It Keeps Turning

The venue was the Cameron Indoor Sports Hall in Duke University. The occasion; my commencement as a Duke MBA graduate. I sat there listening to the commencement speaker (CEO of Deloitte, Cathy Engelbert) who admonished us to take small decisions daily and work in the ordinary hours of life crafting and implementing our goals. The cumulative effect is that grand picture of the future we dreamed of. Nice!

So I thought about the decisions that have brought me to Duke. I went through my life’s educational journey in a matter of seconds. I asked myself, “What was that big decision that brought me to Duke?” The search for answers took me down memory lane; full of nostalgic moments that I reminisced over and over. I call those “bucolic feelings”. Idyllic, halcyon and soothing in nature — they are my life’s perfect moments and I can live in them for forever until there is a call to buy diapers for the kids and life as we know it resumes. Adult life is filled with responsibilities. I am drifting off. Please rein me in.

I was destined to go to the primary school I went to; it was the only primary school around. For secondary school, my dad wanted me in a particular one that he was not fortunate to attend. That also came as a natural choice but University was tricky. Going to the University of Calabar would have been a no brainer; it was situated in my hometown. But it did not offer Engineering as a course which was what I wanted to study. Every other person wanted me to study Medicine but I had to hang in there with what I really wanted — Engineering. Not just any engineering but Chemical Engineering. So the next choice was the University about 100km from home. That University did not sit well with me but I said nothing about it.

While debating which University to attend, my Chemistry teacher Mrs PM Joseph (God bless the day she walked into my life; more on her on another day), who is reading this musing of mine, sold me the idea of the University of Benin (UNIBEN). She told me about its international outlook and the idea of seeing a different part of the country, meeting new people and gaining new perspectives. It sounded exciting. Again there was a “but”. The “but” was simple — how do I make this suggestion to my father. Remember this is an African home where your Pop runs the barracks. How does this foot soldier suggest the matter to “General” Anthony Omin?

One event led to the other and the Josephs needed a family picture and my dad went there to take it. I followed and I urged Mrs Joseph to put in a good word for me on this ‘UNIBEN thing’. As at this point I was sold on the dream of schooling there. I fantasized all day walking the streets of a place I have never been to and had zilch amount of information on. Noteworthy is the fact that this was circa the mid-90s; there was no telephones, no emails, no internet, and no relatives / friends in that city. I was literally planning to go to Neptune without a budget.

For some reasons that had nothing to do with logical reasoning, my dad allowed me to apply to UNIBEN. Please read that sentence again. I can still remember the gaze he gave me while filling that form. There was tension in the room but I soldiered on. I was happy and seized the moment before he changed his mind but he was deep in thoughts about the reality of what my fantasy would cost the family. That decision made him sleep at the security post in UNIBEN when he went to confirm my admission (he had no money to get a hotel room and the security guys were generous enough to let him). That decision set our family finances back. That decision had a tremendous effect on the whole family. Family friends had diverse opinions on the matter. It seems my dad was willing to lose a child. Till today, I do not know what made my dad to let me apply to a school almost 450 km, as the crow flies, from home. (That is a topic of discussion for when next we see because given the circumstances I would not have allowed it for my child. Read it again, given the circumstances I would not have allowed my son to take that decision.)

UNIBEN changed my life. I can’t say that enough. It was tough at the beginning. In my first night of sleeping in a totally foreign environment, the music of Paul Wilbur played through the darkness that enveloped me. For the first time I had to run a budget. I had to make new friends. I needed to be strong for myself. I needed to believe that I can make it through a University system. All in all, I needed to man-up. I just had to grow up. There was no phone to call home. It seemed I took a kamikaze decision to be here but I told myself I am coming out of it in a better form and shape. Most importantly, I am coming out alive.

Fast forward to many years later, the core of friends I have today are from UNIBEN. One took my surname and somehow we have two remix versions of ourselves. They make our lives colourful. My faith as a Christian was strengthened there. The impact of UNIBEN on my faith can never be quantified. I went in there a boy. I came out a man.

Somehow I have always wanted to have an American education. Nothing special about it. It was just me. I wanted it for myself and I wanted to go to a great school. I have a funny habit of always visiting a nearby university of every new town I visit. So it was no coincidence that on my first trip to the US, I went straight to MIT. (MIT is to engineers what Woodstock is to musicians. QED). I felt I had left this life and ventured into another. I walked to Harvard and walked into the commencement. I ran into a Nigerian commencement party (uninvited guest but who cares) and in the evening my host took me to the home of a graduating Ghanaian. There was enough shito to go round and there was no argument on the jollof. Hey! I was too famished to think in that dimension.

Years preceding this, I had fallen out of love with Engineering and the business world was my new found love. It all started when I stopped by a road side to buy books, I got two. One was “Fatherhood” by Bill Cosby. And the other was from a legend I have been hearing about for a long time — Lee Iacocca. I devoured “Iacocca” by Iacocca like I was reading my Bible. I think what I got from that book was simple — you can build things if you can fund it and if the business plans for it. I learned many other things but I was now swayed to be on the business side rather on the engineering side. So the search for an MBA started. I will give you an irrelevant fact; Iacocca and my commencement speaker, Cathy both had their undergraduate at Lehigh University. Hahahahaha. It seems she completed the journey he started. Jajajajajajaja as my Hispanic friends will laugh. I am drifting again.

Many things happened and I ended in Duke in the Cross Continent MBA programme. I have lots of things to say about this programme but one stands out — if you want to see the world in a structured way, study business climes in multiple continents and build a new network of professionals / friends, please go for this programme. You need more information? I am generous person and in my character I will it give to you. See below.

Back to the commencement event, how did I get here? What was the biggest decision that led me here? Was it meeting Mrs PM Joseph? Was it falling out of love with Engineering? Was it going to UNIBEN? Was it reading the book by Iacocca? Was it being born to my parents? Was it visiting MIT? Multiple “was its” will not solve the equation. But this is what I figured out in the process.

· One decision leads to the other.
· Life is made up of small choices made at almost irrelevant moments.
· You cannot plot your life. You can only plan and that plan takes you in a certain path. The outcome most times is totally out of your hands.
· Life’s big stuff happens at ordinary moments.
· Keep working on what is important to you.
· Define what is important. Go for it during winter and in summer.
· You have to define yourself for yourself. Or else someone will do that for you. And you may just be drawn into his / her fantasies.
· Do not despise these small beginnings — Zachariah 4: 10 NLT

I think this quote by Steve Jobs summarizes what I have been quipping about.

What do you notice about the screw below? To make it do its function (which is to keep things fastened), you just have to keep turning it. It keeps turning until it gets to where you want it to get to. By that time, the stuff is fastened. Same with the decisions, you keep taking them every day, every moment, until you get to you destination. In other words, it keeps turning. One decision leads to the other.

So all in all, I just realised that there is no “one big decision”. Life is a matter of choices and decisions. Small choices with big consequence extended over a long period.

You got it.

As the Psalmist will say “SELAH”. Ponder about it.

I have the right without being Arnold Schwarzenegger to say “hasta la vista”.

Gabriel Omin,