pressures from an early age. We all figure out ways to respond to parents’ expectations and then we have to try to fit in with what our peers want us to be — so frustrating! I think it is great that you have shared this empowering idea and hope that you continue to do so. And, on a side note, once you conquer the world, would you be willing to set aside the land from the Louisiana Purchase, as well as Idaho and Texas, for me? I have some plans of my own. 🙂 — G
Georgeann, thanks for the praise! I’m a mentor to high school students, through iMentor, but I haven’t spoken to students en masse – yet. I think that’s an idea worth exploring thanks. And I will definitely carve out a small fiefdom for you to lord over.
Reblogged this on The Daily Advocate By Painspeaks.
I`m almost in love with your posts, I read couple. love somebody talking to me like that esp now when I need slaps on both my cheeks to get together.
SDanwell, I think my posts are in love with you too. But don’t tell anyone – they may get jealous! Glad you’re enjoying my ramblings! Thanks for reading. SC
I just really like your blog mate (Nic Brisbane, Australia)
PolarBear, I am humbled! And thanks for the reblog!
Reblogged this on polarbear87's Blog and commented:
Hm, I like what you’re saying. I do. I’d love to believe it, but it’s not practical, and “knowing thyself” doesn’t equate to “know what the hell to do with thyself professionally.”
I’ve always been really interested in both arts and sciences. Always liked studying foreign languages, music, physics, boats, birds, whatever. I’m a curious person, I guess. I figure the most knowledge in my brain, the more likely I’ll be able to draw out something useful if I’m ever in a tricky situation.
Anyway, I know this about myself. I know myself pretty well, I think, but it doesn’t help. I can envision myself as a docent in a museum (done it, as a volunteer), but also as an electronics technician (done it).
There are practical constraints to just trying one thing, then if it doesn’t work, going to do something else. The big one is education. If I get my degree in Art History, then hate working in a museum (or more likely, on my Ph.D.), then it isn’t like I’m going to even get an engineering internship without another several years of schooling. That brings me to the second constraint. Money. Those years of schooling cost money. Maybe not a huge concern for young, single people, but when you’re married already, it’s kind of ridiculous going to your spouse, like, “Hey, I know I already missed three years of work while in college, but I totally went the wrong way. Now I want to spend X more dollars on Y more years of school, and we’re just going to assume that I don’t repeat my mistake.”
I am glad you have enjoyed switching careers. My experience is limited to a just over five year military career, and a switch to college. I’m not enjoying the switch, which does not make me feel very open to future career changes.
Sorry, I know this is long. I’m just trying to say, “Do you” isn’t as helpful as a lot of people think when they say it to people like me. It’s probably better than, “Do what your mom says!” but still…
Kate, no worries on the length of your comment. I’m happy you even read it and were compelled to respond. First, this blog post is for you. Clearly, you’ve pondered what it is that you want, but the answer to that question hasn’t quite materialized. Knowing yourself is only part of the equation. If you know you’re wishy-washy, then you know that it’s going to take a bit more work to lock down something that will satisfy you for the long term, and not merely for the moment. The point of my post wasn’t merely “do you,” it was “if you can’t figure out what to do, seek the counsel of others.”
My intention was not to be blithe and offer a Nike slogan solution to all that ails you (the proverbial you – not you Kate). My true goal was to help those who feel like they have no direction to realize that they are not alone, and that folks, like me, have struggled similarly. More importantly, any serious life change – any about-face as it were, is going to be disruptive. Once again, that’s why sometimes it’s really important that you have an objective third party help you figure out what to do.
From the brief information you’ve shared with me, it’s apparent that your experience has been somewhat uncomfortable, as you are finding your way as a result of this switch. I get it. If you’re getting an Art History degree, there are more jobs than simply working in a museum. You can become an art curator, work in a gallery, get your Masters and teach. But now that you’re here, check out career services, find a mentor in one of your professors. Attend the career fairs. Explore your options and keep an open mind.
Please feel free to stay in touch and let me know how it goes.
Thanks for your reply. First off, I’ll just say in my defense, I don’t think it’s wishy-washy to want to do it all. I want to be a Renaissance [woman]. I think a lot of us would be better off if we had broader knowledge and skill sets. I am coming to realize that choosing one thing for a career doesn’t mean giving up the other thing though, keeping the latter as a hobby (my Japanese linguistics professor, for example, studies physics for fun).
Anyway, that doesn’t matter. I totally appreciate your post and your reply, especially once I reflected a little more on it. Initially I admit I was thinking that objective third party advice is the type of advice that says, “Oh, do this because you’ll get paid most, won’t have to spend X years in school, and… whatever,” but I realized that objective third party advice is also capable of pointing out my aptitudes and possibly even passions. I wasn’t being fair to the OTP’s.
So yeah, thanks. I probably will seek out some objective opinions after this semester is over. I will let you know, too. I love your blog. Cheers.
You are welcome. And to be clear, I wasn’t suggesting that your’s was a ‘wishy washy’ desire. I was truly using it to address the far end of indecision. I feel that you do know what you’re passionate about and/or interested in. And I’m pleased that after reflection, you were able to take something positive away from my musings on the topic.
I know that folks will not always agree with everything I say, but if I’m able to positively impact one person, it’s well worth the effort.
And thank you for the praise. I get inspired every time you guys comment, like, share or reblog, so it’s truly appreciated.
Nice insights Derek, as usual!
Definitely a big fan of this, and not just for the shout out.
I’ll take it however it comes.
Sometimes the hardest thing is to know. Great post Stephen.
I put my stamp of approval on this message! It is a topic I could go on & on & on about..Simply said..Find your passion..Follow it..Live it..anyways 2 thumbs UP on your write 🙂
Danke! As I am fond of saying “To thine own self, be true.”