When my biography is written, I would like it to go like this: “he was born in a small agrarian community in the Eastern part of one of the poorest countries in West Africa, the eighth child of a poor peasant farmer who depended on the proceeds from his small farm to cater for his very large family. The loss of his father when he was just 12 years old cast doubt on his aspirations to acquire an education and better the lot of the entire family. It took the sheer determination of his resilient mother to see him through secondary school. But he rose above the seemingly insurmountable barriers in his life to become one of the most successful, most celebrated individuals the world has ever known…”
One of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes is, “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” I interpret the quote as a personal message, which I must diligently imbibe. I chose not to fear or be intimidated by greatness because greatness according to Shakespeare is achievable. I’ll belong to the second category of great people according to his quote.
One of life’s greatest gifts to me is the privilege I have to author my own story. At every point in my life I’ve the opportunity of recreating my life, of opening a new, blank page, summing up who I am and then laying it aside to write a fresh new copy of who I want to be. This can be done through deliberate effort to rise above what I am, to become what I am not. I once told a colleague in a conversation that I’m in competition with only two persons in life; myself and my biological father. While I strive every day to be better than the person I was the day before, I also strive to surpass every achievement of my father. I strive to be the opposite of all his negative attributes and break each of his positive records.
Instances abound in history of people who have risen above their supposed identity to create new identities for themselves. Some were born into wretchedness and they ended up leaving behind enormous fortune for future generations. Some were labelled dummies but they later dazzled the world with their brilliance and ingenuity. Other suffered childhood trauma, domestic abuses and stigma but wouldn’t let any of those to define them.
For J.K. Rowling it took the eight-year-old daughter of the CEO of Bloomsbury (a small publishing firm) falling in love with her first Harry Potter book for the company to publish it after it has been roundly rejected by other publishers. Just three years before her first book was published, Rowling was a divorcée surviving on government aid, and could barely afford to feed her baby. One account on her life reported that “she was so poor she couldn’t afford the cost of photocopying the 90,000-word novel, so she manually typed out each version to send to publishers.” Today, few people know about her past because her new identity has overshadowed everything she was thereto known as. Rowling is now listed among the richest people in the world, and one of the most successful writers of all time.
Tyler Perry was named Forbes highest paid man in entertainment in 2011, but that is rather part of the end of his life’s story. Here is the beginning. Perry had an extremely rough childhood. He was physically and sexually abused while growing up, and got expelled from high school. He had attempted suicide twice—once as a preteen and again at 22.
In 1992 he staged his first theater production, I Know I’ve Been Changed, which somewhat mirrored his difficult upbringing. Perry put all his savings into the show and it failed woefully. He kept up with the production, working on odd jobs until the show became a success. Today people recognise Perry as the successful director, writer, and actor that he has become.
The story of Ben Carson will pass as the world’s most inspiring journey from limited prospect in life to the pedestal of international acclaim. Ben was 8 years old when his father left his family for a second one, leaving the responsibility of raising two children to his young mother. The family was very poor and, to make ends meet, his mother sometimes toiled at two or more jobs simultaneously. Having learnt from his mother that anything was possible Carson rose from the bottom of his class and being the object of ridicule by his classmates, to a position of top academic excellence. Still his achievements were not well received by some of his teachers because of his skin color. Carson’s is a story of “a troubled youth growing up in the inner city to a poor family eventually finding success.” He became director of pediatric neurosurgery at the age of 33, at the time, the youngest U.S. physician to hold such a position and gained international reputation for performing surgeries that other medical experts had labelled impossible.
The struggles of these individuals with life and their eventual success is evidence to me that I need not concern myself with knowing exactly what I am. My main interest in life and work should be to become someone else that I was not in the beginning. This will require a mindset that is detached from what is and constantly focused on what can be. As Pablo Picasso said, “others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.” Complaining about my disadvantages in life is to me a total waste of useful energy. Such energies can be converted into useful works that can transform disadvantages into advantages.
No matter the effect of unequal opportunities that is the present reality of our world, I want to be named among those who didn’t allow those harsh truths of who they are or what they have been through to determine their altitude. By taking cognizance of my weakness and ignoring them, I can become someone I was not in the beginning. Being aware that “reality is a state of mind”, I always say within me this who I am, but it doesn’t define me: I can become someone else.