Thursday 27 October 2022

The bird in hand is all you have

Long Read!

The humbling of life

There is an old saying, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” I find myself revisiting some of these old sayings to review what lessons to mankind they might impart to me and my unique circumstances, for as Ecclesiastes1:9 says, “there is nothing new under the sun.

It is quite poignant that Ecclesiastes has 12 chapters and in the first chapter it dispenses with hopes, dreams, expectations, and much else whilst laying bare the fact of human existence, after the introduction, it says, all is vanity, suggests we labour in vain, that nature always follows its course, and that we pay heed to experiences gone before because there are lessons to be learnt of life.

A further interpretation of the saying at the beginning which I should call a proverb is, “It's better to be content with what you have than to risk losing everything by seeking to get more.

Failures are paths

This is the story, I finished secondary school at the age of 15 and was immediately admitted to the Lagos State College of Science and Technology (Lacostech) to study Chemical Engineering, at the same time, my mother tried to persuade me to attend Form Six for the Higher School Certificate (HSC), but I was having none of it, my experience of secondary boarding school was such that I wanted to be treated more as an adult with all the freedoms that entailed, even if I assumed very little responsibility.

Lacostech was a fledgling institution, the practical engineering component of the course system was lacking, we were based at a faraway campus and for the practical elements, we attended labs at Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech), the preeminent polytechnic at the time. How I ended up doing Chemical Engineering was a result of alumni visiting my secondary school to give a talk, I was beguiled rather than persuaded. I failed that first year.

However, knowledge from that first year prepared me to change my course to Electrical Engineering at YabaTech even as seeing an uncle thrive in Quantity Surveying had a bit of a draw. It so transpired that I spent 3 years at YabaTech where I failed, repeated my second year, and consequently was asked to withdraw. That was 4 years of higher education lost, I can only wonder if I had gone for the HSC instead and plied a different trajectory in life.

Being a nonsense child

At that point, my father had given up on me, he was determined to put me to work on his farm which was not doing all that well. My father in his active career was a brilliant and successful accountant, usually top of the class, winning awards and prizes, how could I, his first child and son be such a dullard?

The day he planned to ship me off to his farm, I ran away from home with the aid of my mother, and I was first put up with a teacher from her school where she was a principal, then with a brother of a neighbour, before I ended up living with my dear Uncle Cash who passed on in June.

Blog - Uncle Cash!

Not having just enough

There, I began to chart my way back to some academic relevance, already 5 years out of secondary school with nothing to show for it. I took the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations and scored in Physics (71), Chemistry (72), English (73), and Mathematics (45), for whatever reason, I ran out of time with Mathematics and that poor score was significant and it came to 261 when I needed at least 280 to be considered for Electrical Engineering at some of the universities I was interested in as the University of Ife or the University of Benin.

Meanwhile, my mother was pulling strings elsewhere and had with my original West African School Certificate secured admission to the Federal Polytechnic at Ilaro to study Electrical Engineering. To my mind, having been to YabaTech, going to Ilaro in the middle of nowhere was second-best untenable, it never entered my consideration, and no one could appeal to me about it, I was set on going to university come what may.

A bird for a bird

My father came around, and we both drove to the University of Benin to see if he could influence things, it was the second time we had met since I ran away from home over a year before, and at the same time the registration window was closing at Ilaro as lectures were starting too. One thing I remember about that trip was we stopped over at a restaurant, where I ordered a stew with gizzards that my father thought he heard lizard, the look on his face and the laughter afterwards when he realised, he heard wrong.

Herein was my dilemma, I had a bird in hand, the admission to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro which I was not paying attention to because I had my mind on the two in the bush, an impossible consideration for admission to either the University of Ife or the University of Benin. All my hopes were on university admission when my reality was a backwater polytechnic where though the OND course was accredited, the HND component was still seeking recognition.

Humble is pie is food

Eventually, as the vanity and the futility of my expectations began to dawn on me, I ate humble pie and set off to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro to start as a fresher and from when I used to be the youngest in the class in all the schools I had ever attended, I was now a higher education veteran, 20 years old.

My humiliation is exacerbated by my first encounter, he was a year my junior in secondary school and the very first person I exerted seniority rights on when I got to Form 2 by punishing him, he was in his final year at Ilaro when I was just starting. I can only wonder what stories he had to tell about his life experiences. The senior that punished him 9 years ago in secondary was now 3 years his junior in higher education.

I had to focus on what I had to do, I was not at Ilaro for him or about him, I was at Ilaro to rebuild my shattered dreams. And much as I kept the prospect of going to university alive, my engagement in the semester was both committed and divided. However, by the second semester, I accepted that my bird in hand was the only bird I had and any other birds shitting on my head from above or chirping in the bush were never going to be caught.

It came round beautifully

I did the two years successfully, was my class representative, gained an upper credit diploma and even after ran a signature drive of all my erstwhile class to appeal for the HND component to be accredited for us to return to complete our course at this apparent backwater polytechnic that gave us so much for a start in career and achievement.

For my industrial orientation, I walked into a computer services firm seeking employment and was employed on the spot, I even got my class deputy employed too. He went on to complete his higher diploma at YabaTech, I went into desktop publishing consultancy, to help publish legal reports and acquired 30% of a printing firm on whose auspices I paid my first visit to the UK to acquire equipment and software.

That same OND stood me in good stead for jobs that I took up in the UK when I finally emigrated, obviously, I acquired vendor certifications too. It is interesting to note that, I wrote a character reference for a friend with whom I attended Ilaro and the admissions officer at the University of Liverpool contacted me to suggest I was the kind of candidate they were looking for to embark on a Master's programme. I only had an OND and I was admitted for a postgraduate degree.

It is always what you have

The moral of the story is this, all my intentions, plans and hopes were to go to university, I held fast to that expectation even though there was nothing I could show for that ambition. All the while, I had an admission to Ilaro, it was the unmentionable, the one where I thought I would be stuck, the humiliation of meeting a junior who was very much a senior and you know how ranking works in a typically Nigerian community, yet that was the pathway to my career successes. I could not have envisaged the result of going to Ilaro but the consequence of attending Ilaro made all the difference.

It is in the same vein that we are faced with what we think are choices but are hardly so. That bird in hand is the only thing you have got, there rest are pipedreams, daydreams, hopes, and wishes. Until you have secured whatever you want or need, you do not have it. Yet we give equal status to what we desire and hope for to what we already have but do not like for all sorts of reasons that it was not part of the plan and seek myriad excuses to diminish certainty for uncertainty.

I have many instances where choosing the second-best or the worst possible scenario because that was all I had has led to the best possible and even unintended outcomes. It is important to keep the momentum, take the opportunity that is available and work with it even if at the present time everything it represents is not to your liking.

It is never out of thin air

History is littered with people who were faced with difficult choices of which there are no other options have with humility follow what they have and come up trumps, be it Joseph being sent into slavery before he rose to become deputy Pharaoh or Jesus being given the choice of the cross or flight, faced the cross and brought salvation to the world.

There is indeed nothing new under the sun, the voice of the ancients, the elders, the experienced, and even the privileged tries to counsel us on many issues to which we turn a deaf ear because we have other plans, but plans are just that, plans, we remain stuck in the same place with plans and no action, forsaking opportunity for fantasy and in the end losing both opportunity and fulfilling no fantasy.

The question we should always ask ourselves is, what is it that we already have that we are giving up for what we are hoping to have? What you are hoping for, you do not have. At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus could only use what the boy had and multiply it, not materialise food for the crowds out of thin air. At the marriage in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, the jugs were empty, he asked them to fill the jugs with water first, he did not conjure wine from the air.

You have to have something to make or do something, that something may not be what you like or want, but it is the only thing you have and if you do not use it, you will lose it and be left in the same place still, full of dreams, hopes, and desires but no further away from where you started.

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