By Philip Amiola
When Professor Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel Prize winner, lamented the failings of older Nigerians in a 2019 interview with BBC Hard Talk, reaffirming a position he first expressed in 1984 when he described himself as a member of a ‘wasted generation’, many young people eagerly latched on to his words as if he had just excused the younger generation (aka the Soro Soke generation) from their own failures.
Some have even gone as far as criticising and condemning everything that does not give prominence to the younger generation in the scheme of things. The clamour for youth participation in governance and leadership has become increasingly louder too. But are we truly prepared to handle what we’re asking for? And do we understand that leadership is not so much about age as it is about values and ideologies?
The older generation might indeed have failed in some respects, but they have also exemplified values and behaviours that the younger generation must learn from and imbibe. Among other things, they have demonstrated a firm belief in the dignity of labour, for the most part, as opposed to the get-rich-quick mindset that has bred the likes of Hushpuppi, Invictus Obi and other criminals who have been rebranded as celebrities.
If we’re going to be honest with ourselves as young people, we will admit that our problem is not with the older generation. Even if they have wasted the opportunities presented to them, that only offers us an opportunity to repair the damage. The question is: what are we doing with it? Are we rising to the occasion or are we squandering the opportunity already?
The good news is that we still have time to reverse the trend, and it is not as complicated as it seems. We can start moving in the right direction by making a deliberate commitment to the practice of a few surprisingly simple disciplines that will make us better individuals who will in turn build a better nation.
1. Invest time in personal development
Thousands of years ago, the wise King Solomon observed that “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong but time and chance happens to them all.” One way to think about this is that the outcomes of our lives are largely determined by what we do with our time and how we respond to the opportunities that life brings our way.
Everything that we will ever achieve in life will happen in the context of time. If you’re applying for a job that requires certain years of experience, that is simply asking what you have done with your life for that length of time. How have you converted the minutes, hours and days into productive activity and long-term value?
Are you the kind of person that has no qualms about bingeing on ‘season films’ and all kinds of movie series but barely has time to attend a one-hour webinar that is relevant to your work or career? It’s not uncommon to find people who spend hours scrolling through Instagram and other social media feeds but can’t remember the last book they read.
If we are going to make our lives count, we must be deliberate about investing time in the things that will matter in the long run instead of wasting time on things that feel good right now but have no value in the final estimation.
2. Choose character over charades
Recently, one of my friends shared an experience of how a certain influencer visited his office and went to great lengths to make everyone see that she came in a chauffeur-driven car.
Shortly afterwards, they met in a danfo and, apparently crestfallen, she quickly explained to my friend that she sent her driver on an errand and was running late for a meeting; hence the need to travel by public transport.
Now, why did she have to do all of that? Is it a disease to travel in a public bus or does using a ride sharing service detract from one’s intrinsic value?
You might remember a similar incident in which a social media celebrity posed in front of someone else’s mansion, claiming it was a gift she gave herself on the occasion of her thirtieth birthday. She insisted on peddling the false narrative until the real owner of the house arranged to have her arrested, all the way from China!
In a similar development, a billionaire blogger was said to have ordered the latest model of a luxury car in ‘response’ to another billionaire who just got his daughters three Ferraris. I do not believe that billionaires have the time for such pettiness but I am concerned about the people who spinned the story as if both billionaires were in a contest for supremacy. Is it not sad how vain we have become?
Everyone should desire and enjoy the good things of life but owning a lot of things will not necessarily make our lives richer. And the content of our character will always sip through the branding and packaging.
Instead of using social media to ‘oppress’ others, compete with people that don’t even know you or create a vicarious sense of accomplishment as you admire your favourite celebrities, why not use it to share valuable content, make meaningful connections and build viable structures for social change?
Pastor Poju Oyemade summarised this well in two tweets posted on April 9, 2020: “If people will spend time in diligent search, praying and reading for the purpose of solving problems they and others in their space are facing rather than chasing relationships in order to appear successful through association, those they are chasing will one day send for them.
“We need to move from the place of seeking photo ops to building content within if we are going to be positioned with the inner strength and wisdom to solve the challenges of our generation.”
If people will spend time in diligent search, praying and reading for the purpose of solving problems they and others in their space are facing rather than chasing relationships in order to appear successful through association, those they are chasing will one day send for them.
— POJU OYEMADE (@pastorpoju) April 9, 2020
We must learn to go for character instead of appearances. Let’s choose content over packaging.
3. Develop an entrepreneurial mindset
Essentially, entrepreneurship is about solving problems, meeting needs and creating innovative value with profitability and sustainability in mind. There is practically no problem that cannot be solved by some form of entrepreneurship.
Ranging from intrapreneurship to solopreneurship, small business entrepreneurship, large company entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, spiritual entrepreneurship, digipreneurship, technopreneurship, and many other kinds of entrepreneurship, the field of entrepreneurship is so vast that everyone can participate.
It’s time to ditch the entitlement mindset and replace it with the entrepreneurial mindset. Instead of complaining about problems, commit yourself to solving them. Wherever you find yourself, always think of how to add value instead of obsessing over what you can get. If you are an employee, put yourself in the position of the business owner and selflessly contribute to the growth of the business. The same applies to civil servants, volunteers and everyone else.
Be deliberate about being a producer and not just a consumer. At the end of the day, you will find that you’re not really working for your boss, you’re working for yourself. And God is the ultimate rewarder. One of my mentors used to say that “Somebody is watching you consistently to reward you eventually.” I have found this to be true. And if you have not maximised your current level with clear productivity indices to show for it, why should you expect to be entrusted with greater assignments?
The foregoing tips might be deceptively simple but if you pay attention to them and diligently imbibe the ideas, you will find that you will start differentiating yourself from the general class. Others may get lost in the confusion of the times but you will stand out as a repairer of the breach. You will start to grow from the inside, your spheres of influence will expand, and greater opportunities for leadership will open up to you. You won’t have to scramble for them, they will come looking for you.
When you think this way, you will find that grousing about the failings and inadequacies of the older generation is not only an exercise in futility but also a poor band-aid for our own festering sores. We must be careful to dismantle the ideology that seeks to dichotomise the young and the old.
I like the way Dr Sam Adeyemi puts it: “It’s interesting to consider the differences in perspective between the old and the young. The old usually have little or no clue about new methods and tools available to the young. The young can easily forget that the sun shining now was the one that shined on their great grandparents. Some things change, while others don’t. It’s advisable to factor both into making wise choices as individuals and as leaders.”
It’s interesting to consider the differences in perspective between the old and the young. The old usually have little or no clue about new methods and tools available to the young.
— Sam Adeyemi (@sam_adeyemi) February 11, 2021
In our clamour for youth participation in leadership and governance, the critical points of discussion should not be age but character and competence. We need the wisdom of the old and the strength of the young to build a nation that we all can proudly call home.