There is a video that I watch maybe once or twice a month. The video, wisdom of a third-grade dropout by Rick Rigsby tells a story of how a parent’s advice and actions can impact the lives of their children. Whenever I watch this video I remember similar lessons from an electrician dad who worked for over 30 years in a sugarcane milling company and a teacher mum raising four boys to conquer the world. I would like to share 7 keys lessons that I have picked from these two wise individuals.
Lesson 1: The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary ~ Vidal Sassoon
To put as through school, my mum would wake up a 5 am to till the garden. She would be back at 6 am to prepare for school and ensured she was in her class by 7 am. During the school holidays and Sundays, she would be in the market selling first-hand clothes to compliment her income while my dad would be at the sugarcane farm. I started selling vegetables in a hand wash plastic basin as early as 10yrs old. When I was 20yrs I was upgraded to tilling the farm and when I finished high school I was going to the market to sell first-hand clothes and get casual jobs at the factory to raise money to buy my first phone. My dad and mum would not allow any of us to sit around waiting for the grown-ups to bring the cheese home. We had to be part of the process. A vivid image of my dad responding to my brother when he requested to test drive his Datsun 620 pickup remains in my mind till today. That the car belonged to him and his wife and that he needed to work hard to drive his one day. My dad is a comical guy so reread this with that in mind.
Lesson 2: If you follow the crowd, you might get lost in it.
Once during my primary education when I was going through the “8” in 8-4-4, the Ministry of Education changed the syllabus and introduced a new book that each student needed to purchase. A week later a few of the well-off kids already had a copy so that evening I went home and told my dad that some kids parents had already purchased the books and I was the odd one out. His answer: “Do I look like Moi?” (Moi is the late 2nd President of Kenya). Sounds better when you add the Kisii accent. Just because the other parents could buy in a week does not mean we all can. Working at your pace is important. Right after campus, I got my first job paying 40k p.m. That could afford me a servant’s quarter in South B, Riverbank Estate. On the other hand some of my classmates got placements in multinationals and could afford to purchase cars and live in palatial homes. I could have gotten stressed by that divide and wondered what was wrong with me however the words of my dad when he dropped me for admission in Maranda High School kept ringing in my mind. That; “Son, remember you came to this school alone and you will leave alone. Do not define your life by someone else’s standards. Keep your head high and work hard, the rest shall fall in place at the right time.”
Lesson 3: Never say no to an opportunity even when in doubt and do not fear to fail.
The teacher mum never said no to an opportunity in her life. This is a woman who was farming in the morning, teaching by day and having a merry-go-round (a small social organization where members contribute a small sum of money regularly, often every week. Each time money is collected, the full sum is paid out to one of the members) meeting in the evening. To someone, this would seem a lot but the next day my mum would say yes to yet another opportunity from a friend to plant 20 acres of sugarcane and start her large-scale farming journey. She would now be vegetable farming in the morning, teaching during the day, checking with the farm assistant during her lunch break and having her merry-go-round in the evening. My mentor, Michael Macharia in a meeting that changed my career, offered me an opportunity to pioneer a management trainee programme in SevenSeas Technologies and be the first guinea pig. I was fresh from campus and 3 months into my job. The Chief Talent Officer, Bancy Gakuru turned to me and said “Daniel you have heard what Mike has said. Please go and think about it and let us have your response in a week.” I immediately said yes and that I did not need time to think about it. That day marks a great turning point in my professional career because I said yes to the opportunity. I have pretty much made several bad decisions after that but I have also learnt the greatest lessons from them. John Maxwell says “When it comes right down to it, I know of only one factor that separates those who consistently shine from those who don't: The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure”
Lesson 4: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you ~ John Bunyan
There was no day in the Mainye household that we were less than 10 family members living in a tiny one-bedroom house. The sitting room had been partitioned three times to act as a tuck shop, bedroom and living room all in one. We always had our cousins or uncles living with us. My dad and mum had offered to support their siblings and their children financially when their parents passed on. Whether taking them through university, medical school or primary and secondary education, this was their way of lifting someone who can never repay them. With a combined 40k salary, they had to seek other ways to complement their income to support our relatives. There is a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Giving back is as good for you as it is for those you are helping because giving gives you purpose. When you have a purpose-driven life, you’re a happier person and boy are the two the happiest beings in the world.
Son, I will not be there to teach you these things every day but wherever you go remember where you came from and the lessons you learnt. Hold onto them because in your darkest moments they will lift you. Never let the Flame of Hope go out of your life. With hope, no matter how bad things look and are...peace, faith and love can shine brightly in your life
Lesson 5: Believe in a higher power
The wise electrician and the teacher have a prayer group until today that wakes up every day at 3 am to pray for their families. Growing up we never missed a day in church. We were always in the church by 7:30 am to prepare for the sabbath school lesson study. Every day started and ended with a prayer in the Mainye home. In a society where priorities have become skewed and counting on your neighbour, friend or even family member is not an easy feat, we’ve become accustomed to disappointment. We all need something in our lives that will act as a guiding light and bring inner peace and stability–something that will offer us more than that temporary fix. Belief in a higher power can give us that. It offers us something to trust in, a standard to which we can aspire. When we have a higher power in whom we can trust and rely, we become less reliant on ourselves. We begin to know true peace and see the lesson in everything, even if to outsiders it appears that we are struggling. My dad and mum taught us to believe in the higher power called God. That power has seen me through dark and bright moments. The power that saw them raise 4 men and a community.
Lesson 6: When you make an important promise to yourself, you also have an obligation to fulfil it ~ Bruce Glassman
My dad was a man of his word. If he promised something he wrote it down and ensured he delivered. No one had to worry about assigning him any duty. The community trusted him to the extent he became an authority figure around town and people sought his counsel. He had an interesting way of drilling this key skill in our minds. He would give each of us a task that we need to deliver by the end of the day. Being young and silly, we would do the opposite. Get consumed with playing games, or going to the factory to pull sugarcane from moving tractors. When he came back and the assignment was not done, two things would happen. First, you would write a 100 words composition on where and what you were doing the whole day. Till today I have never understood why 100 words. Secondly, you will have to go through some strokes of the 5-year-old bamboo cane safely stored in a shelve in the bedroom. You were sent to bring it. Imagine telling a goat to go bring a knife that will be used to slaughter it. The compositions were kept in a drawer in his bedroom and re-read to us whenever the mistake was repeated. He taught us that making promises and not delivering was a sign of disrespect. Our word became our bond and when we promised we delivered no matter what.
Lesson 7: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might
There is no half-baked job with my parents. Everything had to be done to precision. His car was washed twice a day and that is after he upgraded from a bicycle that was also washed twice a day. When you were late on anything and used the excuse of you know dad I was just late by a minute. His response “Son, whether you were late by a minute or missed a grade by one point the fact is that son, you are still late or you still failed”. During a visit to the NASA space centre in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, "Hi, I'm Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?" "Well, Mr President," the janitor responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon." To most people, this janitor was just cleaning the building. But in the more mythic, larger story unfolding around him, he was helping to make history. Here's the point: No matter how large or small your role, you are contributing to the larger story unfolding within your life, your business and your organization. The wise electrician and teacher taught me to appreciate every little opportunity I get and to perform the work as if it was my last.
I would close by this. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. In the words of an electrician “Son, I will not be there to teach you these things every day but wherever you go remember where you came from and the lessons you learnt. Hold onto them because in your darkest moments they will lift you. Never let the Flame of Hope go out of your life. With hope, no matter how bad things look and are...peace, faith and love can shine brightly in your life.”