Maybe life has to do with figuring out our strengths and following our passions, knowing fully well that we don’t suck at everything. I believe nobody said it better than Mr. Einstein himself:“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.
“Every man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special and always significant and remarkable point at which the world’s phenomena intersect…” – Hermann Hesse
For a man whose name is synonymous with genius, it should be hard trying to imagine Albert Einstein as a prodigal son whose father died believing he was a complete failure. Yet, at school early in his life, he skipped classes and made close to failing grades. Legend has it that he was so uninspired by his own performance, that at some point he considered dropping out and pursuing a career as a life insurance salesman instead. When he finally graduated from the Swiss Polytechnic Institute with a degree in Mathematics and Natural Sciences in 1900, the 21-year old struggled to find a job and had to settle for a few odd offers. But that would all change when the young Einstein landed a job as a patent examiner at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern.
The young man loved his new job and every day would be seen sitting at his desk for hours on end, while carefully reviewing patents and solving tough mathematical equations that came along. His passion was so strong to the point of an obsession and this would ultimately cost him his love life. But that was how he went from being a struggling student, looked upon as a failure, to reaching the mountain top as a universally acclaimed genius, who developed the theory of relativity and pioneered many groundbreaking efforts in quantum mechanics. It’s been over half a century since his death in April 1955, but Albert Einstein remains by far the most famous scientist the world has ever known.
Every once in a while, one gets lucky enough to be recognised for good stuff. Those are the little things of life that makes a weary heart light and lifts up the spirit to the high heavens. That seldom happens on a first try though. It often comes at the end of a string of failures, disappointments, falls and even, sometimes, having to pick-up the pieces. Then out of the blues, your shiny days get noticed and you are looked upon more favourably. But it gets a little odd when folks who are totally oblivious of your struggles begin to prefix your name with such hallowed words like brilliant, genius, etc. You know they are well intentioned and very appreciative of your modest successes but for sure you consider yourself unworthy of such appellations.
We all have this one thing that pushes the boundaries of our patience. We just can’t seem to get good at it, as much as we would love to and so we develop a certain kind of phobia for it. Everyone has one of such. For me, it has to be solving multiple choice test questions in a wave of endless examinations that physicians are faced with every now and then. Though still able to work doubly hard and wing it through over the years, I have come to accept that as my kryptonite. Not that one hasn’t had his fair share of life’s other challenges, but a few sub-par performances along the way did bruise a fragile academic ego. Self-confidence took a few hits in the process.
Having practiced medicine throughout his adult life, John was very thankful for that opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to make a difference in countless lives that crossed paths with him everyday was rewarding. He, however, confessed that as a physician, he had never woken up feeling like a super-hero or tap-dancing his way to work (to borrow a phrase from Warren Buffet).
This piece was inspired in part by the struggles of a dear friend and colleague who had called recently to vent her frustration. She wasn’t sure what to do next, but her mind was fully made up about giving up the practice of medicine. Eva went into great details about how she had struggled with the decision for years and finally determined that the time was right. For her, medicine was just not worth the trouble anymore and gave her no joy as a career. She took me through her fears and challenges, many of which I share. Empathy was what I felt the whole time, since I have had my own share of conflicting thoughts to contend with, though not as radical as her’s was. Not even close. Eva comes from old money and so we are at the polar ends of the financial spectrum. In the end, we both settled with what she felt gives her joy.
Growing up, Eva’s passion found expression in the liberal arts but tell that to a Nigerian parent offering binary career options! A child was to chose between medicine or law. If one was especially lucky, one might be blessed with parents open minded enough to consider engineering as a third option. Asides from that, for them it was a total waste of time and resources pursuing anything else and hiding under the guise of following one’s passion.
John, another colleague of mine loves story telling. He always has, as far back as one could remember. By his account, however, he had let that passion of his fizzle out in deference to that which puts food on the table. But not anymore. He had figured out a way to walk and chew gum at the same time; something he discovered by pure serendipity but which nonetheless has made him happier than ever. His only regret was not embracing the concept and finding that genius long enough before now.
Having practiced medicine throughout his adult life, John was very thankful for that opportunity of a lifetime. The chance to make a difference in countless lives that crossed paths with him everyday was rewarding. He, however, confessed that as a physician, he had never woken up feeling like a super-hero or tap-dancing his way to work (to borrow a phrase from Warren Buffet). What is true is that in the course of caring for the sick and struggling with self-doubt, this average Joe colleague of mine ressurrected his passion for the written word and was ready to shoot for the stars.
A wise man once described life as a collection of humble lessons and I have no iota of doubt in my mind that he was right. Every man has a passion for something and that’s why we all have the potential to be great. For when you are passionate about what you do, it automatically migrates from the realm of work to pure pleasure and the output is as huge as the reward.
I have often imagined how life would have turned out for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, had she continued with her initial career path in medicine. By now, she would probably be somewhere saving lives, tucked away in a certain remote corner of the globe. It’s doubtful, though, that she would have been anywhere close to the strastopheric success she has achieved as an internationally acclaimed best-selling novelist. Thank goodness, the never ending industrial action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in the 90s forced her to relocate to America, where she opted to pursue her dream instead of living someone else’s.
A wise man once described life as a collection of humble lessons and I have no iota of doubt in my mind that he was right. Every man has a passion and genius for something and that’s why we all have the potential to be great. For when you are passionate about what you do, it automatically migrates from the realm of work to pure pleasure and the output is as huge as the reward.
Maybe life has to do with figuring out our strengths and following our passions, knowing fully well that we don’t suck at everything. I believe nobody said it better than Mr. Einstein himself:
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid”.
Follow your passion. It’s never too late.
Osmund Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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