Impetus to achieve: leave them be

Chasing dreams. Thoughts are free, and what’s more dreams are yours to have and to chase.

Our ambition, our desire to become this or that sometimes starts at a very young age. It could be sparked the slightest of events or by a life changing moment and then the journey to achieve our goals begins. Today I would like to focus on our kith and kin and the impact that they tend to have on our ambition.

When you aim really high, some people tend to think you’re being overly ambitious.

They will tell you that dreaming is fine, but some things are not possible.

I’ve always found this to be strange, but I suppose ambition is something that we’ll always assess on the basis of our experiences as well as our thoughts,  beliefs and abilities; what’s most unfortunate is when we give people advice on the basis of our jaundiced views – how unfair!

Now, for most of us out there, it often means nothing when the negative advice is coming from strangers or those that are not close to us, but what happens when it is coming from our kith and kin? That’s what I wish to explore today.

Those that are our nearest and dearest will always feel that they have a certain advisory role to play in our lives.

Seldom will we have close relatives that are indifferent to the happenings in our lives; one way or another, they will always check on us. My grandfather – Mr Eric Nawa – is particularly good at text messaging everybody in our extended family for enquiries, updates and general ‘information dissemination’.

I would like to believe that where family members are not involved in checking on, as well as advising each other, then perhaps that can be called a dysfunctional family.

Our first advisors will be our parents, probably followed by siblings and then friends and extended family. Under the assumption that all these people love us, we will generally regard them as giving us advice that is in our best interest.

What then happens when the advice they give us is at loggerheads with our personal opinion vis-à-vis our ambitions?

This is where life now becomes a bit interesting.  We are brought up to listen to our parents. And yes at some point, we become grown men and women but there is general consensus that that does not change the fact that our parents are our parents, and hence we must continue to listen to them.

I would imagine for instance that the first time you would have had your life’s plans dashed by your parents was when choosing your career path.

In the home that I grew up for instance, there were certain career paths my father simply did not entertain even discussing.

If you said Dad, I would like to be a musician or an actor, you drew a sharp reaction.

For his own reasons which I shall not go into here, my father did not believe that his children should pursue certain career paths, he would say be a doctor, accountant, pilot or other such kind of profession. Given the preceding example, what happens to the child whose hopes have just been dashed could be one or more of a number of things.

This child could resent the parent and even choose to ‘rebel’ by no longer taking life seriously, or this child could understand and appreciate the parent’s viewpoint and go on and pursue one of those rewarding career paths and come to conclude in future that perhaps the father was right.

There is also the possibility that the child will ‘rebel’  and go ahead and pursue his/ her dreams – this could be done successfully or unsuccessfully, but at least the child will have grown up into a man that tried to pursue his childhood dream.

To the title to today’s article – Leave Them Be – my intention is to reach those that are always on the giving end of advice to their close relatives. I do agree entirely that many of you mean well for your kith and kin, but sometimes, it’s important to let people pursue their dreams and learn lessons for themselves.

I know of a certain real estate practitioner in Lusaka whose firm has grown considerably from the time that he started.

At the time he left his place of work to set up his own firm, his then employer was expanding rapidly. This was six years ago. He told me that his wife could not comprehend why he was leaving his employer at a time when he was going to be getting a huge salary, being the one who was second in charge to the owner of the business. ‘Mr Muyangwa, my wife cannot see what I am trying to achieve now, but later on when things get better, she’ll be the happiest person in the world,’: these are the words he said to me six years ago. It is never easy for people to walk away from the so called gravy train and explain to their kith and kin what they are trying to do because these explanations will often be met with resistance.

You say you are trying to pursue a path in business and you will be told, with your CV and/or what you studied, you can work anywhere; this business thing does not always work out.

I say to the advisors – just leave people be.

Dreams have no limits and they do indeed can come true.

I know many of my friends grew up in a similar home to mine in terms of career plans.

Unconventional career paths such as becoming a musician, actor, or even a chef were unpopular; instead you were encouraged to become a journalist, lawyer, go into public administration, something along those lines.

One thing however, that I have come to appreciate about life is that it doesn’t matter what career path you pursue, what matters is that you give it your best, this will probably mean that you excel at what you do and you shall have a measure of satisfaction. Sometimes, we tend to guide our children to the more financially rewarding career paths, but not everyone is satisfied by simply making a lot of money.

Talking unconventional career paths, take a look at the Zambian music industry we have been slowly reviving and rebuilding or the last two decades; these musicians of ours no longer struggle to afford cars, their own houses and almost all of them are surviving off of their music. What about acting?

Again the sky is the limit; our very own African – Lupita Nyong’o from Kenya – has hit it big on the global stage with roles in 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: Episode VII, and The Jungle Book to be released next year.

Our actors should emulate her. There might not be many examples of Lupita’s achievement, but one or a few is always enough to give ambitious people encouragement. In other societies, a chef is one of the most rewarding careers. We can easily make it that way here in Zambia by adopting excellence. By the way: could someone please tell me if there is a rating agency for restaurants in Zambia, or do people just dream up menu prices purely on the basis of location?

In his book Unequal to the task, Elias Chipimo Jr talks about his early days in founding the hugely successful law firm Corpus Legal Practitioners.

Elias Chipimo writes: ‘…Few people may be aware that the law firm that gave rise to the perception of wealth was established without any money and that my plans for setting it up received very little support from friends and family. This did not hold me back.

My vision and belief were so strong that I hardly noticed the scepticism that greeted me whenever I floated the idea. Unexpectedly, my parents-in-law at the time were incredibly supportive.

I had been married barely two years and was about to leave a well-paying job to enter the uncertain world of self-employment.

When I finished outlining my intentions to them, instead of frowns from them, there were smiles and encouraging words: ‘Now you will really do well!’ I never knew the source of their optimism but it meant a lot to me that they did not disapprove of my plans.’

Now consider his situation: who would Elias Chipimo be today had he listened to his kith and kin when they did not support his idea to found his own law firm?

You have no idea what you do each time you shoot down somebody’s ambitious plans.

Even if you mean well, you must try to hold your feelings back and give them a chance to at least try and fail.

Wives out there, do not give your husbands too much grief when they want to leave work and set out on their own, the self-doubt is disturbing enough!

But to have your wife reminding you night and day about the possibility of failure is just a nightmare. Parents also, do not just shoot down your children’s dreams, instead give them support and encouragement.

I personally believe every human being out there deserves a chance to try and to fail. And whoever has never failed at anything should ‘cast the first stone’ on these failed efforts.

So to anybody – friend or relative – on the side of advisor to those with ambitious plans, I leave you with these few words: just leave them be.

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