The Art of Balancing Yes and No

Man is a social animal; goes about making relationships. In doing so , he looks for acceptance, appreciation, affirmation and acknowledgement. The journey  through life traditionally starts in the family follows through the community , nation and in this Digital era, it extends to the global village.

The psychologists tell us that each one of us needs four basic attributes to go through life:

  • Basic optimism
  • The capacity to band together  for support
  • The courage to fight for yourself and others
  • Compassion and care for yourself and others.

These four together provide us with the basic skills for living in society. At the same time, each one of us needs to develop four abilities: to strive, to let go , to love and to create if we are to express our unique gifts and talents and make a difference in the communities we live in.

Since we are interconnected, what I do has a ripple effect on those around me and what they do affects me  as well. Among the inner guides within our unconscious  is the Caregiver and when it is activated in our lives  and  is dominating  the other inner guides like the Innocent, the Warrior, the Ruler, the Fool, the Sage, we see people in need of our care.  While our thinking and acting is dominated by the Caregiver, we reach out to help and make a difference through love and sacrifice.

Over time, we learn that we cannot be everything or be everything to all. We are then forced to develop a safety mechanism to protect ourselves against the demands of this world.We can only do this by choosing to say “no” or “yes” and accepting the responsibility for that choice.

Failing to say “no” can result in exhaustion; burn out, depression and being physically sick . Each one of us has to learn to make a conscious choice to say “no” to what does not fit in her/his agenda or does not contribute to her/his personal understanding and growth.

And when you say “yes” you have to willingly give fully and completely within your limits and priorities. Look people in the eye and say “No”, do not get caught in the middle of yes and no; it leaves people hanging.  When you say it,mean it otherwise you will not be taken seriously.

“ NO is a complete sentence. It does not require an explanation to follow. You can truly answer someone’s request with a simple No.” – Sharon . E. Rainey.

Life is essentially about relationships and the choices we make. Choices have consequences. When faced with options, we end up making a series of YES  and  NO and gradually build up the big picture of our lives. As I said earlier, we are social animals living interdependently. We all start by conforming to please family, friends and peers and continue to ensure success and status doing the same thing. The majority of us will struggle to do what we really want without losing our family and friends. Juggling both family and work, one can find herself taking on too many commitments and too fast. This has resulted in burnout- exhausted and overwhelmed. It is our responsibility to empower the young to avoid and to handle such situations. It goes back to teaching them and supporting them in creating emotional and spiritual balance by simply learning to balance YES and NO.

“Until you  learn how to confidently say No to so many things , you will still always say Yes to many things.’’ Enest Agyemang Yeboah

This is where the 80/20 Rule of Time Management comes in handy. At any one stage in your life, you have to define what is most important to you and focus your time, energy, efforts and resources on that. What you focus on always grows.

You have to prioritize the 20% most important things to you and devote 80% of your time on them. Anything else is regarded as a distraction and should not be allowed to steal your time. We all have 24 hours in a day but the most successful among us are those who have mastered the art of using their time wisely.

 Developing this 80/20 mindset will help you to use your time effectively. The “urgent” will stop drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life. You will stay focused on the key stuff in your life. You will be able to beat the stressful lifestyle that puts you under extreme pressure.

As we grow and take on more responsibilities only to retire later, the 20% most important things in life also change. You have to continue setting your priorities, it will lead you into making good choices about what you want to be and do. You will stop wasting time on things that do not matter to you.

I have learned to apply this 80/20 Rule on a daily basis and it has worked wonders. I have been able to do much more in a day and generally I have been able to move the most important things in my life forward. I have been able to do amazing things by reducing the distractions. It continues to help me find more meaning and purpose in my life.

 Each day throws you many options all day long and saying YES or NO to these options points you into a different direction.  Over time, your personal growth comes in a series of small, incremental changes resulting from the choices you made and your commitment to follow things through. Later in life, the strong urge to please, to fit in, to satisfy the demands of family and peer groups wears off and you want to live a life of more significance and depth. You consider what adds value to your life: what makes your heart resonate with your soul and what makes you feel good about yourself and brings fun in your life.

As learning is for life, I am still learning and trying to master the art of balancing YES and NO. As they say: Practice makes perfect.

One last quote: “When you say no to the wrong people, it opens up the space for the right people to come in.’’ Joe Calloway.

 QUESTION: Are you one of those people who find it hard to say NO?

Has this post helped you to see the need to take courage and to develop the discipline to say NO?

GRADUATION 11: What's next?

A motorcycle shelter made from plastic bottles by Susan Suubi of Uganda

   You graduated two weeks ago; you celebrated your accomplishment with family and friends. You look to a future full of possibilities and fulfillment. I think by now the euphoria has worn off and reality has set in. You have to work within these sobering and haunting facts: Uganda has the highest youth population in the world. The youth make up 78% of the total population of 42 million. Youth unemployment in Uganda ranges from 60-80 %, the highest rate in youths in Sub-Saharan Africa. The rate is highest in degree holders in the urban areas. A total of 400,000 students graduate from all the universities in Uganda to compete for the 90,000-100,000 jobs available in the formal sector. Automation in the banks and offices continues to reduce the available jobs further.

 The agricultural sector still remains the back bone of Uganda’s economy, 70% of the population depend on it for their livelihood and employment. But the majority is practicing the subsistence type of farming in this day and age.

 Most of what is happening around you is beyond your control because these are challenges of your generation. As times change, things change. Over time you will learn as we all did at one time, what is in your control: your thoughts and attitude towards what happens to you.  Focus on that to help you survive and thrive.

   For the lucky few who have already found employment, make the most of it by :

  • Fitting in- you have to adapt to fit in. You have to make a positive impact on your employers. Take the initiative to know your place of work well, the company itself and it culture. Know the dress code and social program.

Be friendly- Smile, ask questions about what you do not know, be interested.

  • Be agreeable- Learn your environment, the people and place before you start complaining or making suggestions.
  • Respect- Respect everyone. What you give out will be returned to you. Everyone wants to be appreciated, respected and recognized.
  • Give 110%- my late father always advised me so. Work harder than anyone else to prove that you want to be in that place. Keep time, be responsible and reliable.

                   Work hard at getting integrated- Look for the company’s Standard Operation Procedures and learn it and live it. Offer to help at anything; this will help you to become part of the team. As a team player, do your part perfectly to fit in the company’s big picture. You will gradually learn to become an aggressive player.

 The English say that: ” A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

   I cannot emphasize enough the need to keep learning every day. The 21st century is a science and technology – driven era, constantly changing and fast too. It is highly competitive and there are no permanent skills anymore. Skills have to be continually upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

Seize all the opportunities for training that become available for you. I would advise you to consider taking up Online courses or evening courses between 5pm and bedtime and weekends. This is an investment into yourself and for the future. Be guided by your vision to get focus and clarity. But never compromise on your value system; it always catches up with you in the future.

 For the self-employed- I take off my hat to you for taking the courage to leap into the unknown. Choosing to become your own boss at your age in your environment is taking a real leap of faith! It is tough -going but will become easier especially if you are turning your hobby or passion into a business.

    In this Solution-oriented century, if your business is trying to solve one of our country’s biggest problems like supplying clean energy, recycling the heaps of plastics then money will come chasing you.

       You need to participate in available entrepreneurship training programmes to acquire the business skills you need to start, run and sustain an enterprise successfully. Visit other people providing competing products or services. Embrace the Digital technology, it will help you to advertise yourself, form networks and collaborate with fellow entrepreneurs. Start small and move up but work smart.

 It is hard work that requires a lot of patience, resilience and support but when you succeed, you will be proud of yourself and you will be a free person.

  “It always seems impossible until it is done.”– Nelson Mandela

Believe in yourself and your capabilities and your brain will find a way of making it work.

For the unemployed – You feel energetic, vibrant and want to channel this energy into something useful to you and others. The high rate of unemployment and the fact that many of the graduates do not have the skills that employers want may be playing a big role in your current state. You definitely need to add some skills to your Academic knowledge to make yourself more employable.

 Right now, I have just remembered the final sermon that the late Pastor Myles Munroe of Bahamas Faith Ministries International, gave to a congregation many of whom had just lost their jobs due to the recession of 2014

Sadly, on the 9th November 2014, he died in a plane crash along with his wife, son and six others. I remember very clearly the life- saving advice he gave to those men and women in total despair.

 I am just giving you what I picked out as the most important inspiring ideas from his sermon on The Power of Self-government. I think it will help you move forward.

  • He reminded the members of the congregation that each one of them was created to solve a problem on earth. God equips you with talent and gifts to help you find the problem you were born to solve. Education helps to refine your gifts and talents by giving you knowledge and sometimes the skills. He defined the job as what you are paid to do but work as what you were born to do. So your job is your skill while your work is your gift. When you find yourself, you find your gift( the seed inside you) Unlike the job, the gift cannot be learned or taken away. It can only be refined. You should use your God-given gift to solve a community problem. Any problem around us can be turned into a business as people are paid for the problems they solve.
  • He reminded them that success was 90% brain and 10% hands.

One example he gave of turning a problem into a business was Bill Gates, a computer programmer, and his childhood friend, Paul Allen who innovated with microchip technology and developed new software products which are used in all computers. They solved the problem of data collection, data analysis, storage and sharing. They built Microsoft, the multinational company which has made Bill Gates one of the richest men in the world.

As for you, you only have to identify the biggest problems in your community like deforestation, frequent droughts, youth unemployment, poor garbage disposal especially the plastics and you come up with a locally appropriate and affordable solution.

Once you find the solution to a common problem you will have found your wealth.

I would also advise you to add skills to your academic knowledge by undergoing vocational training. It will equip you with practical experience and technical skills in a specific field. Employers look for people who bring something to the company-necessary skills and practical experience. You will meet the demands of a working environment, deliver quality performance and good results.

I would also like to remind you that we are living in a science-technology-driven century. Technology touches and continues to permeate all areas of our lives. You need to invest in Information, Communication Technology. There are some ICT and Software jobs from some leading companies in Uganda and worldwide.

After preparing yourself, you could try Online Freelance jobs in Typing, Writing and Designing. Believe in yourself and others will begin to believe in you. Whatever you choose to do or be, do not forget to be human and to look for inspiration.

Mark Zuckerberg, the main co- founder of Facebook: the Social media and technology company started off small. In 2004, in his Harvard dormitory room, he and a few of his Harvard roommates started this company. Gradually it expanded to include students from other universities. Currently, Facebook is the most downloaded mobile app of the decade(2010-2019)

All in all there are few jobs out there and you have to position yourself to get one of them. It is a long way to go; start from the beginning, perform and become a team player while being guided by your vision and value system.  When you do what you love and enjoy it and you are paid reasonably for it, it ceases to be work. It becomes fun.                       

  “The world needs problem solvers.” – Anonymous.

The future belongs to the Risk takers not to the Comfort seekers. Prepare yourself for this role. 

QUESTION: Has this post helped you to identify a big problem in your community to solve and get paid for your services?

IT IS GRADUATION WEEK AT MAKERERE,UGANDA

Three of the eight young women who graduated as medical doctors at Makerere University in March 1977.
My second son(L) graduated as a civil engineer from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, 30 years after my graduation.

Makerere University, Kampala, was established by the then British Colonial government, in 1922 as a vocational training school; carpentry, building and motor mechanics. Since then it has grown to become the oldest and one of the most prestigious Universities in Africa.

Forty three years ago, I graduated from the faculty of medicine of the only public university of the time!

Currently there are 11 public universities and 38 registered private universities in Uganda with 12 medical schools between them!

On the 14th January 1945, Makerere College admitted the first batch of Ugandan women students, they were six of them. From 14th to 17 th January 2020,  a total of 13,509 students will be graduating from Makerere Univesrsity, Kampala, in the 70th graduation ceremony. Of these, 50.5 percent are females. We have come a long way considering that in my Graduate Class of 1977, of the 120 graduands only 8 were women, including one from Malawi.  By then, the total population of Uganda was  11.3 millions: 5.6 males and 5.7 females.

Indeed, Makerere University has lived up to its motto: We Build for The future.

Nelson Mandela( 1918-2013) , the most iconic leader of  the 20th Century highly valued education and expressed it in these two quotes:

“ Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

A good heart and a good mind are always a formidable combination.”

Undoubtedly, we believe that Education is a gift for a lifetime.

To the parents of the graduands, I thank you for the nurturance, guidance and the sacrifices.

To the teachers, mentors and sponsors, I thank you for your willingness to share your skills, knowledge and expertise to empower the young generation.

To the graduands, I congratulate you on this great achievement. I admire and respect you for your determination, your perseverance and tenacity. This is the first key you needed to unlock your success in life. You have climbed to the top of the mountain only to discover like the icon Nelson Mandela did: “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that  there are many more hills to climb.’’

This graduation marks the beginning of the rest of your life.

You will wake up tomorrow to the sobering and haunting reality on theground:

  • Uganda has a population of 42 million people and the youths under the age of 30 make up 78% of this population. Uganda has the highest youth population in the world.
  • Youth unemployment in Uganda ranges from 60-80%, the highest rate in youths in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, the rate is highest among degree holders in the urban area.
  • Each year, 400,000 students graduate from all these universities to compete for only the 90,000-100,000 jobs in the formal sector.
  • The agricultural sector still remains the backbone of Uganda’s economy, 70% of the population depend on it for their livelihood and employment.
  • The 21st century is the Information Revolution and most innovative age of our time. It is Science and technologically – driven. It is constantly changing and fast too. It demands that each graduate keeps learning, improving, growing to become better at what he/she chooses to do. It is mandatory that you keep improving your personal best.  Digital technology has shrunk the world to a global Village and made it highly competitive. There are no permanent skills in this 21st century; skills have to be continually upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

Alvin Toffler ( 1928- 2016) an American writer and business man, spelt this out years back in this quote: “ The illiterates of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write , but those who cannot learn ,  unlearn and relearn.”

The education you received should have helped to shine your unique gifts, talents and skills and led you into the vision of your life.  Your vision –  the big picture of your life should inspire and inform your plan for each subsequent year for the rest of your life.

There are no permanent jobs anymore in this digital technology- driven era!

Working on desks in the office is being replaced by working online from your home.

Human beings are being replaced by automated machines and systems.

In countries like Japan many jobs  in the industries are being taken over by industrial robots.

To survive in such a changing environment, one has to become flexible and adaptable to remain useful and relevant to yourself and others.

You have to learn to think for yourself, look for skills you need to create your own job. Job seekers may have to walk the streets for a long time.

The world is now Solution –orientated so the best way to create a job for yourself and others is to critically look at the most burning problems of your community and find a locally appropriate solution to any one of them. The solution should become your business –making you money while at the same time serving others.

Uganda’s biggest challenges are: Climate Change and its effects on food security, deforestation, a high population growth rate of 3.2% , Land ownership and Youth Unemployment.

At this moment in time you may not know the following:

  1. You are among the privileged few to reach this education level- it gives you the burden to lift up others in your community.
  2. You can only turn your qualification into real power if you apply it to improve your life and the lives of others.
  3. You have some hobbies which you can exploit to your benefit. Choose one of them and use it to find a solution to anyone of the biggest challenges of our country. When you do, it could turn you into a successful business man/woman. As long as you believe in yourself, you can be anything and do everything.
  4. The network of friends you have built so far will over time become part of your family. Together you have formed a community that protects each other and makes each other resilient to the rapid changes around you. Stay connected.
  5.  You have been handed a blank writing book to write your own story for a lifetime. Keep striving to know who you are deep down so that when you write the story of your life every day, it is  expressing your authenticity. Remember to embrace honesty and compassion. You also have to develop the discipline to balance competitiveness with co-operation in the current highly competitive world.

 At my age, I have learned that life is not a sprint race but a marathon. As an endurance race, it demands that you start off with the end in mind then plan meticulously how to get there at your own pace and rhythm. You have always to be aware that you are surrounded by other runners, you can use them to your advantage to achieve your personal best.

To become the best, you must have the best role models to stretch your mind, imaginations and abilities.

To stay or not to stay– No one has the answer to this question because it is an individual decision based on many factors. I had chosen to stay on and work in my country until it came to the point where I could not be paid a decent salary as a medical doctor and the tools that I needed to perform my work proved to be inadequate. I could not achieve what I wanted in life in such a limiting environment. I had to look for opportunities elsewhere to realize my full potential. I willed myself to start afresh and I left for greener pastures. I am now back in Uganda and carving a new path in a radically changed environment. I learn something new every day, unlearn what is no longer true or relevant and relearn what is still true and relevant. Little by little, I am finding a new comfort zone.

You will be in the game for a long time. My advice would be for you to believe in yourself, stay in the game and show up every day. At times you will be stuck in a rut but summon all your courage and energy , ask for help and keep moving forward. Gradually you will learn to take risks, be aggressive and smart. You are allowed to break a few rules as long as you cling to your integrity and compassion. This is good for you since you can never get the extraordinary if you do not do something extraordinary. Keep skilling yourself for the jobs of the future.

It is your life, make the most of it.

Congratulations on your graduation and best wishes for the future.

NEW POSSIBILITIES

A feast for the eyes and the palate to welcome you into 2020

The New Year gives each one of us an opportunity to start afresh while at the same time aiming at doing more and doing better.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

 The big picture of your life and mine comes to us piecemeal year by year. This explains why we have to look at the passing year closely before planning for the New Year. I have had to assess whether I was able to achieve the goals that I set for myself for this year and the progress I made towards advancing my overall purpose in life. I know that I should have done better in some areas and in others; things were beyond my control. I am now determined to use the lessons I have learned from my failures to improve my future, as for the achievements, they point me toward bigger goals in the years to come. They say that Experience is the best teacher.

As I write this post, a quote by an unknown author keeps coming to me: “Set your goals high enough to inspire you and low enough to encourage you.”
Unrealistic goals put you on pressure and lead to frustration.
For the last seven years, I have been a keen Follower of Michael Hyatt, the renowned American life coach and Virtual mentor. He advises each one of us to plan for the year as planning gives us clarity and helps us to make progress to achieving the goals. The three elements of the plan are:


1. The Vision- this is the big picture of your life and it should inspire and inform your plan. Each one of us is born with the power to create, transform and heal. What is most critical is that your vision conforms to who you are at a deep level and what your life, at best, should really be about. Look within yourself to identify your unique gifts, talents and skills and then use them to create your own ideal life. Having a vision of the future stretches your sense of possibilities and brings you closer to achieving your own ideal life. A positive but realistic projection of the future frees us to enjoy the present and to make our dreams come true. The vision should be very concrete so that it becomes real to us. You are free to fake it until you make it.

2.The Priorities- the most important things in your life that advance your personal development and fulfillment.
We live in a fast-paced, competitive world and many demands are made on us. It is vital that we consistently apply the 80/20 Rule of Time Management: prioritize the 20% most important things in your life and devote 80% of your time, energy, efforts and resources on them. It is the only way to stop the ‘Urgent’ from drowning out the most important activities that advance your overall purpose in life.

Life is too short. Do stuff that matters.”-  Siqi Chen

The priorities change as we grow but essentially they are: family, career, health, finances and relationships.

3. The Actions- the steps to be taken to fulfill your priorities.

Dante Alighieri rightly said: “The secret of getting things done is to act.”

 These are the goals and are better laid out using the SMART acronym:
S- Our goals should be Specific
M- should be Measurable( year-long)
A- should be Actionable
R- should be Realistic.
T- should be Time bound.

The above three elements of the year plan should be aligned together.

I have always had to remind myself that I am in control of my life. It fuels my determination to follow things through to achieve my vision and stay motivated to reach my goals. I must admit that this year my greatest weakness has been procrastination- the Thief of Dreams. I have had to fight fiercely to beat it. I had to encourage myself to stick to the deadlines and to ask my eldest son to hold me accountable.
I would urge you to believe in yourself and encourage yourself by rewarding yourself for the achievements. Be smart to let go of what no longer serves you and pick what really fits who you now are. This is the only way you can be yourself and let yourself have what you truly want.

Interestingly, I have had to take off my hat many times to Vuvu Mpofu, the newest opera singer star at the annual Glyndebourne Festival Opera of UK. She comes from a small town in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She first heard of opera at the age of fifteen when she watched a Mozart aria at a school concert. It cast such a strong spell on her that she bought two opera DVDs and taught herself to sing by mimicking singers in the DVDs. She did it over and over again until she became confident and competent to be noticed by a voice coach. Last August, she was chosen to participate in this traditional summer event. At twenty eight years of age, she became the first non-British artist to win the John Christie Award for the most promising young singer of the year.

I have watched her videos on YouTube and I have been blown away!

 With her vocal extraordinary talent, she is really going places.

This is what I call faking it until you become it.

I hope that reading this post has given you the confidence to make Smarter goals for 2020 , making it different from 2019. I wish you happiness, good health and prosperity in the New Year.

QUESTION:

Were you able to accomplish the goals you set for yourself for 2019?

What was your biggest hurdle? How did you overcome it?

A SEASON FOR GIVING

Christmas is once again here with us.

A  SEASON FOR GIVING

The end-of –the –year festive season is fast approaching and before we know it, we shall be singing Christmas carols, attending church services, feasting and exchanging gifts with loved ones. I only hope that the true meaning of Christmas to any Believer will not be lost in the merry making.

The birth of Jesus is a free gift from our Father; given to us out of his love. Jesus was later to die at the cross for our sins so that we could have eternal life. For as Jesus rightly said: If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free.

 Just as I was thinking about giving and sharing, I found myself singing The Twelve Days of Christmas song. It is an old English Christmas carol (1780) which I was taught in junior school some donkey’s years ago! In this song a generous person sends a gift to his true love each day for the twelve days of Christmas – from the 25th December to the 6th January and the gifts become increasingly grand as the days go by. I surprised myself by remembering all the twelve gifts though I have not sang this song for more than ten years!

Can you imagine receiving a gift from your true love each day for twelve days? I would probably walk on cloud nine or walk around as if I owned the world. For the love he feels in his heart would be driving him to send those twelve gifts. Amy Wilson Carmichael, an Irish Protestant missionary in India said:

You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.’’

I laughed out loud and then I got the idea of writing this post just to remind ourselves of the importance of giving and sharing what we have all the year round. It is not the gift that I give that is important but the reason of why I give. You give because you want to and you give out of the love and concern in your heart for the person you give. This also makes us understand why the best gifts that a parent can give to a child cannot be found in any shop simply because they are too priceless: namely love and prayers from your heart.

Those of us who read the Bible cannot forget the Widow’s offering of two little copper coins into the temple treasury while the rich people dropped what they had to spare of their riches. I also remembered that the poor and needy are always among us throughout the 365 days of the year so they need to be shown our loving kindness every day not just during the twelve days of Christmas.

This was ingrained in me by my late father at a tender age. There was a time when our home had the only telephone in the village ( compare with the present time of mobile phones). It became the public phone to use for all emergencies in the village: to call a father at work to come home to take a sick child to the hospital, to call a father at work to attend to a child sent away from school due to unpaid fees, to call the Fire brigade to attend to a house on fire or kill a python at someone’s home. Thankfully, the service was never abused for the emergencies were genuine. My father never charged for this service for all those years. He provided the service out of concern and love for his many neighbours.

My favourite writer Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese born American writer and philosopher said, “You give most when you give of yourself- your time, efforts and energy.”

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and saw that life is all service. I served and saw that service is joy.’’

My father made time to serve gladly with Uganda Red Cross Society, YMCA, Lions’ Club, Uganda Boys’ Scouts Association, The Bible Society and many School boards. Up to today I cannot figure out how he managed to get the hours to serve wholeheartedly during the 24 hours of the day! Surprisingly, he had time to play games with us and to supervise us do our holiday homework and even watch whether you held the pen properly!

For all the festive seasons we spent deep in the village, my father would order a cow or two slaughtered then have small packages neatly wrapped in banana leaves sent to all his neighbours. He was not looking for their votes; he just wanted to share what he had with them. He understood that by giving to others , you live a meaningful life. Winston Churchill, a former Prime Minister of Britain once said that:  “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

I have also come up with my own simple ways of giving to the needy for if I do not do it ; I would me dishonoring my father’s memory.

As one of King Solomon’s proverbs says : “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives.”

Giving gladly is a form of ‘Double’ currency in that it enriches both the receiver and the giver. I have experienced this first hand; for some years until the children flew the nest, together we would collect and sort out toys, books and items of clothing and shoes they had outgrown and I would take them to the nearest orphanage or SOS Village. When I close my eyes now, I can see the big smiles on the administrators’ faces as I handed them the items. Much later when I would see a child wearing any of those items; I would smile to myself out of the joy in my heart.

May we all learn to give gladly to the poor and needy throughout the year not only at Christmas time.

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful Christmas and a prosperous 2020. May it turn out to be your best year yet.

QUESTION:

Love is what it does. How has the love in your heart made you give and share gladly what you have with others?

I THOUGHT I NEEDED LESS TO BE HAPPY AND CONTENT UNTIL………..

Being surrounded by loved ones often, gives long term fulfillment.


I thought that as I grew older, I needed less to be more happy and content. I had come to believe like Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that less is more: less decoration properly deployed , has more impact than a lot of it. The same way a makeup artist  believes that light make up makes the individual features more prominent. I have been reading widely about happiness and life satisfaction and to my shock and amazement,the psychologists are telling me that I am wrong: what makes one happy and content does not vary much with age but some of the contributing factors to life satisfaction may change with age.

Kahlil Gibran once said: “To be able to look back upon one’s life in satisfaction , is to live twice.” 

According to the psychologists, happiness is  a state of living an enjoyable, meaningful , rewarding and exciting life. It is born out of a deep satisfaction with one’s relationships with others, surroundings, accomplishments and oneself.

Some psychologists like Martin Seligman of USA think that happiness has 3 distinct elements:

  1. The pleasant life- having fun, joy and excitement in life. Having as many as positive emotions as you can as you go through your day- to- day activities.
  2. The good life – achieved by  identifying your unique skills and abilities and applying them to enhance your life and others. You cannot engage fully with life until you find out who you are- your strengths and flaws. You then apply this knowledge to find the great story of your life.Secure in this knowledge you are less likely to be confused by the inessentials or be pulled down or manipulated by others.
  3. The meaningful life-  involves a deep sense of fulfillment that comes from using your talents to make a difference in the world around you.Living your genuine story makes you feel deeply satisfied  and gives meaning to your life. No life no matter how successful and exciting it might be, will make you happy , if it is not really your life. No life will make you miserable if it is genuinely your own.

The happiest people tend to pursue a full life encompassing these 3 elements.

It should be noted that each of our individual journeys is  intimately interwoven with the journeys of family members, friends and co-workers. The steps I take toward becoming truly myself affect them in the same way the steps they take affect me.

Mahatma Gandhi once said:  Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Extensive research done over the years has shown that age is related to happiness but  happiness is not related to gender. Life satisfaction tends to increase as people get older.

A growing child needs to feel safe and secure in a home, loved and valued by the parents. He/she needs to be surrounded by happy loving parents and people. As emotions are contagious, children who are given much love and care in their childhood learn to be kind to  themselves and then go out to love other people and animals.They grow up very optimistic ; resilient and can face life’s bigger challenges better.

The teenagers in any given population, are going through a period of rapid changes and transformation towards becoming  adults. During this transitional period, the part of the brain that controls emotions and motivation  and directs behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards is not yet fully developed. Therefore, the teenagers cannot  direct and control their behavior and they feel happy if they are able to fit in with their peers and be accepted by them. Any rejection by their peers can push a teenager into terrible misery or even mental illness. Available scientific reports show that 50% of all mental illnesses in the USA begin by the age of 14 and 75% occur by mid 20s. Teenagers need affirmation , approval and acknowledgement. They need to feel loved and valued. If a child is good at something, he/she needs appreciation. This demands that parents, teachers should assist children to develop positive emotions.

The psychologists  who have studied positive psychology- the study of happiness and well being have identified a number of factors that consistently relate to happiness and fulfillment  in young adults and and older adults. They include:

  • Positive affect-  focusing on your individual positive traits: your strengths and virtues.

Optimism- expecting the best outcome in any situation. This positive frame of mind helps you see new opportunities, learn from different situations and keep  moving forward.

  •   Flow-  A mental state of well being achieved by being involved in an activity to the point where you feel you lose yourself in the activity, effortlessly maintain concentration and focus and feel in complete control of your action and time seems to pass more quickly than usual. 

No one is completely happy all the time, encouraging one to experience these three contributes to life satisfaction.

For the older adults,the psychologists have identified  six main factors related to happiness and contentment:

  1. Strong healthy relationships with loved ones- you learn relationship skills that help you make responsible decision making.
  2. Fulfillment from work- It pushes you to want to be more and do much more.
  3. Satisfaction with physical health- exercises optimises your brain’s ability to learn. It helps you  regulate your emotions.
  4.  Happiness with your romantic life
  5. Content with your personal growth
  6.  6. Secure in spirituality or religion

Greater life satisfaction makes us feel happier and helps us to enjoy life more. All in all, it has a positive impact on our health and well-being.

In the elderly, the need for life satisfaction remains relatively high though the illnesses associated with old age; aches and pains may reduce one’s engagement in life. Older adults  have weathered many storms of life and tend not to place more value on things and status like the young people. Instead, they place more value on family relationships and other genuine relationships which give them long-term fulfillment in their lives. It has been observed that happy people tend to have more friends, more high -quality social relationships and strong social support networks than less happy people.

 The illusion that I needed less to be happy and content developed after my sixtieth birthday. I had observed that I derived more joy and fulfillment by just spending time with family and genuine , old friends. I also observed that I could get a natural high by simply immersing myself into creative writing. I could effortlessly maintain my concentration and focus, felt in control of the action and time seemed to be passing quickly. It is a pleasant experience which requires me to use my skills, knowledge and passion. At that moment in time, I feel happy and fulfilled.

Digging deeper into the psychology of happiness and contentment  has helped me understand that the main factors contributing to my happiness and contentment have more or less remained the same but it is the value that I attach to each of those factors that have changed as I grew older!

I have to admit that it has indeed been a rude awakening! It has helped me to appreciate more that learning is a lifelong process. The more I learn the more I get to understand myself , the people around me and my environment. The wisdom of old age is pushing me to search for the reality behind appearances and  is opening me to the deeper truth about life.

QUESTION:

What activity is giving you the flow experience at this moment in time? How has this experience changed over the years?

TAKING RISKS

Mother barnacle gosling teaching her chicks to fly.

Image from Unsplash.com

                                          

On the 30th September 2019, twenty- five- year- old , Halima Nakaayi, of Uganda , won the Women’s 800 metres  finals at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar. It was the 17th IAAF Athletics World Championships. Nakaayi, the simple girl from a small town, Mukono, had overtaken Ajee Wilson of USA, the obvious favourite to win the title. Nakaayi was considered as an outsider; having never run in a world Championship or Olympic final.

I stood up and cheered wildly as she crossed the line. I was intrigued by this young woman who had won us the first medal at the IAAF Athletics World Championships.  I ended up reading her life’s journey to that magical moment. She first competed in the World Youth championships in 2011 later she competed in the Commonwealth Youth games as a middle-distance runner. She has kept on training hard and competing to perfect her race. Just like everyone else, she has had some good and bad days.

 Her unique story got me thinking about the risks and sacrifices that we have to make to continue moving forward and to get what we want in life. This is why I am now writing about Taking Risks.

Wikipedia.org defines risk as the potential for uncontrolled loss of something of value.

Values like physical health, social status, emotional well- being or financial wealth can be gained or lost when taking risk resulting from a given action or inaction, foreseen or unforeseen.

Every day we take risks as we go about things with the intention of achieving our goals and dreams. We take risks to move forward and get where we want to be.

Mark Zuckerberg, the co- founder and Chief Executive Officer of Facebook once said: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that changes really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

And the Writer, Christy Raedeke also emphasised the significance of taking risks in our lives when she said: “ If there is no risk, there is no reward.”

Risk is part of life and yet most of us fear to take risks out of fear to fail and this hinders us from pursuing and living our dreams. Every decision each individual makes every day including the decision to do nothing, carries some element of risk. The best thing is to focus on the opportunity other than exaggerate the riskiness of the decision

The psychologists advise us to take small risks before taking a big one. Taking small, measured risk-taking behavior increases our confidence and self- efficacy. As our confidence builds up, we become less afraid of failure or risks.

Sometimes, I have had to admit that the fear was not as risky as it seemed. After all, great success is built on many failures; the lessons learned from the failure inform your next decision about the issue at hand.

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric bulb failed 999 times before getting it right. Being an optimistic person, when a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?’’ Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As taking risks is normal animal behavior ,the psychologists have studied it and come out with the benefits of taking  risks:

  1. Taking a risk causes the release of the hormone Adrenaline from the adrenal glands at the top of each kidney and some neurons , into the blood. Adrenaline prepares the body to react quickly to the threat or danger: the heart  beats faster, the blood flow to the brain and muscles is increased and the cells are stimulated to make more sugar available for use for fuel. The sudden release of Adrenaline makes you feel high and it is what is known as the ‘Adrenaline high’. At that moment in time you can either fight or run away from the danger.
  2. Taking a risk also releases Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that transmits signals in between the nerve cells of the brain. Dopamine is the ‘feel good ‘ factor which makes us happy and motivated as we go through life.  It controls emotions and cognition.

The sudden release of these two chemicals that cause a  natural high also helps to ward off depression. Studies have proven that risk taking in small doses is almost universally beneficial for our brains and mental health.  However, the natural high can become addictive to some people.

The psychologists keep reminding us:

  • that each risk taken has potential consequences and that some risks are not worth taking.
  • An individual’s willingness to take risks varies across age and situations
  • Individuals have risk preferences- a mountain climber may find it difficult to take a financial risk- to invest his money into the stock market other than keep it in a simple saving account. Risk preference is a form of characteristic traits.

The willingness to take risks starts early in childhood- boys tend to engage in greater risk taking than the girls. Children take risks by trying to do scary things. They do so to get a thrill out of it and but in the process, they gain confidence, learn and grow.

Studies done by the psychologists show that there are 6 categories of risks that attract children everywhere as they play:

1. Great heights- climbing trees, walls so as to see things from a vantage point. It gives them the thrill to say, “I did it.’’

2. Super speeds.  Racing down a hill in a toy car just for the thrill of it.

3. Dangerous tools- playing with knives, farm machinery. They get the thrill of being in control.

4. Dangerous elements- playing with fire or water. It pauses some danger but feels good doing it.

5. Rough and Tumble- chasing each other or wrestling. They know it could hurt but at the end the child will have acquired the skill.

6. Wandering off- getting lost, playing hide and seek in new territories that could even be dangerous, to enjoy that thrill.

Many young mammals also enjoy risky play: puppies try to wander off from the mother to explore, young monkeys swing from branches of trees. They chase one another around and play fighting. They are aware that it could cause injury but they do it to get the thrill of doing it. It is self-chosen, thrilling play.

I grew up in a big family where the girls were even more than the boys. Our parents were strict disciplinarians who spelled out the limits to us but on many occasions we willingly stretched the limits by climbing very tall trees, riding on the neighbour’s motorcycle and swimming into pools of muddy water. Most times we got away with it but on the few times we were caught, we were punished appropriately.

All in all, we found out that the benefits outweighed the risks; we grew up to be confident and emotionally strong. Now at my age I know for sure that I have to continue taking risks in life and to encourage the young ones to do so.  If I win, I can lead and if I lose I can still guide others.

Studies in laboratory animals like rats have clearly shown  that overprotection of the young ones turns them into emotionally crippled adults; not knowing what to do in unfamiliar or new environments.

The same thing applies to overprotected children who are denied free risky play by parents who believe that they are protecting them. They tend to grow up into children with mental disorders. The psychologists therefore advise parents to set limits according to age but then allow children to play freely and play risky without adult control. The children will gain trust and responsibility, become more confident and emotionally strong. Children know how far they can go and what risks they are not ready for so it is the parents themselves who have to learn to be trusting and tolerant.

The Adolescence( 10-24) years.

 Many of us have been there and done that during this period of rapid changes and transformation. The Adolescent period is the period when boys and girls engage in risky activities like: reckless driving , alcohol and drug abuse, and risky sexual behaviour  at the most. The female and male hormones flowing in their bodies, cause physical, emotional , intellectual and social changes. The brain begins to mature: organize and regulate impulses. The brain development is completed by the age of 25 years. It is influenced by hereditary, environment and the sex hormones.

 Since the invention of the Magnetic Resonance Imaging(MRI), a medical diagnostic technique in 1977, it has been used to study how the brain develops to maturity. With the MRI ,a  picture of any part of the body can be made if the body is exposed to an electromagnetic field.

MRI studies of the brain demonstrate the developmental changes between 10-24 years of age, in the white and grey brain matter. The Prefrontal Cortex which controls our emotions and motivation and directs and controls behavior in order to meet the challenges of the environment is the last area of the brain to mature. Before it matures, adolescents cannot direct and control their behavior to meet the challenges of their environment or weigh risks and rewards- they have no sense of self –regulation. This explains why the teenagers focus more on the rewards of peers than from adults; turning to their peers for help mainly for social inclusion. This increases their chances of engaging in risky behavior. Adolescents take more risks than any other age group to explore themselves and their environment.

The role of the parents and teachers is to engage with the teenagers and offer them the correct information about the changes and transformations going on in their lives. They have to engage teenagers in all areas of their lives, listening, offering suggestions and guidance. The adolescents should be allowed to make mistakes and to learn from their own experiences. Setting limits for peer interaction and supervising them can limit opportunities for risky behavior.

After the age of 25, the willingness to engage in risky activities declines after gaining the ability to self-regulate. As we continue to grow, we acquire more skills for assessing risk through our own experiences and those around us. We learn that risk taking is good for everyone and we work towards minimizing the risk of losing. We consider the profits and losses but still focus on winning. Over time we all learn to live with acceptable risks. We learn the process of making good risk decisions by :

  • Thinking for yourself- use your common sense to reach a conclusion and move forward.
  • Take one risk at a time- it builds your confidence for bigger risks. You will become bolder and braver every day.
  • Do not put everything on the line- time and money in one venture.
  • You create your own safety standards, setting limits and timelines. It is your life to live and live fully.

For those of us who read the Bible, the parable of the three servants who were entrusted with money has a lot to teach us in our time. The one who received five thousand coins doubled it and was promoted to handle larger amounts while the one who received one thousand coins buried them  in the ground had them taken away and given to the one who had doubled his.

A life without taking risks is stagnant and boring. I would rather get bruised other than find myself at my deathbed saying, “ If Only I  had…………………..

Or asking myself, “ How would my life have turned out if I had……….

Jim Rohn once said: “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”

No doubt , our young woman from Mukono , Uganda, must have taken numerous risks to end up winning us the first gold at the IAAF Athletics World Championships. I take off my hat to you!

QUESTION: 

Have you undertaken a big risk in your life recently? Did the worst that you feared happen? Did the outcome change your life for the better?