Adetoye Sokunbi: You’re not special; you just have internet [New Voices]

Last week, I got an email from who would have been my new boss, that the offer for a writing position at his company was being withdrawn. I had been edgy about taking the job in the first place, having no viable options left me with a new crippling anxiety. That kind you get when you’re under 25 and about to be jobless and broke in an economy in recession.

Until now, I worked at your average Lagos start-up. One of many born out of bursts of randomly ingenious ideas by rugged entrepreneurs, young innovators and those lucky bastards with first mover advantage in industries where saturation was at a bearable minimum. I was hired straight out of school (literally resumed the Monday after my final paper), raw and inexperienced then handed a third of a major platform to manage with weekly quotas & no textbook guidance.

The first few weeks were the worst. But after a couple of sleepless nights and many cups of black coffee buried in the back of my throat, I found a rhythm. My much older and experienced team members were kind enough to stand over my shoulders to point out errors and critique with depth. In terms of growth, the company was going through the normal motions of a mid-budget digital media platform. Visibility and big data numbers were our major problems but there were occasional moments of brilliance that reassured our end goal would be worth it.

In the months that followed came attention from industry experts, everyday people and even occasional thumbs up from two bosses whose usual gripe paralleled that of disappointed African parents. Numbers did not miraculously skyrocket, but now we had enough analytics to stay earlier doubts and presumptions. And soon poachers were lurking in the dark with glossy offers and promises of better opportunities.

Personally, I marvel at how far I had come and how much I’d achieved at my young age. I was aware of my own limitations, but in a country where young people get stuck with low-paying jobs they hated, it was hard not to feel like an exception to the rule. For a selfish and self-aware millennial like me, I felt pretty damn special. Hell, I felt like I had a gift.

Yet, nine months later, I was jobless and having a beer for breakfast in the middle of the day like a bum.

I carried these mixed emotions within as I sat with a friend to discuss my opportunities at her agency. She machine-gunned a volley of thoughts to which I barely paid attention until she asked,

“Does the world really have that many talented people out there that haven’t made it?”

The answer really seemed straight forward from my cynical point of view. If talent—a prerequisite for success—is not evenly distributed among the six billion plus people on earth, there’s no way everyone born with such innate abilities got equal opportunities to shine. But it also proved it was not enough to have a certain skill set, in fact, talent barely sets anybody apart from the crowd. And in truth, here I was, a so-called out-of-job talent whose entire work experience had been based on a single opportunity.

Another way to parse this is that I had only been granted that opportunity in the first place because I was a 90s baby, part of a generation for whom digital literacy was a given, a strategic advantage for me in the media space going decidedly digital. In a country with nearly 17 million unemployed youths, that put me ahead of an old industry order playing catch-up due to illiteracy and (or) financial constraints. I was on my way home that evening when I finally realised why my friend’s question resonated. Talent means little without opportunity. Being good at something has never been enough and it may never be. Hard work and dedication are crucial to self development, but none of this is independent of the possibility that, my imagined self-importance when things were going well at my old job, was nothing but a shallow reflection of a privilege I was unaware of. An opportunity I had been given with minimal effort needed to make an impact, but for some reason I felt entitled to.

Talent is one thing, but only applying that with certain favorable conditions can take things beyond the ordinary. This is how you know you’re not special because there is no such thing as special. What you have are people that take opportunities and embrace their privileges. This is the new humbling resolve I will be taking to my new job.

Toye is a content developer and lover of arts with an eye for detail. Since he discovered words, silence has never been more precious. He’s had nothing to say to anyone ever since. He’s had no need to.

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