One fine evening, after the gruelling activities of a hot Lagos work day, I decided to get to Yaba market on my way home to pick up a few items. After shopping, I needed to make some adjustments on some clothing items and I was shepherded by one of my customers to an area where the market tailors normally ply their trade. Normally during the day, you would be greeted by a throng of tailors all jostling for your patronage. This late however, there were only a handful and most seemed occupied, save one, Tony Hernandez (yes that is his name and yes he is a Nigerian, do not ask me any more questions). After some bargaining, he agreed to help with the adjustments. In the background, a popular Wizkid track was audible enough to engage the mind but not so loud as to cause a distraction. A local drinks seller was passing by and Tony purchased the last dregs of the fiery liquid in the plastic bottle. The tone was set for a story that struck me upon further reflection as one that was very instructive.
While sewing the clothes, we got talking Tony and I, he began to tell me his activities the past Christmas. Tony hails from the eastern part of Nigeria and like many of his kinsmen, travelling back to the village during the festive period was quite normal. I had assumed the trajectory of our conversation would follow his activities in the village but I was shocked when he told me he did not travel back home for the celebrations. He noticed my surprise and proceeded to provide me with an explanation. He was — in his own description — an artisan and his trade boomed during the festive season. It would have been a colossal business misstep had he travelled during the festive period and missed out on the swell of potential customers. He was better off for it. He had even apparently had to bail out some of his friends who were stuck in the village because of the sudden hike in transport costs following a rapidly rising level of inflation in Nigeria. I was quite impressed with the level of discipline it must have took to make the decision not to travel. For those who are familiar with the culture and tradition of eastern Nigeria, travelling to the village from the ‘township’ is a time to show off acquired wealth. It is a triumphant entry, a performance scripted to imprint upon the mind of the villagers the gold mine that has been discovered while sojourning in the city. It is however a mirage, and an expensive one at that.
Continuing his tales, Tony told me it was silly of him to partake in such, at least for now. According to him, he had no business competing with people who had a steady source of income, whose salaries were guaranteed at the end of the month or with people who had taken dubious paths on their journey to financial stability. In his words, he put his trust in God, his hands and his legs (he is an amateur footballer, and was looking at breaking into a professional football league outside the country). I could probably write a collection of short stories based on all he said while I listened quietly. His tales continued while he made amendments to the clothes I had given him interrupted only when a combination of the background music and the drink he had taken earlier moved him to sing along and drop a few dance moves. He finished his work and we exchanged parting greetings and I boarded my bus home.
Now what struck me from the conversation was his apparent contentment. Here was someone working in the night with a torch as his source of illumination, someone with dependents, someone with worries and cares but in spite of all of that he had managed to maintain a positive outlook on life. A lot of people view contentment as a sign of weakness, a virtue for the lazy man, the consolation of the mediocre. They are wrong on all counts. A monk I listened to recently made it very clear, being content does not restrict our need to get better, to expand our horizons rather it ensures that in our expansion process we do not get so engrossed in the destination that we forget to actually experience the journey. There would always be new targets to meet. The richest people on Forbes list have not quit after attaining their wealth, so surely they must be working for something other than money now. The young man does not relinquish his other activities after he woos the girl of his dreams. There would always be a next item on the agenda right up to the day we die. Learning to be content with where we are now is essential and it would even make it easier to get to the next level.
So the next time you are feeling down about not having met that target or that milestone, maybe take stock instead of the targets you have hit and the achievements you have made and it would not be all that bad or you could hit up Cogno-Aid for a chat. A day shared is a day lived a little better.
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