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!

guilty_raised_hand

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!

 

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

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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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