Be the last to speak

Hey rafikis!

It's been a minute, the corporate world has me begging for a 28-hour day, how do you people manage this life with children? Today I wanted to touch upon one of my greatest weaknesses and perhaps the weakness I have made tonnes of effort to rectify in the past few years.

Listening with a capital L!

I can't believe I am actually putting myself out there like this because it is a pretty sensitive topic. Especially when my blog is out there for prospective employers to nosey around. But I'm not really here for my employers, I am here for my readers and getting them to think about important skills to have to navigate life.

Listening is a skill which I reckon some people are born with (let's not spend a lot of time going into arguments about this point), I think it complements certain characters well. For me listening is a skill I have had to learn. In fact, I first discovered how poor I was at listening when I was 22, but it didn't really occur to me that I had to do something about it. I had a weakness, everyone had one so whatever right? Because I was poor at listening, I avoided situations which required me to listen to people and their issues. I actually freaked out at the concept of someone telling me they were going through things, because all that would be going through my head is blanks. The panic would literally make me unable to physically listen, I would be so focused on stopping the million and one thoughts that were running through my mind. It didn't help that I had spent the majority of my childhood years being the quiet kid who never said a word and therefore no one listened to. It seemed to me as though the person with the loudest voice was heard and the moment I figured out I had a voice that's how it all went down.

I listened with the intent to respond. To the point where half of the time when someone was saying something, even before they were done I was already making my point. My opinion sounded too good in my head it had to come through before it escaped. Being the quieter one out of us both --- and after endless struggles to get me to listen - my husband challenged me to keep quiet and listen for a day. We visited some family friends and on that day I decided to withhold my opinion. Wow!!!! The people present touched on every single topic that I had a lot to say about but I sat there and bit my tongue. This opinionated mama kept quiet and observed. What a revelation! As much as I like talking, I am also an observer, but if I am honest a lot of my observations occur post-encounter. I could be sat there and think 'haaaaaang on a minute, what was that all about?' but because the train has supposedly left the station you can only sit there and be plagued by a lot of unanswered questions. Now, if I listened with the intent to understand more often, I would probably move on pretty quickly after having interactions with a person or a group of people. But you know, we are all work in progress. But if I am to return to this exercise I was challenged to do, these are the lessons I learned:

  • When you observe people in their element and the way they communicate you learn a lot. You notice body language, you notice the way people express themselves and you actually notice the moment a person decides to turn off their guard and relax. Who knew? (Probably everyone)

  • People are more willing to listen to you if you show them that you have listened to them. I hardly ever waited for people to turn to me and ask what my opinion was, as soon as I got the opinion it was out there so I cannot really bank on people listening to me when I talk. It may all be just noise to their ears. But because I had held off on my opinions, people were intrigued by my silence and they wanted to know what I thought. So every word that came out of my mouth was being absorbed by the persons who had requested it. Isn't that essentially what we want when we talk, to be listened to?

  • If you wait until the end to share your own views, you will have gathered enough knowledge from the people you are with. This will determine whether what you have to say is relevant or not. Furthermore, you may just decide that your opinion is completely wrong and needs to be discarded or updated.

The last point leads me to the sauce of this post. I recently came across a pretty interesting statement made by Simon Sinek. He said that to him learning to listen is not the most important thing, but rather learning to 'be the last to speak'.

Being the last to speak is difficult and it takes a lot of practice but a good leader is not one who knows how to command a room full of people. It is one that listens first, absorbs the information received, asks questions to understand better and responds in function to what has been said. It is a work in progress for me but communication is not just about being able to express yourself clearly, it is mostly about being able to listen with the intention of understanding so you can provide a solution to a problem or correct a mistake. If you work in the customer service field then you know how irrate customers can get when they can't get you to sympathise with their predicament. Even if you don't work in customer service, I am sure at some point you have been that irrate customer who is speaking to a brick wall.

I am excellent at expressing myself and my experience in academia has enhanced my reading and comprehension skills. However, man cannot survive on reading and talking alone. If I am to stand a chance in the field of leadership and management I must excel at listening. Challenge accepted!!!

Barbara Babcock © 
Without wanting to drag this topic any longer, I wanted to add that listening is not just about listening to people when they are expressing their thoughts or opinions on a particular topic. This is a walk in the park compared to listening to people's opinions about you. Writing this comes from a place of acknowledgement of my weaknesses; I have listened to criticism about me, I have absorbed it and now I am consciously making the decision to work on it. I know for a fact that doing something about it will build me up and improve my relationship with my husband, our child, our families and most importantly my peers and colleagues.  To be honest with y'all, I don't mind receiving criticism at all. I often tell people, 'if you don't pay my bills your opinion of me is invalid' and this is true to a certain extent. I make a conscious effort not to dismiss all criticism as 'hate'. You guys must be aware of the saying that goes "if one person tells you you're a horse, they are crazy. If three people tell you you're a horse, there's a conspiracy afoot. If ten people tell you you're a horse, it's time to buy a saddle.' Buy saddles more often, if the situation warrants it.

What I struggle with is accepting positive feedback about myself. Until recently if someone gave me a compliment I thanked them politely but in my head I wondered whether this person had lost a brain cell overnight. About three weeks ago I decided I would stop being so harsh on myself and begin to absorb the compliments I receive from friends, family and colleagues. In the past month people have called me confident, eloquent, intelligent, a leader, motivational and Professor. Is it a coincidence or are my peers telling me to dig deeper and find my calling? Sometimes we are reluctant to explore certain avenues because we are afraid of failing but you know from today I have decided to win in life. So call me Professor.

And to those I have listened to with the intent to reply in the past, forgive me! Your experiences and opinions matter, I just wasn't wise enough to realise it then, but I do now.

Me, My PhD and I

Hey rafikis,

It has been an absolute age, and I promise it was not my fault. When I revived this blog, the aim was to be serious and consistent. However within a couple of days of launching the blog, my laptop just crashed and having spoken to the Apple Support Team it needs a battery replacement so while I am sorting that problem out, I thought I would steal hubby's annoying French AZERTY keyboard laptop and just do the damn thing.

So much has happened while I was away, however the most remarkable thing is that we are now parents to a one-year old! Like where does the time go? Super blessed to have been chosen to carry her for nine months and introduce her to the world. Only God knows where we will go from here. Not only did she turn one, she also started full-time nursery since I am back to the 9 to 5 life - but honestly, she took it like a duck to water, all the nursery staff adore how friendly and bubbly she is, not even a tear drop as her dad and I waved her off. Did we give birth to an academic ..... well I guess we will have to wait and see!

But while we are on the topic of academics, perhaps it is time for me to address the elephant in the room - the PhD. Like wagwan with that fam? My brain just dey tire. Am Tayad. Fatigué. I don't even know who sent me, but I'm still here, a few months away from the finish line. Y'all I was not prepared for the mental battle ground. I literally disappeared from the face of the Earth. I stopped calling, I stopped hanging out, I just stopped everything that I used to do cold turkey GBAM! I probably even lost a few friends over the last four years but you know that's life not everyone must go through the fire with you. 

So what made me do it, you ask?

It was an opportunity that came to me at the right moment. This is not to say that I was 100% confident that this is what I wanted to do. Absolutely not! It took two years for my supervisor to get me to a place where I was willing to discuss the idea of doing doctoral studies. After my Masters, my dissertation supervisor asked me to stay on board and do a PhD under his wing. Let's call him Professor Ledge because he is a legend, if I'm still sane today it is 70% because of his support, encouragement and occasional home truths. Plus he likes jollof so basically he is family innit. But anyhooo, after the way my Masters dissected my brain, why would this man not let me collect my hard-earned Distinction and live my life in peace? I denied him more times than Peter denied Jesus! I was not here for the academic life fam, I wanted to start having money for Starbucks coffee every Tuesday morning. But my biggest barrier was my fear of failure, I felt like he was seeing a part of me that did not exist. Surely he has had better students so why bother with my little self? Just the idea of going for it and then disappointing him made me stall for two whole years. It was a tough decision.

So what is my research about? 

This blog is not about the PhD so I will not go into too many details but in short, I am re-evaluating the view that child labour in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is a Worst Forms of Child Labour. My fieldwork took place in Western Ghana where I spent a total of five months. My take on the child labour debate is that it is contextual and influenced by several factors including (but not limited to) culture, household finances, parental education etc etc. Policy discourse sort of tends to treat child labour as evil, some literature even downright compares it to slavery (don't get me started on this) but you know once you have visited the places where these children work (in my case gold mines) you kind of have to change your perspective. I also challenge the view that child labour is bad because it interferes with schooling and therefore doesn't allow children to reach their full potential. 

Angelique Gatsinzi, 2015 ©

Guys you should visit a state school in any remote part of sub-Saharan Africa and tell me whether a child who attends the school full-time will reach any potential. Teachers don't want to be sent to those ends of the world, they don't get paid on time, sometimes not at all, a lot of them work part-time and don't bother turning up for weeks on end. Local governments are too broke to put petrol in a car to send school inspectors for visits so people carry on how they like. Children get seriously whooped for little things like not doing homework, wearing a ripped uniform, not wearing shoes to school  (a lot of the times it actually cannot be helped) ... imagine living a life of struggle and you turn up to school only for them to add to your struggle ... I would drop out and all. And that's my problem with countries who believe they are the blueprint for development; when something works for them they want to come and do CTRL+P. They practically strong armed African countries into privatising the education sector through those structural adjustment programs and now that children are working to help pay for the damn fees and uniforms people are busy doing conference and campaign. Everyone must go to school! Okay fine! Why aren't you opening mouth for the educated and jobless youth turning to cyber crime & prostitution for survival? Overzealous baboons!

I mean the moral of this story is that we can't always know what the future has in store for us. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and pray to God for guidance. I was watching one of Patricia Bright's vlogs a few hours ago and she said something that resonated with me pretty intensely. I think she was responding to a subscriber who was being held back from achieving personal goals by the fear of failure. Her response was that failure is inevitable, we will all fail at something at some point in our lives, but it is better to just fail now and get over it than wait around to gather the courage to fail, or ponder on the opportunities you missed because you did not want to fail. Looking back now, when I enrolled into a PhD programme it was not because I had some sort of plan or career path I had mapped out. I just told myself, an opportunity has come, let me take it, if it does not work out for me then at least I tried.

And guys, it has been one hell of an experience but I will definitely come out a stronger woman.

Do what makes you happy.

It is so strange to finally be sitting at my dining table writing my first blog post after a super long time. I took a four-year hiatus to study (I am now the Queen of school), get married, have a baby and quite frankly, I have missed sharing the mental traffic that clogs up my mind. I have especially missed being a professional procrastinator [an influencer]. To be honest there is no need to make small introductions because those who read my posts already know what I'm like. But I must say that marriage and motherhood has changed me a lottle [lot + little]. What hasn't changed is my overflowing well of opinions which I will shamelessly continue to put out there for you to scrutinise.

Whether you agree, disagree, or shrug your shoulders .... that is for you to decide because this is mi vida and I am simply sharing my way of looking at it. Of course, I am wise enough to change my ideas or vision as I grow older and experience life a little more but for now I think I am old enough to construct some pretty neat philosophies about different things.

What I can at least say is that the sudden death of a long-time brother friend inspired me to come back to what I love doing. Maybe some day I will write about him, but for now I will make sure I stay connected to his legacy by chasing my dreams and doing what makes me happy. We all take roads in life that don't often have a clear destination and you know, it's not such a bad thing considering how mysterious life is anyway. But y'all the last four years have been a mixed bag of emotions ... like that box of chocolates our dear Forrest Gump was on about.

I wish I could actually vlog because I don't know if you will be able to pick up my facial expressions from the writing .... but I ain't here for that hashtag slay everyday life, I look shabby 200 out of 365 days a year and you are not welcome to that party!! But on a very summarized real, this blog is just about my daily [or weekly] bants and thoughts .... oooohhhh and you get to preview my new found love for DIY crafting!!!

I come with bags of tea! Put the kettle on!

P.S: I shall be writing in the following accents; American TV (I have never been there so...), South London, Ghana/Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Francophone West Africa. If you are not fluent in any of these accents, buy me Nando's and I will see about doing a private reading & translation session.

P.S.S: Sexier looking vlog coming soon! I just had to manage this mess for now!

Karibuni rafiki!!