Typical conversation between a Journalist/Interviewer and a Successful Person
Interviewer: Please tell us how you were able to achieve so much success in your career.
What many would like to know is how you were able to rise to prominence and wealth in spite of your humble background.
Successful person: In 1998, I left my small town to seek greener pastures in Lagos. I had only one shirt with me, which was what I had on that fateful day. I was poor, but I struggled and worked hard. I paid my way through school with the little money I was able to make from the odd jobs I was doing until I left school and met Mr John…and the rest as they say is history.
It’s been God all the way, God has been very faithful to me and I give him all the glory.
In the example above, the interviewee never really tells us how they became successful. A perusal of the newspapers, magazines and news sites contain interviews that typically go this way. Again and again, successful people say essentially the same thing when asked how they attained their current status. At best it is repetitive and boring. At worst, it is an insult to our collective psyche. An up-and-coming young person who was hoping to learn a thing or two from the one he has always admired and looked up to ends up confused and disappointed.
Many of us can narrate the story of the richest people in the world today off the top of our head. The Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, Oprah Winfreys and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world have been very open about their journey to prominence. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals comprehensive information about their lives. The entirety of their existence so far…their struggles and triumphs are there for anyone who cares to to learn from. There’s hardly any ambiguity in their narrative. A vast difference from what can be said of our important personalities in this part of the world who often shroud the origin of their fortune in secrecy.
Now, I am aware that a person has the exclusive right to offer or withhold information about any aspect of their lives as they deem fit. But, when you grant an interview, it is assumed that you have an idea of the nature of the questions you are going to be asked. And if the interview is worth your time and the time of others, then you owe it to the reading, listening or watching audience to answer the questions as sincerely as possible. Either that, or you decline to speak on the matter outright. It’s not enough to tell us you worked very hard and God was by your side, hence, the fame and fortune we can all see today.
Tell us how you navigated the murky waters of the business world or how you were able to adhere to a strict timetable for study in order to pass that all important exam. By now every adult knows (or at least should know) that the virtues of hard work, persistence and resilience are important in aiming to be more than average in life. What we want to know when you are asked those questions is the practical ways in which you were able to achieve what you achieved.
I’ll admit that I almost fell into the same trap when I was ruminating on what to say to the small circle of undergraduates I was invited to speak to at the Obafemi Awolowo University earlier in the year. At first, I was just going to take the workshop I had been informed that I would handle and then go on to speak generally about the usual hard work, discipline and perseverance in pursuit of goals – the usual monotonous jargon our motivational speakers bore us with all the time. Then it occurred to me; these were undergraduates of a University, and not just any institution, but the prestigious OAU. Did I for once think that they did not have the importance of possessing those values drummed into their ears every day?
What they required was not needless repetition but practical tips on how I keep the writing fire burning and source for content/get inspiration for my weekly blog. They needed to hear something specific and not just the generic “Work hard and pray.” And so, I had to sit back and think through how I have actually been able to keep at what I do so far, combine it with a day job and then share it with my audience.
Dear successful person/top executive, when you are asked how you were able to attain that enviable height, try not to sound so vague or ramble on and on about how you worked your derriere off to arrive at where you are. We already know that some level of hard work and consistency must have gone into whatever it is we can see now. If someone was magnanimous enough to lend you a few millions along the way, please do not conveniently omit that part of your story. If you were fortunate to secure a scholarship to study abroad along the line, please say so. It wouldn’t make your story less inspiring. On the contrary, what it will do is portray you as a truthful person, while also encouraging anyone who wants to be like you to appreciate the peculiarity of their own journey.
I have always been an advocate of speaking from the heart, especially when it involves something that has the potential to change a person’s life. While everyone has the prerogative to reveal or hold back information about themselves, the truth is that there’s something very fulfilling about telling our stories.
We owe it to humanity to help others on the journey we have taken. You never know how far that little success story of yours would go in inspiring someone to be the best they can be.