We had just finished our final exams in the university and everyone was excited to have ‘finally’ completed those long years. I and a group of friends hurdled together at the entrance to our architecture studio ‘gisting’ and having fun, when one of us, Tolu asks the question, “So what next? What do you guys see yourselves doing after now?” In that brief moment of excitement, happiness and relief, I was set back by this ‘serious’ question and somehow I think the mutual feeling pervaded to the others. Interestingly, the discussion took a more serious tone with Tolu’s question; and everyone, one after the other, told of their dreams. When it got to my turn, I was silent. I had no dream.
Finally, in a half-joking, half-serious manner, I answered, I want to be a pro-golfer and the other guys just burst out laughing. “You are never serious”, they said. But somewhere inside me I knew I could not stand to tell them I did not know what I wanted to be. Casting my mind back to secondary school days, I remember I did not have a clue back then too. In SS1 someone asked me if I wanted to take GSCE in SS2 and answering him honestly, I told him I did not know what GSCE was, likewise I had not heard about JAMB, despite the fact that some of our mates had already taken the exam once even then. I remember a friend of mine in SS3, Isijola, who would always worry about me because he never seemed to see me studying. If I was not playing, I would be sleeping. Isijola would say, “I am sorry for you, the rate at which you are going, you will waste your life away”. I have not met Isijola since then but I will be glad to tell him, so far so good, I have not wasted away like he thought. I remember our ‘Slum books’ in those days; Slum book referring to a book we kept in our final year of secondary school where you recorded the names and contacts of your classmates so you will still be able to get in touch with them after school. It usually had a slot for name, address and then it goes on to add other things like nickname, girlfriend, best car etc (the options were limited to how creative the designer was). One of the columns in Slum books in those days was ‘Future profession’ and I remember clearly that in SS3, I had wanted to be a doctor. I look back now, and I simply know I would never have become a doctor.
After graduating from the university, NYSC took off the stress of having to think about the future because it was pre-planned and even when everyone was running around to ‘fix’ posting, I really didn’t care much about where I’d be posted. All I wanted was one year of freedom in which I hoped, I will get inspiration on the direction of purpose. That one year passed like a blink, albeit very eventful for me and after our passing out parade, I remember my wonderful cousin asking me, “So what do you want to do now?”, “I don’t know”. I answered and I was honest. I had trained as an architect but I did not want to draw or work in a firm, I served as a banker but I did not want to be a banker. He then asked me a question I have held on to since those years and seemed to be my anchor in this clueless life. He asked me, “What don’t you want to become?” He believed if you could eliminate what you did not want to become, you are closer to purpose than you know. I have held on to that ever since.
It is interesting how, when we attended job interviews after university, we had our classic response to the often inevitable job-interview question, “So where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” and we will reel out our well crafted response being careful not to say more than we have been asked. Yet even during these periods, standing face to face with an interviewer in one of the most reputable firms in Lagos, I knew all I was telling him was hollow and I could tell he was impressed but I wasn’t because it would have felt better, if I had told him the truth. But what is the truth? I wish I knew.
Over my years of cluelessness and living my life by trial by error, these are my observations of myself and of the world around me. It is that a lot of people, ‘think’ they know what they want to become, based on the information available to them at the present, and when the future turns up with more opportunities, they realize how different their ‘present’ goals are from the goals they earlier had and they re-adjust it again till the next season. Much like me, wanting to become a policeman when I was a child because I wanted to shoot thieves: now that I know better, it sounds funny and childish. Does this mean we should stop setting goals? Does this mean we should not have aspirations? I dare not say that because I have aspirations myself but how fundamental are your aspirations, how unchanging over time will it be?
Notwithstanding the perceived cluelessness I observe about our existence, in fairness to some, there are a few people who are almost pre-ordained for what they do and they can tell you they know what they want to become and usually don’t stray. That for me is enviable – even though I strongly believe they will have gone through their clueless stages too no matter how short that period of time in their lives is. For the rest of us however, my observation is that we are two kinds of people. The first set, who grope around in the darkness of life saying their dreams out loud, much more for the purpose of convincing themselves than convincing others because in truth they have no clue. And the other set who simply cannot acknowledge their cluelessness and just do what others are doing, hoping that they ought to be right because the others can’t be wrong.
That said, I stand the risk of being lacerated but I will say this anyway. I believe even if we don’t know what we want to become, we know what we love to become. Most times however, what we love to become does not conform to what is termed a ‘profession’ or what is considered ‘normal’, and the truth is we either cannot admit this to ourselves or accept it for many reasons; chief of which is money and survival – two important factors as primal as primal can be. As I write out my thoughts on this, I offer no panaceas. My only desire is to lay the arguments bare and give the reins to you. However, I do not advocate for ditching your survival in favour of what you love to become even though I am a strong advocate of finding fulfilment in this world.
I know for a lot of people out there you can feel my pain and for others, you just don’t understand my point. For those who don’t understand my point, I am happy for you because you are either fulfilled or ignorant, or my writing is simply poorly constructed. For those who feel my pain, it is relieving to know I am not alone in this quagmire. That said, I count my blessings as I conclude.
What I am most grateful for in all of this, is that even in all of this cluelessness, I have had no regrets and my spirit has not been dampened in my continuous search of purpose. Something I thank God for the most is the grace He has given me to be content with what I have and be sincere to myself even when my actions seem stupid to the world around me. My guiding rule has been this, “if it does not feel right, let it go; if it does, do it”. I am happy that I have never followed the crowd against my conviction and I am grateful for God’s strength that holds me up when everybody around me seems to know where they are going except me. I remember a day not so long ago during one of my solitary meditations when I asked myself, “So what do you want to become?” After asking, I thought about the question laterally and re-framed the question, this time asking, “Do I have to become anything?” It is strange what answers you will get when you ask questions like this. The truth was that I did not want to become anything in the sense with which most people ask that question. All I wanted to become was to be happy, to be free, to find pleasure in everything I did and to bring joy to other peoples’ lives around me. Those are the things that are ‘real’ to me. So I choose to live in the present, making career and life choices (as I go), opting for those decisions that seem to amplify my broad aspirations in the ‘real’ things I want to become, and eliminating the options that don’t; in the hope that I will find purpose on my chosen path.
Fast-tracking to the present, my wishes for the future are simple: I pray my words elevate those who read or hear them and I pray the impact of my life leaves an indelible mark on all those I have come in contact with.