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The Importance of Being Earnest…Or Tolu – Tolu Talabi

Continuing the TedPosts with one by Tolu Talabi. I met Tolu at the Farafina Creative Writing Workshop last year. I literally have no words to describe him but for an idea on how his mind works, follow him on Twitter @naijarookie or get on his blog http://naijarookie.wordpress.com. Seriously. Check out his blog.


I don’t know if you saw this a few weeks ago. There was a two leg soccer match between the Under-17 female teams of Nigeria and Kenya. At the end of the first leg, which Nigeria won, the Kenyan team complained that Nigeria cheated because they had players that were over the age of 17. The Nigerian sports commentator reporting said (very smugly) that Kenya should stop making excuses for losing.

I found the whole episode hilarious (Nigeria using under-aged players? No way!) but it got me thinking about age and how much we expect from people at a young age.

You see, at 16, even if you’re not being called upon to play football for your country, you’re probably finishing up secondary school and making one of the most important decisions of your life about what you want to do after.

Actually, if you think about it, you already made the main part of that decision two years ago in SS1 when you decided whether to be an art, science, commercial, or social science student.

So you start making this important decision at 14, and two years later you put the finishing touches on that decision by selecting what field of study you want in University.

If you’re fortunate, you finish secondary school and roll right into university. And then if you’re doubly lucky, swept on by the rushing wave of your genius, all that studying gets converted into a job as soon you graduate. Of course, there are some of us, who have hitches in between, a few years waiting here, a few years waiting there, but we all get spat out into the same pool at the end.

Now you’re an adult and you’re kicking off a career and life based on a decision you made at 14.

A decision that was either made for you by people with your best interests at heart, or one you made yourself with whatever wealth of knowledge you had back then.

That is like having to select your spouse at 5. 

I know it is cute, and sounds romantic to say that you have always wanted to be a doctor, an accountant, or an engineer.

But years later, when you know yourself a little better, you owe it to yourself to re-evaluate that path you have chosen. I think at every point where you learn a bit more about yourself, you should sit back and find out how this fits into the picture of your life that you are currently drawing.

While we all want our lives to go well, the truth is, if everything went smoothly, there would be no time for reflection. The hitches, those tough waiting periods between schools and while waiting for proper jobs, allow us to drift to what naturally interests us, and should force us to find what we are absolute best at.

Sure, it might frustrate your friends and family to have you chase after every whim, but you have a chance here to be a more fully fleshed out character than if you had stuck to your day job. The thing is, very few of us are “pure” anything, pure business administrators, or pure lawyers. You are a mish-mash of a million things. An estate surveyor, with a quick head for numbers, who took some computer lessons, loves music and trained with the choir, has a critical eye for art, writes a little, likes children, has a mild interest in sustainable development and alternate energy sources and remembers every episode of Voltron.

All this knowledge you have amassed is a part of you, so don’t dismiss it. Everything you touch should be coloured with this rich brush that is uniquely you.

Somewhere between the skills you have acquired and the innate passions you discover over time, is a sweet spot that gives you the most satisfaction. And until you find that spot and tap into it, everything you do will be generic. You will merely be following someone else’s footsteps and chasing someone else’s dreams.

“Every man is born an original, sadly most die copies” – Abraham Lincoln.



  1. This! Like a top, so on point!… Yeah, I know, that was lame. Sue me… -_-

    Well said, Mr Talabi. Very well said.

  2. “An estate surveyor, with a quick head for numbers, who took some computer lessons, loves music and trained with the choir, has a critical eye for art, writes a little, likes children, has a mild interest in sustainable development and alternate energy sources and remembers every episode of Voltron.”

    You described me here except the trained with the choir part. I did study Estate Management and I work with numbers and tool computer lessons. I attend the odd art exhibition, write a blog, love children and have worked on renewable energy. And yes I do remember every episode of Voltron.

    How uncanny!

    I studied Estate Management because my dad is an Estate Surveyor but I decided I wanted to be something else right after school so I became a Consultant. I might become a politician or a philanthropist. Anything I want!

  3. Azeenarh Mohammed says

    Wow, your article got me thinking about so many things there. We all made choices when we were too little to know better!
    I think I’m going to go and re-evaluate my choices right now because of u.
    If it turns out well, err…thanks. If it doesn’t, I’m coming for your ****!

  4. Hmmmm. Interesting. In the words of Steve Jobs, you somehow have to trust the dots will connect in the future. Who’s to say if you made a decision at 24 rather than 14, you’ll still be loyal to that decision at 34? I hope we do find that sweet spot you speak of however, and relish it

  5. The most overwhelming factor in all that decision making is the unspoken limits. The world places too much limits on the average human now; In earlier times in the worlds history there were people that were tagged “renaissance” men because they had the freedom to study a number of subjects as interest them; thats why we had lawyers that were doctors and psychologists and painters all in one person; and they were the absolute best at what they did. Now we have everything primed, and like you said, our lives outlined from ss1 where we had to make a choice to either go science or art. There is that expectation to get a job and settle into a career that takes up more than 80% of your time leaving little or no time for much else; sometimes I think its a grand plan to helm us in, to limit us, to tame us. Thanks for this piece, shows others are analysing.

  6. issey says

    Feels absolutely refreshing to know that I’m not alone in this analysis of how this “rat race” began . What could a 14 year old actually know to make such a decision with great implications but what do the adults even know tooo? They are already in d rat race and they want to just produce a faster rat from their lineage. I think there should be candid engagement between post uni grads and secondary sch students… Does anyone have any idea if a campaign like that exists already?

    Love this post.! 🙂

  7. Tolu, This rings with so much truth. And sometimes its a truth we are afraid to admit or deal with……Osemhen,thanks for sharing.

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