O’s Success Tips: The Loudest Silence

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It was midnight and yet I was wide awake and sweat drenched, the cool breeze from the hotel window being the only relief from the African heat. I stared wearily at the wooden table; everything was there, the registration form, a pen and a set of firmly pressed clothes. I was nervous and excited at the same time, I had been anticipating this moment for years now and finally it had arrived. Only a couple more hours and I would be thrust into the room that would decide my future. Everything hinged on this moment. My mind drifted in and out of reality and eventually my body fell into a puddle of sweat, only to be awakened by the sharp sound of metal on the cold concrete floor. It was a bucket of water being delivered to the room, a sign that morning had arrived. The water was cold and did little to mitigate the shivers permeating through my body from the now cold morning breeze. I dressed up and proceeded to open up the contents of my registration form, everything was there and the Adesoye College crest on the side was a stack reminder of the 4 hour ordeal I was about to face. We entered the car and started out towards the Adesoye campus, driving up we could see scores and scores of children all clutching the same registration form. Everybody was heading towards the room. The same room that had haunted my dreams…

The first exam paper handed out in the exam room was mathematics, my favorite subject. I was done in less than half of the specified time “surely this was going to be an easy exam.” I whispered confidently. But then came English, my most dreaded and hated subject. My Mum at that time was an English teacher and without her, I would probably still be learning my alphabets. Despite her assistance, English was still one subject I struggled with; my most dreaded section at that time was the essay. It was not the thinking part or imagination that was difficult, it was just the fact that you had to write over and over again till your hands hurt from the constant scribbling and scratching. I would have gladly taken a beating from my Dad versus going through the ordeal of writing an English essay. But at this point I had no choice, the essay was all that stood between me and my dream…

The car horn sounded like it always did, it was the Peugeot 505 I could have sensed it from miles away. As the gate cracked agonizingly open I could not contain my joy. Today was the day my brother came back from Adesoye for the summer holidays. It was also time for me to find out the results of my entrance exam “did I pass? Or did I fail?” Running to the car I could see my Mum’s face, it was like someone had died, my brother was in the same state except he seemed torn between joy and sorrow. Over the loud roaring engine of the car, I heard the words that would haunt me for the rest of my life “O nwetegh ya.” meaning, “he did not get it.” The words shot straight to my heart, I was devastated and broke down in tears. I had failed to gain admission to my dream school. My Mum was so sure of the dream; she had a suitcase with my Adesoye uniforms and books already packed. Unfortunately, I had disrupted the plans and threw the entire family into a crazy frenzy. We had to start running around figuring out what other school would accept a below average failure not worthy of the dream Adesoye college. The school that did that was Corona, a new college on the outskirts of Ogun State. Unlike established Adesoye, Corona was new, you could be deaf or dumb, but as long as you were able to pay the school fees at that time you were accepted. I felt like a complete failure; A feeling that would haunt me throughout my first 2 years in the school; A feeling that would only disappear when I experienced a silence so loud that it shook the shrouds of mediocrity that blinded me from my true potential.

At Corona, the stigma of inferiority and mediocrity had subconsciously overcome my thinking. I strived to break out of the status quo to my previous level of “just” average, which I did. Working my way to the realms of the true average, I performed averagely in mathematics, averagely in science and averagely in even English. But alas I was in for a not so average surprise! I happened to do well in Music, to the point that I came 1st consecutively in the class. I started sensing something in myself, something that told me that I was good in Music. I started walking around with a certain swagger and arrogance, after all I was known to be the best at music. But then it happened, I was struggling through classes like I always did, just doing enough to come out average. But this semester was different; I had a certain arrogance about me, which made me feel too superior for studying. After all I was the guy that had come 1st in music like 4 semesters in a row. I played around during the study periods barely making any effort to review notes for the upcoming exams.

My superiority complex finally caught up with me on the final day of school in the form of a package…it was the same cheap brown envelope that we were used to seeing, except this time it felt different, a little heavier and duller than before. I proceeded to slowly unravel the contents within, after glancing over the irrelevant “school improvement activities so we can increase your child’s school fees stuff” I got to the report card segment. 27th out of 30 students, at this point I flipped the report card to make sure that I was not reading someone else’s report, but the name looked all too familiar even my commonly misspelled middle name was correctly spelled. I could have sworn that my heart skipped a couple of beats, because I immediately suffered from intermittent headaches and the occasional blurry vision, a blurry vision caused by the tears that ravaged my iris. I was devastated yet again and felt like the world was crumbling down on me. At this time the last person I wanted to see was my Mum. If there was anyone more adept at wielding a piece of stick to inflict physical and mental pain, it was her.  I had many memories of battling her stick growing up, memories that left my heart in my mouth, most saliently my 1989 encounter on the balcony of our 2 story duplex…

“My name pierced through the air like an explosion; When my mum took a couple of seconds out of her day to fully enunciate every letter in your name with a prolonged ending; that was a sign that something was wrong. Immediately, dogs scampered away quietly, the winds changed directions and moving cars came to a halt. I ran upstairs towards the sound of my name, from my experience the faster you got within the vicinity of my Mum, the less angry she was, but only marginally…”Yes Mumm”….was my reply, but before I could finish I was interrupted  by the sound of a stick moving through the air at a velocity high enough to make your skin cringe….smack!…it came down intermittently hit after hit…in the middle of it all I realized that some good Samaritan had informed her about my unapproved visit to the candy store. She was clearly upset, she asked me why I disobeyed…but immediately I tried to respond I was told to keep quiet and the intensity of her beatings increased…she repeated the same question and this time I kept quiet, unfortunately this time she informed me I was being rude and told me to respond when being talked to. This was the same person that moments ago told me to be quiet. I quickly realized that I was undergoing a type of psychological cyclic warfare which had no ending in sight, whether I kept quiet or talked I was going to get hit and the intermittent questions were just fire to fuel her intensity. So I did what most experienced flogged children would do, I ducked into a corner, this would greatly mitigate the intensity of the flogging I was receiving. The time tested duck-in-a-corner move proved effective. In the corner it was difficult for her to swing her 4 foot long cane effectively. The more she swung the more she hit the wall and after minutes of unintentional wall contact the stick snapped! Apparently the cane had either reached its ultimate stress accentuated by the inanimate objects it had inadvertently encountered or my mum had inflicted so much force with the cane, that when it contacted the was its Equivalent Stress from the tensile bending force component had exceeded the safety factor for which the cane was designed for….whether from material fatigue or sudden failure, the cane had snapped! I was ecstatic and cracked a sly smile, I had outsmarted my mum. And then it happened. I called it the “DURAPLAST effect.” From the corner of my eye and with speed and dexterity only seen in the movies, my mum in one swift motion, before the cracked cane had even touched the ground, whisked one of her DURAPLAST made slippers from underneath her foot and proceeded to let loose the pain. You see, my mum had outsmarted me, by getting in the corner I had ensured no escape route for my self, but with a shorter and more flexible weapon my mum was able to inflict maximum pain on me. And I had no way to escape, I was trapped! As suddenly as it started it ended, it was over, my tear glands had run out of tears and my head was in severe stitches. I looked at my palms and saw the word DURAPLAST engraved in red lettering…it was over I had survived”

…my heart was now visibly pulsating, what was a typical 2 hour journey from Ogun state to Lagos state seemed like eternity. I was petrified. What was my Mum going to do when she saw my abysmal result? After all when my older brother came 2nd in class my Mum would throw a tantrum. Now I had gone from the average 15th in a class of 30 to 27th. I was definitely in for a death sentence! We finally made it home. I stepped out of the car whispering a silent prayer to God and proceeded into the kitchen where my Mum was cutting vegetables with a sharp knife! I nervously handed the result over to her expecting nothing short of a replay of my 1989 DURAPLAST beating with “a boy stabbed with vegetable knife ending.” But instead it was quiet, she did and said nothing. Not a single word, just absolute silence. Now I must admit that that silence hurt more than any beating or scolding I had ever received in my life. It hurt. How could she keep quiet, not even an “I am disappointed speech” or “don’t watch television for a month punishment.” Nothing! At that point in time I felt a silence so powerful that it tore down my veil of mediocrity and revealed a positive anger from within. “Why did she not get upset?” I thought to myself. I had just gone from average to below average but yet she did not react, instead she accepted it. And that angered me! I walked out of the kitchen with a promise to myself, that the next time I brought a result back home it would not be met with silence, but rather the loud sounds of praise. My goal was lofty and the journey would prove difficult.

Motivated by dogmatic determination stemming from my loudest silence, I began sitting in the front of the class, a place usually reserved for the nerds. I soon realized that the teachers said a lot more things in the front. All of a sudden things became clearer, Mathematics became easier and even English essays felt better than the DURAPLAST effect. I seemed to be motivated by an invisible force urging me to do things I never thought I could, such as actually asking questions in class. Questions, which I thought were stupid were noted as brilliant by my teachers and my grades gradually improved. A large reason for the improvement was my persistent study habit, even when the lights went out I was still up studying and the one thing that kept me going at night was the silence of the night. An all too familiar silence that triggered an impulse in me to keep going…

After months of dogmatic and determined studying the brown packet moment came again. This time the packet felt lighter and seemingly brighter, I had come out 7th out of a class of 30, but I was not satisfied, 7th wasn’t even good enough for me. I wanted to be at the top, number one. Suffice it to say I never achieved my goal of being number one in any of my classes but I left high-school as the best chemistry student, best technical drawing student and the best mathematics student. Took my school to the finals of a national science competition and set a school record for the most number of A’s in our Cambridge O-level exams. I continued with my ferocious tenacity for excellence at my A-level school, setting the best record ever at that time for an A-level entrance exam, despite falling sick with typhoid fever during the examination period. I ended up gaining admission to the University of Houston where I had 5 straight semesters with a perfect GPA and graduated Summa Cum Laude in Mechanical Engineering. Receiving recognition along the way as the 2004 homecoming king; an award given for Academic Excellence, Outstanding Leadership and exemplary Service to the Community, the highest award in the University at that time. Great accomplishments that were created from the loud and often silent winds of change that carried me away from the islands of mediocrity onto the shores of excellence, gathering along the way words that would define and guide me through out life “turn your moments of silent disappointments and failures into loud moments of triumph, and don’t ever accept average at work, life or in anything; understanding that nothing in this life comes easy.”

Okechukwu Ofili
Africa’s #1 Success Coach
Copyright © 2008 Ofili Speaks, Inc. All rights reserved



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of ofilispeaks.com
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