Life and Deathbed regrets
Who you are right now, your identity and perceptions, is a result of each and every previous experience that you've had at the times and places you had them. These include but are not limited to conversations, defeats, possessions, and relationships. Like a constellation of stars, each of us have our unique and multidimensional identities and perceptions molded by the infinite series of events we've experienced. Every poet, doctor, gymnast, lane-cutting asshole, and CEO had major and minor intersections in their lives that directed their trajectory toward their current state of being. As a student — tasked with building myself while simultaneously figuring out who I am and want to be — I'm forced to see my life through a lens that allows me to perceive these butterfly effects. Who I am at any moment, is who I was inevitably going to be at that very moment due to waves of splashes in an ocean of chance and circumstances. Who am I? What do I want do? I say, 'I want to change the world someday, creating products and services that afford people the capability to achieve more of our goals toward self-actualization in our short life spans.' How the fuck did I get this way? What follows is a brief account of some major events that might have made me 'ambitious' in that particular facet of my identity.
Life for me began in Lagos, Nigeria, born to an architect father and teacher mother. After my first birthday, and well before getting imbued with Nigerian culture, we moved to Botswana where my father found work. Not long after, our family grew again when my brother was born. We would to South Africa shortly after. There, my family was fortunate to see much of the beauty of the country since my father’s work had him traveling quite frequently. After his promotion to Managing Director of the Architecture Firm, we became quite well off. We lived in a great neighborhood, had maids, cooks, gardeners and all the other spoils of being on the favorable end of any income inequality spectrum.
Then around the age of six, during what was supposed to be a brief visit to Nigeria, under some unfortunate circumstances (which I’ll refrain from disclosing), my mother, brother, and I were left homeless in Nigeria with no money. Like day and night, life took a turn. Over the next three years, my life would be filled with some intense and humbling circumstances, most of which involved giving Death the finger. These included but were not limited to:
- Getting Malaria three times
- Getting Typhoid Fever then having a severe allergic reaction to the medicine that was supposed to cure it but instead caused my tongue to roll back into my throat and semi-suffocate me for 4 days.
- Dodging bullets from rebels on multiple occasions
- A couple wrecks on motorcycle taxis (yes, motorcycle taxis; big business),
- Getting an infected wound from a dog bite on my ass
- Saving rain water in plastic tubs for clean drinking water, only to later to find a dead rat swimming in it
- Inadvertently inhaling crazy amounts of bug spray used to ward off the malaria transmitting mosquitoes.
You know, third-world problems.
Two years into our 'vacation', my mother had gotten a job teaching phonetics, we had found residence in a 9 foot by 12 foot, single room apartment. We shared an outdoor, non-flushing toilet and shower head with 4 other families. It was great to finally have our own place. By this point I had forgotten about life in South Africa, poverty in Nigeria had become my new reality, and as one of millions, who was I to complain. On the bright side, I would finally get to address the deficit of Nigerian heritage I so sadly had, learning about my culture, speaking my tribe’s language, and meeting my all my cousins.
My parents did keep in contact, so I had a distant father figure but was largely raised by my mother at that point. One faithful night, after my mother had just gotten her week's pay, for whatever reason she offered to cook us a big dinner. My brother and I were ecstatic, we were going to eat like kings! The meal was prepared, and as custom, we would pray before eating. As my mother prayed, I pictured heaven, then a bomb dropped on me. At 8 years old, I had my first existential crisis, after all I had been through, it was the first time I really thought about and acknowledged death.
"Wait, for me to go to heaven, I had to die first. But I don’t want to die, I haven’t done anything with my life. What are people going to remember about me? Am I going to be dodging bullets and diarrhea for the rest of my life??"
Unknown to my mother and brother who were already feasting, my mind was in disarray and my stomach was dense with anxiety. It was the first time I lost my appetite for a meal my mother labored over. I pondered what it meant to live a good life — to laugh, love, experience the world, and leave a legacy. I began to feel very small and insignificant.
Every day since that night, I think about the day I’m going to die. I tell myself I never want to feel that way again in my life. Fortunately for us, after three years, our excursion ended when my parents got back together and we joined my father in Omaha, Nebraska. It was like winning the lottery. For most Africans, the energy required to leave the continent is like trying to reach escape velocity to reach outer space. I’m now in a country where I actually have a chance at high-achievement and self-actualization.
Fast forward to today, my myriad experiences, have shaped me into being the person who holds the two ethos of ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger’ and ‘You Only Live Once’ at high regard. Even as over used as the phrase ‘YOLO’ has been, it's a prime motivator for me. It’s the acknowledgment that there's a chance that in my final moments on my death bed - before my heart stops and I slip into non-existence - the last emotion I feel could be regret. Sour, sour regret for a life not lived to the fullest. Deathbed regrets are the worst emotion I can imagine a human being to face. So every day I say ‘Fuck that’, and ask ‘what am i doing to prevent that?’
And so my life’s work is to leverage technology to make it easier for human beings to achieve the goals we've set out to accomplish on our paths to Self-Actualization. Human-beings live very short lives compared to the amount of things we’d like to get done to be the best versions of ourselves. As a humanist, I believe it is my duty to win some battle for the human race before my time comes (and maybe get hit by bus or die of malaria). Technology has a great way of allowing us to reduce time stolen by the tasks necessary to achieve our goals. Because I have such an ambitious goal — wanting to positively affect the lives of millions or billions of people — and have studied world changing innovations and what it took to achieve them, I know that this big goal I have is the hardest thing I will ever achieve in my life. So armed with my absolutely invigorating fear of regret, I find myself able to easily overcome any challenge or obstacle I come across. When challenged, I tell myself, "There are harder things I will have to endure to reach my goal, and if I’m unwilling to surmount this one, I better start reconsidering my life goals." That perspective tends to light a fire under my ass and as a result, my comfort zone stretches beyond the horizon. That’s certainly a big part of Nigerian culture, and the success of Nigerian-Americans.
Surviving what I did in Nigeria is a huge contributor to my persistence, just like it was for my parents and many other immigrants from around the world. This, and other facets of my identity were molded by forces that began before I was born and that will continue past my death. To steal a quote from the great Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor,..some style,” and some value to the human race.