by Tunde Leye
As a nation, we are at the point where we need people who will take tremendous risks in the economy to break barriers, build industries and cause this nation to fulfill its potential. People will fail when they take risk. This is as inevitable as the sun rising.
In Nigeria, there is an unwritten rule amongst the successful. And this rule is golden. Never admit to past failures. Admitting such a thing is a blemish on your present success and it is only your haters that will dig into your past to bring up such evil. If someone so much as point out a past failure, attack the person or unleash your voltrons on them. They are the enemies of your current success, truncaters of your plenty. So when successful people share their life stories, they paint pictures of a straight line to success, no faltering or failing. In fact, we are so conditioned to seeing past failure as a terrible thing of shame that when we want to hurl abuse at a person succeeding at the moment, we simply call them failed this or that.
And we see it everyday. Linda Ikeji gets into an online scuffle with a celebrity. Rather than quarrel with her on her current action, the celebrity and fans will resort to calling Linda a failed ex-model. Or someone who will point out that OC Ukejie did music but didn’t break into the mainstream before his acting career took off and he is currently the actor of the moment in Nollywood. Or that yours truly did music and didn’t record a major mainstream hit but has had commendable success so far as a writer. And people raise this as if it is an anomaly for people who are now successful to have tried things in the past which they did not do quite as well at. Our press contributes to this. There are hardly questions into past ventures of successful people, and where they find anything, they self-censor such, as they believe it will hurt and affect the successful person negatively.
Many influential motivational speakers do not help matters with fostering this perception. In many forums, while giving several examples of how people abroad failed many times in previous ventures and attempts at things before getting it right and hitting it big, there are hardly Nigerian examples to show people who have failed tremendously and then went on to succeed stupendously. Rather than leaving blackholes for young people to fill as they make tough decisions about what to try and how to build, it will be better if we as a society do not stigmatize failure so much.
As a nation, we are at the point where we need people who will take tremendous risks in the economy to break barriers, build industries and cause this nation to fulfill its potential. People will fail when they take risk. This is as inevitable as the sun rising. In fact, the greater the risk, the greater the failure potential. But we need our own Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Fords, Carnegies and Edisons. We must make them realize that failing once, twice or ten times does not mean they cannot rise and do bigger things. I watched a documentary series The Men Who Built America recently, and what struck me the most was that the men were not portrayed as super humans who never failed at anything before succeeding at their respective industry building enterprises. They were shown as real, normal Americans who didn’t give up, who failed but rose and started again. It was watching men like Rockefeller that for example inspired Ford to build what he did.
Nigerian entrepreneurs should leave this narrative that leaves young people doubting themselves when they falter and let people know that they failed at ventures in the past before they succeeded at the ones we know them for now. We need to demystify what we went through and let our current successes inspire the ones coming behind us. And I am not talking about the normal grass to grace story that Nigerian successful people love to share in the mould of “I sold bread in traffic but now here I am”. That serves a purpose, but it is important to show young people things you actually did by making a conscious choice (not constrained by background) and still failed. And be proud of our failures, they are the foundation blocks of our current successes. I doubt if it would be such a “yab” if someone called us a failed ex-this or that if we were never so canny about our past failure.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.