At 25 : 10 Things I’ve Learnt

I turned 25 earlier this month, on Sunday 11 September 2016. Twenty five years isn’t a very long time, to be honest, and I can hardly claim to have seen much. Still, here are some things a quarter century of living has taught me.

1. Choose yourself
Possibly the most important thing I’ve learnt, and how I wish I had learnt this much earlier. In life you have to be a little selfish. In almost all cases choose yourself. This also happens to be the title of an awesome book by James Altucher.

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2. Value your Relationships
No man (or woman) is an island, we all live in societies and interact with hundreds of people and possibly thousands online. These relationships are very important. Value them.

Try to be on the best of terms with your family. You cannot choose family and at some point you will need them. Do not create unnecessary drama. And there is nothing like a beer with a sibling/siblings and uncles, aunts etc. It is priceless.

More importantly, I think, are your friends. After college it becomes increasingly difficult to meet new friends. Sure, there’ll always be a colleague or two from work or the bar who you can have a drink with or discuss the weekend’s games but that saying about old friends being like wine Is true.

These old friends know you, they’ve been there since day one. I’ve found that my best friends, the most reliable, all weather friends are those I met as a kid and when I started high school. I did meet a couple at varsity but these are few. Cherish them.

I cannot say much about girlfriends/boyfriends but I guess the same applies.

3. Be healthy
I’ve mostly been healthy- barring a bit of weight gained here and there- so I have always taken health for granted. However as I get older I see how important it is to be in shape.

Beyond the immediate, selfish reasons of looking good in clothes and to women (and men), being healthy is very important. Your mind functions better, you feel better. It boosts confidence and self-esteem and keeps you away from the doctors and possibly an early death.

4. Educate yourself
Regardless of the extent of one’s formal education, there is always room for improvement. There are always books to absorb, blogs to read, crafts to learn, languages to learn, skills to acquire and cultures to explore.

Learn to code, play the guitar, learn French, build robots, enroll for an arts course or design websites. It is truly never too late. I remember sitting at the same table with a 62 year old undergraduate at the University of Zimbabwe years ago. I didn’t get it then but I now do.

Read, write, learn, build. At the very least it’ll make you a more exciting person and make you appreciate the true extent of your ignorance- itself a vital stage of learning.

5. Express yourself
Never conform to societal expectations or keep silent just because you are afraid of offending people. Be yourself, conformity is the enemy of progress. However don’t be rude.

It’s perfectly fine to believe there’s no God, to believe there’s God, to support Inter Milan or Wigan Athletic. Do not let the noise of the world drown you.

6. Stand for what you believe in

Often I have found myself defending unpopular views. Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right, but at all times I will stand for what I believe in.

Be it gay rights, the death sentence or democracy, do not be afraid of stating your position. Attend those rallies, wave your banners, tweet the struggle.

There is no trivial battle if you truly believe. There’s no cause too small. Of course you should always accept that sometimes your views are wrong and need to be changed.

7. Say no
Saying no is underrated. Often we agree to things without thinking about them much. A colleague invites you to their party and you offhandedly say yes only to realize that you got stuff to do that Saturday.

Saying no is better than not keeping promises. Say no to things that you cannot do, events you cannot attend and tasks you can’t complete.

8. Wander a little (and create memories)

When you are young you often do not know what you want to do with your life. I didn’t too, and I still think I don’t.

I wanted (and want) to become a teacher, a journalist, an architect, a politician, a writer, a pool champion, a millionaire and hundreds of other things. I know I cannot become all these things but I can learn of them what I can. I can travel, teach, read economics, meet new people and do a whole lot of other things.

There’ll always be people steering you to their goals and what they think is good for you. Sometimes you need to give them the middle finger.

It’s your life. You can wander a little, change your degree, and decide to move to Morocco or Kazakhstan or study the languages of Brazilian tribesmen.

As Tolkien would say, “Not all who wander are lost.”

9. Don’t be afraid of trying
There’s so much in that nursery rhyme: If at first you don’t succeed, Try , try, try again. No matter the odds or circumstances, do what you believe is worth it. Give it your best shot.

Approach the pretty girl, enter the half marathon, apply for the scholarship. Showing up is huge. Because most people never do, just showing up may be enough.

Failure is not the end. Rather it is a lesson, a chance to improve. And I’ve learnt that failure is much better than regret- that endless what ifs.

Anomander Rake (A great fictional character) advises in Book 8 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen- Toll the Hounds: “There is no struggle to vast, no odds too overwhelming, for even should we fail- should we fall- we will know that we have lived.

10. Do not compete, Improve
In the world of social media it is easy to constantly measure oneself against the achievements not only of one’s peers but also against the whole world. You will see twenty years olds who have made millions, teenagers living dream lives in the Mediterranean and twenty somethings that are already retired.

This can make the best of us bitter and cynical. We’ll lose hope and think little of our worth. What I’ve realized is that there will always be people who are richer, better looking, smarter and more popular. It shouldn’t matter.

Rather the goal is to improve oneself. Always.

Bonus: Be happy
OK, this is quite generic and all but seriously be happy. Don’t give too many f%£&s about the world. Forgive,  forget,  drink a little,  be stoic,  don’t let the world ruin your beer.

I like this statement by Obama: “All of us, we make mistakes,” he said. “And at times we are lost. And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things — not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.”

Respond to the world like a boss.

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On my 23rd: 23 Books You Absolutely Have to Read

I will soon turn 23. Yeah, I was born on the 11th of September. The infamous 9/11. I also happen to share a birthday with the Syrian politician Assad, and 11 September is also the day when Pinochet overthrew Allende.

So as you can see, it’s a pretty famous day. Unfortunately (very alikely, fortunately) I happen not be famous but that can be changed by a leaked sex tape or two ehhh?

But enough of history and fame comrades and friends and on to more important issues. And what can be more important than books, good books? Well women, for one thing, or beer or having lots of money, or owning a big bank, a nice farm and a mine if you’re a Zimbabwean politician.

Yeah, yeah, all that. But let’s pretend that books are important….because they are. A friend recently said those who say money doesn’t buy happiness have obviously never been to a bookstore with money. I agree wholly with him.

Which is why, on the occasion of my 23rd birthday I will list 23 good books (more like 23 authors really) which you should pick up and read, if you haven’t already done so. The list will also hopefully inform you of my tastes, so you can give me a welcome present, lol.

So here goes:

1. The Holy Bible- Moses and the rest of the Gang

Well, coz it’s the Bible

2 Nervous Conditions- Tsitsi Dangarembga

“I was not sorry when my brother died.”- Opener, Nervous Conditions

Now what can be more epic than that? Without a doubt Zimbabwe’s greatest novel.

3. Wretched of the Earth- Frantz Fanon

Great book, one of my five favourite books. Fanon talks decolonisation, and the development of newly liberated states.

4. The Story of My Life- Joshua Nkomo

Written by Zimbabwe’s foremost statesman during the war for liberation. An essential for any self-respecting Zimbabwean.

5. The Autobiography of Malcolm X- Alex Hailey and Malcolm X

The greatest speaker during the civil rights movement. Malcolm combined sharp wit and a commanding voice, dazzling audiences and winning enemies and admirers alike. This is his life.

6. The Meditations of Emperor Marcus Aurelius- Marcus Aurelius

Possibly the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Timeless wisdom from a man who was the most powerful man of his time, yet one who always remained human. And strong.

7. Long Walk to Freedom- Nelson Rolinhlahla Mandela

It’s Mandela. Read it.

8. Things Fall Apart- Chinua Achebe

“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements.”- Opener, Things Fall Apart

The most famous African novel. Its fame rests on solid achievement.

9. Devil on the Cross- Ngugi wa Thiongo

Ngugi at his best. And he might win the Nobel prize for Literature this year. So you will look cool if you’ve read him.

“Certain people in Ilmorog, our Ilmorog, told me that this story was too disgraceful, too shameful, that it should be concealed in the depths of everlasting darkness.”- Opener, Devil on the Cross

10. I write what I Like- Steve Bantu Biko

It’s Biko. He was the brightest of South Africa’s anti-apartheid activists.

11. House of Hunger- Dambudzo Marechera

“I got my things and left. The sun was coming up. I couldn’t think where to go”- Opener, House of Hunger

Brilliant. Mad. Brilliant.

12. The Lord of The Rings- J.R.R Tolkien

The king, the god, of fantasy. If you think Game of thrones is awesome and detailed, then what of Tolkien who revolutionised high fantasy. Nothing beats Tolkien.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

13. Dreams from My Father- Barack Obama

The most powerful man on earth, in his own words. Granted, he’s been tainted by power, but he’s still great.

14. The Prophet – Khalil Gibran

Gibran’s work has more wisdom per page than any other on this list.

15. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty and Happiness after the Digital Explosion- Hal Abelson, Ken Leeden and Harry Lewis

This book discusses the consequences of using the internet, the future and the privacy issues. An essential.

16. The Wheel of Time Series (14 Books)- Robert Jordan (with Brandon Sanderson for the last two)

If Tolkien was god, then Jordan was an angel. The epic (and very very long) Wheel of Time Series has no equal in fantasy when it comes to detail, depth, intrigue or richness.

“What cannot be changed, must be endured.”

17. The Black Man’s Medicine- Muzi Kuzwayo

“The black man’s medicine is the white man”.

Are blacks truly incapable of doing anything without whites?

18. A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

The most famous fantasy writer at the moment. He gave us the Taegereyns, John Snow, Sir Barristan the Bold and others. Read him to impress those who only watch the movies.

‘”A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”

Read all five

19. The Art of War- Sun Tzu

Two thousand and more years old. Still relevant as ever. To many quotes, just too many brilliant ones:

“To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see the sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear.”

and

“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles s not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

20. Animal Farm – George Orwell

The greatest political satire ever. Animal Farm is Orwell at his best- or perhaps his second best? There is also 1984, just as brilliant. read it if you wonder where “Big Brother” came from.

21. The Road Less Travelled- M. Scot Peck

“Life is difficult.” – Opener, The Road Less Travelled

It changed my life

22. The Importance of Living- Lin Yutang

My favourite Chinese. The greatest of them.

23. How to Win Friends and Influence People- Dale Carnegie

The world would be a much easier place to live if we all read this one.

[Disclaimer:

  1. This list is not the list of the greatest 23 books ever written, but it comes close.
  2. The list excludes some more political, Africa oriented books, which I list here
  3. This is a list of English works, or works, which are in English. There are other great books in Shona, which I may list at another time. ]
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