random, Uncategorized

With All Your Might

In Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things there is this now famous passage on putting in work:

I will never forget the first team meeting with head coach Chico Mendoza. Coach Mendoza was a tough old guy who had played college football at Texas Christian University, home of the mighty Horned Frogs. Coach Mendoza began his opening speech, “Some of you guys will come out here and you just won’t be serious. You’ll get here and start shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin’, not doing shit, and just want to look good in your football shit. If you do that, then you know what? Turn your shit in.” He went on to elaborate on what was unacceptable: “Come late to practice? Turn your shit in. Don’t want to hit? Turn your shit in. Walk on the grass? Turn your shit in. Call me Chico? Turn your shit in.”

It’s all good and well to do whatever it is that we do, but for the things which matter (and what matters is a deeply personal question), it is important to constantly ask ourselves the questions Coach Mendoza put to his team. Am I just ‘shooting the shit, talking shit, bullshittin’, not doing shit, and just trying to look good in [my] football shit?’ Or am I actually putting in the work. I think it is hard to deceive oneself for too long because the unconscious is simply too woke—It rebels against our conscious lies. But I suspect that it is quite possible to fool the world on this. To some degree that’s sort of what we have to do to get ahead, isn’t it. We embellish our qualifications, our experience, our network, our wealth, and so on. We receive, hopefully, some external validation in return, and this is comforting if temporary.

A more permanent satisfaction can be had from the personal knowledge that you’ve attacked your goals as completely as you could have. It does not come from the outcomes of this process, it is the natural consequence of this philosophy of living. Hard work is its own reward. It doesn’t matter if you put in twelve-hour days and still could not hit your target, you’ve hit your internal target. The sweet privilege of being able to say from the very core of your soul ‘I did my best’ is golden, and is a good deal more valuable that being told that you did well. Ralph Waldo Emerson shared this idea in his essay Self Reliance, when he said: ‘A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best, but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace.’ This relief is a wonderful thing next to the torment of knowing that you were just ‘bullshittin’, talking shit and not doing shit.’ We cannot externalise this validation. It cannot come from a performance rating for a bonus at your company, it cannot come from our boss or any other third party we look to for validation. This relief, this contentment, this peace, comes from putting in the work.

In the book of Ecclesiastes (9:10) it says: ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ It is a call to work, to work hard, and to acquit ourselves before God.

Standard
random

Struggling To Write

Lately I’ve had the urge to write. But for me the baseline question when I write to publish always is—Do you have anything to say? It is easy enough to rehash an idea that has been expressed elsewhere in one of my scattered readings, but getting an original idea or a unique perspective or a new way of expressing an existing notion is a very difficult thing indeed. Quite often I think I have something to say and I feel strongly about it. I then proceed to try to express what I am thinking. And sure enough it reads like utter garbage. It is inauthentic, cosmetic, foogayzi and altogether embarrassing.

At other times, I simply do not have the words. This is an oddly familiar state of existence for people who write for a living. There is really nothing so annoying as having something to say and not knowing how to say it. It is rather like that mute state of idiocy many people enter into when they meet their crushes. This is where I am now and thankfully I do not write for a living.

That said, this process may serve a very important function. It may be a useful way of refining ideas, getting closer to the proverbial koko of the matter. Someone said somewhere that the essence of reading is rereading. Well, it seems to me that the essence of writing is quite possibly rewriting, and very often discarding completely.

So this is the screed I’ve managed to write today. I have twenty-two draft essays in different stages of construction but none of them feels right. Here I am trying too hard, there my thoughts are vague, confused and woolly. And yet, even though I know that none of this stuff can be published, I am too scared to delete them because, well, thinking up stuff is tough and usually a full thought is the filtration of several half-baked, wacky, confused ideas which have had time to age and mature in the casks of our brains. One minute you have absolutely nothing to say, the next it pours out in torrents.

Or not. Sometimes you just remain frustrated and incoherent. You cannot write. Here we are.

Standard
nigeria, society

Leadership

One of the great fallacies in Nigeria is the notion that leadership starts and ends with political leadership, and that “our leaders” are the entire cause of the problem with Nigeria. This is a fine piece of nonsense. Leadership is a broad concept. The church is a constituency with leaders, so are the mosques, the traditional healers, the business establishment, academia, students, and so on. Every segment of our population has a hierarchy of some sort, and with that, it also has a leadership class. Our lazy habit of blaming all and sundry on our leaders, and especially our leaders in “government” (by which we usually mean the federal government, not, say, the judiciary, or the 36 imbeciles who lead the states) is a classic cop out. It is a way to make us feel better about ourselves. The fact of the matter is that wherever you are, as a member of our society, you have the opportunity to demonstrate the leadership you wish we had. And watching these alternate leaders in society is a study in the true challenges of leading the county. Too often we see the exact reflection of everything that we loudly complain about. The example of estate associations stands out. It is a real indictment that even in the entirely private, resident-controlled estate associations, whose job it is to ensure the comfort, security and general wellbeing of the residents of the estate they belong to, the record shows that, as a rule, these associations fail to discharge that responsibility honestly and diligently. The stories of mismanagement, simple theft and tribalism are legion. Perhaps even, the existence of these organisations is a statement set in bold of the critical challenge of achieving basic goals in this country. I am still flabbergasted by the daily reality of neighbours, whose children play together, stealing diesel money from the estate pot. The insults we hurl at “government” make us feel better about ourselves. We trot out the standard complaint that “we are not ready” all the time. Yet, in our small pockets, we fail miserably. Surely there is no greater demonstration of the national challenge than these micro failures. It is an uncomfortable truth, but Nigeria is made up of Nigerians, not anyone else. What we see is what we are. And we are, far more often than we wish to admit, not the change we wish to see in our world.

Standard
random

Posterized!

Check out the greatest posterizing dunks of all times:

 

OK. This video has no Shawn Kemp dunk, so I can’t really take it seriously. (For those of you who are too young, Shawn Kemp was a wild man who used to dunk so hard on people their bone marrow would squirt out of their nostrils.)

Still, this is some evil shit. But pause, let’s think about this for a second. When six-foot-five-ninety-kilograms of elite athlete has a run up, the best thing to do is get out of the way. 99 out of 100 times the ball is going in. Hard. All who get between said athlete and the rim will be posterized–it’s just physics really.

And it is beautiful to watch, it gets the crowd pumped, it gets the adrenaline going, it gets the bench involved, sends a message to the opponent, the TV guys love it, it is just what you need in a tough game.

And the attacking player gets his poster. But here is the thing. We never pause to think about the guy who gets up to contest the play. The fighting spirit, the will to not get beaten, to risk embarrassment (or even injury) to prevent the play or block the shot. He knows that 99 out of 100 times he’ll end up on the floor, but still he gets up to fight.

Far too often I see this and it bothers me. The defender was doing his job. He didn’t simply turn away or give up for fear of being your evening bants. He stuck in and got his ass handed to him. That’s part of the job.

I guess it’s all just a bit of harmless fun. But never forget that guy who did his job, risked being schooled, got schooled, got up and completed his duty. He did his job, got flattened, stood up, and continued.

Standard
society

Insurgencies & The Real Housewives of Atlanta

Ever wondered how it is that ISIS or some other group can literally raise an army of thousands of young people all willing to inflict violence?

That always had me thinking. And I think I’ve got a good reason why. I am pretty sure the theories can get quite heavy with these things, but here is one word which I think captures the situation well:  Joblessness. (It is a Nigerian word that doesn’t quite mean “unemployed” but it is close enough.) Like, it is mad simple: If you don’t wake up early everyday, get into whatever mode of transportation you use and go to some place where you have to concentrate on something productive for 8 hours, you are basically fair game for some ideologue to turn you into an extremist. Trust me on this, after walking this beat for almost a decade now, I can categorically state (as we are wont to say in Nigeria) that when you get home from work, all you want to do is eat and watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

But when you are jobless, all sorts of crazy ideas pop into your head. I often wonder about this when I think of the low-key insurgencies in various stages of upsurge which seem to have appeared all over Nigeria in the past couple of years. Boko Haram, IPOB, Niger Delta activists, violent cults, Sunni militias, and so on. The jobless youth are the tinder for all of these movements. The simple point is that if your country is not providing people something to do, there is a far higher chance that they will get to doing something, and it won’t be anything productive. I am not one for predictions and I try not to be cynical or pessimistic by default, but we have to start to consider whether the chickens are coming home to roost.

In short, at the heart of these insurgencies may simply be a lack of opportunities for young people to be gainfully employed and to watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

 

Standard
politics

Agnostic Issues

I have some thoughts about the past two governments.

The Buhari government has been quite a disappointment in its first couple of months. It has wasted the unprecedented national goodwill which heralded a government of change, entirely bungled its response to an admittedly difficult macroeconomic situation, and, most astonishingly, seems to have lost the high ground in its fight against corruption–where it seems long on boots and short on brains.

But the Jonathan government (for which we have the benefit of a lot more data) was no great improvement, if that at all. That government has the distinction of having been at the helm during possibly the richest 6 years in the history of this country (judging by the inflation-adjusted revenues it generated). Given how much revenue the nation earned during the years of the oil super cycle (which coincided with President Jonathan’s time in office) what happened to all the money? This question inevitably elicits one of two responses: (a) Wild applause from the supporters of the current government who insist on fixating on the mess they inherited; or (b) Protests from folks on the other side incredulous that we are still talking about the past. Neither side is being completely honest. It is absolutely valid to point out the hole we dug ourselves into during the GEJ years while also pointing out that we simply dug even more furiously when President Buhari assumed office. Quite besides all of this, the recent past is a microcosm of the not so recent past. We’ve stumbled from oil boom to bust without building any shock absorbers into the system. So we are either having a blast or eating groundnut husks off the floor. The point to all this is that the debate between the two sides is largely irrelevant since, within the context of the nation’s history, the boom followed by recession was quite normal.

In short, neither side thrills me. The real question is how are we changing to prevent a recurrence of this old boom bust cycle and to address the numerous existential threats facing this country. The past is a template we want to step away from, our job is to make sure the present government does precisely this and does not simply pay lip service to it.

This sort of position perplexes many people. It appears we are supposed to take sides if we are commenting on Nigerian matters. And ‘sides,’ for the most part, means I have to be sympathetic to one of the major political parties. When I say something which agrees with one side’s version of reality, I get retweets from that side of the divide; when I say something that agrees with the other, that group cheers me on. I have never understood this. It is baffling since, as far as I am concerned, there is very little substantive difference between the two political groupings.

The other divides seem to be tribe and/or religion. For the most part, Southern Christians have one version of reality which says that the Jonathan years where a great period, and Northern Muslims can’t say anything negative about the Buhari government. (Of course there are other groupings, but I’d rather not get into that here.)  I understand this divide quite acutely. We are Nigerians after all, we have a pathological condition. We have been socially engineered to think the fellow whose mother tongue is different from ours or who prays to God in a different way or who eats a different tuber or whose tribal marks look different or who sets his soup plate on the left not right and so on is an enemy or at the least not someone you can trust. Our formal systems have institutionalised this distrust at the very core of the nation in the form of cascading requirements for the rotation of responsibility among the various tribes. North 8 years South 8 years, presidency, governorship, Senate, House of Reps, managing director, director-general, everything na turn by turn. I get it.

But it bores me. I don’t particularly care for this highly distracting contest between tribes and geopolitical regions.

I care about development and growth. I care about practical things like employment, education, health and so on. These things are agnostic. My dad likes to say: “A Yoruba man’s hunger hurts just the same as an Igbo man’s.” Better is better, improvement is improvement. A tarred road doesn’t care who built it. The folks in my village don’t care if a Fulani Muslim from Daura which they couldn’t indicate on a map built a port near the village, they care that it is built. Yes, there is a Nigerian context which must be considered here. We cannot simply say let’s forget the geopolitics of Nigeria and create employment. But the conversation should genuinely start with the latter and not the former.

But we just keep arguing and exchanging barbs and remaining distracted. It sometimes appears that the Nigerian national discourse seldom rises above the level of the Manchester United v. Arsenal jousts. And here I am genuinely perplexed because even the most sober commentators seem to forget that most of this beer parlour talk is  a distraction from the fundamental problems. The agnostic problems. Hunger is agnostic, it speaks every language and worships no God. Unemployment is agnostic, it speaks every language and worships no God. Lack of opportunity is agnostic. Terrorism is agnostic. 3rd mainland bridge is agnostic. Spending over 70% of your earnings on salaries and diesel is agnostic.

The contest is not on which vaguely different set of leaders or political grouping will deepen the rot, the contest is to arrest that rot. It seems we’ve forgotten the point of everything. We’ve grown so accustomed to the constant din of political banter and the dopamine high that comes from the uproarious approval of whichever herd we belong to that we forget that they, the leaders and parties we are so enamoured of (or opposed to), are mostly the same. And I feel the need to, once again, stress that I am not naive to the geopolitical context in which we must face these problems, but that cannot be a crutch. A friend recently pointed out (within the context of competing businesses in the same industry) that, for the most part, the extent to which one firm can seriously grow its revenues and profits is a function of the market it operates in. As he said: “You cannot be bigger than your market!” This is a truism that is often forgotten. If we accept this, then, for self-interested reasons, it is entirely sensible for competitors to work together where it will increase the size of the market. The alternative is a fierce, soul-sucking race to the bottom over a trivial pot where everyone is more or less malnourished. In a sense, this is what we are doing in Nigeria. We have staked our claims to a national cake which isn’t growing fast enough to feed everybody, and so the competition is just getting fiercer for a smaller pot.

I don’t know, but I hope more people start to see this reality and skip the mindless partisanship. Sure, there’ll always be party or tribal hacks, but they are usually easy to spot. They only ever accept one, simplistic narrative and reject all else.  The rest of us should really be focused on the agnostic issues. This is only possible if you see or accept an ‘us’ or the shared frustration of all our destinies regardless of religion, tribe or political affiliation. I have often found that this inability (or, perhaps, refusal) lies at the heart of the problem. It is impossible to consider our equality in penury if our entire frame of reference in engaging the Nigerian question is the narrow interest of our family or tribe or religion. That is precisely the game we have played for 56 years, and here we find ourselves.

How we do this is not always apparent because the current structure of the country almost enforces this partisanship. You are judged by your state, or tribe, or even local government area. Constitutionally, we have a hugely expensive national service programme to deepen the oneness of Nigeria but have entrenched the custom that a citizen can only serve the nation from her state of origin. And so, almost by default, the notion of a oneness of Nigeria is nonsensical. An Ibibio man who has worked and schooled and lived and embraced the state of Kaduna will never regard that state and its people as his. He will always be an Ibibio man. It is remarkably senseless.

But we must engage, even in a broken framework. And we must engage constructively. It is no good to simply refuse to engage, wash our hands off everything or resort simply to insults (edifying though this is). We must face the issues, the agnostic issues especially. That or try to move to Canada, a vast country in the Arctic Circle.

Standard
Uncategorized

All the Memorable Things From the Internet in September 2016

The internet is remarkable. It is endlessly enlightening and just goddam funny. So I’ve decided to try to compile everything I’ve enjoyed in the past month in one place for… I don’t know why, maybe someone else will appreciate such a list. This is obviously not scientific so some of it may be quite obscure. I hope to make this a series, so if you like this be sure to give it a look at the end of this month. Oh, some of this material will have been produced in the period, others before. I share it as I consume the content. One last thing, the list is not ranked in any way, it’s just stuff I enjoy. Here goes.

  1. A blog post about an encounter between an African-American academic and the police. I think the author did an exceptional job of maintaining the tension in the story as things developed. But things are pretty fucked up in the U.S. man.
  2. An essay by Andrew Sullivan. Cellphones and social media have a darkside. This essay engages it thoughtfully. (If this gets you thinking and you want to read a little more about this area, the book Deep Work is not a bad book to read.)
  3. This is an old twosome by the same author. Read this first then this. The short message here is this: PERSISTENCE.
  4. An irreverent essay by Nassim Nicholas Taleb about intellectuals.
  5. Here is an article about travelling with an African passport. I don’t really have anything to add, it is terrible to travel on African passport.
  6. This is the only book Paul Kalanithi ever wrote. He died of an aggressive form of cancer shortly after finishing the book. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read and a powerful story about facing our own mortality. I remember reading the final chapter as his death was all but sure, my daughter kept running up to me to play just as Paul was describing the birth of his daughter while the cancer consumed him alive. I was crying like a child. I recommend this unreservedly.
  7. Some crazy freestyles and/or performances I picked up on YouTube. First the boy Lupe, Mos Def and Talib, Common, Luda, Luda again, and finally, Black Thought and ?uestlove.
  8. This is pretty funny.
  9. Here’s an awesome graphic that should come in handy in future.
  10. This is funny and weird. Who populated that list?

Enjoy!

Standard