One of my long time friends recently asked me to meet her at a restaurant. Esther Kinyua rarely closes her shop on weekdays, so I realised immediately that it was a distress call, not a leisurely invitation for lunch. I showed up armed with some tissue, ready to provide a listening ear.
She was already at the venue by the time I arrived, and was sitting by herself at a table on the far corner, her left hand placed solemnly on her left cheek.
The 31-year-old Esther runs a restaurant and juice parlour that sells snacks such as samosa, sausages and chips. On that day, she needed to talk to someone. She has unsuccessfully applied for tens of scholarships and was getting frustrated.
“I wish I took up the scholarship I had secured while I was still in school,” she told me. I knew the story well. Her close friends and relatives had dissuaded her from travelling abroad at that time, arguing that she was too young, and that she would waste a full year learning a foreign language. She was 22 years old at the time.
Listening to her, I couldn’t help but think about all the things I would change or do differently if I was handed a magic wand that could turn back the clock.
This week, we take a few individuals down memory lane and ask them to share their young adulthood experiences, and then we asked them to write a letter to their younger selves about the lessons they’ve so far learnt, the regrets they harbour, and what they are doing to make amends.
Patience Nyange, 35 (Communication advisor)
Wow! This request takes me back 14 years ago. Life has truly changed. Over the years, my perspective about life has changed so much. I am more confident and more deliberate with my choices. At 21, I had just completed my undergraduate studies from Daystar University, and had secured my first job at Baraka FM as a radio presenter and producer for the drive time show.
I had written a 10-year life plan on a notebook which I have kept until today. Here is my letter to my 21-year-old self.
What an impressive girl you were at 21. So full of life and with a clear plan of what you wanted to do. You were focused on getting everything right, and you wore a smile almost always. You strived to impress your parents and be the best daughter you could be. You lived up to the expectations levelled against you for being the first girl in your family.
You loved and lived for your father. You would not take any thoughtless risks. Not when it involved going against his wishes. You were cautious about life and that’s a good thing, but perhaps you would have achieved a lot more if you’d have been a little more unbounded.
You loved to be independent with your thoughts and life choices and at the same time, you shunned failure. I wish you were bolder and more adventurous. I wish you faced your fears head-on. I wish you were more opinionated and spoke your mind without worrying about what others might think or say or without fearing that you might disappoint your parents. I wish you had a mentor who told you, “It is OK to fail.”
I wish you had someone to tell you that you didn’t need to make a 10-year life plan, and that you didn’t need to achieve all your goals. I wish you travelled more and made more friends from diverse backgrounds.
You believed that every woman had a rigid template to be followed. You were so keen to conform to societal expectations that you paid little attention to charting your own path. You believed that you needed to carry yourself as “wife material.”
I wish I had convinced you that it is OK to be different. I wish I had told you to care only about your well-being, and to prioritise your spiritual growth. That God was the best rock to lean on when all else failed. Not friends, and certainly not alcohol.
I wish you knew that early just how beautiful you were. That you were enough.
You grew up so fast and were so mature that many thought you were much older. Do you remember how some people would get amazed by your confidence and fearlessness? I still admire your self-confidence.
The only thing I regret is that you didn’t have any mentors to guide you at 21. Now that I an older, I know that you would have achieved more with a good mentor. You needed someone to assure you that everything would be OK despite any obstacles that might have stood in your way.
Paul Ngunyi, 22 (Industrial psychologist and author)
At 21, I was enduring many challenges, and it is round that time that I developed strength and resilience.
At 22 years, you were innocent, naive, confused, and unsure of what the world had in store for you. When I think about your situation at that time, I really pity you, but at the same time I admire your resilience. You did not have a mentor, coach or anyone to guide you through life.
You were your own parent, provider and motivator. In college, life was so hard for you that you had to drop out and find a job so that you could feed yourself. That was a difficult time and I laud you for your courage and perseverance. You never gave up. You took advantage of every opportunity that came your way.
At that young age, you were very time conscious, were interested in creating good networks and making good use of the little money you earned, yet you did not have a college degree.
You worked hard and volunteered to offer basic computer training at a private college. You were determined to develop your IT career and you stuck to that plan and achieved your goal within a very short time.
I admire your foresight, focus, discipline and hard work. You developed a career in IT through self-training, and earned the title “IT professional”. You turned a lemon that life handed you into lemonade. You did not fall victim to the peer pressure that has brought so many young professionals down.
Paul, from where did you get all that strength? You could have easily given up but you did not. Perhaps your poor background was the reason you had such a fiery desire to succeed, but I know so many of your friends who were brought up under the same circumstances, but were not half as determined to break the cycle of poverty.
Now I see that your resilience, self-respect, self-belief and hard work propelled you to success. Receive a pat on the back for your discipline and courage.
The experiences I encountered during your time have become very valuable in my senior adult life. I now mentor and encourage young people. I tell them that they can achieve their goals despite their poor backgrounds. You taught me that.
Calvin Macharia, 32 (Writer and Blogger)
I really enjoyed my early 20s. Those days, I could ask for pocket money from my parent and spend it without thinking about the next day. I did not know that a tough life lied ahead. That getting money involved hard work and numerous sacrifices.
I remember when you started working and could easily afford all your basic needs. You used up all your earnings on impulse buying. You spent so much on clothes, shoes and expensive gadgets that added very little value to your life.
You also wasted a good portion of your income on parties and engaging in fun activities with friends. You couldn’t save a shilling!
Once you secured a loan without a proper plan of how you would invest the money or repay it. It was a big mistake, and within a few months, you had used up the entire amount on meaningless things. You ended up paying it back in six years, yet you have nothing to show for it.
You also got into pyramid schemes without conducting prior research. Do you remember how much money you lost in these ventures? If only you would have used this money wisely. I wish somebody would have told you that wealth is created through investment. I wish you would have conducted proper research before putting your money into useless projects.
Unfortunately, you did not realise how important it was to save for the future until you got into your late twenties. You should have started to invest in the stock exchange the moment you got your first salary. Or in real estate, or even put some money aside for your retirement.
You didn’t know that the financial choices you made during your youth would determine the level of financial independence and freedom you would enjoy in future. Thankfully, it is not too late.