My hands are shaking as I type this. I have not written in so long I fear I may have forgotten how. The thing Malcom Gladwell says in his book Outliers, about putting in 10,000 hours before you can master a skill has never felt so real. I feel super rusty. Frankly, I am not sure how this is going to pan out so l will just keep on typing and see what happens.

Shall we?

2022 has been quite the year. I definitely don’t expect every hour or day let alone a whole year to be the same. But neither did I anticipate everything that has unfolded this year. This isn’t the conventional statement to start a piece, but like I said, we are winging it. It appears that quite a number of people have had their lives turned upside down this year. At least the people in my circles, who are willing to share, seem to have had major life changing moments this year, myself included. What I have come to love about it though, is that not all change is bad. Yes, major upheavals, some good but even those that start off bad, end up being for the good of the person. Make sense? No?

Let me attempt to explain. For the longest time, I viewed life’s happenings as things that happen to you. Like life deals you cards that have situations that are not in your control. That the people you meet, the situations you find yourself in, the places you spend time in are almost predestined. My views on that have evolved. 

Consciously or subconsciously, the life you live, the interactions you have, the people you allow into your life are the sum total of your thoughts and actions and choices. The manner in which events unfold are as a result of this. The way your thoughts, actions and choices manifest may not always appear as you imagined. And that’s okay, because whatever the universe is reflecting back at you, is for your own good. The task is for you to pick your learnings from it.

Picking your learnings? Easy peasy! Until you actually have to put in the work and that simple statement starts to feel like a heavy burden. 

I hated math as a child. I still do. I am grateful for Microsoft Excel and calculators. Otherwise I would never be able to calculate anything to save my life. In primary school it wasn’t too hard to grasp mathematical concepts, and so I was able to make do with mediocre math grades. High school was a whole different league. In the first ever math lesson, our teacher Mr. Mbahra, walked up to the front and declared that only the bright students will ever succeed in his class. He then proceeded to give us a test. Day 1. First class of Math in high school. The people who aced the test were the only students he chose to focus on. During his class, they were required to all occupy the desks at the front of the class. He would then proceed to teach, addressing only them, the chosen few. The rest of you were left to your own devices. Mr. Mbahra gave no fucks! 

The only time the cherry-picked students would change, was after we got the results of the most recent math exam. Then there would be a reshuffle. If you performed poorly, according to him, you were not worth his time and effort. He focused on his top students only. 

Now, given his method of teaching it comes as no surprise that it was a rotation of the same students excelling in his class. The kicker is, this was my math teacher for the rest of my life in high school. So we all had to endure him for the next 4 years. Our school almost never reshuffled teachers and neither did they reshuffle students. You can guess what my final math grade at Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (K.C.S.E) was. My dad was not pleased.

Sometimes you just have to suck it up. To some level we all have our version of Mr. Mbahra, be it a person or circumstance that you can’t avoid. This is where it is up to you to figure out how to have some kind of working relationship. It could be a colleague, a family member, mutual acquaintance, name it, where your current season in life dictates that you have to interact with them on some level. 

From that first math lesson, I learned that my fate was sealed. If I was to ever receive any learning from this teacher I had to continually pass every exam. Given my age and frame of mind I gave up quickly and put no further effort in that class. I stayed in class because Math was compulsory and skipping class would cause me more problems. Unfortunately, adult life requires that certain times you must show up, especially when you don’t want to. That’s just how it is, sometimes. 

Not everyone thinks you are the shit. Mr. Mbahra only bothered with those he felt were worth his time. And life is just like that. People give their time where they find sense or value, where they think it is worth their time. Sometimes you may not be that for them and that’s okay. No one owes you anything. 

Math class became almost comical to observe. I use the word observe because that is all I used to do during those classes. The class was divided into several factions. Let’s start with Mr. Mbahras chosen ones. The spotlight was on them. They had an unspoken burden set upon them. To maintain an almost perfect score. Failure was frowned upon. I cannot imagine being under that kind of pressure over a subject that I do not like. 

Then we had people like me, who had to sit in the class and while the time away, because trying to participate was futile. The teacher would only opick those he deemed worthy a.k.a the front benchers. 

Then we had a couple of classmates who resorted to teaching themselves as class progressed. Whatever you were able to grasp you retained and tried to figure it out on your own. At times we would make attempts to interact with the chosen ones, post class, to help us understand or do the homework. They were more often than not, not willing to assist. Lesson learnt. Everyone when pushed between a rock and a hard place will choose to save themselves first.

No one is coming to save you. I remember once we tried to report to the school. The school did listen. They did call a few students to ‘testify’ on whether the complaints were real or manufactured. And for a couple of lessons Mr. Mbahra made an attempt to include everyone in the learning. But it did not come easy to him or to us. Imagine being neglected for almost an entire year of math and now the teacher has focused their attention on you. It meant you had to not only be physically present in class but you had to mentally engage as well. And for him I guess, from just having to teach a handful of students to now having to teach over 40 students at a go. Wilding! It was a struggle for a moment there but we all had to adapt. Let’s just say that phase did not last for long. He soon tired of making an effort and resorted to his old ways. Any other feeble attempts made to complain to the administration were met with much less fervour than the first time. So once again we all had to go through another adjustment period. After that I gave up on math and stopped stressing over the subject. It wasn’t in the cards for me. I however got my early learnings on how everyone is out here looking out for themselves. What is it they say – every man for himself and God for us all?

As bad as that experience was, it kinda feels like the right way to try and elaborate my point above. Our life experiences may feel wired to bring us down or make us vulnerable but we have the ability to make the best out of a bad situation. We have it in us to sift through the negative parts and find positive things about every situation. My math teacher never really taught me math but in how he operated, I learnt a lot about my classmates and about how people react differently in situations. I learned how the needs you prioritize for yourself may not necessarily be the same for everyone else. What shifts is your perspective. What you are in control of is your emotions. The learnings you take out of every situation are yours and yours alone.

Life is happening for you.

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