Don’t follow your passion. Follow your ‘Why’

“Don’t follow your passion…”

It’s a phrase that is eerily uncomfortable and often misunderstood. For those of us who are valiant dream chasers and believers in Lupita Nyongo’s epic “your dreams are valid” Oscar speech, then you probably hate the phrase.

In fact, you probably clicked on this link simply to debase its credibility, and affirm that you are right in choosing to follow your passion.

You’re probably asking yourself right now “how can you not follow your passion? Isn’t that the only way to reach the fulfillment and happiness I so desperately search for?”

Truthfully, there are many of us with this misconception. That life is about following your passion. And if you’ve lived your life believing and trusting that following your passion is the key to your happiness, allow me to offer you a different perspective.

Almost every month aspiring singers from around the world audition for the international hit TV show ‘The Voice”. The winner of the competition is awarded 100,000$ and a record deal with Universal Music Group. That’s enough to get anyone to try their talent as a singer.

But the problem with these kinds of shows is that they are dismissive. They only show us one side of the spectrum. We hear about the stars. The singers that win the jackpot and begin their journey of becoming a musical superstar. What you don’t hear about is the story of those who failed; the thousands of other ‘talented’ singers who also believed they were the next musical sensation, only to not make it past the audition phase.

The truth is thousands of people audition even before they make it on television, and only a select few actually spark a music career from the exposure.

What hurts even more, is that all the aspiring artists that auditioned were also ‘following their passions’ and chasing their dreams. They just fell short.

The truth is, no matter how talented and brilliant you feel about a certain skill you have—be it singing, or anything else—there’s no guarantee that you will make a career out of it.

It sounds cynical, I know. But let me offer you some hope.

Don’t follow your passion, but instead follow your ‘Why’.

All my life, I had the dream of playing professional football. I became the direct embodiment of following your passions and chasing your dreams and I believed it wholeheartedly. Fortunately, my passion for football evolved into a storied career. I traveled the world playing at all levels of the game and reached heights I never thought were possible all as a result of what I thought was ‘following my passion’.

However, in the process, I learned some profound lessons about ‘passion’. First, I learned that passion is fleeting, it can be here today and gone the next. Don’t believe me? Count how many crushes you had in primary school.

It’s possible to be passionate about something one day, and completely loathe it the next. I was ‘passionate’ about football, but I didn’t always feel like playing. Somedays I just wanted to stay in my bed.

If you had asked me a year ago why I played football, I would have said; “I just love playing… I’m just so passionate about it”. But that wasn’t why I played.

It actually took me a whole 8 years from the time I left home to realize why I played football.

I played football to inspire people. This was my ‘why’.

Missed Opportunities

The problem with me solely following my passion for football was that I missed every other opportunity to inspire people along the way. I was continually looking for ‘passion’ when I should have been chasing the purpose and ‘why’ I had created for my life. That’s the problem with solely following your passion, it’s that you blind yourself to all other opportunities you may have to fulfill your deeper purpose for following that passion in the first place.

It was only once I realized why I played football—to inspire people—that I began looking for other opportunities to inspire. I discovered I had a knack for writing and words.

I started a blog, I wrote poetry and recorded music. I just looked for any and every way I could inspire people.

In 2016 I stood on a stage to represent my university in a video that turned out to be the biggest media project they had ever done. It was viewed over 40,000 times on Facebook alone. The thing is, on that stage, I wasn’t following my passion and playing football, I was actually performing a spoken word piece.

How did I, being a football player all my life, actually become a spoken word artist? It wasn’t even something I was passionate about.

Only now does it all make sense, I was just trying to inspire. And I’m so glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to inspire more people because I was too focused on following my passion.

Think Differently

Yes, it’s great to follow your passion, to chase your dreams. Keep dreaming! But if you really look within yourself, you will realize that your passion has a cause; your dream is much bigger than simply becoming a musician, a politician, a fashion designer or an athlete. There is a ‘why’ behind you following your passion, you just need to find it. And that will be the most liberating and defining moment of your life.

You may realize that your passion is not in music or in becoming a professional recording artist, but rather it is in giving others the opportunity to experience the joy and trance of music. This will completely change your paradigm of thinking.

If you’re an athlete, you may realize that your passion is not in running, but rather being a source of hope and optimism for the kids you grew up with.

An actor may realize that their passion is not in being on television, but rather in heightening people’s self-esteem by showing them that they can be whoever they want to be.

Once you have made this realization, you will no longer follow this fleeting and blinding thing called ‘passion’. Rather you will be following your ‘why’ and the purpose you have for your life, which I believe is way more fulfilling and rewarding. Don’t follow your passion, follow your ‘Why’.

Africans Matter Too! (Open letter to French Montana)

At the Grammy’s in 2016, Kendrick Lamar posted a picture of the African Continent with bold letters in its middle that read ‘Compton’. The whole world watched in awe as the live audience rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation.

A few weeks ago, French Montana released the music video for “Unforgettable”, his latest song. The video shows some of the children of Uganda dancing joyfully to the song. In fact, when you watch it, you can’t help but wear a smile on your face. The video has over 15 million views and has been raved about all over the internet.

But what do these two events have in common?

Both events are a deeper depiction of cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation. Kendrick Lamar and French Montana have taken the concept or idea they have of Africa and represented in a way that neglects the same African people they claim to be representing.

Let me explain.

Now some people may say that there is nothing wrong with French Montana’s and Kendrick Lamar’s appropriation of Africa in their art. In fact, even African’s themselves may state how great both acts were at depicting Africa.

But let’s take a deeper look.

Of late, there have been numerous debates between Africans and the rest of the world on the subject of cultural appropriation. Some Africans have gone as far as condemning people who wear African clothing without being able to prove their knowledge of the history and traditions behind what they’re wearing. Some Africans have even ranted on social media about how other races should not be allowed to wear African clothing.

Now I would not go as far as saying that nobody should borrow or appropriate from another culture. That would be absurd and only clarify the lines that divide us by race, culture, ethnicity etc. in a world that is seeking equality.

Instead, I believe the contrary. We should all be allowed to appropriate different cultures that are not our own. We should all be able to use and identify with the art of cultures that are foreign to us. But only to a certain extent and within certain parameters.

So, where do we draw the line? How does one tell whether they are stepping over the boundaries of cultural appropriation or borrowing too much from a certain culture?

It’s hard to say. But for me, it all boils down to one simple question;

Are you representing the culture you’re appropriating in a way that that culture would be proud of?

This is the sole question that can quell the issue of cultural appropriation.

And this is the same question I would ask to the likes of Kendrick Lamar and French Montana. When they depict elements of African culture in their art, are the representing Africans the way that they want to be represented?

Let’s consider Kendrick Lamar’s labeling of the African continent as ‘Compton’ in 2016, and ask ourselves the same questions. Firstly, is this a worthy representation of Africa? Is the Africa he depicted the same Africa that we, as Africans, want to show the rest of the world.

NO. It isn’t.

And I trust I speak for other Africans when I say this.

What Kendrick Lamar showed us at the Grammy’s in 2016 was the Africa that we African’s don’t like to see. It was the barren borderless land of fable, the indigent subject of stereotype, the mythical Africa, the poverty-stricken block of 54 countries that form one… “country”.

So, despite how well-intended Kendrick Lamar was, his audience is still likely to have the same misconceptions of Africa and African culture from watching his performance.

This is cultural appropriation at its worst.

When French Montana portrayed the kids of Uganda dancing happily to his new music video, I felt proud. I liked that the kids were depicted in a positive light. The joy on their faces was so contagious.

But when I heard the lyrics of the song… everything changed.

“I’m gunna catch the rhythm while she push up against me…. A f%&ing good time never hurt nobody If you loved the girl then I’m so, so sorry I got to give it to her like we in a marriage… No, no I won’t tell nobody…. Tryna do what lovers do…”

These are the lyrics of the song.

Evidently, the song promotes lust, promiscuity, and sex. Yet, there are little African children dancing to the song in the video. Where is the correlation?

The truth is the kids probably have no idea what they are dancing to. In their minds, they see the video as good publicity, perhaps a chance for them to share their art with the world. But what if they knew what the song was representing? Would they still dance? Is this how they would want to be represented?

NO. It isn’t.

The truth is, the video is not about representing the kids. It is about using them to further a mainstream agenda. Using them to get more views and more likes, and more money. That’s the only reason the kids are in the video. In fact, it is obvious that the song was not written for them. They are merely tools that French Montana uses to promote his music.

What French Montana and Kendrick Lamar depicted in their art was probably not intended to be malicious in any way. But I believe their acts are evidence of a deeper and more displeasing truth about the appropriation of African culture.

Today, despite how the world is becoming more cognizant and inviting of African culture, at times we are misused, misappropriated and badly misrepresented. In recent times, as evidenced by artists like French Montana, Kendrick Lamar and even Beyoncé, throwing ‘Africa’ on western art has become somewhat ‘retro’ or ‘cool’ and ‘unique’. And honestly, I have no issue with this. I personally don’t mind if African culture is appropriated by the western world.

All I ask is that when you appropriate our culture, show us the way we like to be seen. Represent Africans the way that we want to be represented, and not solely how you prefer to see us. Stop Misrepresenting Us! African’s Matter too!

“I was taught to be a Ni**a”

As an immigrant living in the United States, I developed quite a unique perspective in viewing American culture — specifically African-American culture — from the outside in. Since migrating to the US from my native Kenya about five years ago, I have been dealing with an internal conflict in adapting and conforming to African American culture. Although I am entirely from a different side of the globe, in America, I classify as ‘black’, and though I appear ‘the same’ in appearance to the African American, my outlook and perspective tend to be drastically different.

That said, I have seen Africans come to the United States and completely conform to black culture; adopting their fashion, language, manners, and demeanor. Though truly, who can blame them? African American culture is often broadcasted as fashionable and ‘cool’ throughout world media whilst African culture tends to have many tainted and negative connotations (i.e. we are often portrayed as primitive and poor). I have seen some Africans go as far as hiding the truth of their birthplace, identifying as African American before they admit to being Africans. For many of them, assimilating in this fashion numbs the fear of being outcast as ‘African’, or ‘poor’, or ‘primitive’ (and all other stereotypes that victimize African culture) — they are simply trying to ‘fit in’.

Unsurprisingly, with the conformity to African American culture, comes the adoption of the norms, habits and thought practices of black Americans. And this transition has proved difficult in my experience. During my early years in America, as I began to be around more African Americans, I noticed the aspects of their culture that made them so attractive, aspects such as music (hip-hop and rap culture) or fashion (Jordan shoes and basketball sneakers) and dance (like the ‘whip’ and the ‘Nae Nae’ and all other dances that were created by black Americans and went globally viral). These aspects seem like hallmarks of black culture in America and they have greatly influenced me to this day. But at the same time, I also found aspects of African American culture that were greatly displeasing and unattractive; manners and tendencies that estranged me.

One such trait that I have found common to African Americans is their tendency to actualize racism; to see themselves as ‘black’ and therefore adopt a paradigm of being oppressed. I will not pretend that blacks in America are not victims of racism, I have experienced it first-hand. Blacks are oppressed institutionally and socially and have every right to advocate for changes in the way they are treated in this country. I am also aware of America’s dark past relative to the pillaging and destruction of black lives.

However, in seeing African Americans from an outside perspective, I notice how the oppression of their people has greatly affected their outlook and mentality. It seems that, through the struggle for equality, they have been indoctrinated with a subconscious perception of their race’s inferiority and inadequacy.

The other day I bought a laptop from a store I will not name. The salesman who sold me the computer did an exceptional job, one that warranted good feedback. I jokingly told the salesman that I would give his manager such great feedback that he would be due for a promotion. To this he chuckled briefly and said that he was unlikely to be promoted; when I questioned why, he bluntly told me “Nah, they don’t wanna promote niggas here…”

Another similar instance I recall more recently was when a group of friends and I visited a rather upscale restaurant in the city. As we walked in one of my friends half-jokingly said, “I don’t think they like having niggas in here…”

I’m left to think how… how does one live with such a tainted and jaded perspective that continually reflects racism? Imagine how detrimental this kind of thinking can be.

There’s sour taste in my mouth every time I recall these incidents and many others like them — times when black Americans have seemingly victimized themselves in perceiving that their circumstance is solely a result of racism. When I recall these moments, I ponder how the African-American struggle against oppression seems to have caused a subsequent adoption of an “oppressed” mindset; a development of habits and thought-patterns that are reflective of a pillaged past and the continual struggle for equality in America. It is a mindset that I have learned and been a victim too as a black immigrant in the United States.

It is this mindset that changed my perceptions of Race since coming to the US. It is this mindset that has taught me, more than ever, that color lines exist and that black is different from white. Through this mindset I have learnt to notice when I am the only black person in the room; I have learnt to justify my shortcomings with the excuse that “it’s probably because I’m black”; and I have been constrained by beliefs that tell me “Niggaz don’t read” and “Niggaz ain’t smart”. It is this mindset that continues to damage my perception of myself and my perceptions of the black race. It is this mindset that I have tried most vigilantly to free myself from.

Expectedly, it has been very difficult to detach myself from these habitual thoughts of oppression, but I have started by taking responsibility for my perceptions of racism, and proactively departing from seeing my color as an excuse. I no longer use the phrase “it’s probably because I’m black…” nor do I slander myself and other blacks with phrases like “…we’re black, they don’t care about us”.

In consciously making this paradigm shift, I have noticed that if we, as black America, intend to make ‘Black Lives Matter’ (as the campaign states), then black lives must first matter most to us; we must first change our perceptions of ‘black people’. Though we may continue to be oppressed we cannot continue to oppress ourselves with self-limiting beliefs that the world is infinitely racist towards us. We must consciously refuse the common tendency to point fingers and blame the ‘white man’. Truly, we, as blacks of America, will continue to be subjects of racism and prejudice in our lifetimes, that is out of our control, but what we can control is our perceptions of each other and our responses to our circumstance — no matter how oppressive.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “no one can hurt me without my consent…”

No one can oppress me, nor afflict me with thoughts of my own inferiority unless I allow them to.

Gandhi, a man who lived in the most trying times of prejudice against his race, also said “They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them. It is our willing permission, our consent to what happens to us, that hurts us far more than what happens to us in the first place.”

This was very difficult to accept emotionally, especially because I, as a black person in America, have grown so accustomed to the habitual practice of blame and victimism; I have learnt to see myself as black and therefore a victim of racism; learnt to explain my misery as a result of circumstance and someone else’s (white people’s) behavior.

However, in changing my mentality and outlook, I’ve come to realize that instead of being at the mercy of my environment and at the mercy of my own perceptions of racism and oppression, I can take initiative to reform my paradigm of thought and choose to no longer be a victim; I can liberate myself. Once I take responsibility for my own paradigms of oppression and perceptions of black inferiority, only then can I consciously choose to see myself, not as a victim, not as ‘black’, not as a ‘nigga’, but rather as a person of this earth, equal and deserving of thoughts free from subjugation and racism. It is only then that I will have the mental freedom to fully experience and appreciate the world I live in.

Why I stopped Drinking

“How come you don’t drink?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question, I’d be on the Forbes list. I usually just give some generic response like “I don’t need it and I don’t like the taste…” But truly there is a multitude of reasons I don’t drink alcohol, too many for me to spiel on a trivial conversation at a typical party.
In 2012, I made a decision to stop drinking alcohol. At the time, I made the choice purely on impulse; I had gotten in trouble for underage drinking and shame, layered with the subsequent distrust of people close to me, heavily influenced my decision. But the following few months after my self-imposed prohibition, I started to notice several things that strengthened my convictions against alcohol. My abstinence had actually enlightened me to a whole host of virtues that I would have otherwise been oblivious to.

Will-Power and Discipline

In continually abstaining from alcohol, which is so much a facet of our society, I was able to practice not only a resistance against temptation but also a disregard for other people’s judgment and ridicule. In doing this, I cultivated a deep sense of discipline and will-power. I took pride in the fact that I stood by my decision when it would have been easier and ‘normal’ to conform.
I believe there is something to be said for someone with the strength of mind to abstain and defend their convictions in an atmosphere that encourages the opposite.
This newly found sense of self-discipline and will-power has poured into other aspects of my life and I truly believe that anyone who can abstain from alcohol, through their own conviction, can cultivate the strength of mind and discipline to do anything they set their mind to.

Trust

My abstinence from alcohol also allowed me to unconsciously gain the trust of people around me. I first noticed this with my parents who would no longer worry when I spent nights out at clubs and bars. My sobriety had somehow given them the reassurance that I could take care of myself—I’m sure they weren’t complaining.
People began to view me in a totally different light when they learned of my abstinence; they saw it as an attribute that warranted their trust and I unconsciously built this aura of dependability and maturity. In this way, I began to grow in my relationships because people felt they could trust me extensively, and trust, in any relationship, is pivotal.

Respect

Most people think that if they stopped drinking, they would be outcast and rejected by their friends who do—I thought the same. But my experience was quite the contrary. People actually respected my decision and commended me for it. In fact, on nights out, people saw my abstinence as a manner of sophistication and were drawn towards me. I actually formed a lot of relationships from conversations that began “… wait you’re serious, you don’t drink??”
I suppose my abstinence gave me a stronger sense of identity, a more distinct personality—perhaps that’s what drew people toward me. My non-conformance to drinking alcohol made me ‘different’… and I found pride in this difference. I wasn’t just ‘following the crowd’, or submitting to the norms of society, I wasn’t just another follower… I was ‘Someone’.

Money

After nights out I commonly hear my friends wake up in the morning and complain about their tabs reaching $60-70 and I do not envy them.
To think my entire four years of college I never spent a single cent on alcohol…

I don’t think I saved enough to make the Forbes list but according to statistics, the average college student spends up to $900 a year on booze… just hearing that is motivation enough to stay sober.
Of course, there are more benefits of my abstinence (like health and safety) but these are the few that I discovered that aren’t apparent to most people.
To this day I remain sober since 2012—and I continue to take pride in my abstinence. My sobriety has become a large part of who I am and it has instilled within me a wealth of virtues that I was otherwise oblivious to. I don’t regret that I stopped drinking and I would encourage other people to do the same. Know that there is power in non-conformance to the patterns of this world, and with it, you can develop the strength of mind to do anything you desire.