If I could go back in time…

Lake Pokegama Sunset
Photo Credit: Malvern Madondo

P.S. “If I could go back in time…” is an article I initially wrote on LinkedIn and if you want to read the original post, click here.

Recently, I was part of a group of 50 students selected nationwide to participate in a weeklong program geared towards helping Black and Latinx Computer Science and Engineering students navigate their way and thrive in the technoverse (yeah I made that up – think technology and universe combined). Throughout the entire week, I had the opportunity to meet with various leaders in the tech industry, from recruiters to developers, engineers, managers, photographers, and insert-illustrious-profession-here…

Most of the people I interacted with seemed well-established in their careers and quite frankly, I got the impression that they had everything figured out, maybe almost everything. Being one currently on the college rollercoaster where grades fluctuate like stock exchange rates and where success is anything but permanent, I was curious to find out what these folks wish they had done earlier in their lives, years back as college students. For obvious reasons, I will not mention their names lest you start snooping around for what is not necessary and let your curiosity overshadow the three most important lessons I gained from these conversations:

  1. On time management: Knowing how college is, it wasn’t surprising to find out that a good number of the folks I talked to actually struggled with time management as college students. Some wish they had known how to slow down and go with the tide. One individual I talked to said if they could go back to their college years, they would learn to not get overwhelmed with mounds of work, especially unncessary work. Knowing your priorities is not enough if you don’t know how to act on those priorities. I learned that it is important to not try to crawl, walk, and run at the same time. Bite what you can chew! Time management means knowing what to do, when to do it and get it done, how to do it efficiently, where to do it, with who, etc. It’s not just about setting a timer for 30 minutes of undistracted studying and resume after every 5 minutes of bliss and fun.
  2. On learning: If you are expecting to find nuggets of wisdom on how to learn, I advice you to stop reading at the end of this sentence. Now that you are not expecting to be told how to learn, I will continue sharing what I learned, not tips on how you, dear reader, can learn. One engineer I talked to emphasized that learning is not as important as having the ability to learn. A circus lion can learn to do tricks, but can never ask questions or challenge its teacher. Having an ability to learn means having the temerity to not only ask questions, but to admit to not knowing. One professional said they’d rather have someone on their team who is motivated to learn than have one who is reluctant to learn.
  3. On being uncomfortable: There’s this quote that I came across that pretty much summarizes all that I learned about daring to venture out of the norm and stepping into the storm, “There is no comfort in the growth zone and there is no growth in the comfort zone.” Most of the people I talked to attributed their current and past successes to pushing themselves and having friends and mentors who pushed them to do more than average. They didn’t find it fun walking the extra mile or even introducing themselves to strangers without feeling being judged. Because they did that, and oftentimes gained nothing but experience, they prospered. In the end, experience is what matters most.

So there, the ball is now in your court and I hope you will take something out of this and step out of your comfort zone, even if it means sharing this post (haha self-advertising), and grow your potential and abilities! If you have any thoughts and ideas on what you wish you’d done or what you would like to do if given a second or third chance, please share below or DM!

Classroom Culture 101: Just Do It!

Are you afraid of being on the spotlight in class? Asking questions or answering them? You are not alone!

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Image Source: Fitletes.com

Have you ever heard of the Harkness Method? If not, do not worry  my friend, Wikipedia has got your back!

The Harkness table, Harkness method, or Harkness discussion is a teaching and learning method involving students seated in a large, oval shape to discuss ideas in an encouraging, open-minded environment with only occasional or minimal teacher intervention.

My former high school(s) encouraged more of a ‘Speak when you have something to say – not when you have to say something’ attitude where students were expected to speak (hopefully) when they had something to say. However, students could raise their hands to draw attention if necessary or just spit out whatever question they had – in a respectful and polite manner of course. Now in college, CSS to be particular, its quite different – depends with the instructor really. Most of my college classes have been, fortunately and unfortunately, lecture based and with a few occasions of open discussion. I often find myself hesitant to raise my hand. I sometimes actually take more time debating whether to raise my hand or not than I take to think about the question I am responding to.

Often, I notice a few classmates with the same issue – they want to participate so much but the first step of raising their hand or speaking out freaks them out so much that you can almost see them sink in their desks. Shia LaBeouf made a great motivational video called ‘Just Do It’ and you can watch it here. I find that this is the most effective way when in doubt – just do it, even when you think your question or answer is not relevant or is off topic or ‘silly’. Once you do this a number of times, your confidence levels will be off the ground and you will actually start to enjoy class more. I often use this learning technique in my not-so-easy classes i.e. the ones that kinda threaten to distort your logic.

So, instead of keeping to yourself, be more active in class and your energy is most likely to rub onto other students and the whole class might catch fire and the instructor will have to stay up longer to prepare for class because the students are just on top of the game!

Just do it!

 

Change: Does it matter who I am? Part 2

The winds of change are blowing across the globe. There is talk of climate change, political change, economy and social changes, and so much more. Change. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, change is happening. But that’s external change. What about the change that goes on in the inside? I think that change affects the external change most. Its like the Butterfly effect. One tiny change in emotion or personality or behavior can set in motion a massive movement, for good or worse. This is the Malvern’s theory. It’s yet to be proved because I just thought of it and I do not know whether it has been said before or not.

Picture Credit: Ryan Polly – Organizational Change: Why Resilience is the Key to Change Management

Change is necessary for growth. It is an opportunity to develop ourselves and be better than we were yesterday or in the past. If I take a stroll downtown and see an elderly person lying on a pavement with no place to go, no food, no any-of-those-comforts-we-have-but-rarely-think-of, and do not have a change of heart or thought on the homeless, how will I grow and learn to help those who might not have some of the privileges I have? Each person is privileged in some way, whether we know it or not, acknowledge it or not. Others are privileged by race, some by abilities, others by material possessions or even education.

When it comes to change, it really matters who I am or who you are because when it comes to change, it not affects me or the person next to me or even you, dear reader. Sometimes change is detrimental to growth too. If an educated or well-informed person chooses suddenly not to share what he/she knows, then ignorance will be our bane. If a government or ruling party changes legislation or any policy that affects the majority, then change will not be as beneficial as in other cases.

The main point is to check change as it happens to us or to our society, global or local, and try as hard as we can to make sure it’s supporting, not undermining, growth.

 

 

In The End

In the End:

“We all grapple with balance in life. But perhaps the first step to achieving that balance is giving ourselves permission. Permission to breathe.” – Jane Miller

Time swings by so fast, like a pendulum. It seems life is always in motion. Constant motion. We are born, we grow, we live and then, then we die. Life goes on. But as long as there is life, there is no death.

Picture Credit: Central Michigan Uni/Time Management

Aboard the train to work, a friend and I were talking about how fast the summer has gone by, how much time we seemed to have in the beginning and how little time we have now until the end. My friend happens to be a rising senior in college. The excitement of having made it so far is strong, and so is the realization that after this race, a new one will begin and who knows how that will compare to the present? My friend dreads being lost in the motion of time, swinging from work to home and back, from eating to sleeping and back, and other repetitive stuff that personally not find appealing but necessary. Many people I know, including myself, live from the ‘To-Do List’ – always buried in a hive of activities. This is so especially in ‘developed‘ countries where everyday is a race against time… and money. From conferences to meetings and back again. If in college, from back-to-back classes to daily shifts at the cafeteria or wherever the workplace may be. To and from, the time bob swings. Before we know it, graduation is around the corner and we join the rest of the world in that continuum. We work and live to work. In our last moments, depending on how well and fully we lived, we wish we had more time to live again. That’s the sad reality and cruelty of running out of time.

As I look ahead to the future, all I can think of is what I want to do. I imagine getting that well-paying job, living in a posh suburb, having a family, and much more. I seldom look at the little things that swing along with the time bob. In the end, those little things will matter. Those little things like doing nothing, being happy for others and for myself, finding joy and helping others find joy. Those little things that we so often neglect because we are being carried away in a whirlwind of activities on a daily basis without even knowing it. It’s like being on a journey without a destination. The goal is to find balance in life. In the end, it’s not how long we lived but how well we lived.

On comfort zones

Image Cr/Jane – Habits for wellbeing 

There’s a time or moment when we just want to be who we are, do what we are used to, be with people we are familiar with, and so on. These are some of the dimensions of what’s called the comfort zone. I do not feel comfortable in any zone out of my comfort zone! But I recently learned that the space outside the comfort zone is called the growth zone and this comes from the quote:

“There is no growth in the comfort zone, and there is no comfort in the growth zone”

If you are constantly in your comfort zone, then perhaps you are not really maximizing your potential and paving way for growth. Going out of your comfort zone means challenging yourself to do better, to be better. Last semester, I took some intense classes and fell down several times along the way. Each time I got up, motivated to reach the finish line even on my knees. I talked to and became friends with folks I barely knew and still know nothing about save their first name.

Comfort Zone
Image Cr/ The Worry Free Life

Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations opens the way for growth. Your brain will not be stimulated if you are used to do the same thing over and over again, but becomes stronger and more active the moment you do something different or challenge yourself.

Used to sitting in the back of the room? Sit in the front or middle section.

Used to sit in the front or middle section? Sit in the back!

Shy? Talk about yourself to a new person.

Talkative? Listen more!

Math major? Take a painting class!

Art major? Take a math class.

If you ever feel uncomfortable, remember that that’s because you are in the growth zone where comfort is a luxury! Make the most of your talents and abilities, or rather discover them, by doing a different thing occasionally. #GrowthMindset

Change: Does it matter who I am? Part 1

It has been a struggle the past few months (shucks!) to update my blog. It’s like I took a vacation from blogging, but a meaningful vacation as I spent most of my time surfing… surfing on the internet and reading other people’s blogs and articles. During my vacation, I had the perfect vantage to learn more about myself. I do not know about you, but I value self-knowledge. I came across a wonderful text on a blog written by my professor and I am glad I did. I will be writing a series of reflective posts on the matter of identity and how that ties with creating a positive (and/or negative) change in one’s life, family, community, town, province, country, continent, world, universe, and beyond. This is not an easy matter, therefore I kindly ask for your opinions as I progress through this series. Does it matter who I am to create or promote change?

Here goes the story:

His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.  There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself.  Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings.   An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the  father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.  “I want to repay you,” said the  nobleman. “You saved my son’s life.” “No, I can’t accept payment for what I did,” the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

“Is that your son?” the nobleman asked. “Yes,” the farmer replied proudly. “I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my son will enjoy. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll no doubt grow to be a man we both will be proud of.”  And that he did.

Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time, he graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son  who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.

What saved his life this time?
Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman?
Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son’s name?
Sir Winston Churchill.

 

What Should We Be Worried About?

John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org posed this question a few years ago and compiled the responses he got in the 2013 Annual question book of the same title. While and after reading this book, I became more aware of my own worries. In fact, I became more worried. I now understood what that adage ‘Ignorance is bliss’ really meant.

Image Source

So what worries me really? Well, for a start I can perhaps say I am worried about climate change – there are some if not many who share my worry. I dread heatwaves, tsunamis, tornadoes, blizzards, you name it.  I am worried about global water shortages and how this impacts mankind’s existence. At the rate at which the world’s population is growing (expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 according to an article on the UN news website) and the rate at which natural resources are being consumed, I am worried that someday demand might exceed supply and who knows what will happen? I am worried about the indiscriminate killing of animals and of course humans. Overfishing, poaching, etc, and mass shootings, bombings, wars, etc,… are enough to give me goosebumps. As if that’s not enough, I am worried about health-related things that emerge almost as if from nowhere.. today it’s ebola, tomorrow it’s the zika virus, yesterday it was methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and everyday it’s new flu strains and endless zoonotic outbreaks. Is it this century and the past or it has been like this before in past centuries? I am worried about mental slavery. Yes you heard right – mental slavery, especially under the guise of certain causes. Ever watched Mad Max: Fury Road?

There are many problems confronting humanity, including supplying enough food, water, housing, medicine, and fuel for our ever expanding population. – J. Craig Venter

I am worried about there being so many things to worry about… The Singularity – the belief that artificial intelligence will at some point surpass human intelligence. Potential World War Doom – with nuclear wars and extreme terrorism. Embittered and nihilistic individuals who give no second thought to morality and humanity’s existence.  Right now I am worried that if I continue writing this blog I might not have enough time to do my assignments and work.. it’s just a worry.

What are you worried about? What should we be worried about? Should we even worry?

Achieving Success… One failure at a time… Lesson learnt.

When my friend and bro Justin invited me to a free skating event at Mars Lakeview Arena, I never thought I would stumble upon an important realization, one that would give me an insight into how failure contributes to success and called me to reflect on some things past, present, and yet to come. Here’s what transpired:
After a busy week laden with the pressures of the day: school, school, and school, and just before another hectic week packed with exams, classes and other scholarly endeavors under my sleeve, I decided to go out of my way and try something out for one. My brother Pascal has this quote which he likes ‘Do not wait for things to happen to you, go out and happen to things’ and I somewhat decided on the logic behind the quote that I might as well give the skating a shot.
In Shona we say ‘Chitaurirwa hunyimwa sembare dzekumusana. Zvaitoda kuzvionera pamhuno sefodya’ – which in English, loosely translates to and means ‘Being told about something is less expressive than seeing it for yourself. You had to see for yourself close at hand to fully appreciate what transpired’ The moment I wore those skates and stepped on the rink, it suddenly hit me that I had perhaps made the worst of all choices to be at this place. The surface was icy and even when I was only one foot on the rink, testing like how one afraid of cold water tests whether the water in the stream is warm enough or not before diving in, I could feel that friction was one thing that did not exist on this surface. This also implied that one tiny wrong move would not only make me lose my balance but also put my perfect set of teeth at risk as well as my ‘extra pair of eyes – glasses’.
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With my chair …
I garnered a little confidence and put both feet onto the rink and I have never felt so divorced from my feet and balance as I did that Friday night in the arena. Within a few minutes, I had left the rink and gone to where I had put my extra belongings, given up already. Justin came and somehow managed to persuade me to give it one more try and to ‘trust him’ since he had taught skating before…but to little kids. I am an adult kid, and it’s no secret I lack flexibility.
chair
The Chair that taught Malvern a lesson
The good fellow, Justin, got a chair and wanted me to use it as a first step to learn how to skate. All about me, people seemed to float on the rink in a manner that resembled a butterfly floating over a bed of roses – effortless. It felt intimidating. The fact that I had never been on an ice skating rink in all my years gave me a little motivation to want to try it, even with chair, even if I was the only one. Raphael, my other friend who had also never skated before was making steady progress and his determination gave me another extra reason not to throw in the towel. Earlier, we had laughed our lungs out when we discovered we were both going skating for the first time and Justin had invited us both. Raphael wasn’t afraid of falling, he embraced it and saw it as necessary to learn how to skate. He also got inspiration whenever an occasional experienced skater fell and was stupefied how it had happened. All of this also gave me an insight into what’s perhaps is a very important lesson that I have learned so far and interestingly, outside the classroom.
I tried out the chair and Justin made me try skating, while balancing on him (almost ripped out his shoulder I think). Along came, Molly and although we were complete strangers, she helped me, taught me and knocked some of the fear out of me for I was much afraid of falling (and quite thankful I did not fall). Then came Michaela and Lindsey, who both showed me the ropes and worked as a team, motivating me each step of the way, to teach me how to successfully skate even while failing. It started with a few baby strides and by the end of the night I had made almost ten, more or less, supported and unsupported rounds. I remember the words of my friend, host, and mentor, Mark, who always encourages me to embrace learning with an open mind and in so doing, dispel the fear of failing for if one thing doesn’t work, the other might certainly work.
By the time the event ended, I had not only learned how to skate but also how to succeed, one failure at a time, casting away all fear of falling, shame and all the negatives that hinder progress. I also learned that indeed there are complete strangers out there who have big hearts that desire to have other people progress and do well in life. Next time, you meet someone new, don’t be a reason why they give up, be a reason why they are motivated. ‘If we all act like candles and light each other up, the world will be a much brighter and happier place to live in.’

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Of Deserts and Flowers

When it rains in the Death Valley or in the Atacama desert, two of the driest places on earth, life blossoms. When the conditions are right, miracles happen in these ‘dead’ places and flowers bloom and butterflies cut across the azure sky as if they are in a drunken stupor — crystal evidence that some of these places we consider dead are not as ‘dead’ as they seem. They are just dormant, waiting for the right conditions to come  about in order to awaken from the deep slumber of infertility.

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Image Source:// Hummert International

In my high school agriculture class many years ago, we were taught that plants are capable of growing and developing as long as the right conditions are made available to them. We all know through simple observation that this is true. We are part of this organic system where our growth and development is assured when the conditions are right and we are prepared to grow and let nature take its course. In Zimbabwe and other parts of the world, many who have flourished in their lives did so when the conditions that stimulate growth and expansion were made available to them. There are those who hailed from poverty-stricken regions but, inspired by the works and accomplishments of others, worked their way up to the top and some who did well when others availed opportunities for them.

There’s a saying that goes and I quote, ‘Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor’ – the ones who are already in the mood and groove of things and not those who are sitting on the bench. The weather might not be perfect, the conditions might not be right, the music might be too low to dance to, but in all, one should always hold on to the potential to grow, for indeed one day the conditions will be right and all one has to do is grow.

Fail Constructively

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.
— J.K. Rowling

 

‘Results are out. go henceforth and reap what you sew!’

In Zimbabwe, students who sat for national exams recently got their results. Some were elated, others were devastated and crashed. I had the opportunity to interact with both. It does not take much effort to realize how exam scores mean a lot to students, to parents, and to all who are not either of these two. ‘How did you do?’ is often the question clinging on the lips of peers, parents, teachers (who might be in the know in most cases), like knives hanging precariously on a bandit’s waist.

The pressure is intense and it feels like life itself is dependent on the outcome of an exam, written by a student who spent days on end towards the final exams memorizing and marked by a teacher working on a target to mark as many papers as possible and get as much money as possible to support a family whose livelihood depends on the money. The tragedy is when one trades his/her life on the outcome of an exam. This does not strip away the importance of grades.

Stories are told of how if one was to look in Einstein’s report card, you would have doubted that this would be the one to revolutionize physics. St. Joseph of Cupertino (The flying monk) is commonly called the reluctant saint because he was slow  to learn and stayed in school even when he was older, learning with younger kids and not being the wiser. Yet he accomplished great things and God elevated him. There are many stories of people who failed in their lives but embraced failure as a stepping stone to success. The point is one does not attain success all the time and at the same time as others… which is why one must never compare his/her level of accomplishment to others’ levels of accomplishment.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

-1st Corinthians 1: 26-29, NIV

Most of the things I know are the things I failed at first which makes me think of success as a chain of failures connected together by links of perseverance and determination. It will be sheer folly on my part to say I started off on a good foot for those who know me from an earlier age will profess how I was almost close to being the first from last in my early years in primary school but slowly rose up the academic ranks, not by being very bright and by being bright enough to know I can try harder.

To those who put their life and happiness in the hands of an outcome of an exam, I urge you to digest the words of Malcolm Forbes:

Failure is success if we learn from it.
—Malcolm Forbes

Indeed, there is no way to success and as Gandhi put it:

There is no way to success, success is the way. — Gandhi, Mahatma

I believe if we all strive to learn from failure, from our mistakes, we can do good and be good. We must learn to learn from failure, rising up each time we fall and not being led astray by the temporary setbacks that are sure to come. Failure is an opportunity to work on aspects of our lives that need improvement. Hence we should embrace failure, not as an end but as a beginning. When we fail, let us fail constructively.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
— Thomas Edison