Sunday, February 23, 2014

Want, What Is It Good For? Absolutely Nothing!

I’m mourning the demise of my 5 year old laptop. We created so many memories together – from drafting my dissertation, to skyping, to applying for jobs, to movie watching and music listening – it was there for me, and now I have to let it go. I tried to resuscitate, but to no avail, so I have made peace with the reality that it’s time to move on, and move on I shall. Some people would say five years is a long time to use the same laptop, and with modern ones and tablets released every second, they’d have replaced theirs sooner. Well, not I.

I am an ardent believer of the saying –'if it ain't broke, don’t fix it'. My laptop provided everything I wanted and needed - the 13" screen was perfect, the size of the hard drive suited my lifestyle, the picture and sound quality were satisfactory; not to mention it was light-weight and very portable. I couldn't see any reason to purchase a new laptop or tablet, so I used it for 5 years until it gave up the ghost.

It’s the same routine I followed with my Nokia phone of 4 years. Despite the fact it wasn't a smart phone, I didn't feel the need to upgrade to one, even though most of my friends used them and prodded me to buy one. I only bought a smartphone after my Nokia developed a mind of its own for the convenience of browsing and reading news in real time, and not because I wanted to fit in. Yes, fitting in and its close cousin popularly known as keeping up with the Joneses, are the problem with the world today.

2008 saw the world economy dragged into the abyss of a recession as a result of sub-prime mortgage. Of course, solely blaming bankers for the financial mess would be jaundiced and disingenuous, especially when the other side was equally culpable since they knew they couldn't afford to buy homes, but were convinced they could become homeowners by banks that knew they couldn't afford to buy them. Had potential homeowners been truthful with themselves about the state of their finances, and staved off applying for sub-prime mortgages in order to keep up with the Joneses, they would have saved themselves the heartache of receiving foreclosure notices.

Similarly, if bankers were honest with potential homeowners, whom they knew were unqualified to apply for a mortgage, instead of devising and sustaining a stratagem with profit as its sole aim, the world would have been saved from the financial nightmare it still reels from.

We've become an avaricious society that is never satisfied. Consumption has become our god, and “more is less” our mantra. We have a burning desire to impress our neighbors and friends with what we can’t afford. We've become like drug addicts seeking highs from owning the latest "It" thing – "You have to have it", the salesperson says to you with a winsome smile. But the truth is you don’t have to have it. If it’s not a need but a want, you can exist as a complete human being without it.

Unfortunately, most people invariably cave in to the salesperson's speech and/or the deceptive voices in their heads. The 'have to have it' syndrome has driven several government officials to loot their nation’s coffers, thereby depriving citizens of much needed public goods and amenities.
“We preoccupy ourselves with what we had — or what we want to have — at the expense of what we have.” - Mokokoma Mokhonoana
It’s saddening and disconcerting to watch people go beyond their means to buy the house of their dreams, or plan the wedding of their dreams with the result that they end up with massive debt in their hands. What's wrong with a living in an apartment, or owning a two-bedroom house as opposed to a mansion? What’s wrong with inviting ten friends to your wedding with no reception afterwards, if that’s what you can afford?

My parents didn't have anyone at their white wedding, save for two witnesses and a priest, and there was no reception afterwards. What’s more, they've been married for 37 years, so the idea of spending truckloads of money, that one can barely afford, for a day that neither demonstrates the love the couple has for each other, nor has any impact on how long the marriage will last, is completely preposterous and risible. These days, weddings have become less about the celebration of the couple’s unity, and more about the ostentatious displaying of wealth. Don’t get me wrong, if you do have the money, by all means splurge; however, what's troubling is the irrational need to impress people when one doesn't need to and can’t afford to.

As a society, we have managed to convince ourselves that our self-worth and happiness are contingent on what we possess, but this false thinking has driven so many people into insurmountable debt and suicide. We've misplaced our sense of priority and lost our values. How can anyone justify standing in line for days on end just so they’re the first to own the latest iPhone, when in a week or two, everyone else will be holding one? What use is it to steal, run into debt, or overcharge one's credit card just so one can tote a Chanel bag or own a castle?

For what it’s worth, the world would be a much happier place if we answered the following questions honestly: Who am I without my possessions? Do they define me as a person? Do my possessions have control over me, or I over them? Can I afford to acquire these items, and if so, are they a need or a want? Is there any downside to passing over these items? Am I making this purchase for myself, or for the neighbors?

PS: People who rarely suffer buyer’s remorse, or seldom return purchased items usually shop within their budget and buy what they need. As a result, their buyer’s high and satisfaction lasts much longer because they’re uninterested in chasing after the next trend, or with keeping up with the Joneses.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Aging and Another Birthday

birthday Study: Death Visits More Often On Birthdays
Another year; another birthday
I will be turning a year older pretty soon, and have decided to commemorate the event by writing about a few observations I've made over the years. I've never been one to celebrate birthdays (no, I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness) simply because I cannot stand the glaring attention. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate the well-wishes, however, strange as it may seem, I’m very sensitive to the spotlight which is the reason my birth day on Facebook is hidden. For me, it’s more rewarding to spend my birthday in a contemplative mood, rather than partying and painting the town red.

I still cannot believe I’m almost 30! No, I’m not turning 30 just yet, but I’m inching closer. How did the 80s and 90s move by so quickly? I’m still in shock! What’s even more of a shock to me is selecting my age bracket in forms - it’s moved from 21 – 25 to 26 – 30. Very soon it will be 31 – 35!! Oh gosh, I am getting old! Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to God for having lived this long on earth; it’s just that I’m in awe of how the years have gone by…so quickly.

There are so many people who would have loved to be 10, 15, 20, or 40 but never made it, and it is disrespectful to both the living and the dead to bemoan living another year on earth. The way I see it, there are more advantages in aging than disadvantages: you’re wiser (mostly); you become more independent; you’re less prone to peer pressure, and you care less about people’s impressions of you; and more importantly (how I can’t wait to be 80) – you lose the ability to self-censor – you can express yourself the way you want and make no apologies for it. And the most beautiful part is that no one will give you any grief for it! In my opinion, except for a few outliers, no one gets to be wiser and more sophisticated without cutting a few teeth and winning a few wrinkles – which is say we should embrace the aging process wholeheartedly.

We tend to die a little death inside whenever we turn a year older because we feel we can’t do certain things after a certain age. The thing is most things in life aren't meant to be rushed, neither are they age-restrictive. Age shouldn't be about how we look, but about how we feel. Moreover, age doesn't prevent anyone from doing anything; our prejudice does. Who’s to say a 90 year old shouldn't run a marathon just because they are 90? If they feel like they’re 40 years old and their feet can lift them up, then who are we to assign a chronological age to them?

As I get older, I've come welcome each birthday as a sign of growth – spiritual, personal, intellectual and physical growth. Each year comes with its own distinct experiences that have made me into the person I am today, so I won’t want to subtract any year from my life as I did as a teenager. 

Aging is a journey of self-discovery and acceptance, and as I get older I’m amazed by how much tolerant I am of people’s views. I've also come to fully accept the fact that I’ll forever be an introvert. After reading Susan Cain’s book on introversion – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – I embraced my introversion 120%. Prior to reading her book, I knew I was introverted and wasn't bothered by it in the least, but reading it helped me understand myself even much better. Finally, I understood the reason I was (and still am) more expressive in my writing and less so in my speech; I could explain my dislike for small talk, or my reason for shunning the limelight. Reading her book made me feel like part of a much larger community as opposed to being a member of a sub-culture.

Each passing year brings with it its own share of friendships – you add some to your life, maintain some, and let go of some. This is all part of the aging process and there’s nothing wrong with losing old friends or building stronger ties with new ones. Some friendships can last a lifetime if all parties evolve at the same rate, or pursue similar interests and goals, while some last for a brief moment. And however sad or painful it may be to lose a friend, I've learned that these "short" friendships shouldn't be mourned but celebrated. 

I’m of the opinion that every friendship teaches us about who we are, what we can and cannot tolerate, and reveals an undiscovered world we were unaware existed in us until that friend came along. Essentially, I've gained from all my friendships and regret none for they've opened my eyes to many experiences and allowed me to view life through a different pair of eyes.

As I continue on this journey called life, my prayer and wish is that I get to know myself much better, embrace new experiences and friendships, continue challenging myself to be a better human being, remain healthy… and remember to keep fighting fat - they say age has a way of messing up with one’s metabolism.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Very Short Story: The Tyranny That Is Beauty

I’m Amaka, a 26 year old Nigerian woman. I’m smart, confident, intelligent and witty, but of course that’s not what people notice at first sight. What most people are attracted to at first glance are: my face, my 5'10'' statuesque frame, and my body à la Kim Kardashian (far be it from me to brag, but I’m compelled to present a visual picture of myself so you can better understand what I’m about to say, and thus my dilemma.) For as long as I care to recall, men have reminded me about how "beautiful" and "sexy" I am ad nauseam. Now, I’m not averse to compliments, but when there's a perceived ulterior motive, or if it’s given in a professional setting, or it’s said in a sexually suggestive fashion, I get turned off.

“What’s your gripe?” you might ask. My gripe is that people generally put a premium on beauty, and that irks me beyond words. Yes, it is true that beautiful people on a whole are treated more favorably than the average Joe or Jane, and can easily charm their way into getting what they want, but what if you don’t want to be ogled at, or spoken to, or treated in a certain way solely because of your looks? What if you prefer to be recognized as a human being with feelings and emotions, considered for your personality and intelligence rather than as a sex object to be looked at and probably shown off like a newly acquired trophy?

As a teenager, the mirror was never my best friend, and this wasn't as a result of having an acne-ridden face like most teenagers did. On the contrary, my face was as smooth as a bottle. I simply didn't care about my looks. Don’t get me wrong, I washed my face twice a day, and applied barely-there makeup in the form of mascara and lip-gloss when I was in the mood, but I never spent a substantial amount of time preening and admiring myself in the mirror. What’s more, I developed a hatred of sorts for the mirror when my body began transitioning from that of a child to that of woman. I couldn't bear the stares from the boys in class or the obscene comments from random men in street corners.

While most of my friends reveled in their newly acquired curves and encouraged the ogling and comments from the opposite sex, I worked feverishly to conceal mine in a bid to avoid unsolicited compliments and stares. Unfortunately though, there were always mirrors to remind me the transformation was inevitable, and it wasn't until my 18th birthday that I realized I was fighting a losing battle; at that point I decided it was healthier to my curves. In spite of my nonchalance, teen-aged boys and men couldn't shake off their morbid fascination with them, which in turn fueled my decision not to date in my teens.
Do you see me? I am more than my reflection
Fast forward to my twenties and my time in University, and I still grappled with the "beauty burden", albeit in tolerable, tiny doses. Although I had finally made peace with the mirror and embraced my curves, I still didn't put a premium on my outward appearance. University was a place I loved because intellectuality was valued more than one’s bra size or facial features. It was an environment I genuinely enjoyed and didn't dream of leaving because I was valued as a being with thoughts and not something to be admired; but alas the reverie had to come to an end. I graduated in 4 short years, and was thrown into the real world where beauty meant everything most of the time.

Nearly a year after I graduated from University, I grudgingly accepted a marketing job from one the largest banks in Nigeria since jobs were hard to come by in the depressed economy. The Marketing Department could easily pass for a modelling agency as all marketers were physically beautiful women in their 20s with nice figures. In fact, academic qualifications were of little importance in the recruitment process; if spoke proper English and fit the bank’s "beauty criteria", you were hired. Consequentially, it was a job I grew to hate because in my eyes marketers were glorified prostitutes used to solicit potential investors – who were men for the most part.

The bank’s modus operandi was to set incredulously unrealistic "targets" that marketers had to either meet or risk getting fired. My target was for 80 million naira which I was expected to deliver within 3 months. On hearing the amount, I almost fainted. "How on earth was I to convince potential investors to invest vast sums of money in the bank?" I thought to myself.

As I struggled to walk back to my seat, a colleague invited me to go with her one of her marketing rounds so I could get the hang of it. Unbeknownst to me, this was the beginning of my six months in hell.

My colleague had a rendezvous in an upscale restaurant with a potential investor, and as we waited for his arrival, I picked her brain about marketing and meeting targets. By the time she was done narrating her experience and those of the other marketers, I felt more and more like a tool - like an object to be used for the economic benefit of the bank. It was this moment I resolved to start job-hunting in earnest.

After six months of unproductive and enervating work that included inappropriate comments from potential male investors, unwanted touching, lewd glances and outrageous flirting from married men, I decided for the sake of my sanity and dignity it was time to sever ties with the bank. In a strange way, working as a marketer was reminiscent of my days in secondary school, where all that seemed to matter, for the most part, was one’s physical appearance.

As a child, I never quite understood what my grandma meant when she said: ''Physical beauty is to women what wealth is to men; and just like wealth attracts all sorts of women, so does beauty attract all sorts of men. You’d do well to choose wisely.'' Now I do.

Everyone has a cross or several crosses to bear, and one of mine is my looks. I have been saddled with the "beauty-burden" of having to fish out men who are genuinely interested in me as a living, thinking being from those who only see me as an accompaniment or a sex object. Hence, as a rule of thumb, I only date men who are genuinely interested in my personality and my grey matter, and I eschew those that are obsessed with how "hot" or "sexy" I am.

And as for my current job, I'm a programmer for an IT firm; a place where brains are valued more than looks. Go figure.