“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ― The Alchemist.
A quote from Paulo Coelho I have referenced many times, but quite frankly, never truly appreciated. Until now. There’s something about youthful abandon that allows (or permits) young people or young souls to embark on the unknown without much of a second thought. You just kind of jump in without worrying about the logistics, details, outcomes. I know, because I’ve been there.
And then this “growing up” crops up and suddenly there is so much to consider. I’ve taken numerous risks in my life, and have called myself a risk taker on many occasions, but I now see that the kind of risks I’ve taken – up and moving to a new country without a thought, jumping into social interactions without worrying about how I will be perceived – have all become quite normal. They are no longer risky and rarely ellicit any fear. And so as the years go by I realize that that particular quotient – risk-taking – diminishes. Where I used to seek out and crave for discomfort and novelty, I now clamor towards comfort.
What happened? That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
Seven Months Ago: Murkiness
I’ve been working on Circumspecte for almost 9 years now. And throughout that period I have always juggled it with numerous other hats – school, work, family and so on. Over the last two years however it’s been a little more difficult to do so. Partly because Circumspecte is in a transition and has moved from a blog where I simply sit, write and hit publish, to an…entity…that is still being defined. It’s harder to outline a clear schedule when the specifics of what you are attempting to create are a bit murky.
But that’s not the problem – my feet have tread many murky waters and emerged just fine.
The issue here is that it’s become clear that this entity needs more time and energy and resources than simply being an item on my weekly schedule. It needs my attention – the very thing that is such a scarce commodity these days.
And so I’m faced with a conundrum – shift the majority of my attention to this entity I am creating, have become attached to, and have great hopes in; continue this (unsustainable) juggling act; or accept that Circumspecte (the blog) is where this particular ride ends?
Thanks to this conundrum, I am quickly understanding what the fear of failure – where failure in this case is defined as making the “wrong decision” – can do. How it cripples, ropes itself around you, leaves you immobile and seemingly powerless, content to just watch the cards fall as they will and/or willing someone – anyone – to make the decision on your behalf.
Rationally speaking, I know no decision has to be permanent. If I decide to suspend Circumspecte, I could always pick it up at another time. If I decide to reallocate my scarce resources (time, energy, attention, money) to this new entity, I could always redistribute it again at some time. And if I decide to continue the juggling act – well, there has to be some compromise, right?
So why this fear? This irrational sense that this decision, this moment is crucial and will determine the outcome of many things to come?
The reason is simple. There is more at stake. I always joke that throughout my one-year job stints, the only thing that has been constant and true has been Circumspecte. It is the representation of the commitment I have towards myself, my country and continent, the world I live in, my dreams. Pull it out from under me and then what?
On any other day I would insert Anaïs Nin’s quote:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
But today, I’m not so sure. All I can see is the murkiness.
Two Months Ago: Fear of Failure
Five months later, here I am. I took the plunge, hopefully for better and not for worse. What I am finding out is that the questions never quite disappear, they just morph into new, (more confusing) ones.
“When are you leaving?” has suddenly become “Oh really, so what are you doing now?” “Are you like, REALLY back? For good?”. Where the initial used to amuse, then annoy, the latter two just leave me floored. Especially since I initiated these chain of events. Change is constant, we all know that – sometimes it creeps up on you, other times it throws itself at you. But in most cases, it’s happening to you, not through you – you’re just standing there, and it comes. Or so we like to tell ourselves.
But when you pull a perfectly soft and good rug from under yourself and find your forehead smashing hard against the cold linoleum floor, “Ouch, see what you did?” takes on a whole other dimension.
Wondering, replaying the chain of events that led you to this moment. Asking yourself for the two hundredth time if you did the “right” thing, imagining the worst case scenario where you exhaust all your resources, hopes, dreams, and are left standing outside in the rain with a soaking wet sign that reads “I used to be [insert whatever you are most proud of]”. And let’s not forget the applau…ahem…jeers. You. Naked before them. With all your failings. In all your failings.
And then there are those days when you want to throw your fist in the air, do a little jig and respond, “Yes, see what I did!”. When all the madness makes sense – of why you decided to trudge solo, skip out on the comforts and opt for the grime. When the plan – your carefully crafted plan – seems to fall into place as the universe conspires on your behalf. But of course, it has done so many times, what could possibly be different now?
You. Or rather me. And my awareness of so much I hadn’t noticed before. Like how I second guess myself more now, than I ever did when I was doe-eyed and naive and just eager to learn. It’s like two boardrooms simultaneously holding a meeting inside my brain. Each assessing the situation, each giving their recommendations, and me, seeing the big picture, but the roads to get there? Not quite clear. Or the expectations – the ones I have of myself, the ones others have of me. And also, how much more I understand and know, the things I can do now that I never could before – and how all that must be honored.
For someone who started working right after high school, I feel like I’m just leaving high school, swimming in the murkiness, the questions of how my life will pan out, of if I will be okay, of getting from point A to B. It’s like all the other times I found myself here never happened, and this is the very first time. It’s a constant back and forth of questioning and not really answering, of remembering the numerous times where I was trying to find my place and how I always (re)discovered myself; centered, basking in what I knew I was always meant to do.
Why did you do this?
It’s only when I pause to ponder that question that the pocket of silence finds me, that the details, logistics, plans, schedules that buzz around my head fade into the background. The change was necessary. I’ve grown to know myself well enough to know what keeps me alive and where I’m at my best. While much of everything else is murky, I am clear on one thing – however this thing pans out, it will be okay.
So if you happen to see me around the corner somewhere in Accra or Ghana, yes, it really is me. And if you happen to ask what I’m up to and find me dazed and confused, false starting and stopping in my response – please understand, I’m still fumbling my way back home.
Present Day: Hopeful
Seven months later. I did what I did and the world didn’t fall apart. It was a defining moment for me, but like everything else, you adapt, you normalize. I no longer feel like a fish out of water. I can’t remember the last time I went into a dark mood from worrying myself silly over whether or not I made the “right decision”. If anything at all, the fact that I’ve had numerous offers to rejoin the corproate world and responded in the negative tells me I have finally begun. This piece was meant more for myself than anyone else, to remind myself of this transitionary period – and why it is okay to be a little afraid. But many of you have reached out about your own transitions, struggles, fears, conundrums. I’m sharing this for you – so you get a sense of what it actually feels like to be in transition (from my perspective of course), since social media can only give you so much insight.
If there’s one thing I’m really thankful for (besides all the support), it’s that I planned towards this transition – and by plan I mean finance and lifestyle wise – I would be pulling my hair out otherwise. I also have a nagging feeling that someone somewhere needs to read the above – it’s been persistent over the months although I’ve generally ignored it. So I’m succumbing now. If you’re the one, I hope this piece offered some clarity or at the very least comfort: You are not alone. It might not be exactly what you expect, but one thing is for sure: You will surprise yourself.
I’m five months into focusing solely on Circumspecte (while freelancing) and I’m learning so much, experimenting, exploring new collaborations, ventures and so on. It’s exciting. I’m wearing many hats – some I’ve tried on in the past, others not so much – it’s challenging. That means I get to be a bit more creative with producing content on here (like the Cafe Kwae feature, Africans on Twitter collaboration with YesiYesi, and our partnership with Viber ). It also means I write less frequently. Please do bear with me.
All that said, there are some excellent pieces on here from our growing team, as well as other Africans and Africa enthusiasts – go ahead and explore! Very soon, we’ll be reaching out to you (Yes. You, dear reader) for your honest feedback and how you can get involved. In the meantime, do subscribe to our upcoming newletter and/or email us your impressions or suggestions. When we do, I hope you respond. Because as scary as it might be to open up or try something new, it’s also exhilirating. And until you decide – the red pill or the blue, Neo? – you won’t know which it will be.
Thanks to everyone who has been such a great support (especially my family and friends!) and to each of you who has written or come up to me to share about your Circumspecte experience, encouragement, or refer us. It means a lot and in many ways, it’s the fuel that runs this engine. This is not just about me anymore, it’s about us, and I see a very bright future ahead – if you’ll jump in with us, you’ll see just how much. Wishing you all a year of great surprises!
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.