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City of Banjul
Saturday, October 31, 2020

Letters to my daughters: The moments occur that define true success

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With Rohey Samba

Motivation does not come from falling down my daughters. When you are downtrodden, trash-talked, misunderstood. Those are the moments that occur. They are the huddles that stem the tide to your overconfidence, cockiness and perhaps just your super human standards you set for yourself. You are reminded that you are just human. Once you unlock that paradox, you are primed to move on. It was never personal!
Perfectionism can be so debilitating. It makes normal people shadow themselves with fear. The fear of failure. The internalized voice of past disappointment.

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The humiliating aspersions of a stern teacher, a critical relative or friend, an unloving parent… Recently, my virtuous cousin, we are the same age, told me about the passing of a legendary teacher who taught us when we were both in primary school. He was stern and very critical. I never forgot the humiliating way he made me feel. So when my innocent cousin, God bless her, framed the picture of an angel, in order to motivate me to attend his funeral, I just shrugged her off and told her politely, “I do not remember the rosy tales you speak about Dew. That guy was awful. I will not attend his funeral.”

My cousin was arguably shocked. We do not have the habit of speaking ill about the dead in our society. Even when the person was as scornful as could be. Our relationship with death is that of fear and reverential respect mixed with abnegation. As if the less we talked about it, the further away from us we betake ourselves from death. The lesson here is that we never forget when people are kind. And we never ever forget when people are unkind. In short, we never forget the way people make us feel. The journey to forgive and/or forget is a personal one based on how the other made one feel. And let’s face it, death does not change that.

Talking of death, I cannot bring myself to stop thinking about the unfortunate passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in the helicopter accident that killed 7 others, including the pilot. This happened last week Sunday, and for countless times, I have gone on YouTube to get a piece of the legend, especially his Mamba mentality. The self-motivation of Kobe is an inspiration. The man bent the universe to his will. How many of us can really succeed in totally different careers and be truly acclaimed for them. Kobe was both the best basketball player of his time, and on his retirement at 38 years of age he won an Oscar for his film, Dear Basketball.

This short sketch lasting about six minutes was based on a letter he wrote to The Players’ Tribune announcing his retirement from basketball. This letter, which to me is both a premonition and a summation of the man himself, is a worthy read. My favorite line is, ‘you asked me for my hustle and I gave you my heart.’ These words show the mamba mentality that was Kobe’s. If I could bring to words this mamba mentality, I would say, it aimed perfectly to reach the finish line, not just cross the start line.

Many people are satisfied just crossing the start line. They give themselves all excuses to not finish. In kinder words, most people will only dream. Some of us will take a bit of action, but suffer from a lack of follow through. Giving all sorts of excuses to ourselves. Excuses such as, “I did my best.” I have given it much thought, but I really cannot make it.” Etc. etc. And who are we kidding?

Impatience and fear generally make us play it safe. Success takes risk. Whether you’re trying to build a career as a creative or you simply want to take your business further, there is almost always a great risk to be had for any lasting reward. The time we put into our goals is a risk. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that our impatience gets in the way.

Living with risk, and working through any form of uncertainty requires a great deal of patience that most people don’t want to muster. As a result, most will avoid risk at all costs and instead opt for the work that feels safe and easy. This is what Kobe’s mamba mentality dissuades from.

Where certain people dare themselves to be average, by giving themselves permission to ‘do their best, to hell with the rest of effort,’ mamba mentality, and whoever has ever willed themselves to succeed despite the odds, by marching ahead of fear and starring right through impatience, has discovered that success is not as tough to achieve as it seems. That success is what people perceive, whilst to the person who has succeeded, success is one step along the way to many more achievements. For indeed, success breeds success.

is different for each person. As Kobe rightly put it in one of his many talks about mamba mentality, it is about dancing beautifully in your box that you created. If the box is creativity, then dance in it in a tune of your own determination. If the box is sport, the same applies. If the box is academics, agriculture, whatever, just dance beautifully. If you do so long enough and hard enough, you will be rewarded. Best of all, is the satisfaction you get from doing what you only know how to do best.

Now, this reminds me of an Alhaji I did my Masters with in Sweden. Alhaji Sani Zaria Abubakr had applied ten times to get the fellowship I won after just a single application. Notwithstanding, Alhaji gave himself permission to enjoy himself and the beautiful country of Sweden. It was as if the fellowship was a given. He was one of those easy going people who had everything and needed nothing to prove himself. I will tell you a lot of Alhaji stories over time, because his vision of life really impacted me greatly. Let’s say he made me see the other side of the fence, which was obscure to me…

Once Alhaji told me, “We are all going out here with certificates, so why be so studious all the time?” What Alhaji and people like Alhaji fail to realize is that some people just don’t take the conferments of life for granted. Remember the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (S.A.W) was promised heaven even before his demise. That did not prevent him from worshipping so much so that his compatriots were confounded by his earnest devotions.
When our thoughts include, ‘my prerogative,’ ‘my blessing,’ ‘my luck,’ ‘my right,’ we fail to realize that other people work equally hard, but fail to get the same privileges that are our lot. We may hear the inner voice that speaks to our pride, but pride or ego is nothing if we cannot predict whether we will see the light of day tomorrow or the next day after. This is not determined by us. This is determined by a higher power above who grants privileges to whom He favors. This favor to my mind must not be taken for granted.

Recently, I went to Sheikh Zayed Eye Clinic for a routine eye check up. Many people in my family wear thick lenses. I don’t. Thank God. Well, I was surprised by the sheer number of people with eyesight problems once I set foot in the main entrance. It was unbelievable to me. The same applies to any hospital you choose to frequent in this country. I was admitted at Serekunda Hospital with one of you, Sally, when you were a year and eleven months old for severe bronchitis and chronic pneumonia. The children’s ward was so full, we were compelled to share a bed with another child, who was also gravely ill.

I was very grateful that the mother of the child agreed to share her child’s bed with us. And it bothered me greatly that we were occupying her space. People I have narrated the story to always wonder whether I have some screws missing from my skull. Or whether my brain is positioned right? For them, we both had a prerogative in that hospital. The free rider notion of common property, especially government owned, is pervasive. To even gain admission to a government hospital is not a given. People who have a lot of politics in their blood are usually soundly disappointed when I say this. But it is the truth. Many gravely ill people do not have the privilege to be in hospital.

Now don’t ask me how you got to be afflicted with both severe pneumonia and bronchitis, because i do not know. All i know for sure is, you were misdiagnosed by 2 very prominent private hospitals, all of which misdiagnosed your difficulty in breathing for asthma. i will forever be grateful to Serrekunda General Hospital for treating you in time and for free. Yes, free of charge because you were under five!
The other kid, a skinny boy with large, beautiful eyes, who had severe shortness of breath just like you, did not make it. He passed on two days after you were discharged on your second birthday. In my quiet moments I still think about his mother. The loss of her child must have been devastating. I wonder if she got pass it.

Every woman I have ever met to me is an embodiment of a story wound in hope, joy, suffering, disappointment and love. Every woman is beautiful, strong and kind to various degrees. Some deflect other women, some encourage and still some motivate their fellow women. But everyone of us has kindness that no one else can take away. The breath of our experiences may make us act in different ways, but women in general are the brill of God’s creation.

Coming back to the death of Kobe, and before him, Beth Chapman of Dog and Beth on the Hunt, the death of celebrities make us feel pain beyond our usual threshold because they signify the demise of a superhuman right before our own eyes. These people have touched our lives variously as fans, idols and inspirations in general. That they hold a certain edge above normal human beings is because they are projected into our eyes in the light of perfection that we all aspire for. Yet the mundane truth is, they are no less perfect than we all are.

Kobe had a turbulent relation with his parents and siblings. He chose his wife above them. And I am not saying that is a bad choice. But it makes me sad. Mind you, this is my perspective as an African, dancing in the box of my Africanness. Because let’s face it, no matter how much we choose to believe, our boxes in life are defined not only by our sheer determination to succeed in our chosen field of endeavour, but the culture we grew up in, our sense of identity, our belief system etc.

The family that raised and nurtured him into becoming what he became before he met his wife were unrecognized in his later life. I think above all, this was a big tragedy. If Kobe’s father or his maternal grandfather were not basketball players, would Kobe have been such a legend? I do not know. What I know is, genes count. Youssou N’Dour, one of my biggest idols, also thinks the same. In his song, Mam Marie Sene, where he sang a eulogy to his maternal grandmother, who was the griot that influenced his venture into music despite his father’s dissent, Youssou N’Dour is heard singing, ‘Reward as a matter of duty, the ones that nurtured you (meaning ones parents and extended family) till you are able to fend for yourself, for they are the ones that made you who you are.’

The problems between him and his family were moments that occur. That they looked down on what he did for them, vying for more, could not invalidate all the love, hope, prayer and goodwill they had for him, which paved his way to success. My husband will always say, when you rise above people, even if you gave them the world, they would not be satisfied because they will only think of you have left.

The mamba mentality that he had should have thwarted their misgivings and just forged ahead, not minding what they said or did. Rather continuing on doing what he could. But how perfect can we be in the eyes of other people? Everybody is an embodiment of imperfection if we only look close enough. Kobe was no exception. So this write-up is far from sanctifying him.

The morale is, we cannot be cocky or too complacent when it comes to the mercies of God. Being born into the right family is a mercy from God. Staying together as one family is also a mercy of God. Gratitude to the one that made you who you are, or the one that facilitated your success, either through their approval or disapproval, is the food that feeds the soul. Gratitude is the path to God.

There will always be different opinions about who is better. But never relent to motivate yourself with stern self-talk. ‘I should do my best’ ‘I should be grateful that I am given the chance’ ‘I should be thankful for my blessings’… then you will come to the understanding that the moments that occur define true success.

P.S. Your Mother

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