Naija Don(‘t) Fail
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the maxim, “If you’re Nigerian, there are only 4 career options: doctor, lawyer, engineer, or failure.” If you’re a lawyer or an engineer, that sentence is likely the first time you’ve ever placed 2nd or 3rd in anything. If you’re like me, then clap for yourself. You are one of the millions of young Nigerians who have failed.Make no mistake about it. Medicine, law, & engineering are foundational professions in any society. If you’re fortunate enough to train and gain footing in one of these professions, you will almost certainly enjoy career stability and sizable income throughout your life. When you consider what our parents/grandparents generation went through, aspiring to have children in professions is as practical as it is understandable. They watched the independence of a nation, followed by a civil war, followed by the re-integration of the southeast region into Nigeria. Some of them had to postpone or abandon their educational and professional pursuits just to survive. On a lighter note, maybe aside from the cultural pressure, you really did just want that career for yourself. If you’re one of those gifted and driven individuals whose passion and purpose aligns with one of these careers, may you retire with the same sense of principle that drew you in.
Perhaps you’re one of the brave souls who discovered a passion for the creative arts and refused to shift from that path. First of all, I commend you. You have more courage than I did. If you had a dollar for every disappointed uncle or unwanted push towards another profession, you wouldn’t need your art to get rich. But it was never (all) about the money. It was about following your path, right? As stubborn as Nigerians, especially Igbos, can be once we put our mind to something, it’s hypocritical to ridicule people who choose creative paths from a young age. That early discovery of a love for their craft should be commended. So if you need it, consider me to be the uncle who encourages you. It will not be easy but in this society, you can make it worth it.
I took a world politics class in college. I’ll never forget an excerpt from the first paragraph in the chapter about Nigeria. It read almost verbatim, “The entrepreneurial spirit of most Nigerians is legendary.” When I finally touched village for the first time in over two decades this past Christmas, I saw the spirit first hand. Most people I talked to, no matter their position in society, had some sort of entrepreneurial plan. In some cases, they just didn’t have the financial means to execute it. When I came back to the US, I took notice of how many young Nigerian professionals (yes, even the doctors, lawyers, and engineers) had some type of side hustle or business. America’s capitalistic society almost requires it. Creativity is the foundation of entrepreneurship. In most cases, so is failure. So often, we learn to do something right by experimenting and learning the wrong ways. That applies to building a business, finding a career, or even, writing an article. If the entrepreneurial spirit of most Nigerians is indeed legendary, then so is our creative spirit.
If you’re reading this, it’s too late. You’ve likely already failed. You’ve failed in enlightening and life course altering ways. Being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer doesn’t inoculate you from this feeling. In fact, if you’re in the profession for the wrong reason, it may lead to a feeling of failure due to lack of fulfillment. I’m writing this to tell you that it’s ok to try new things and test new boundaries. Write that book, shoot that pilot, paint that picture, and record that song. Do something with that God given creativity that stirs your soul because you will undoubtedly stir somebody else’s. No need to be afraid of failure because as Darius from the FX TV show, Atlanta, pointed out, “You know Nigerians don’t fail.”