On life’s tracks, our finish lines are different and our personal best is all that matters…
The author of that line is me by the way. It’s not some quote from some historic sage, or from some scholar. It’s a reality and a truth that I’ve come to by myself; although there are several people who have said the same thing in several different ways.
Growing up a girl in my little, sheltered world, where I got taken to school and brought back home by my dad’s driver, where I had after-school lesson teachers waiting for me when I got home, where I could only watch TV between 5pm and 7pm after which I had to watch the network news with my parents, where I didn’t have friends visiting me at home just as I didn’t go visiting friends, where my dad took me to one or two birthday parties that I was privileged to attend and waited with me until he was ready to take me back home, I neither got to experience life the same way nor at the same pace as my mates.
When my friends were getting the latest gadgets and computers for children, I was stuck with books, because books “help broaden your knowledge”. When my friends were getting the trendy clothes and cool sneakers, I was stuck with simple dresses and sensible shoes because I should “dress properly”. At 16, I already had skirt suits in my wardrobe; really ugly skirt suits that made me look older and bigger than I really was. It was so bad that I got refused a student visa for the U.S because the interviewer was convinced that I was lying about my age, thanks to the carefully selected, military style, white skirt suit with a belt that my mum had handpicked for the occasion. It didn’t help that while my friends had on cool braids, sometimes of varying colours or highlights, and lipstick tubes in girly pink and plum shades, I was stuck with a perm styled into a too-short bob that did nothing for my pimply face and big forehead, and I was limited to using Vaseline jelly to put any sort of shine on my lips.
What this meant was that I didn’t get noticed by boys because I wasn’t ‘pretty’ and I didn’t get invited to birthday or slumber parties because I wasn’t cool, and because they knew I probably wouldn’t come. So I ended up with my nose buried in books, reading everything in sight and disappearing into the dream world I learned to create through writing. My mum was happy to tell her friends and colleagues that I was very sedentary, as if that was such a good thing and as if it was my choice. I guess it was her own way of telling the world that she didn’t have a wayward child.
When I got into the university and tried my hands for the first time at a ‘boy meets girl’ relationship, it totally bombed, leaving me with the biggest regret I have till date – dating that particular guy. I still wish I had waited. My colleagues were way past me by then – smoking weed, clubbing every Friday night, wearing sky-high heels and mini-skirts, switching boyfriends every quarter, using all forms of contraception and pretty much getting into the thick of life. I seemed to be crawling at a snail’s pace and it made me feel uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong.
And that was then.
I would hate to be a youngster in this world now. To be frank, I would not have survived. Maybe I would have ended up like some of the sad kids who commit suicide because they think they have failed by not being one of the crowd. It’s scary how much impatience and pressure there is among young people these days – they are in a hurry to do everything, to try anything. They want to make money fast. They want to have sex early. They want to do drugs and alcohol way before age 18. They are quick to jump on trends, be part of a fad, be seen as ‘woke’ and join the rest of the ‘millennial’ world to deliver harsh, social media opinions and judgements on a wide range of important and not-so-important issues. To borrow thetoolsman’s words:
it is a reflection of our world today – a fast-paced, 160 character world where the difference between relevant and outdated is a single day, or less.
In spite of all this, there are still people like me; the ‘late starters’ of the world, who take a little longer to find themselves. The kind who start late liking boys. The kind who start late with serious relationships. The kind who discover their sexuality late, who find their voices and their purpose late. The kind who learn ‘social’ late, and who figure out their passions late. There are those who meet The One late, who get married late, who start having kids late. There are those who come into money late, who buy their first cars and houses late, who pursue a further degree or qualification late, whose careers take off late. And it’s okay. Really.
I’m in my thirties and I’m still late. Some of my friends have celebrated 8 year wedding anniversaries and I’m not any closer to getting married. Some have two, three kids and I don’t have any. Some have thriving businesses and I haven’t even worked up the gut to start mine. But it doesn’t mean that I am not living a rich and full life. It doesn’t mean that I’m not normal. It doesn’t mean that I’m not happy.
It might have taken me a while, but I eventually figured out my personal style – what kind of clothes, shoes and hair I like, and the kind of company I like to keep. I figured out the type of boys I like and where to find them. I figured out the kinds of places I like to go for fun and the kinds of things I like to do. I may not have started my own business but I have made other long and short term investments. The beauty of taking my time is that I know for sure when it’s right, and I’m not driven by any external pressures. The beauty of taking my time is that I have a level of self-assuredness that is unshakeable because I know exactly who I am. Time also gives me the luxury of being present in and enjoying the moment. You know how they say people sometimes chase life so hard that they forget to live. Well, that’s not me.
I’m not saying that it’s always easy. In fact, it can be tough because sometimes it feels like you are alone, which you are for the most part, because people like us are few and far between. We are a minority in a world where you only have 160 characters with which to make an impression. And finding each other is harder because somewhere deep down, we almost feel ashamed of our ‘lateness’, afraid to let anyone see it because they might disapprove or they might ridicule us. So, we walk around ‘hiding’, and walk right past each other without knowing it. I wish we would be bolder, and wear our lateness like a badge. Because it is not a bad thing.
In this refreshingly open interview, Asa admits that she was a late starter and Funmi Iyanda says it only gets better as you get older. And I agree with her. It does get better as you give yourself room to learn and to grow at your own pace. It gets better as you create your own experiences even though they are slower than or different from other people’s experiences. It gets better as you take the time to become. You might be a late starter, but the most important thing is that you finish well, wherever your finish line is.
On life’s tracks, our finish lines are different and our personal best is really all that matters…