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?

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?

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?