Learning to Say 'No'
A True Story
on Apr 23, 2019
One Saturday evening in the year 2014, I found a missed call in my phone. I didn't know the identity of caller simply because I hadn't saved the number in my phone, so I texted back saying, "Hi there! Sorry for missing your call. How can I help you?"
Several minutes after sending the text, the caller gave me a buzz. It turned out he was one Francis who wanted me to accompany his students on the piano during their exams which were slated to take place the following Tuesday. I quickly accepted the job because I was a yes-man then.
That same Saturday evening after I accepted the job, Francis emailed me the scores of the pieces of music he wanted me to accompany on the piano. I downloaded them, printed them out, and then began practising them on my piano keyboard with the hope that I would have mastered how to play them by the following Monday when I was to meet Francis and his students for practice.
But alas! The pieces of music turned out to be a little too difficult for me to master them in less than three days. When I met Francis and his students that Monday, we practised them for a short time and then promised to work more on the pieces when I went back home.
Come Tuesday the following day, I began to feel nervous as I headed to the Kenya Conservatoire of Music where the exams were to take place. The thought of Francis's students failing their exams because of me got me worried.
During my experiences at Starehe Boys' Centre where I had my high school as well as college education, I had discovered that feeling nervous before giving a speech is virtuous because it gave me some energy to turn in a superb performance. But in piano-playing, nervousness worked against me. And I had found out that the best way to beat nervousness in piano-playing was to commit a piece of music to memory through intense practice so that when nervousness set in during the crucial performance, my fingers would keep on playing the music on the piano as if they were on auto-pilot.
The problem with me as I commuted to the Kenya Conservatoire of Music that Tuesday morning in 2014 was that I hadn't practised the pieces of music enough to commit them to memory. And there I was feeling nervous. I was surely destined to mess up during the exams and thus make Francis's students score poorly in their exams or even make them fail. How worrying it was!
As luck would have it, I met an old friend of mine called Andrew at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music. Andrew was more skilled on the piano than I was and I was pleased to find out that he had already learnt to accompany on the piano the pieces of music that Francis's students were getting tested on. So I gratefully handed over to Andrew the responsibility to accompany the students on the piano during the exams. Gosh, I felt relieved! It was like being told by a doctor that a disease in me had finally cured.
Coming to think of it today, I strongly feel that I should have said "no" to Francis's request to accompany his students on the piano during their exams. And I should have said that "no" with some firmness and some politeness. But that was the problem with me those days - I was always a yes-man. I feared saying "no" to people because of not wanting to let them down. It is the way I was brought up. And at times, I ended up saying "yes" to things that made me suffer.
Like I recall at one time in 2007, a fellow chorister at All Saints' Cathedral in Nairobi borrowed a calculator from me for his younger brother who was about to sit for high school exams. I quickly said "yes" and gave him my calculator which I happened to have carried to the cathedral that day. And guess what! When I went back to the university at JKUAT where I was pursuing a BSc. degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering, I really suffered as I struggled to borrow a calculator from friends. It was very unwise of me to give out my calculator to the chorister at All Saints' Cathedral. Very unwise indeed. I should have told him "no".
Over the past three years, I have really worked hard at saying "no" to people and I am happy to report that I am getting better at it with time. These days, I prefer saying "no" even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others than say "yes" and incur my own abhorrence.
My beloved reader, I advise you to also practise saying "no" to people because being a yes-man is a frustrating way to live. Comedian Bill Cosby said it well: "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to try to please everyone." Adieu!
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story of mine on learning to say "no", you might also enjoy another one I wrote sometimes back on "Developing Courage". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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A True Story
on Apr 18, 2019
When I first applied to four top American colleges in 2006, I did some plagiarism in the essays and recommendation letters that I submitted. Imagine I extracted one recommendation letter from a wonderful book titled How to Get into Top Colleges, edited it a little and then sent it to the colleges I was applying for admission. How foolish! I am sure some admission officers must have discerned what I had done. Little wonder that I wasn't accepted into any of the four colleges.
Having grown wiser, I tried to submit essays and recommendation letters that were original when I re-applied to the American colleges in 2007. I remember writing in the essays that I wanted to be, among other things, a faithful husband and a loving father when I grew up.
As it happened, I didn't get accepted into any of the colleges I applied for admission in 2007 despite having tried to submit original materials. But what I wrote in the essays to the colleges had a lasting effect on me because over the years, I have tried not to engage in behaviours that would compromise my desire to be a faithful husband and a loving father.
Today, I am proud to proclaim to the whole world that I have refrained from pre-marital sex, so I have no out-of-wedlock children. I have said that with some pride because the ability to hide "illegitimate" children is what distinguishes men from women. You see, a man can sire a child with another woman and keep it a secret, even to his wife. But a woman can't hide the fact that she has a child to any new man she meets.
So I can guarantee my future wife (wherever she is) that the children I will have with her will be my only offspring. And I am planning to be a faithful husband and a loving father, just like I wrote over ten years ago in my essays to top American colleges.
My role model in raising children is Theodore Roosevelt, an American president who presided over an era of unprecedented economic expansion that saw America emerge as a world power. I find it interesting that despite all the pressures Theodore had to face as president, he still found time to write letters to his sons. In their gaiety of spirit and charm of manner, Theodore's letters to his sons have few equals in literature and no superiors.
Theodore offered advice and encouragement to his sons in the letters. A loving and understanding father, he ensured the letters matched the intellect of each of his sons. When they were young, Theodore wrote simple letters spiced up with drawings. And as they grew older, he progressively made his letters more intellectually advanced. Besides writing letters, Theodore also played games with his sons, even when he was President of the United States.
Such is the kind of loving father I would like to become. Like Theodore, I also want to be there for my children when they will be growing up. I would like to inspire them to be life-long learners who excel in academics, music, sports and personal relationships so they grow up to be responsible global citizens. I would like to encourage them as they pursue their dreams and revitalize their spirits when confronted with challenges.
My beloved reader, if you have children or are aspiring to have some, I beseech you to also be there for them. Listen to what they are saying, praise their smallest triumph, tolerate their chatter and amplify their laughter. Even though you sometimes scold them, tell them that you love them. And let me warn you that if all you tell your children is the bad you see in them, they'll grow up exactly how you hoped they'd never be. That's all I am saying.
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