Lessons From Colin Powell - Reflections of a Young Man™

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Lessons From Colin Powell

This is the cover-page of Colin Powell's autobiography, My American Journey, which I read when I was dropping out of JKUAT in 2009.

There is this friend of mine called Ben Sang who I will one day tease on Facebook, "Which song did Ben sing?" He must be a talented computer programmer because he successfully pursued a degree in Computer Science at JKUAT where I failed to complete my degree in Electronics & Computer Engineering.

I visited Ben Sang on one of my last days at the university in his room where I found him engrossed on something in his personal computer. After we exchanged pleasantries in a spirit of brotherhood, I sat beside him to continue reading My American Journey, the endearing and well-written autobiography of Colin Powell which I have mentioned in the caption of the photo above. Colin Powell is a black American born of immigrant parents who rose through the military ranks to become the National Security Advisor under President Ronald Reagan.

As I became hooked to the autobiography, Ben Sang interrupted me to ask, "Now, how will that book help you?" Apparently, he thought programming books were the only meaningful materials to read. But I didn't get discouraged because I continued devouring the 606-page paper-back edition with the zeal of a he-goat on heat.

I could feel myself absorbing Colin Powell's fluency and clarity of thought as I read the book which led me to be the great writer that some people say I am. And I ended up learning a number of valuable lessons from it. Okay, let me state them.

First, I learnt that no one ever made it to the top without getting into trouble. That was an encouraging lesson given that I was incarcerated in a police cell and rounded up in hospitals when I ignominiously dropped out of the university.

Secondly, I learnt to never be buffaloed by experts; I should be ready to challenge them even in their own backyard. That's a lesson I have strived to apply in church where I have disagreed with my colleagues' perception of salvation. But that's a story for another day.

Thirdly, I was touched by Colin Powell's description of great leaders in his reference to President Ronald Reagan with whom he worked on ending the Cold War that would have potentially led to a nuclear holocaust. He wrote, "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who cut through arguments, debates and doubts to offer a solution everybody can understand."

Perhaps the best lessons I gleaned from Colin Powell were his rules that he hid at the end of the autobiography. So had I been discouraged from reading the book by Ben Sang, I would have missed the gems of wisdom which were pertinent to a young man like me who was contemplating his future. The rules of Colin Powell were, or rather are:
  1. It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.
  2. Get mad, then get over it.
  3. Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
  4. It can be done!
  5. Be careful what you choose. You may get it.
  6. Don't let adverse facts stand in the way of a good decision.
  7. You can't make someone else's choices. You shouldn't let someone else make yours.
  8. Check small things.
  9. Share credit.
  10. Remain calm. Be kind.
  11. Have a vision. Be demanding.
  12. Don't take counsel of your fears and naysayers.
  13. Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. [1]
Those lessons impacted my life wonderfully which I will have to mention to Colin Powell if I ever get a chance of meeting him. And to Ben Sang who tried to discourage me from reading the book and who I know is reading this story, I yell at him, "Grow up!" Or better still, "Evolve!"

[1] I have extracted these lessons from page 603 of My American Journey (paperback edition) by Colin Powell, published in the United States by Ballantine Books in 1995.


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Abuse of Power

This is me circa July 2008 after I graduated with a Diploma in Information Technology that I pursued at Starehe Institute. Though I was a bit naive and confused, I was commendably skilled in web-design and computer-programming - skills that have wonderfully enriched my life.

About one and a half years after the death of its iconic founding director, Starehe Boys' Centre got a new director in January 2007 whose name I would like not to mention because I am about to paint a bad picture of him for the poor decision he made two months after assuming office. Or let me just call him Prof. Mafisi for the time being.

It so happened that when the KCSE results were released in 2007 of which Starehe emerged tops, students of Starehe Institute who had excelled in the exams dashed to their homes without permission from the administration to celebrate their exemplary performance - something I had also done a year earlier when I scored an A in those mighty exams. It felt natural to dash home to celebrate our results just like the way footballers pause matches to celebrate whenever they score.

Had I been the director of Starehe Boys' when the KCSE results were released in 2007, I would have organized a bash at the school canteen for the institute students who had gone home to celebrate their results. "You guys," I would tell them in the bash, "you have done Starehe proud. Thank you so much for having preserved the good name of Starehe with your spectacular performance."

And then towards the end of my congratulatory speech, I would tell them, "But now KCSE stuff is over. I want you guys to concentrate on your courses in the institute. Study them with the same zeal you did for KCSE. Okay?" Of which I would have expected them to agreeably shout back, "Yes!"

But that's not what Prof. Mafisi did as the director of Starehe Boys'. Instead he became unreasonably perturbed by the decision of the institute students to dash home for celebrations. He issued them with threats when they reported back, summoned their parents to the school for interrogation and expelled quite a number of them from the institute - including my friend Richard Kagia who was active in the Christian Union movement.

I still can't understand why Prof. Mafisi with his PhD. degree took such a poor decision - something I am quite sure the founding director would not have done. That makes me think his PhD stood for Permanent Head Damage because all he did in that fiasco was make a tsunami in a teacup.

Or in other words, he killed a mosquito with a gun because he ended up causing more harm by messing up with some students' lives who were relying on the Starehe Institute to advance their education that they couldn't get anywhere else due to financial constraints. He also denied Starehe the talents of such dedicated students as Richard Kagia who was skilled at leading traditional Agikuyu folk songs.

Prof. Mafisi's poor decision amounted to arbitrary and abusive exercise of power - the kind that has impoverished some African nations like Uganda during the regime of Idi Amin. I read somewhere that Makerere University never acquired a single book for its library during Amin's reign due to misuse of public resources.

Anyway, for me, Starehe Institute played a big part in shaping my life. And to date, the Diploma in Information Technology I acquired there remains my highest academic qualification but one which I treasure for the value I got out of it. I just thank God that Prof. Mafisi hadn't been around when I dashed home to celebrate my KCSE results.

To put it bluntly, Prof. Mafisi's imprudent action on those institute students was distasteful, detestable, deplorable and disgusting. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.


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My Request to God

As I pointed out the other day, I closed down my previous website I christened Polly because I posted stories there that were full of lies, plagiarism and exaggerations which was inconsistent with my values. But not all stories in Polly were inauthentic; some had some element of truth and originality like this one I posted on May 23, 2014 which I have edited to make it completely true:
King Solomon, the great King of Israel, was recorded in the Book of 2nd Chronicles to have been asked by God what he desired to have. I can imagine the excitement that boiled up in Solomon as he contemplated on what to ask from God. "Should I request for a beautiful wife, a magnificent house or huge sums of money?"

Surprisingly, Solomon did not ask for material possessions. He chose wisdom instead. Being a faithful God, the Lord fulfilled His promise and conferred Solomon with wisdom. And the wisdom that Solomon received made him rich, famous and powerful. He is still considered one of the wealthiest men in the crowded canvas of human history.

Because the same God that helped Solomon is the same God I rely on to help me succeed in life, I thought it wise to also ask for something great from God. I chose to ask for love.

I asked for enough love to love myself; to love what I do; to love the challenges of life; and to love people regardless of their age, race, creed, gender, culture or sexual orientation. Most importantly, I asked for enough love to love the Lord and remember Him in all my daily endeavours.

Yes, I asked for love. And who knows? Like Solomon, I may succeed beyond my wildest dreams.
After reading that story I wrote more than two years ago, I have been impressed by the wise young man that I was back then. I have patted myself on the back and encouraged myself to maintain the same trajectory of seeking and cultivating love within me. So help me God.


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