“Difficult” vs. “Important”


“That’s too difficult.”

It’s one of the common responses to new situations. You’ve probably said it before yourself. And probably with good reason, because it’s often true.

And mostly unimportant.

After all, isn’t it difficult to make a marriage work? Raise a kid? Build a business? Write a book? Make a difference?

Of course it is. None of those things are easy in the least, but it doesn’t stop thousands of people from starting on any one of them every single day. (And given that most new ventures fail, you have to wonder why many more start the very same things? Maybe they don’t know the high failure rate. Or – and this is my take – humans are just hard-wired to start things.)

If the difficulty doesn’t stop us, though, what should?

No, the key question is not, “Is it difficult?” but, “Is it important?” Does it matter? Is it worth doing? If it doesn’t matter enough, it wouldn’t be worth doing, even if it was the easiest thing in the world. But if it does matter, then it’s worth taking a shot at – even if it kills you.

And the next time the question comes to your mind, “Is it difficult?”, remind yourself that it doesn’t matter, until you’ve answered the question: “Is it worth doing?”

If you have a “Yes”, then what are you waiting for?

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“Primum non nocere”


It’s an old medical axiom. (Hey, I am a doctor, after all.) “First, do no harm.” And like all axioms it’s easy to grasp. It almost seems too obvious for words, even. You could almost wonder at the simplicity of those who thought it needed to be said. (Luckily for them, their exact identity appears lost in history!) Who’d in their right would want to do harm?

But when you think about it (beginning with the assumption that, perhaps, the original proponents of the axiom were not such utter simpletons) you realise – again like all axioms – that it’s not quite so obvious – or even so simple.

A good place to begin is why we choose this profession in the first place: other than love of lucre (even doctors are human, after all), many doctors attest to a desire to help humanity. And every doctor, no matter how jaded, can testify to having felt the rush of making that difference for a patient who had almost lost hope.

So the truth is, the first instinct – and rightly so – of any doctor worth his salt is to do good. (If you disagree, I’m willing to bet you have somehow missed opportunities to avail yourself of our services.) We’ve all heard the celebrated stories of the heroic doctors who for the love of their patients, took “calculated” risks to save near-hopeless cases. (Ben Carson, anyone?)

We’ve also heard of the doctors who “needlessly” risked patients’ lives, and in some cases even ended them. (Sorry, here is not the place to discuss the process of evaluating a risk as “calculated” or “needless.”)

Against that background, though, the axiom comes suddenly alive. Yes, we seek to do good to our patients. But in doing our job, we need the ancient axiom to remind us how limited we are to define what is “good.” We need it to protect our patients from our potential over-enthusiasm.

But it serves one other purpose: it reminds us that it is actually easier to define what is “harm.” That is what makes the axiom look so obvious. What is less obvious, however, is that we who work in the service of people must be careful not to mistake our own definition of good for theirs.

Your turn, then: in your own work, in what ways do you find yourself in danger of doing harm when you seek to do good?

Be heard – leave a comment!

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Finding Meaning in Cooking


I don’t like cooking. That’s somewhat paradoxical, given how I like good food as much as the next guy. And the richer, the better too. It’s just that good food requires too much effort.

I remember a friend’s mum who decided to gift him on his birthday with a three-course intimate lunch for ten. The meal was utterly delightful, the conversation as animated as you could desire, and the entire affair an unforgettable collision of fun and meaning.

I’d arrived early, as she was putting finishing touches to her culinary masterpiece (she was creating pure art right there!), and I’d asked how I could help. There wasn’t much left to do, she said (which was good, because I’m really about as useful in a kitchen as a baby elephant) but I could stay and keep her company.

That was more my thing, so I readily obliged. She was in great spirits, and chatted happily about the various ingredients (did I know how hard it was to find really fresh cucumber in Lagos?), shared her cooking secrets (if you wanted best results, you had to roast the chicken just so) and told tales of her glory days (being older significantly hampered your ability to whip up these feats).

But through it all, I couldn’t get over the thought that all her work – it had taken her hours, and all by herself too (itself another feat) – would go down in maybe 30 minutes. It just didn’t seem worth it.

While I secretly pondered this gross disproportionateness in cooking, it struck me it was was really the same with all art. This post took me hours of thought and writing. It takes you – what, five minutes? – to read. A choreography can take weeks to prepare and it’s executed in minutes. A blockbuster movie is the fruit of long months and we run through it in just a couple hours.

The only reason it seemed too long a time to spend cooking was that my interest was limited to the result of cooking, and not in the art itself. But in my preferred art, writing, I have no such reservations.

Because – and here’s the point – creating is its own reward.

What things do you consider not worth the effort? And in what things do such questions not even come up?

Be heard – leave a comment!

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What “Dignity of Labour” Means


Headed to work the other day, I had to pass by Bar Beach in Victoria Island. As usual, that early in the morning, there was a handful of people hanging around, including the usual assortment of white-garment priests engaging in spiritual warfare and roadside touts (“area boys”) preparing for the day with a drag or two of grass.

All very familiar, all very forgettable.

Except for a particular shirtless guy. He wore boxing gloves, and his skin glistened with sweat as he bounced up and down, throwing jabs and punches at the guy he was sparring with. His face was the very image of intense concentration.

Funny thing is, if I’d seen him walking down the street maybe an hour later, on his way home (wherever that was) from boxing practice, God knows I might well taken him for a street urchin. (Who knows, maybe he was, too, but let’s give him the benefit of doubt, shall we?)

But that was even beside the point. What really struck me was this: this guy was at work. I mean, there I was still on my way to work, and this guy was already hard at it. I had my chosen profession and he had his. And whatever I might think of his work, he took it seriously. And by taking his work seriously, he dignified it.

Even if for that alone, he deserved my respect.

Who deserves your respect?

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Meaning + Fun = ?


In my last post, I posed what I confessed was really a trick question: “Which would you pick, a life of meaning or a life of fun?”

I called it a trick question because it portrays as “either-or” what could really be “both-and.” As a couple commenters (Seth and ubq) pointed out, must meaning and fun necessarily be one or the other?

Hopefully not.

As the kids I was talking to pointed out, fun gets old.

Unless it’s meaningful, that is.

Truth is, nobody really wants to live just for fun. But then who says fun has to be for fun? In fact, the moments when fun and meaning collide are perhaps the moments memories are made of. (Meaning + Fun = Memories!)

Can you think of a few such moments, when fun has collided with meaning for you? Share them in the comments below!

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Which Would You Pick: A Life of Meaning or a Life of Fun?


I was talking to a group of secondary school students recently, in one of the more posh schools in Lagos. I began with a question: “How many of you would rather not be in school?”

Maybe half the class raised their hands. (If we’d had parents there, I’m guessing at least that many would have been shocked.)

I followed up with: “Imagine you’re given 2 pills, yeah? Like in The Matrix. Take pill #1 and you’re destined to a life path packed full of fun; take pill #2 and your life is guaranteed to be filled with meaning. You can take only one pill, and once you pick, you can’t change your mind – or your fate. Which would you pick?”

Most of the kids picked pill #2.

It was the reason for their choices, however, that I found really striking. One kid pointed out, “You get tired of fun.” I agreed with her, pointing out how I – and kids to this day, including them – get bored stiff halfway through holidays just mere weeks long.

Others had a worried look as they considered the two options. They evidently hadn’t thought of it that way before, and I imagined them thinking, “Do I really want to miss out on fun for life?” before finally settling for pill #2.

Some chose pill #1, of course. But not as many as I might have expected.

(I should mention that I pointed out at the end that the question was a bit of a trick one – as they might have observed, reality isn’t quite that simple. But sometimes you need to oversimplify reality to get its core. More on that in a future post.)

How about you? What pill would you take – and more importantly, why?

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The Pursuit of Meaning is Hard & Lonely


But then you already knew that, didn’t you? Still, it’s so painfully true I think I should repeat it.

The pursuit for meaning is hard and lonely.

Tambaya is about living meaningfully. (And although it’s kind of premature to talk about life while you’re still living it, I’m sure you’ll agree that finding a more appropriate time does pose some difficulty.)

So here I am, talking about something I’m only still discovering. And sometimes I wonder if I should be talking about it, given that I fail so often (although not as spectacularly as I would have liked – at least, if one can’t win, you’d think the least one could do is fail so massively someone gives you a book contract to tell the tale).

I blogged recently about slaying dragons every morning, and I have to say, the thing is as hard as it sounds, but nowhere near as adventurous. Believe me, there’s ZERO glamour in rising every day and convincing yourself you can make a mark. Then there are those days you look at the dragon and you actually want to cuddle it. (If all this dragon talk sounds fuzzy to you, click here to read my post on it and – you’ll see what I mean.)

Oh, it’s hard, my friends. Crazy hard. And you wonder why you even bother.

It’s unbelievably lonely. Yes, it helps if someone cares enough to refuse to let you give up, and if you’ve got someone like that, consider yourself lucky. (And just by the way, it would seem one person is about all you get, most of the time. Or maybe it’s just me. But maybe one person is all you really need.) But even then, it’s your battle to fight, your meaning to find, and no one can really do it for you. Sorry.

All this to very humbly (think tail between legs) announce the return of Tambaya after another hiatus, and to say that I haven’t given up yet. Nor do I intend to.

Tell me, what challenges have you faced in your own pursuit of a meaningful life?

Be heard – leave a comment!

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