What if love isn’t everything we compare it to?

Just a poem about love

They say you can’t force love,
You’ll most likely find it
when you’re not looking,
I would believe that;
If you couldn’t say the same
for tinder matches and syphilis,

We compare love to anything.
Roses, Rivers, Oceans,
Boxes of chocolate, and everything in between.
Why do we make ‘Falling in love’ look so easy?
When most of us are
too afraid to jump,
too cautious to trip,
too busy putting our lives in balance
to fall for someone else,

It’s like,
It’s all pretentious,
…we’re all searching for the same thing…

You want the type of love where
you get lost in someone else,
Where she’ll call you at 2 am, and
you can’t hang up the phone,
Because at that moment she’s with you and
you’re too afraid
to fall asleep by yourself.

The type of love where
there are no awkward silences.
Your conversations make for music
that makes safe your insecurities.
Love,
that makes you melt
in each other’s eyes,
sleep in each other’s arms.
And
every kiss feels like a dream,
And
every nightmare
is worth the fright
if you wake up to him.

The type of love that
makes you blush when you’re alone,
That has you cheesing in the mirror
watching movies of your memories
like a Netflix account.

That’s love right?
“Real love”

The type that honestly,
I’m not sure even exists,

We paint it so beautifully in our minds
Because the fear of being alone
is something we can’t admit to.
But what if:

What if
‘Love’ isn’t everything we compare it to?
What if it isn’t roses or rivers, and oceans,
And we’re just swimming
in seas of shallow metaphors we don’t want to drown in
I know,
That Love is deeper,
But most of us like the surface.

Most of us like the dates,
Most of us like the rings
Most of us like the sex,
Most us like the weddings,
But Love,

Love is everything we look for
but we don’t really see,
like an Instagram of smiles covering up its scars,
with pictures captioned in a language
that we don’t understand.

A canvas colored with emotions,
that we’ve never learned to notice.

Love
Is standing on the top of your faith,
jumping to fall into a relationship with a man,
who you don’t know will catch you.

Love
Is how you’ve fallen for her already
but you’re never going to say it,
Cuz the fear of being alone,
is worse than being in the friend-zone.

Love,
Is losing your temper,
And wanting to say I hate you,
But you’re two in the same person
and the other half of you
is holding your tongue.

Love,
Is my parents’ marriage,
I never hear them say I love you,
but I guess 27 years of being together,
makes you know that already.

Love,
Is knowing that the sunsets,
Appreciating the light
but still expecting the darkness
Maybe.

Maybe that’s why we’re all struggling to find it?

Escaping the ‘Fences’ of Africa

“Some people build fences to keep people out, other’s build them to keep people in.”

‘Fences’ is a Hollywood film I recently watched for the second time. Partly because I was forced to, but also because I love Denzel Washington.

For me, any movie with Will Smith or Denzel Washington in a lead-role is a “must-watch”… and that’s not just because they’re both Black — though that is a major factor. But also because of how relatable their roles tend to be to me as an African man. The truth is, the Hollywood movies aren’t particularly good at telling the African narrative. So I, like many other Africans have had to ‘see myself’ in Black American stories. And though they are not always relatable, they are often close enough to spark my interest. I suppose that’s where my love for Will Smith and Denzel Washington stems from.

Anyway, Denzel’s Character in Fences portrays a black family man in 1950’s America. At face value, the movie could be considered completely foreign to me. Honestly, what does 1950’s America have to do with me as a Kenyan living in Nairobi?

My answer is; “Everything”.

There is a very strong metaphor in the film which I didn’t catch the first time. A metaphor that brings the movie closer to home. Denzel, though he is a black man in the 1950’s, reminds me of the many African fathers (or even mothers) I have come to know in my lifetime. The one trait that I have seen in many African parents, which is so reflective in Denzel Washington’s character in the movie, is this innate belief that they are being victimized.

Africans, just like black Americans, especially the older generations tend to believe that someone or something is always against them. They will blame the government, the environment, the past, anything and everything when things don’t happen the way they should. They will complain solely for the sake of complaining because to not complain is to have nothing to say at all. They will tell you stories of all they’ve have overcome, all the struggles they went through, just to prove to you how hard it has been for them, and how hard it continues to be.

Truth is I don’t blame them.

When Denzel spoke of how the ‘white man’ took everything from him, how he couldn’t play baseball because of the ‘white man’ or how he’s been paying back a loan to the ‘white man’ for 15 years, it reminded me so fervently of my own family. Though we are thousands of miles away on a different continent altogether, our complaints and our grievances echo back and forth so much so that Denzel’s character could easily have been my father.

Let me back-track a little.

My parents and grandparents grew up in a world that wasn’t about options or possibilities. “Go to school, excel, get a job, work hard, get money and provide for your family,” that was it. They grew up in survival mode. I suppose when you’ve lived through the colonization of your people and the pillaging of your “possibilities”, it’s hard to see life through any other lens.

Whereas white families, or Euro-American kids may have grown up believing in mass opportunity, plush possibilities, and parents throwing around phrases like “you can be whoever you want to be”, for us Africans, it has been very different.

I, like many other Kenyan kids, grew up in a ‘survival mentality household’. Study hard, finish school so you can make money — that was ‘life’. Now I give credit to my parents for somehow escaping from that mentality a few years back, but today I see many African people, households, families, kids, still stuck in that same mentality. And I’m not talking about ‘poor’ people: poor people have to survive before they can dream big or see opportunities. It’s a different life when you’re are solely worried about where your next meal will come from. I have no bone to pick with the poor.

Instead, I’m talking about those of us who grew up like I did. The Africans who went to school; who had food on the table when they came home, and a fresh pair of socks to wear in the morning. The Africans who were afforded the possibility to “dream big” and “be whoever they wanted to be” — even though it was never explicitly said. It hurts me to see Africans who are oblivious to the opportunities that not only they have but their sons and daughters too. I want today’s Africans to strive for something greater than ‘survival’ even if we are used to a culture, society, or environment that dictates a different narrative to us.

My fear is that we, as Africans, though being “freed”, still struggle to see the possibilities that our ‘new world’ is giving us — the possibilities granted by the sacrifices of our ancestors.

The movie Fences spoke to me so deeply because Africans — be it parents, kids, culture, or communities — are much like Denzel Washington’s character.

We are building fences around ourselves. Not the types that keep others out, but the types that keep us and our people in. It is about time that we emancipated ourselves and grasped that we do not need to feel victimized. Opportunities and possibilities exist. The colonialists and the white men left a long time ago, we cannot take off the shackles on our ankles and strap them voluntarily on our minds.

There are no fences anymore. Only the ones we have built ourselves.

If I Gave you $5000 Right Now, What Would You Do?

I’ll never forget one day at work when I met with a co-worker in the staff room. She was complaining, the same way she had the day before, and the day before that. I listened, like I often did, or at least pretended to. It was the same mindless venting she was known for and quite frankly, I was tired of it.

I interrupted her mid-sentence, “If I gave you half a million shillings ($5000 roughly) right now, what would you do?”

She paused. And suddenly her eyes glazed over in suppressed excitement.

Are you kidding me, I would go home and sleep!”

I’ve never forgotten that.

Her words may not even be remotely surprising to some people. I imagine there a lot of people who’d answer the same way she did.

But, to this day, the pity I felt for her in that moment still resonates in my mind. And after replaying that scene over and over again since, I’ve realized something very profound about how certain people think.

On that day, my coworker gave me a glimpse into her reality. She was working as a means to an end; as a way to ‘make money’, and the quicker she could make enough money to go home and ‘do nothing’, the better. Whatever job could make that happen, she was willing to do, no matter how discontented she felt.

That’s what she was really saying.

Poor Person’s mentality

At the beginning of this year I was broke. I was living in my parents’ home, I had no job prospects and for seemingly the first time, I felt poor. I wanted money. I wanted to move out of my parents’ home and start my own life — and money could make that happen.

So, unconsciously and blindly, I took a job working as a salesman… I hated it.It wasn’t that the job was hard, it wasn’t, I did really well my first month and they paid us really well too. Instead the reason I hated it was because it didn’t ‘feel right’. I had no desire to be like my bosses — or even my co-workers to be honest. I felt lost. I remember waking up every day trying to convince myself that a check at the end of the month was worth the sacrifice.

During that time, I had gone from making no money and being desperate for a job, to making good money and hating my job. It was as if the money didn’t help. It only made me realize what I really valued. It took the blinders off me per se.

When you are ‘poor’, you don’t think about what you’re passionate about, you don’t think about ‘career advancement’ or whether you even like your job; you just ‘work’. You ‘work’ to alleviate the pain of poverty (and that pain looks different for all kinds of people). To make enough money to feed yourself, pay your rent and keep the lights on — that’s all that matters.

But once you start making a bit of money in excess of your basic needs… something changes. You begin to look around and you begin to value other aspects of your ‘work’ that you may not have noticed before.

You begin to ask yourself “what’s really important to me?”, “Do I even enjoy my job?”, “is this where I want to be?”

Suddenly, money begins to ‘look’ a little different. Your needs change, and ‘money’ can’t really fulfill these new needs.

You begin to “value what you do for the money, even more than the money itself.” — Jane Hwango

The Search

I’ve come to realize that there is something even more elusive than money. We all search for it, whether subconsciously or knowingly. Some people call it ‘happiness’, ‘purpose’, but I like to refer to it as ‘fulfillment’.

 

A popular Greek myth, tells of a man named Sisyphus. Sisyphus was banished to a life of discontentment by the Greek Gods. He was to push a heavy boulder up a mountain and place it at the top. The problem was, every time he got to the top, the rock would stay there for a moment, before rolling back down the other side of the mountain. He did this over and over again; the rock continually rolled down and Sisyphus continually pushed it back up.

In this world, we are no different to Sisyphus.

We work, we travel, we buy things, all because we are seemingly getting closer to the top of the mountain. But unfortunately, when we finally get ‘there’… we grow discontent, unsatisfied, and the boulder falls back down the other side. We then go back down the mountain and habitually start all over, habitually picturing happiness and fulfillment at the top of the mountain.

The fact is, the fulfillment we search for — through, our possessions, our jobs, our lifestyle etc. is not at the top of some mountain that we can ‘arrive’ at. You can’t make ‘enough’ money to stay content and fulfilled. We, as humans are just not like that; even Warren Buffet has money problems.

Instead, what we find through our life experiences, is that fulfillment is but a feeling. Like happiness, it comes and it goes. Life becomes a journey of finding the things that bring you closer to the fulfillment and happiness you search for; without compromising all the other aspects of your life.

Fulfillment is not so much in the destination but in the path, itself.

Theodore Roosevelt once said; “the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

There is no amount of money that will ‘buy’ your fulfillment or satisfaction. Instead, value what you’re actually doing for the money — that’s what truly matters. Because like Pico Lyer once said; “sometimes ‘making-a-living’ and ‘making-a-life’ point in very different directions.”

Being crippled by the ‘Fear of Success’

In February 2017, I had an incredible idea for a book.

The premise of the book was to tell my story hoping that it would inspire kids to chase their dreams. For me, growing up in Nairobi, Kenya with the dream of becoming a professional footballer, I didn’t have a lot of role models. There wasn’t anyone truly telling me that it was possible, but what a difference it would have made if there was.

That’s where my idea came from.

I am very much an exception in Kenya. I am one of the few that realized my dream and played football all the way to the professional level — which I know is more than most can say. So when the ides for my book hit me earlier this year, I knew it was my duty to give back; to tell my story and give Kenyan kids the inspiration that I never had.

At the time, I had no idea what would come of the book, whether anyone would read it, or if it would even get published. Instead I tried to focus on what I did know. I know that there are millions of kids in Kenyan with the same dream that I once had, and maybe, just maybe, a book like mine from someone who has gone before them, will inspire them to do the same.

… Now, I know it all sounds great, but since that magical idea fell into my hands, I have tried anything and everything to second guess it.

Three months after I committed myself to writing the book, I hadn’t even written a single chapter. ‘I’m working a new job’, ‘Work is too busy’, ‘I don’t have time’… these were all excuses I told myself to justify why I hadn’t started. When my friends asked me about my ‘brilliant book idea’ I just shrugged or made up some generic excuse.

Looking back, I realize that I was in a place that most people are in life; between wanting to do something and convincing themselves that they can’t because it feels better.

About a month after the book idea, I dramatically quit my job. I realized I was only working for the money and I really had no passion to work there. It was at that point when I had an introspective period of thought. I questioned what was really important to me. Of course, the book jumped to the forefront of my mind and I told myself I had to stop procrastinating and get it done.

But for some reason, that scared the hell out of me.

After quitting my job, I was suddenly running out of excuses. I wasn’t busy, I had the time, and I had all the resources I needed. Still, for some strange reason, I absolutely loathed the thought of sitting down to begin writing the book. I procrastinated and procrastinated — which was immensely frustrating because I’m not a procrastinator; it wasn’t like ‘me’.

Whenever I would think of actually writing the book, there was this vivid fear that came over me and I was crippled. I remember telling myself; “I’ll write a chapter a week…” but as each week passed, it was the same old story. I had nothing.

At that point, I began to get angry with myself. I began to question where my fear was coming from. Why was it that I couldn’t even get started?

Then, I came across a quote by Mark Mason in a book I was reading. It read;

“People fear success for the same reason they fear failure. It threatens who they perceive themselves to be…”

That quote struck me like a dagger through my ribs and suddenly things became clear.

I wanted to write the book. I really did. Badly enough that the fear of regret was enough motivation, so I knew that wasn’t stopping me. I would even visualize myself going back to my old school to market the book and speak to all the younger kids, inspiring them to chase their dreams. I had the book’s title, an idea of the cover… so I really had nothing in my way. Just this very pungent fear.

But this wasn’t any regular type of fear. Not just some regular anxiety that I had to push past… It was different. A deeper, crippling type of fear.

Until then, I had prided myself in being someone who inspires people, that was who I believed I was, and the book was just another means to that end. I would think of myself as an established writer, a motivational speaker, a role model, all the great titles I wanted to wear. But what I didn’t realize was that writing the book would also threaten my perception of myself.

To sit and spend months writing the book was not only to become a writer, but also to invite the possibility that I wasn’t good enough, or the realization that I didn’t have a story worth telling, or that I’m actually not inspiring at all. And that’s what scared the daylight out of me.

That fear was so real that I was satisfied with just having the idea of writing the book, not actually sitting down and writing it. I wanted my friends to see me as ‘the guy who’s writing a book’, or ‘the guy who’s inspiring people’, not ‘the guy’ who wrote a book that didn’t sell… or ‘the guy’ who’s trying too hard to inspire people… That would threaten who I am.

So most days, I let the fear crippled me. I couldn’t sit and start writing the book because doing so was threatening who I believed myself to be. It was inviting fear; the fear that my story really isn’t that great and I’m not really that inspiring. It wasn’t just a fear of failure, it was a fear of the process and journey toward success.

Today (6 Months later)

Today, I’m grateful to find myself in the latter stages of completing the book. In all honesty, I have suffered through the process and I borderline hated it. But despite that, writing my book has also taught me a lot about life.

It has taught me that many people, just like I was, are stuck between wanting to do something and convincing themselves that they can’t because it feels better. It feels better to procrastinate in writing a book than to invite the possibility that you’re a terrible writer. It feels better to stay in a job you hate because to quit is to threaten your self-image as ‘the one who makes a lot of money’ or ‘has a good corporate job’. It feels better not to go on a diet than to try, and then have to admit to yourself that you have very little self-control…

“People fear success for the same reason they fear failure. It threatens who they perceive themselves to be.”

Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya. Click here to see more of his work.

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’.