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?

SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO

An African Mother elephant with its baby.
The photo is from Unsplash.com

Some years back, I attended a wedding of a young couple where the groom’s speech left his father a humbled and incredibly happy and fulfilled man.

The groom had said with great appreciation, “As far as I can remember, I‘ve always wanted to grow up and be like my father. He loves and respects my mother and always consults her about almost everything. He regards her as the most important person in his life and is always ready and willing to do things for her. That’s what I want to be to my dear wife.”

Six years and two sons down the line, he has loved his wife and children and they are all as happy as they can be. Becoming what you want to be is a lifetime process that requires focus and intention. Every single day that dawns, you are becoming that person.

To this young man, his father was his role model: he had values, principles and practices that the son admired and he was motivated to become like him.  The psychologists tell us that our parents especially the same-sex parent has the biggest influence on a child’s development and the influence lasts for a lifetime. The groom’s journey to becoming a loving, caring and generous husband had started in his childhood!

Humans actively learn from each other and one Bible proverb tells us that: Iron sharpens iron.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s dictionary defines a role model as: a person you admire and try to copy.

Parents are the child’s primary role models. When you start school, then the teachers are added on this list followed by any other person in your community whom you consider competent and an achiever and carries herself/himself with respect. The most visible in our environment like athletes and actors tend to drive many people to become the best they can be. The role models teach us to identify our true potentials and how to strive to make use of them fully.

Among the many are:

Stephen Kiprotich, the winner of the Men’s Marathon during the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Phiona Mutesi , known as the Queen of Katwe, the young international Chess player from the slums of Katwe in Kampala.

The late Rotarian Sam Owori whose passion to serve others helped him leave Uganda a better place than he found it.

Usain Bolt, the 9-time Olympic gold medalist.

Lenin Moreno, the 44th President of Ecuador who is also known as the “the President in a wheelchair.”

Malala Youssafzai, the 15-year-old year-old Pakistan girl who defied the notorious Talibans by standing up for the education of girls. She survived an assassination attempt in 2012 and went on to become the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014

The other side of the coin is that there are also negative role models who demonstrate harmful and disruptive behavior in our communities. They influence us to accept negative behavior as normal in our society thus bringing out the worst in each one of us.

One famous quote spells this out: “Children are great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.” Anonymous.

Positive role models bring out the best in each one of us. They are badly needed by all young people as they struggle to develop their own identities. The psychologists tell us that each one of us has the responsibility to act in ways that make the world a better place. We cannot contribute to making the world a better place unless we know who we really are: our strengths and weaknesses and embrace them fully. We use our strengths to lead and excel and the same time use them to improve our weaknesses where possible.

There are two ways in which one can find her/his true identity:

  • By finding and following what you love- in this respect one is guided by the positive role models in the world around us. In them we see what we want in our lives and they demonstrate, motivate and inspire us to become what we want to be.
  • By being totally different- These take pride in their uniqueness and their indomitable spirits turns them into Trail Blazers. These include people like Emeritus Professor Josephine Nambooze, the first Ugandan woman doctor and Engineer Proscovia Njuki, the first Ugandan woman engineer. Professor Nambooze had to transfer to an All boys school to continue with the science subjects she needed to pass to join the only medical school of the time while engineer Njuki was the only student in her A-level Mathematics and Physics class in an All girls school!

Role models help us to find our own identity and strength, open up possibilities for getting what we want in life. They empower us to chart our own career paths. We learn from them and take responsibility for our own lives.

Since childhood I had wanted to care and help people and somehow I felt I could achieve this by becoming a medical doctor. In the late 1960’s , when Dr. Alex Sempa  who happened to be an old girl of my school , became the second woman medical doctor after Dr. Josephine Nambooze, my future was more less sealed. I just wanted to be like Dr. Sempa. From that time, I trusted myself that if I worked hard and smart, I would become a doctor. Later, when I met her in person, she became my idol. She offered me an insight into the realities of being a doctor. In today’s jargon I would say from that day, I started faking it until I made it.

When I joined the Makerere University Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Josephine Nambooze was one of our senior lecturers in Public Health, it pushed me into wanting to live my dream so badly that I worked extremely hard and smart to achieve it.

My role model didn’t tell me, he showed me.” Anonymous

I grew up in a different world where a child was brought up by the whole village. Today’s children operate in their own world where the internet has shrunk the world into a global village. In this Global Village, things are changing all the time and fast too and the environment is generally competitive and harsh. The students have many options and sometimes they are spoilt for choice so they need more guidance than our generation; they need more role models.

We are all ‘Works in Progress’ needing modeling and reshaping.

Adults also need role models to push them from mediocrity and develop into greats. Positive role models are human just like any of us; facing problems and obstacles in life but they strive to overcome them. Observing them and sharing their experiences ignites the same passion towards life.

Whenever we receive motivation, inspiration and mentorship from these role models it gives us the responsibility to become positive role models for the young generation. This is what keeps the conversation going- one generation lending to the other.

By the lives we live and how we behave and carry ourselves in our communities, we are influencing many people around us especially the young ones. May we all strive to be positive role models who will leave the world better than we found it.

Looking back, my best role models who turned me into an all- round human being are my mother and father. The best way of paying them back is to be the role model that I needed when I was growing up.

Two more quotes: “One man with courage makes a majority.’’ Andrew Jackson

“When the whole world is silent, one voice becomes powerful.” Malala Yousafzai

QUESTION:

When a snail moves, it leaves a trail of slime.  Are you leaving an indelible impression for others to follow along your path?

WE LIVE IN A HIGHLY COMPETITIVE WORLD

Robots are replacing human security guards. Image from Pinterest.com

In all our daily interactions, we are knowingly or unknowingly competing with others.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines ‘competitive’ as being inclined, desiring or suited to compete.

Being competitive is inborn: siblings compete for food at the table and attention and approval. At school, children compete for the best grades despite there being no guarantee that the best students will be the most successful in life. As adults, we compete to see who gets the best job, best car or who makes the most money.

Competiveness is not bad but how people treat competition is what causes problems.

“Competition is always a good thing. It forces us to do our best.  A monopoly renders people complacent and satisfied with mediocrity.” Nancy Pearcey.

In life you compete with yourself and others.The psychologists tell us that competition can be either healthy or unhealthy.

Healthy competition serves to help you learn, improve and grow and become better at whatever you choose to do. It is about improving your ‘personal best’ as you take yourself to the next level of success.

 Unhealthy competition focuses on winning; sometimes it goes as far as winning at all costs. You are only interested in the results and you think that you can succeed only if others fail. Who can forget how Ben Johnson of Canada fell in an instant from hero to zero at the 1988 Seoul Olympics! He had won the 100m race but tested positive for use of Anabolic steroids, Performance Enhancing Drugs. Then Lance Armstrong who dominated the Tour de France cycling race from 1999 through to 2005 but became the cycling’s biggest fraud for use of Performing Enhancing Drugs.

George Leonard said: “Competition is the spice of sports; but if you make spice the whole meal you’ll be sick.”

 Unhealthy competition puts too much stress on the individual and harms one’s mental health. Whenever you do not win, you are left feeling inadequate or a failure. It is responsible for ill health, depression and anxiety in children and youths.

One Swahili proverb says that : “What your mother does not teach you at home, the world will teach you at a price.”

The psychologists also advise all parents to motivate their children to participate in simple competitions at home and at school because it has some benefits for them:

  1. It prepares the children for the wins and losses of adult life.
  2. It helps them develop important life skills like resilience, perseverance and tenacity. They learn to encourage others and develop empathy.
  3. It teaches them the true meaning of competitiveness- not to focus on winning but also appreciate that by participating in a competitive task, they learn something that will in future inform the decisions and choices they make.
  4. Over time they will learn that failure is part of success and therefore they should not fear it. Naturally in life, you win some and lose some. This is what makes a balanced individual. Such an individual grows up knowing that it is fine to lose as long as you know that you accomplished what you set out to do and you gave it your best efforts.

Howard Cosell rightly said that, “The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.”

             Parents like good sports coaches, can empower and motivate their children to excel by:           

1. Believing in them and getting the children to believe in themselves. Most accomplished individuals relate their achievements to the power that comes from learning to believe in themselves and knowing for sure that their parents and teachers believed in them.

2. Inspiring them to do more than they think they can do- assist them to gradually reach their full potential and provide encouragement.

3. Teach their children to do things right and to be responsible for their actions. They should help them to recognize their strengths and weakness and teach them to look out and explore available opportunities.

4. They should guide them through life by being the best role models to them; children do what they see not what they are told.

  5. By sharing their wins and losses and motivating them to keep trying.

In a nurturing and empowering environment, children learn to trust their parents and teachers enough to open up and learn from them. I grew up in a home where I was loved and cared for. My parents created situations that helped me to grow and develop. I was empowered and motivated through rewards and grew to love winning. I was always sure that my parents would willingly share my wins and losses. They always assured me that I could be anything as long as I was determined to work hard and enjoy what I did.

The Church -founded school that I attended for all the fourteen years of formal education offered many extracurricular activities like sports, gardening, clubs like debating, Geography, visiting the elderly in the village, acting, dancing. It turned me into an all-round student who is confident, self-motivated, interdependent, has a good sense of time management and believes in herself and in life – long learning.

Over time, I came to learn that the race of life is not a sprint but a Marathon- endurance running. To complete the marathon you have to start off with the end in mind then plan how to get there at your own pace or rhythm. You have to be always aware that you are surrounded by other runners. You can use them to your advantage to achieve your personal best.

  In the Uganda of today life is highly competitive for the children as their parents make efforts to take them to the best schools and universities. Available statistics show that 400,000 thousand students graduate from the tertiary institutions every year to take up the 100,000 jobs available!

This calls for a different approach to education from primary to tertiary institutions. Yesterday, we should have started producing students who think for themselves and have the skills they need to create jobs for themselves other than be mere job seekers. With their creative minds, the students would have been able to create appropriate solutions to the common problems in our communities like deforestation, drought, youth unemployment and garbage disposal to name but a few.

The students have to remind themselves regularly that there are no more permanent skills in this 21st century; skills keep changing. Skills have to be upgraded and enhanced to enable the worker to have the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.

 The 21st century is the Information Revolution, the most innovative age of all time. It is Science and Technology- driven.  The world has shrunk to a global village in which the most science and technology- driven countries like USA, Finland, Japan and Israel lead. Other countries like China  and India are catching up too. Thankfully, knowledge and skills are transferrable and portable in this Digital era and developing countries like mine are gradually building their own capacities in Science and Technology and getting transformed by them.

The new lunar race for space exploration plays out the necessity of Science and Technology remarkably well. Since the July 1969 moon landing , USA has led the race followed by Russia, Japan, China and Israel. With the accumulation of scientific knowledge and its technological applications, other countries have joined this race.

China is now a great power and wants to claim its position as a world power off planet Earth while India wants to test and prove its advances in science and space technology.

 Among the biggest challenges of our time are Climate change/ destruction of the environment resulting in frequent droughts, floods and fires and water and food security, conflict and wars and unemployment. Countries that are most advanced in science and technology irrespective of size, but are ready to apply them to solve these problems, will lead the world.

 As things stand now, global competitiveness increases with each passing year and to thrive in this fast –paced world, driven by science and technology, we have to prepare ourselves and our children for the changes by becoming more innovative and creative. Continued skills training to share new knowledge is essential at all workplaces.

 Charles Darwin, the British naturalist, said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”

QUESTION:

How are you helping your children, your workers or the young members of your community to fit in a competitive and fast- changing world driven by Science and Technology?

GIVING IN GRATITUDE

My beloved father at 80.

 On Wednesday, 13th September 1989, my father passed away aged almost eight nine years.  He was the most generous person I knew; he gave his time, energy, efforts and money to others without taking away their dignity or expecting anything back.

Kahlil Gibran rightly said: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?”

Most of my siblings followed their hearts and dreams and are currently living and working outside Uganda. To mark the 30th anniversary of our father’s passing, we decided to celebrate his rich life by holding a Memorial and Thanksgiving Service on that day in the church in whose very grounds he was laid to rest. We felt that remembering him was the best way of reminding ourselves of his generosity. His memory remains alive and useful to the children and their children.

He was a busy politician who joined politics simply to serve and contribute to the development of his country but he also worked as a volunteer in many organizations like Uganda Red Cross Society,   Young Men Christian Association, Uganda Bible Society, Uganda Scouts Association,  Lions Club of Uganda to name but a few. He was also an active member of his church community and clan.

We grew up seeing him go out to serve others with a big smile. Unknowingly, he was bequeathing to us the best gift: Giving to express your gratitude for the good things in your life. I now know for sure that generous giving be it time or resources comes from a generous heart and displays courageous confidence in God’s loving and faithful provision. My father always gave gladly not out of a sense of duty; not that he had a lot to spare but because he wanted to do it and it felt right to do it. He gave from the heart and his reward was the self-respect that came from doing what was needed at the right time.

Despite running such a hectic life in politics and charity organizations, his family came first. He was indeed a hands-on father.He was always there especially in the evenings to spend quality time with us

He taught me how to hold the pencil and write bold easy-to-read letters. I practiced regularly under his watchful eye on the Ladybird Books, the famous children’s books of the time.  And it paid off, I won many prizes in the form of books from the Children’s press of London, at the prestigious Gayaza High School for neatness and the best handwriting. I took the responsibility to pass on the art to the young generation.  He taught us to read newspapers every day with him and summarize the most important news items, he taught us how to debate and practice public speaking.

“Stand boldly, hold your head tall, look at your audience and speak,” he would emphasize.

 He taught us that it was important to stand up for what you believed in- never to compromise your core values. If we did this over time we would develop a strong sense of self, develop self-respect, would build our integrity and it would help us become independent people not having to rely on others for validation.

  He made us aware that we had some rights as children but they had to be enjoyed responsibly and that having fun was essential for living a good life.  

Early in our lives, he encouraged us to read books and bought us all the African Writers books- blue for the fiction ones and orange for the nonfiction, from Heinemann publishers.

He encouraged us to compete among ourselves in writing, bicycle racing, indoor games like Ludo and crosswords, preparing us for the competitive world.

He encouraged us to be each other friend and keeper. He considered his loyal and genuine friends his greatest wealth on earth. He could drop everything to help any one of them. We did not know until late adulthood that some of those friends were not our relatives!Thankfully , the majority of us inherited this trait from him and find it extremely rewarding.

We would spend the long Christmas holiday on our farm in the village and this would give him the opportunity to teach us how to pick ripe coffee berries and how to take care of the herd of cows. We shared all the household chores irrespective of our gender. He always rewarded good behavior but punished you appropriately for the wrong done.

Later, in his sixties, he was humble enough to learn new subjects like Biology from us or how electric items worked. Had he been around in this Digital technology-driven era, he would have asked one of his grandchildren to teach him how the Mobile phone worked and then he would have started using it and respecting it.

Little wonder then, that thirty years on, we remember him for his love and generosity. Many of us accompanied by our children flew miles to hold a service to express our gratitude to him. The service turned out to be another learning experience to the children, grandchildren and our guests about good parenting and writing your legacy by your daily actions and behaviuor.

 They say: “

It is not what you leave for your children that matters most as what you leave in them.”

Myles Munroe said: “True leaders don’t invest in buildings. Jesus never built a building. They invest in people.”

Our father invested in us, he instilled into us the virtues of honesty, integrity, and discipline,a sense of responsibility, reliability and having fun. This is exactly what we are passing on to our children and they will pass on to their own. To be women and men of values and principles while at the same time respecting their traditions.

Psychologists like Paul. J. Zak reveal to us the science behind generosity.

You give because you understand the perspective of the one in need. Being generous connects us to other people; we engage with them and feel the joy of giving.

Your happiness increases with your usefulness to others. You feel happier when you give to others than when you give to yourself.

When you give out love, gratitude and compassion, your brain releases the hormone Oxytocin into the blood stream. Oxytocin is one of the ‘feel good’ hormones and is specifically associated with bonding and trust which are essential for human relationships.  An oxytocin surge causes us to feel pleasure and  to trust and to connect with others. This is what is referred to as the joy of giving.

This feel good experience has a ripple effect in that when we give to people, we make them feel like giving to others and the cycle goes on. Generosity improves our mental health and well being.

The best way of teaching a child to give to others is for it to see you practice it because children always do what they see not what you tell them to do or to be.

We grew up seeing our father going out to serve and give to others and for sure it rubbed off on us.

It is was therefore most befitting for us to remember to give something back to him in acknowledgement of what he had given to us so gladly and abundantly!

Mother Teresa said: “We can’t all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

QUESTION: Are you aware that by doing simple acts of kindness and generosity and standing up to do what is right, just and fair, you are writing your own legacy?

FINDING MY LOCAL WRITERS COMMUNITY

Prof.Okey Ndibe with Goretti Kyomuhendo , the Director of AWT and two members of her passionate team at the opening of the Training Workshop. The photo was taken by me as one of the participants.

For a person like me who has been away for more than two decades, I find the radically changed economic, cultural and social landscape frightening and overwhelming. Since home is best, I have had to swim vigorously to find my own level.

This is happening against a back drop of a highly Digital technology- driven world which has turned the world into a global village. We are connected to each other instantaneously and an avalanche of information is accessible to anyone who wants it from anywhere in the world.

Early on, I realized that if I wanted to turn myself into an outstanding writer, I had to connect with other writers- a community of like-minded people to help me follow things through and to help me understand the joys and challenges of publishing one’s creative works.

I belong to the Online Africa Book Club, The Write Practice, Go Blog  Your Passion and  Two Drops of Ink.

Like any investment of high returns, it carries some risks.

However, I have found these communities of writers or writing cartels extremely beneficial to me .

They support and encourage me through the process of writing and publishing.

  • They read and critique my writings. They help me improve even my best piece of writing and  I become a better writer and more professional
  • They encourage me to keep walking along this mysterious journey and to be accountable.
  • They promote my work by sharing it among family and friends.
  • They are willing to offer any help that I dare to ask of them as long as it is related to my journey of becoming an outstanding writer of my time.
  • Being part of a bigger community which includes many other writers already ahead in their career, makes me more ambitious.

 Being a private person by nature, initially, I found it hard to share my writing to people unknown to me, but I have realized that the more I do it, the easier it becomes and the more I grow and develop as a writer. I consider any written story a work in progress that can be improved and refined from ideas generated from the invaluable feedback.

One of my favourite authors , Maya Angelou said: “ I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”

Armed with great enthusiasm and anticipation plus an open mind and trusting myself enough to learn from others, I set out to find my Local Writing Community /cartel in Kampala, Uganda.

I made time to attend The African Writers Trust Professional Training Workshop For Creative Writers.

The theme was: Mastering The Challenges of Fiction. It ran from the 9th-10th September 2019 at Fairway Hotel in Kampala.

It did not disappoint; I got much more than I bargained for!

It was organized by Goretti Kyomuhendo and her team at African Writers Trust. Goretti is one of Uganda’s renown novelist, a founder member of African Writers Trust in 2009 and FEMRITE- the Association of Ugandan Women Writers. She founded AWT to coordinate and bring together African writers in the Diaspora and writers in the continent to share skills , knowledge and available opportunities. She has a number books and short stories under her belt. They include the First Daughter (1996) Secrets No More (1999) and Whispers From Vera.

 The tutor was Prof. Okey Ndibe, a natural born story teller and a journalist from Nigeria who went to USA in 1988. He perfected his art of Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA. Currently, he teaches African and African Diaspora Literature at Brown University in USA.

He is fiercely committed to helping African writers to tell their unique stories to the world just as Maya Angelou said: “ When you learn , teach, when you get , give.”

He has had the rare privilege of being closely associated with Africa’s best known writer and celebrated poet and professor sometimes called the father of modern African writing, Chinua Achebe(1930-2013). Chinua Achebe happens to be my own hero whose first novel, Things Fall Apart(1958) was one of my set books  for Literature in English at Ordinary Level in 1969, Gayaza High School, Uganda.The navy blue beret that Prof. Okey Ndibe wears is the symbol of the close association with the late Chinua Achebe and seals the bond between the two Nigerian writers.

This simple, down to-earth story teller and teacher seduced the participants from the onset to the end. I could take him as a consultant on the challenges faced by an Africa writer anywhere in the world for he is truly one of us. He knows it too well that African writers lack the structures that that support writers in USA or Europe. There are neither literary agents in Africa nor essential structures for editing and publishing and the readership is extremely low and yet African stories have to be told to the world by the Africans themselves. The African writers’ biggest challenge is that Africa is their audience and yet Europe and the USA is their market. As they write, they have to balance precariously these two factors.

 Reading engages our minds and if done consistently, it turns the reader into a critical thinker. All big companies are looking out to recruit great minds that will sustain the companies and make them shine in this vibrant and competitive 21st century.

Prof. Okey Ndibe is a renown novelist, having written and published his first novel Arrows of Rain in 2000, Foreign Gods Inc (2014) and his humorous Memoirs: Never Look an American in the Eye(2016)

He was humble enough to tell us that it took him seven years to write and perfect Arrows of Rain, proving Terry Pratchett’s words, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Goretti Kyomuhendo is still perfecting her first novel, The First Daughter, written twenty two years ago!

It just goes to prove that all artworks are Works in Progress. Leonardo da Vinci took more than twelve years to paint and finish the Mona Lisa which became the most famous of his works after his death.

 Prof Ndibe advised us to form networks as writers, to support and guide one another by reading, editing, critiquing and promoting each others’ work and sharing available opportunities. He encouraged us to cautiously take advantage of the Digital revolution opportunities like Online publishing.

Any good professional training workshop is made or broken by its three components: the organizing team, the tutor and the participants and for this particular one, it was a perfect blend. Goretti Kyomuhendo’s team of young, energetic and passionate organizers was superb; paying attention to detail in a tightly packed workshop that would have lasted for five days at its best.

As for the tutor, I could not have had a better one and for the participants, who were of different age groups, backgrounds but with the sole aim of becoming great writers of their own stories, were provocative and attentive. The discussions were frank, relevant and useful to all of us.

The public debate about whether Literature is useless was the real climax of the training.Among the panelists were Prof. Timothy Wangusa, a Professor of Literature  at Makerere University since 1981. He is a poet and a writer.

Mrs. Victoria Kisarale, a seasoned literature teacher and former headmistress of our school, Gayaza High school and two vibrant young women from the corporate world.

At the end of it all, it was crystal clear that Literature as an integral part of our culture, makes us who we are- values and principles and visions. It enlarges our minds and turns us into critical thinkers.

Any country that chooses to pay little attention to Literature during the formal years of education of its citizens, is doing so at its own peril.

I am a medical doctor but my obsessive fascination with books turned me into a doctor with a difference more so in the way I relate to the people around me and how I respond to the daily challenges of life.

After my unique parental upbringing and excellent formal education, my consistent reading of books shaped my values and character. This is why I am writing short stories and fiction novels to make a difference to the lives of the readers. It is my simple way of giving back to the literary world which has given me so much joy, knowledge and self-esteem all these years.

From this highly engaging two days workshop, I walked away with knowledge,skills, renewed vigour, new opportunities and new friends including Prof. Okey Ndibe and a writing cartel that will support, guide and make me accountable along my long journey of becoming an outstanding writer of my time.

As expected, I also walked away with a number of books by Ugandan writers, adding to my treasure trove of books. Among them were several anthologies of short stories by Ugandan women, an anthology of poetry and short stories by inmates in Uganda’s oldest and biggest prison at Luzira and two books by none other than Prof. Okey Ndibe: Arrows of Rain and Never Look An American In The Eye.

I cannot wait to devour them!

“Fiction comes from what is around us; our own experiences and experiences of other people.” – Prof. Okey Ndibe.

All writers, the well established and the emerging ones are supposed to be keen observers of people and their surroundings. We should consistently write and read since it is only through practice that we are turned into outstanding writers. We have to always remember that connecting with other writers brings out the best creative works within us.

QUESTION:

Has this post helped you understand the need to look out for other like-minded people of your profession in your quest to become the best person you want to be?

ME TIME

Spending time out in the wild can help you find your inner Self.
the photo is from Unsplash.com

In a world that is highly connected and apparently  never sleeps, one needs time to be alone. Spending time alone with yourself allows you to reboot, meditate, focus and be more creative and productive. Being away from it all reduces the distractions and interruptions.

Women in particular, as the natural Caregivers and nurturers in our communities, have many demands made on their time by family, friends and careers that they may fail to find time for themselves. And when they do, they tend to feel guilty about it.

The psychologists never cease to remind us that each one of us needs time to look within herself/himself to know who he/she really is.  Knowing your inner thoughts and beliefs, your gifts, talents and weaknesses and embracing them, helps you to act authentically and results in meaningful and fulfilling lives.

As children we very much want to please our parents then our teachers and later as teenagers we want to please our peers mainly because we want to belong and even fit in. We step into predetermined roles that in a large measure come to define us. Between 30and 40 years of age, we go through life being guided by our ambitions, desires and aspirations.

After 40 most of us throw away the cultural and society conditioning and embark on a journey to find our own way of expressing our uniqueness in the world. Through our identities and vocations we express who we are.

The Merriam – Webster dictionary defines Self –awareness as an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.  The psychologists refer to this state as a state in which oneself becomes the focus of attention. It involves being aware of the different aspects of the Self including traits, behaviours and feelings. It is about understanding your own needs, desires, failings, habits, why you feel what you feel and why you behave in a particular way and everything else that makes you, you.

“ I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am , the more I will respect myself.”- Charlotte Bronte.

 Self-awareness is a challenging and a lifelong effort. Through the experiences we go through: loses and achievements, failures and successes and how we respond to them  and our interactions with other people and how we respond to them , help us to explore and understand ourselves . We find the Self- the inner you. We act on what we get to know about ourselves and use it to change ourselves for the better. The inner you has to be constantly renewed and healed by connecting to the mind, soul ,  and heart .

The Benefits of self-awareness/Knowing yourself.

“ I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” – Hermann Hesse

Knowing your inner self is essential for you to live a more meaningful and satisfying life. It helps you become more objective about yourself. Other benefits include:

  • Having a clear sense of purpose- you get to know your purpose and direction in life. You get to know what is important to you and what you hope to achieve.
  • Self-acceptance- you understand that you are not perfect but have strengths and weaknesses. You recognize the form of your own beauty, whether it is the beauty of your body, mind or your character. It helps you to gradually become honest and authentic.
  • You build strong relationships- the more you know and understand yourself, the more you get to understand others and the more you can influence them positively.
  • Experience greater well-being. The more you are in touch with your soul, the more you recognize the great worth within you, you begin to respect and have reverence of oneself.
  • Happiness- you align your thoughts, actions with your core values.
  • More creative and productive- When your mind, your soul and heart are in harmony, you are more focused, imaginative and creative. You create things out of who you are organically.

       How to increase Self-awareness.

The psychologists advise us to increase our self awareness by practicing the following every day:

  1. Devote time to yourself- everyday spend time with yourself by reading, writing, praying and connecting with yourself.
  2. Mindfulness practice- pay attention to your inner state and external experiences occurring in the present moment. It can be done through training or by practicing meditation.
  3. Keep a journal- Record your thoughts, feelings, ideas and important decisions. It helps you to process your thoughts and to connect with yourself at a deeper level. It helps you also to track your progress in life.
  4. Train yourself to become a good listener- Listen beyond the words. Listening to others makes you a better listener to your own inner voice and you become your own best friend.
  5. Feedbacks- have the courage to ask what others think of you- at home, at work and ask the friends you consider important to you. As you learn about yourself, you also learn about others and how they respond to you. Use the objective feed back to change yourself for the better. The more you accept yourself, the more accepting of others you become.

Researchers have proved that the best way to get to truly know yourself is to disconnect from it all; people, gadgets and be alone with yourself.

In the Bible, on several occasions, Jesus Christ would go off alone to pray and refresh himself.

A day before he chose the twelve disciples, he went up a hill to pray and spent the whole night there praying to God.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Gustav Jung.

As a daughter, wife, mother, friend, medical doctor and member of my community, I used to find it difficult to make time for myself. As I grow older, I have found it easier to find time to give to myself without feeling guilty. I developed it gradually after I recognized that I was not indispensable, neither could I be available 24/7 nor do everything. I learned to prioritize to free up time to focus on the 20% most important things in my life. I learned to delegate tasks and to empower family and friends to do things for themselves. I have learned to set boundaries and limits to safeguard myself against burn out.

I regularly give to myself by reading the Bible, reading novels, listening to good music, country and  oldies tunes.  I am a keen gardener too. I tend to my vegetable garden and small orchard. Right now I have a graviola/soursop tree bent with spiky green fruits. I cannot wait to eat them and share a few with friends.

Walking about in the bush in the village is a privileged experience that enables me to connect with the beauty of nature and to find my place in the universe. It feeds my soul.

My best time with myself is when I wake up as early as 5am to write a chapter for a novel or a post for the blog for two and half hours. By that time it is peaceful and calm as most people are still in bed and the deafening noises of the boda bodas– motorcycle taxis, are also silent. I try to pack in as much as I can before the sunrise. Thankfully, the ideas flow freely. I am strongly focused as I paint on the day’s blank canvas using all the colours of the rainbow. I tend to be more productive and effective at this quiet time. At that moment in time, I am fully conscious of who I am and what I am doing.

I have come to understand that all human beings are born to be creators of things including their own lives and that the most magnificent works are created only when the mind, soul and heart are working in tandem. The works themselves are an expression of who we are at that moment in time. When the mind and soul are at odds, we live a life of struggle. Many people pass through life not knowing who truly they are and what they want out of life. Sometimes the people around us influence us to the extent of suffocating who we are or the choices available to us are limited. We miss out on expressing our wholeness- not expressing what is most unique about each one of us towards making a better world.

“ We are alive or dead according to the condition of our Souls.”- James Hillman

The Soul is the most creative and transformative part of ourselves.

And Ralph Ellison said: “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.’’ Being in touch with your Soul awakens your imagination and this drives you to find meaning and beauty in your life. Life ceases to be a struggle and instead things flow easily.

According to Wikipedia, the multilingual free online encyclopedia, One of the mottos inscribed on the 4th century BC Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece was : “ Know Thyself.’’ The ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates and Plato often referred to this motto in their works. Essentially it served to draw  the attention of the worshippers entering the temple to the fact that : When you know and understand yourself then you are able to understand other human beings better.

After all, much of our lives are created collectively not individually.

QUESTION:

Do you set aside “Me Time” everyday  to get in touch with your Soul? Have you started creating beautiful things authentically from your Soul?

FINDING YOUR SENSE OF SAFETY

https://apagefrommunakusbook.wordpress.com/2018/10/07/finding-your-sense-of-safety/

I chose to repost this article of 10/07/2018 because a number of readers have found it relevant and useful. Surprisingly, it is one of my favourite posts because by the time I wrote it , I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands on me after being away from home for over two decades. It was cathartic and it set me in the right direction:value youself, give to yourself and nurture yourself before you give and nurture others.

Failing to adhere to this cardinal rule, you will be maimed in the process of giving or you will suffer burn out.

From the challenges life has thrown me, I have learned that while caring and nurturing for people, my energies should be invested in creating situations that help people to grow and develop other than simply comforting them.

QUESTION:

Do you know that if you only comfort without developing: without helping one learn from her/his mistake, you increase the chances of the same mistake being repeated?