Monday, May 03, 2010

10 Life Lessons from Ghana - Lesson 4

Try Things

In the first six months after I moved home, I learned the meaning of happiness.

Happiness is being in the place you most want to be, doing exactly the thing(s) you most want to do.

By now you know that I wanted to be in Ghana but what was it I wanted to do? My job? That was part of it. But only part of it. In lesson 2, I talked about finding a job you love. If you do this, your job will be a source of great joy. But I don't know that your job alone is enough. It wasn't for me. I wanted more. I wanted a complete life of happiness and my job is only 1 aspect of  my life. I'm a big proponent of having a life outside of work. At the very least, it will keep you refreshed and make you a better worker.

So what did I want to do outside of work? How did I want to spend the rest of my time? How do you want to spend the rest of your time?

I did not really know yet. Or rather, there were so many things that I wanted to do that I couldn't choose. In line with wanting to live my life now, I wanted to do everything I'd always wanted to do. So I didn't choose. I did them all. hehe. I went out. All the time.

I wanted to go everywhere.

Not just to the nice bars and clubs. Not just enjoy the best of life in Accra. But to also eat at the joints and the obscure places so I did. I did it all. I found myself groups of people who satisfied my desires.

To go to nice bars, I spent time with a few returnees. To go to local joints, waakye places and to eat kenkey sitting on the floor at makola, I found people who would do that. I had people who wanted to do trips outside Accra, and people who hung out at hotels, sipping exotic drinks. Then I had people to go see plays with - the artsy types.

I tried acting by auditioning to be in one of Uncle Ebo's plays and make a whole new crop of friends. I completely loved it. I loved how different each group was. I didn't have to limit my experiences to any one set of friends.

When I got tired of the abroad crowd, I'd go trekking to Aburi, or Akim Oda, or Tefle-Sogakope with someone who wasn't in that circle. When I got tired of that, I'd go to Akoma village, a weed-smoking hang out to see what that side of Accra looked like. When I got sick of rasta people, I'd go for a show at the national theatre or a concert at Alliance Francaise.

I was completely stoked. All the time.

Best time of my life. I tell you. I laughed so much so hard. I'd bash music on my way to work. I made friends in traffic. People who just saw me driving to work and dancing to India Arie or Lauren Hill and fell in love with my spirit and wrote their numbers for me. In traffic.

What is the point of all of this experimentation? Why should you try things? A fellow returnee and friend asked me...aren't you going to get tired of Accra in a few years? You'd have seen it all and done it all. Yep, I agree. And another one asked, Ms. Cleland is doing everything. She owns a clothing line, a farm, and is a volunteer, blogger, party girl, actress, and she quits her engineer job to go become a writer. Don't you worry you'll be perceived as a jack of all trades, master of none? At what point does all this experimentation make you seem like a flake? A person without focus. Always moving from one thing to the next?

Who knows? Who cares? hehe. Just kidding.

Let me address that question. It's an important one actually.

The point of experimentation is to help you determine what to focus on. Now if there are 10 things that I'm curious about. I try all 10 to be able to prioritize and choose the one! So I felt that I could give myself 2 years to experiment. In the 2 years, I learn what works and what doesn't.

Everything I've done, started from a curiosity.

The idea that I could be an actress sounded like fun. I wondered if I could act. I'd never tried it. And I wanted to know if I could. When I auditioned and got selected, I was tickled, and excited. Rehearsals was fun. We laughed so much. Uncle Ebo is a wonderful mentor. He told us life stories and encouraged us to reach for the stars. I got to make a completely new set of friends. I also discovered that I acted exactly like the Ghanaian actresses we all love to bash. My acting looked fake. lol. So I learned that if there's such a thing as a "natural", I wasn't it. But more importantly, I learned that to become a professional actress, you had to commit the time to it. It was a long love affair, not a one night stand. To be able to go onstage and perform so that it seemed effortless and natural, required hours and hours of practice...not just at rehearsal but at home. Acting was a full time job not a hobby. To go far, you had to be passionate about it. It wasn't something you did simply to satisfy a curiosity. At that point, you ask yourself...well, is this it for me? Can I commit what it takes? Can I live, and breathe acting for the next number of years? If not, good to know. You've been there, you've done that, you can cross it off your list and never wonder...what if.

What is striking to me is that all of my experiments and ventures taught me the same lesson.

That lesson is FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS.

If you're going to do anything and do it well, you have to not just do it, you have to live it, breathe it, think it, that becomes your life. You have to focus much of your attention to building that thing. If your attention is divided, it takes away from it. But if you can achieve that singleness of purpose, it can take you very far.

But it is for this very reason that you have to try things. Over the 2 years, you'll find which of your ventures has enough long-term potential that you can give up short-term pleasures for. Which of them offers you the most chance to learn and grow. Which of them is meaningful and satisfies your personal values. Which of them you'll be proud of. You have to be able to find that thing that you can dedicate the next 10 years of your life to building. And when you find that thing, you can let go of all the rest.

At that point, you transition from being a flake to being a focussed person working on your life's work. The life's work blurs the lines between life and work. Unlike with a job, you may not feel you need a life outside of it because it becomes your life. For the dreamers, it becomes your way of transforming or bringing change to this world. No one could pay you enough to do that. It is a thing you do because you almost feel like you were born to do this. You respect it. And can pour your heart and sweat and blood into it. Kinda like the difference between working for Steve Jobs and being Steve Jobs, I think.

I suppose people who have already made this choice when they move back home don't need to go through this exercise. For the rest of us, whose initial plans don't quite work out or who don't even have a plan, it can be very useful. Experimentation helps you not to wonder because you tried all the things that seemed fun and interesting to you and out of those you chose what to focus on.

You may find that at the time of choosing what to focus on, you think 2 paths are equally promising but you decide that one can wait another 10 or 20 years. That you might get to it later. And you make peace with that decision. This has been my own experience.And so my experimentation period ends in August 2010, exactly 2 years after my return home.

Goodluck with yours:)

And watch out for lesson 5 in which I'll share 1 more lesson I learned from trying things.


  1. Wow, this is the strongest point for me so far. FOCUS baby like some would say, hmmm....Thanks again for sharing.

  2. I love how CONSCIOUSLY you approach your experimentation period...I'm guessing that the experimenting won't end in August, though it may take on a different purpose...

    I enjoy reading your blog so much. Thank you.

  3. Do you really have a farm?

  4. Nice one, Esi. One other great thing about experimenting with different interests is that each of them comes in handy later in life. Guess why the Mac has such great font styles? Because once upon a time, the legendary Steve Jobs studied typography (

    I worry about some of the things individuals will do or not do in Ghana because of the lie we're told about which social class we belong. I remember when I mentioned to a common friend of ours that you've quit your engineering job to become a, he screamed the typical Ghanaian "WHAAAAT?" into my face. My response? "Well, she's still young. If she's going to make mistakes, this is the best time".

  5. @Myne. You're welcome. Thanks for the company.

    @Ms. must be a lurker who is commenting for the first time. yes? Thanks for reading. What do you like about the blog? If I can,I shall do more of what you like so you'll find reasons to hang out with us more often.

    @Anonymous - yes, I do. It's a snail farm. LOL.
    ps: Please use an online alias next time you post. I'm discouraging people posting anonymously now. You could choose a name like "Curious Cat". That way, the next time you post, we'll know you were the same person who asked about the farm. We'll know you're one of the regulars, plus if I ever have a party, i could invite Curious Cat:)

    @Thomas. Yes, well, I sure hope the experiences come become useful later in life. for my job, people don't know what to make of it. Someone else told me that when she mentioned it, the person she was talking to asked incredulously...she's doing it for the love of it? lol. I think no one really thinks writing can be a profession. hmmm...At least I make some money as a writer. Wait till i quit that one too to become an full time entrepreneur making zero money. Can't wait for the reactions that will elicit. But hey, you're right. This is the time!

  6. Ms. Esi, I commented once before as Kale..which is my blog name. When I posted this time I came out as Ms. Jeter (my realworld name). Don't know why...

    My students represented Ghana at model UN this year. I used many resources, including blogs, to help students get a feel for "their" country. I found several blogs that I like, including yours. You are true to yourself seeking answers to difficult questions, and I like that. I like your voice, and I like the general information about Ghana.

  7. I agree with your post
    Experimentation is the key to knowing what works and don't work

    I was curious abt telemarketing because my friends were always talking about their big bonus and talking to people over the phone.
    I applied to work with a credit card company part time and hated it
    I loved the people I talked to but hated that I had to romanticized their high interest rate to get them to sign up for a credit card. I did not last more than a week or so

    I thought I would be a great business woman, selling stuff
    It did not take me long to find out that I was giving my stuff away for free and not even recovering the capital. Now I invest in other people to do it for me

    I am not afraid to try new things...I am always curious about new things...

  8. Esi and all other commentators, I'd love to know some of the things you tried out. I'm one of the people who just doest seem to see anything new to try out. Yours may give me ideas.

  9. you wouldnt make friends with my Dad easily.. When i say, i want to try this, or maybe that. He goes.. Sanders; Why cant you make up your mind. Are you that confused, or stupid. Hmmm these old people. Id love ideas on the places you go to and things you try out in Ghana. Sounds like quite an adventure :-D

  10. Esi!! Yes it is my first day here and cannot get myself off!. I totally love the way connect: I can imagine myself sitting with u chatting away for hours! (Thats what i call SUCCESS) lol.

    THE POST: Can I just ask: where did u meet people to go around with? Was it mostly people you knew, work?, I got the traffic light friends bit! (HA), and im thinking the blog helps as well.../?