Chapter 3: MAVERICK
That was how I found myself striding not only a multi-cultural background, but parents with different mindsets. My father had lost his Mum at an early age and had been raised by a paternal Uncle in the hinterlands (Any town outside Lagos!) and arrived in Lagos to work before University. He doted on us children since he wanted to have his own ‘complete family.
However, my Mum grew up in Lagos and had an early bright start at formal education as the daughter of a school headmaster. But she was a traditionalist and tried (overly) hard to compensate for Dad’s lenient hand by being very strict with us. My pet peeve was her insistence that we (children) had to complete education to University in Nigeria.
However, I got the comeuppance on her by appealing to my Dad, after I had graduated B.Sc(Hons) Chemistry – University of Lagos, to send me to the USA so I could be an Engineer. Since this was prestigious for him, he happily aid out of his foreign allowance for my three year study, which certainly affected my Mum’s shopping trips abroad!!
The rule was to stay in One job for 20 + years and climb to the top of the ladder, to resign as CEO. However, during my corporate career, I moved to different companies and changed industry sectors. The long-term effect was that I never rose to the top. Although ambitious, driven and highly qualified I lacked a mentor/coach in the early stages of my character development and my communication skills were poor.
I was a prisoner to Logic and often got stumped when discussions got emotional, it certainly did not help that I (unconsciously) always gave away my thoughts with my facial expressions (eye-roll!) when people did not make sense. It was only after my coaching sessions (belatedly) that I understood the benefits of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
“The big problems we face today could very well be solved by letting go of logic”Rory Sutherland
Childhood trauma is invisible in African childhood. Despite my privileged background I can still recollect the horror visited on my peers who were left handed and had sticks rain down on them to convert to being right-handed.
Hence my vivid recollection sitting in the back of my engineering class (about 40 students), in the US, to realise about half the class were left-handed! Unfortunately in my case, though I had often realised I was aberrant, I did not exhibit the ‘physical symptoms’ for the establishment to get on my case before my travel to study in the US. The University I attended was in Oregon State, a predominantly white agricultural state, where most African students attended on Government postgraduate scholarships.
I was one of the few black students at undergraduate level and the only one in Engineering. My initial stay was with a nice middle class ( father – Doctor) white American family who took me in stride, while I definitely made very good efforts to assimilate as well with my classmates. There were challenges due to my learning style but one ideal that stuck out for me, and still inspires me, was the use of the honor code in class. This gave rise to my true learning path because we (students) submitted test and exam papers using pencil which we received back (with marks) and which I used as feedback to improve on my academic performance.
However, it all unravelled. After my US graduation and the end of my Internship in Scotland, I had returned to New York to look for a permanent US job, but with no success. So I hatched on the plan to return to Nigeria and take my National Youth Service, which I had previously skipped when I graduated from University of Lagos. The grand scheme of things was to return to the US for postgraduate studies (MBA) which would put me in a better position. Well, I got on the plane with my prize treasure, a Compaq ‘Laptop’, which was the size of a ‘Singer Sewing machine’ (this was 1986) and landed in Lagos, where I then stayed with relatives.
“ Yes, we are indeed formed by traumas that happen to us. But then you must take charge, you must take over, you are responsible.”Camille Paglia
The return was a Disaster. Everything seemed backward to me, the city appeared to me like a survivor of a war zone, with decrepit roads and tumbled buildings. I had lost my roots and bearings because I had been living in a bubble (abroad) and diplomatic life-style.
There was no counselling or anyone to confide in and some of my behaviour was deemed as aberrant. I Was moved lock-step into the psychiatric ward of the Teaching Hospital and put on medication. My saving grace was the psychiatric was top-notch and UK qualified. He listened and I gave him an understanding of my background and situation. Apparently relatives had informed that my case was suspected of acting suspiciously due to being on ‘drugs’!! .
“He Who Marches Out Of Step Hears Another Drum”Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Although he insisted I stay on the course of treatment and medication, he was able to recommend my release to daily life. This experience sobered me up, and I decided to toe the orthodox line of behaviour in the future. I count myself lucky because I had a classmate (we were mates from secondary through to University in Lagos) who had a similar experience, lost the plot through mistreatment and died tragically in his thirties.
Things fell apart. Once I was released, there was no going back and my parents fudged on my return to the US. However, My Dad,(away in the US all this time though my Mum had flown home,) shipped me a brand new Golf Sedan car (factory spec). This caused quite a stir in the elite circles because mine was one of maybe three in all of Lagos at the time. Some of my peers privately complained to me that when they tried shopping for the car, the price was equivalent to an entry level BMW sedan, so they could not imagine spending so much on a Volkswagen. Yo bro, the car was fab, front wheel drive, great revs, air-conditioned and four speaker top range music system. To die (or not) for.
I completed my National Service working as an intern, drilling engineer, with an Gulf Oil company and had offshore spells in Escravos, but the training was pretty ad-hoc and I had to tag along with my Supervisors most of the time. 1987 was a period of profound Oil price shock with prices at about US$17 per barrel so there was a hiring moratorium at the Company. .Afterwards I took a pretty stiff screening exam at Shell Oil Company and got through to the final interview only to fall at the final hurdle. Apparently Shell had a pretty strict regime of training for their own interns and a few questions from them were about drilling on the Oil rig, which I failed abysmally due to my lack of exposure at Gulf Oil.
‘“Everyone knows where they belong. Except for me.”Divergent (The Movie)