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5 things to do while in life’s parking lot!

parking lot 2Sometimes we feel as though life has put us in the parking lot. We want to move forward but are somehow immobilized. We know what we want, where we want to go and have some idea of how to get there but somehow things do not seem to be working out for us.

This is what I call being in life’s parking lot. At this point, the affected individual is like a car that is in good condition, fueled up and ready to go but is just parked.

Being in life’s parking lot happens to every one once in a while. The reasons for finding ourselves in the parking lot vary and could be a result of personal decisions or circumstances beyond our control.

We may also find that we are parked in one area of our lives, while making progress in other areas. For example, one could be doing well at home and socially while the career is at its lowest ebb, or one might excel at school and struggle at home.

It is important for us to realize that being in life’s parking lot is perfectly normal and happens even to the best of people. It is also important to use that time wisely, then get up and move on with our lives. Do not waste time witch-hunting and pointing fingers at who you think is to blame for your circumstances. Rather than sit around and mope, use that as time out to rethink about life, wait for the next opportunity, mull the next move or step back and strategize.

Here are some ideas of what to do while parked:

1. Think!

Reflect on the situation and how you got there in the first place, then look at ways to get out of the situation. For example, if you have made a wrong career choice, reflect on where you want to be and how best to get there. You may need to acquire new skills, learn what opportunities are available within your current set up and how best you can benefit from them. Think of what sacrifices you may have to make to get back on track, or get counselling from someone who is a good listener and clued up on human resources so you can make a wise decision.

Whatever happens,  remember that you can think your way out of the situation. However, do not rush into quick fix decisions otherwise you may find yourself in a similar or worse situation. Use your time in life’s parking lot to “THINK!”

2. Learn!

Every experience in life carries lessons. Reflect on what lessons you can learn from the experience and how best you can capitalize on that knowledge so you do not fall into the same trap again.

You may be the sort of person who is prone to making rash decisions without thinking through them and this may be an opportunity to learn patience. Or perhaps people could be overlooking you because you are not assertive, hence this could be your chance to learn to speak up. It could also be an opportunity to learn new skills that will take you to the next level in life. Whatever the situation, don’t waste it. Draw some lessons from it and you will emerge from the parking lot a better person.

3. Grow!

Growth is the natural order in life. If you are not growing then you must be shrinking. While in life’s parking lot, see how you can use that as an opportunity for growth.

I remember once working at a place where I was grossly under-utilized.  No matter how hard I tried to apply myself, somehow, I got no satisfaction. The job was very well-paying but extremely  boring. Also, this was at a time when our country’s economy was struggling so my options were limited. After a few interviews I realized that no organization was going to pay me as well as my employers were. I had to sit it out while looking for a better opportunity but I could not afford to be idle. I used that opportunity to enroll and study for my Masters’ degree.

After completing my studies I told the Human Resources manager about my newly acquired qualification and his response was:

“Congratulations! Although you know your current post does not require a Masters’ degree, the best we can do is just put a copy in your personnel file but as long as you are here, you won’t need it.”

That did not deter me though. A few years later, I found new job that paid me well, made full use of my skills and required my additional qualification. Needless to say, although I was initially bored, being in life’s parking lot gave me a chance to advance myself and prepared me for my next step and dream job.

4. Be patient

No matter how brief our time in the parking lot is, it can feel like forever. Be wary of making rash decisions just to get out of the parking lot. Be patient. Don’t just settle for any solution. Think about and wait for what is best for you. Going back to my previous example, although being parked gave me a chance to study, it took me two years to find my dream job.

5. Enjoy life!

When things are not working out in one area, it can easily seep into and spoil other aspects of our lives. Don’t let this happen. Find a hobby and do something that gives you pleasure. No need to stop living just because life has put you in the parking lot. Remember, whether it is your marriage or career or business that is suffering – life still goes on. A hobby will help you to cope with the stress of what is not working out in other areas of your life. Blog, write poetry, learn a craft, design clothes. Do something!

When a friend of mine found herself in a boring job, she decided to revive her passion in fashion.  She would work during the day and design clothes at night. Her passion soon became a source of income and opened the door to a new and exciting career!

Finally charge!

Whatever happens, do not remain in the parking lot. Learn what you have to and get out. Get back on your feet and charge forth. Armed with lessons learnt from time spent in the parking lot, I am sure you will be a better person who is better positioned to tackle life’s challenges and achieve your goals.


Life’s lessons from 2015

lessons 3
The year 2015 was rich with lessons for me.

In my country there is a tribe that eats bullfrogs. The frogs are a delicacy, so people from that tribe have mastered a way to cook them in water without the amphibians escaping. As we all know,  frogs have powerful limbs, yet these wise people, using indigenous knowledge, have figured a way to trap them.

The members of this tribe cook the frogs by slowly boiling them in water. To prevent the frogs from jumping out of the pot, they put them in cold water where they are comfortable, then turn the lid of the pot upside down, fill it with heavy stones and turn up the heat. That way, when the frog starts feeling the heat, it cannot jump out of the pot and eventually dies.

Sometimes in life we feel trapped, a bit like the frog with the heat being applied from beneath and the weight of the stones keeping us down. I have been feeling that way lately. Recently, through some ill advice, I made a career mistake and took up job that was some steps below my previous position. Instead of moving forward, I took some steps backwards and instead of moving up, I took some steps down. Naturally, it’s an uncomfortable place and becomes increasingly uncomfortable the longer I stay, a bit like the heat being turned up on the frog while being unable to jump out.

Nonetheless, it has not all been a total waste. I have learnt some lessons from this experience and the chief ones are:

  1. No matter how well-meaning people are, you are the only person who knows what’s best for you. People can make all the noble plans for you and pour out all the best, but at the end of the day you are the chief architect of your life. You have lived with yourself all your life and you understand – more than anyone else – what the best solution for your situation is. Just remember, what people know about you is just a fraction of your life  or who you are and no one can make an informed decision with partial information. It is highly likely that most of what people think they know about you is limited to assumptions based on their background and experiences – most of which you do not relate with. Consequently, the risk of becoming a victim of people’s assumptions is very high, so, never abdicate the role of making decisions concerning your life to anyone no matter how well-meaning or wise they seem. Further, people will always have interests and advise you based on their interests, not yours. Don’t become a victim of other people’s interests at the expense of your own.
  2. Never ever make a passive decision and hope things will turn out well. Every decision you make, whether actively or passively, has consequences and you will live with those consequences, whether you like it or not. Therefore, make conscious decisions and be prepared for the consequences.
  3. It is perfectly fine to say NO! It is alright to turn down “opportunities” that you are not happy about, regardless of what other people think.   Just as opportunities can be disguised as misfortunes, sometimes our worst experiences also come dressed up as opportunities. Trust your instincts, if you feel something is not worth it, proceed based on your judgement regardless of any other opinion. In the case of this particular job, I disregarded my instincts and lived to regret it. Don’t ever give anyone the opportunity to play savior in your life because no one can save you but yourself.
  4. People treat you according to how they perceive you. If you rank lowly in their opinion, believe me they will dish out lowly things and assume they have done you a favour. I am reminded of a time when a child who lived on the streets asked my friends and I for money. As students, we did not have much but gave him the dollar that we had. He threw it back at us and asked us – “what can you buy with this?” Indeed, the dollar couldn’t buy much but we thought since he had nothing he would be grateful. Sometimes people treat us the same way, they dole out worthless treats and expect us to be grateful. Don’t let anyone convince you that just because they have gone out of their way to “help” you, you should accept it. You have standards and a right to stick to them, particularly in cases where you have not even asked for any favours. Go for what you know you deserve according to what you believe is best for you.
  5. Don’t bow to pressure. Weigh every situation based on its merits and demerits then make an informed decision. Silence every other voice and separate every other party from yourself, then focus solely on yourself and what’s best for you and you will certainly make the right decision.
The text says it all.
The text says it all.

Thankfully though, all is not lost. Sometimes we gamble with our lives and make a few losses but there is always room to rise again. Such is life and its lessons, we all learn from our mistakes. There are qualities that no-one can ever take away from us and with these we can emerge victorious from any situation, no matter how adverse it seems.

  1. Self-belief – no matter how hard you fall or how hopeless a situation may be, as long as you are confident and believe in yourself, you will rise. Negative situations are there to teach us lessons, but certainly, “you can’t keep a good man down.” Human beings were born with the inherent desire to succeed and the ability to rise above circumstances. Sooner or later, that desire for something bigger, something better and something more in our lives, will emerge and propel us to fight for what we believe in, thereby ushering in the change we need.
  2. Gifts – someone once told me the reason babies are born with clenched fists is because they will be holding their gifts. We all have gifts and talents that we are born with. Whether or not we use them is entirely up to us. However, no one can take them away. That uniqueness will always distinguish us from the next person and make people notice us. We can use our gifts to come out of any circumstance.
  3. Opportunities – these will always come, no matter what happens. In life, doors open and doors close. Just as the sun rises and sets, so opportunities come and go. Sometimes we take a wrong turn and miss an opportunity, but inevitably, a fresh opportunity will arise and when that happens, hopefully we will be wise enough not to miss it.
  4. Hope – that feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, that expectation of a positive outcome, that inexplicable belief that all will turn out well. I believe even the worst pessimist has some modicum of hope. Somehow as long as there is hope, we can get out of any situation and change our lives.

Having learnt these lessons in 2015, I look forward to wiser decision making in 2016 and beyond and hope you do too!

Here’s to better a better year and a wiser you in 2016!

Related posts: Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you

The value of language

My appreciation of the value of language came very early in life.

Having started my education in post-colonial Zimbabwe in the 1980s, my parents were among those who sent their children to multi-racial schools previously reserved for white children, in order to enhance our chances of success in life.

However, when we got there, the systems were still intact and the rules were strict. For instance, we were not allowed to speak our local languages within the school premises and anyone caught doing so would have their knuckles rapped with the sharp end of a ruler. That may seem like a minor punishment but not to a child below the age of 10. As a child in boarding school, I only saw my widowed mother on some weekends and during the holiday.

The shaping of my thoughts and values was left largely to self discovery and school authorities, in a system that did not promote our languages and cultural identity.

Language is central to who we are, particularly during our formative years. Credit:
Language is central to who we are, particularly during the formative years.

Like all children, I happily adhered to the school rules and only spoke English. I learnt to think, dream, feel, imagine and primarily function in English. I was quite content with this existence until the day my mother and her friend paid me a surprise visit and I suddenly realised, to my horror, that I had forgotten the basic greeting in one of our local languages.

In our culture it was rude for a child to greet elders in English as it was a foreign language. It was both prudent and respectful to greet elders first and in their language. I greeted my mother first in Shona and intended to greet her friend in her language, Ndebele, but the words failed me.

I remember standing between my mother’s yellow Renault and the imposing white washed girls’ hostel, just staring and gaping at the visitor, who was patiently waiting for me to dutifully greet her.  Try as I might, the Ndebele greeting stubbornly refused to emerge from where it was buried in the recesses of my mind.  The simple word, “salibonani” evaded me as if in a mischievous effort to embarrass me.

After a long awkward and uncomfortable silence, my mother’s friend greeted me, jolting me to remember the response. The rest of the visit was pleasant.

However, after my mother and her friend left, my young mind pondered and reflected on a few fundamentals. Although I was only eight years old, I made some decisions that I have carried into adulthood. I promised myself never to forget our local languages. A seemingly simple promise that was difficult to keep in the face of numerous challenges such as being in a society that subordinates its languages to English. I pledged to remember, despite not being able to speak the languages during the school term. I vowed to remain mindful of our languages, even though they constituted less than 20 per cent of our curriculum, with little room for practice.

Those vows were later renewed when I was on a flight to the UK around 2008. During a moment of boredom, I looked around me and started reading the titles of the novels being read by those near me. The languages were all foreign to me. It struck me that all these people were reading books in their own languages. Perhaps it was because I was on a Dutch airline. Whatever the reason, I became acutely aware of my alienation from my language. I was holding a book with an English title and the only other person with an English book was a black woman sitting diagonally opposite me. I guessed that she was Zimbabwean, and I was right. Had she not been Zimbabwean, she probably would have been from a former British colony.

Now I take time to invest in learning and practicing more of our local languages.

Although I speak both Shona and Ndebele fluently, I struggle with idioms and proverbs, largely because I was deprived of the languages early. Sadly, I speak local languages with a tinge of an English accent, which sometimes creates the impression that I can’t speak the languages. I have found ways to work around my handicaps though, by reading and speaking Shona and Ndebele as often as I can. When the opportunity presents itself, I try to learn other local languages like Tonga, Kalanga etc.

It saddens me when modern parents boast and take pleasure in their children’s inability to speak local languages. What those parents do not realise is that they are robbing those children of their birthright and depriving them of their cultural heritage. The truth is, no matter how well we speak English, we can never own it, but we can truly say we are the custodians of Shona, Ndebele, Tonga, Nambya, Kalanga and other languages that are spoken locally. Taking pride in the inability to speak one’s language is not a sign of education, but rather, exposure of painful ignorance and cultural bankruptcy.

Indeed learning other languages enables us to function effectively in a global village. It also helps to mask tribal divisions, among its other advantages. However, this does not mean we should recklessly abandon who we are and discard our heritage.

Whether we like it or not, there is an intricate link between language and identity and until we recognise that, we will float around like people without roots.

Language is a central feature of human identity[1]. There is a level of pride that comes with being able to say “I am Matilda Moyo from Zimbabwe and I am Karanga.” Beyond that, there is some pride in being able to speak the language. Indeed let us learn other languages, but let us not forget our own languages, which are central to who we are.

By Matilda Moyo

18 January 2014

Frenemies: Protecting Yourself From Them!

When Jody Watley’s song[1] “friends[2]” topped the charts in the 80s those of us who were very young just enjoyed dancing to the tune and lip synching it without attaching much meaning to the lyrics.

In adulthood, those lyrics have taken on a new meaning and a term coined for the sort of friends she described – “frenemies.”

Simply defined, frenemies are friends who are actually enemies – that seemingly loyal friend who one day turns out to be your deadliest enemy! My dictionary defines a frenemy as “someone who pretends to be your friend but is really your enemy” or “a fair weather friend who is also a rival.”

Frenemies seem friendly yet they have a hidden agenda to cause harm.
Frenemies seem friendly yet they have a hidden agenda to cause harm.

Frenemies are extremely dangerous because they are part of our inner circle and can effectively destroy us from within, while abusing the trust that comes with friendship. In fact, they could be that one person who you trust with your life.  Consequently, the harm they cause in the long run is worse than that of people who openly show their dislike for you.

A frenemy can harm one physically, emotionally, spiritually or psychologically because we let down our guard when we are with them, assuming that they are our friends. However, their knowledge of the most intimate details of our lives make us more vulnerable to them.

While friendships are healthy and we all need friends to live quality lives that are socially fulfilling, frenemies use that to destroy unsuspecting friends.

I have been blessed with great friends, for whom I am truly grateful. They have stood with me through happy and troubled times and I know despite the physical distance between us, I can call on them any time of day or night and they will be there for me just as I am available to them 24/7.

However, I learnt the hard way that I also had frenemies. After observing the consistently cruel and abusive treatment of a few friends towards me, I had to face the reality that they were not my friends and we, in fact, did not even like each other anymore!

I am not sure when these individuals mutated from the loving, caring and supportive dear friends I’d learnt to trust, to vicious frenemies who were out to destroy me. What I do know, is that it took me time to realise the change and even then, I was in denial, making excuses for them while absorbing the abuse. It was only after some major incidents that I had an “aha” moment and realised I needed to deal with the frenemy situation.

First a doctor pointed out the initial signs of a stress-related health problem that could result in chronic medication if unchecked. I revisited my life and faced the reality that I had to deal with frenemies who were the main source of stress in my usually optimistic and happy life.

Second, after watching a few episodes of the series “Frenemies” on Crime and Investigation, I noticed that some frenemies exhibited harmful traits similar to those of my friends.

Third, I was struck by my friend’s persistently injurious treatment of me, particularly when I did something praiseworthy.

It is important to recognise frenemies so you can protect yourself from them because while some friendships may be genuine when they start, people can evolve into frenemies as their lives change and they grow apart.

Here is a checklist that could be useful in helping you recognise if your once wonderful friend may have mutated into a frenemy. These are drawn from a combination of real life experiences and research.

Do they always give bad advice?

Much as we like to think we make independent choices, we tend to have a circle of reference comprised of people whom we consult before we make major decisions. Such consultation is based on trust and the belief that our advisers have our best interests at heart. A frenemy will constantly ill advise you and enjoy the damage. Check the frequency with which frenemies dispense negative advice then simply strike them off your reference list or else you will live with the regret and consequences of the consistently bad choices.

Do they erode your self worth?

Most of us average people are generally confident and have learnt to deal with people and situations that threaten that confidence. However, if a trusted friend whose opinion matters constantly berates, belittles and besmirches you, your self esteem will suffer some dents. Erosion could be through negative words, a scornful look or contemptuous action, usually in front of other people for maximum effect. True friendships endorse and complement rather than demean and destroy. Honestly, being with friends who cannot say a kind word, give a compliment or acknowledge one’s positive qualities is like being in a bad neighbourhood. If you are in such a friendship, start packing, you need to get out of that friendship before it destroys whatever semblance of self-worth you are trying to preserve. Also, if you feel terrible whenever you meet this friend, then you are definitely in the wrong neighbourhood and it’s time to revise the friendship. Perhaps you’re better off spending time volunteering at an orphanage than being with this person because clearly, you are not having fun!

Do they always criticise you?

If you cannot do anything right in your friend’s sight, then you certainly should not be together. Indeed your friends should be able to criticise you when you’re wrong and commend you when you do well. Human beings by their very nature respond to rewards and punishments. However, if every word your friend utters about you is a criticism, there is a problem. Surely, you cannot be so bad that the closest person to you sees nothing good in you and has to remind you all the time. Also, if you are such a bad person, why exactly are they hanging around you?

As junior school children, when faced with a barrage of negative words, we often retorted with the chant:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Well, that may be comforting to say but it is not true. Words can be extremely dangerous because long after the person who said them is dead and gone, they will still ring in one’s mind probably with the same sting as when they were first spoken.

Words transcend boundaries, a word whether written or spoken in America, can reach someone in Zimbabwe and still have the desired effect. That is why people will not answer their phones when a potentially abusive conversation is likely to take place, because they know that long after the conversation is over, the effect of those words will linger on, housed deep in the recesses of their minds and causing much trauma.

Psychologists believe that every time we think about a traumatic event, we experience the same range of emotions we had when the event took place[3]. I believe the same applies to abusive words and whenever we remember them, we experience the same emotions we had when those words were first spoken to us.

Whether we care to admit it or not, words have impact. It is easier to dismiss the negative words of a stranger than to disregard those spoken by someone close. The truth is, when someone close to you says something, you reflect on it and it affects you, even if you pretend not to be listening when they speak. The constant criticism of a frenemy cannot be ignored as it has far reaching effects.

Propagandists developed the theory that if people hear something often enough, they start to believe it[4]. Imagine hearing what a horrible, silly, stupid, cruel, stingy, ugly, frivolous person you are daily? You may try to develop coping mechanisms but at the end of the day if that is all that rings in your head, those words may take their toll and start affecting your behaviour. Naturally, a persistent volley of negative words will eventually erode someone’s confidence and could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do they try to control you?

Human beings, by their nature, were created to be independent.  Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” also speaks of interdependence which emanates from healthy relationships and the recognition that we all need each other. However, if a person tries to control you so that you become dependent on them whether emotionally, financially or otherwise, then the relationship is neither healthy nor sustainable.

Also, if they cannot recognise that you are an autonomous being who is capable of running your own life, there is definitely a problem. If your friend does not recognise your individuality and perceives you as an extension of her personality that friendship is not good for your personal growth and will actually dwarf you. If your friend wants to dictate how you should behave, when you should laugh, how you should interpret jokes, the extent of your knowledge about subjects, your career path, what car you drive, where you live or any decision about how you should run your life, then either try to address the challenges in the friendship, or let it go because it’s not a healthy relationship.

Do they compete with you?

I guess we all have a competitive edge and a little competition is healthy because it propels us to the next level. However, if your friend must always be the top dog and you the underdog, then your relationship most likely thrives on inequality with you being on the lower end.  Also, if the friendship is constantly a quest to prove who is better than the other, then it is likely that one is consistently being demeaned to illustrate the superiority of the other. Such a friendship probably erodes one’s self esteem while inflating the ego of the other and people who are deflated cannot rise to their full potential.

Do they play down your successes and magnify your faults?

Real friends celebrate each other’s successes and comfort each other when one experiences loss. A friend who plays down your successes and magnifies your faults probably feels better when you’re down and never wants to see you rise. They probably believe they are a superior being and therefore only they are entitled to success. It is also highly likely that such friends have a high degree of narcissism and draw pleasure from your failures because they feel successful at your expense. The friendship is not likely to last should you have a break and suddenly succeed. In fact, you may actually be doing well, but because the friend wants to feel better, they have to play down your successes.

Watch how people who are close to you react to your successes, it could be an indicator of whether they are friends or frenemies.

Do you need a coping mechanism to handle your friends?

Friendships should be enjoyed and not tolerated. If you find yourself developing mechanisms to cope with your friends, then it cannot possibly be a friendship. These coping mechanisms could range from giving yourself a pep talk before and after meeting your friend, to drinking and smoking just so you can deal with their negative effects. I almost sought counselling to deal with my friend but realised that it would be unsustainable, it was best to first flush her out of my life, then go for counselling to cleanse myself of her negative effects that had built up over years.

Moving on

It is important that people recognise when a friendship is no longer mutually beneficial, part ways and move on. After all, it could have been a relationship for a reason and a season that no longer apply to one’s life. Also, if it’s now doing more harm than good, then it has outlived its relevance.

Yes, making friends in adulthood is difficult and so is letting go of someone who has been part of your life. However, if they are not adding value, you are better off without them.

Letting go will save you the cost of treatment – whether medical, emotional or psychological – and time in the number of years it may take to rebuild your self esteem and subsequently your life. If the frenemy happens to be your sole friend, you may have to brace yourself for some loneliness, but bear in mind that you’re better off alone than unhappy. Find creative ways to fill up the space that the frenemy was taking, you might actually discover some new talents, or revive those that the frenemy had talked you out of developing.

Also, ask yourself what you really have in common and what is the glue that is holding the friendship? You may find that what once bound you together no longer exists hence the focus on negativity. People evolve and likewise friendships. Perhaps you have outgrown each other but are reluctant to acknowledge it.

You will have to be careful though. Breaking off a friendship with some frenemies may have consequences, particularly if they are still deriving benefits that they want to cling to. Remember, some frenemies have major personality problems and a mean streak, which is why you they are abusing you are breaking away in the first place. Brace yourself for the ostracism and whatever other social, emotional and psychological consequences may be inflicted. Bear in mind that your rejection of this friendship may not be taken lightly. In the various episodes of “Frenemies” on Crime and Investigation, some frenemies turned to arson and murder after their friendship was spurned. Note that these, though based on true stories, were also extreme cases. You probably know your frenemy well enough to understand how they will deal with the break up and the extremes to which they can go, so that should help you to strategise on how to untie yourself from their unpleasant bond.

Lastly, put together a support group of your genuine friends because you will need them as you deal with the consequences of your decision and action.

Remember that everything has consequences so just as hanging around in an abusive relationship can wear you out and negatively affect you, so too will staying in an abusive friendship.  I am convinced that the impact of staying in an abusive marriage is as bad as that of staying in an abusive friendship with a frenemy.

Therefore take action to free yourself from your frenemies!

Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you…

Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you….

Let’s face it, not all advice is good for you…

Once upon a time, we were told that advice is good, particularly if it comes from someone older and wiser. “A person who does not listen to advice is a fool,” we have often heard. The assumption is that everyone who dispenses advice is wise and well-meaning. However, real life experience teaches us otherwise – not all advice is good. All advice, no matter how good it seems and who it comes from, should be evaluated and taken in context as it is often clouded by other factors. This instalment, while not exhaustive, will assess some of the factors that influence advice doled out by people.

Temperament and personality

Who we are affects our actions. We give advice based on our perception and how we would react if faced with a similar situation. Our personalities permeate the advice we give, for example, the four temperaments of melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic and sanguine and their various combinations . When faced with a difficult situation, the choleric would probably tackle it head on, the melancholic would go through some introspection before dealing with it, the sanguine would look for a pleasant distraction and the phlegmatic would do everything to avoid confrontation. Temperament affects our behaviour and is likely to influence the type of advice we give. I am a melancholic-choleric and this seeps through the advice I give.


A lot of times, our background affects our decision making processes and consequently the advice we give. Often, people give advice based on what they have seen all their life because that is all they know. In the book “The Dreamgiver ,” by Bruce Wilkinson, Ordinary dares to leave the Land of Familiar to pursue his Big Dream. However, he meets much resistance from those in Familiar who do not understand why he wants to divert from the norm. “If it is working well, why disturb the system?” or “We have always done it this way” are all too common sayings.

Personal experience

Our experience – whether past or present – affects our perception and the advice we dispense. I know of a lady who became very bitter after her fiancé stood her up at the altar on their wedding day. The bitterness colours her paradigm and subsequently the advice she gives. Similarly, someone who is undergoing marital distress because of an unfaithful spouse will likely have negative perceptions of marriage and discourage a couple who are excited about their wedding.

A naturally chirpy and optimistic person, I often find myself being discouraged by such people and have to remind myself that I need not relive their negative experiences. Once, I found myself in a heated argument with a colleague who was trying to discourage me from buying a small car because she argued that they had a tendency of going under trucks and I could be killed. I disregarded the advice, bought the cute little car and in all my years of driving it did not once find myself under a truck. My colleague meant well and had seen a number of newspaper articles about such accidents. However, it did not follow that I would be among those statistics – not all people who drive small cars will be involved in an accident and find themselves under trucks. Just because it happened to one person does not mean it will happen to all.


Whether we know it or not, whatever advice people give is coloured by their perception. This is at varying levels. First, there are people who are generally negative and poke holes in everything without advancing a better option. The optimist will encourage and the pessimist may discourage because that is the lens through which they see the world.

Second is the person’s perception of you. If they have decided you are foolish, they will treat you as such and based on the assumption that you cannot possibly think of anything intelligent. On the other hand, if they hold you in high esteem, they may encourage you to carry out a foolish idea simply because they assume that you are incapable of making silly mistakes.

Regardless of what influences their perception, the bottom line is such people will either raise you or put you down. The best is to keep away from those who either view you negatively or are generally pessimistic. On the other hand, try to be more objective with advice from those who think too highly of you. These cheerleaders could unintentionally cheer you into a disaster if you are not careful.

Also, be aware that we have such different perceptions that what may appear like the road to hell for once person could actually lead someone else to heaven on earth.

Level of knowledge

Some people mean well but simply lack the information and knowledge to be good advisers. They may want to see you rise but have insufficient information to give effective advice. Someone who is an expert in one area is not necessarily one in everything. Just because someone gave you good advice about what car to buy based on their mechanical engineering background doesn’t mean they will necessarily give sound advice about investments. Don’t be a victim of other people’s ignorance no matter how well their intentions. Some people are confident despite their ignorance and can give very misleading advice.

Also, don’t just seek advice from everyone. Once, on the way to an assignment at an unfamiliar place, the driver and I got lost so we asked people close by for directions. The first person we asked was a young man who did not say much but pointed to the north indicating that was the direction we should go. We drove northwards but did not find the place so we asked the next person and he pointed south and we drove in that direction. In a place where there was a language barrier and we did not have a map, we were at the mercy of those we met along the way. Finally, after the fourth person I asked the driver if he realised that none of the people we spoke to knew where we were going but they were all reluctant to admit it so they would just point in any direction. We nearly missed our assignment while going around in circles at the leading of people who wished to help but lacked information to do so. Our assumption that they knew the place we were looking for because they lived in that town and appeared confident was wrong. However, this is what sometimes happens when we look to people who lack knowledge and it applies to all aspects of life. Thankfully this was a minor issue but imagine if we had received misguided advice for a life-changing, long-term decision?! I know many people who made serious career mistakes because of the sources of advice they chose.

Unfounded fears

In another incident, I recently shared my thoughts about a plant I wanted at my place because I thought it would look beautiful. The person I was talking to immediately advised against it and told me it would draw snakes to my home. I have a phobia for snakes and considered abandoning the idea, but I was so in love with the plant and I kept seeing it everywhere. I wondered if all the yards with the plant were really harbouring reptiles. Finally, I worked up the courage to ask someone with a row full of those plants at her house and she was surprised at the theory. First, throughout her life with the plants at her home, she had not encountered a single snake. Secondly, it was her first time to hear that myth and third, the man who told me about the relationship between the plant and snakes does not have such plants at his home and may by some coincidence have seen a snake hiding behind the plant. However, that single incident did not translate to a tendency by snakes to gravitate towards the plant.

Misplaced judgement

Sometimes people can create a box and try to force you to fit into it based on their limited knowledge about you. When I started studying for my Masters’ degree I briefly discussed the issue with a highly esteemed gentleman who seemed progressive. At that time, I had unwittingly settled for a junior position in a regional organisation from a senior position in a national organisation. I thought it was a good opportunity to break into the regional market and did not know that employers would judge me based on the position I occupied then, rather than what I had been in the past, despite all the details being chronicled in my curriculum vitae. I was desperately trying to get out of that position and a post graduate degree was part of the solution. I mentioned my studies to this man in passing. His response shocked me and led to the instant death of what a fledgling friendship.

“You’re ok with a first degree for your position. Why on earth do you need a Masters?” he asked. The man had judged me based on my current erroneous decision rather than my potential. He saw my present, yet I was looking at my future. He saw what I was then, yet I saw what I could become. I later learnt that he had an MBA and I found it strange that someone would try to prevent me from reaching a similar goal, as though I was born for a lower station in life. Looking back I realised we had always related from the position of a horse and a rider with him having the upper hand. It both saddened and angered me that he had tried to mislead me to maintain that status. Through that brief encounter, I learnt the painful truth that not everyone who gives advice means well and some people want to maintain an imaginary position of superiority. I also learnt that it helps to believe in myself and to be headstrong when faced by such people.

Not everyone means well

Human beings occasionally exhibit a characteristic called jealousy. Sometimes it manifests through the dispensing of harmful counsel coated as advice. Not everyone means well. Some people are wicked and find pleasure in watching other people stumble and fall while others are just mischievous. Also, some people may ill advise you so that you repeat the mistakes they made and they can find comfort in numbers. The human mind can sometimes conceive unfathomable evil.

Exercise caution

Finally, the aim of this instalment is not to discourage people from taking advice. There are numerous benefits to taking advice. These including learning from other people’s knowledge, getting fresh ideas and avoiding repeating old mistakes, among others. The aim is simply to encourage people to be more objective in seeking and accepting advice, being mindful that counsel is influenced by various factors. Advisors are fallible human beings who just love to dispense advice, which can be either beneficial or detrimental. Sometimes these humans mean well but fall short. Evaluate advice and its intentions before accepting it because it will influence the decisions you make and ultimately, you will live with the consequences.

Victims of other people’s choices

Life, is a series of choices, so we have been told. The impression is that if you make good choices, your life will be good. Most of us have heard the cliché “you are where you are today because of the choices you made yesterday.”

True, I do not dispute that.  The greater part of our adult life is a result of the decisions we constantly make. However, there is that small proportion of our lives that is a consequence of other people’s decisions. Stephen Covey, in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” advises us to focus and work on what is within our control, or our sphere of influence. That’s some really helpful advice. However, sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we end up facing the consequences of other people’s decisions.

As I write this, I am an unwitting victim of someone else’s decision. Today we have no water at home, thanks to the gardener’s decision to pour all the water in the storage tank on his beloved plants. Sadly, only 10 green vegetables are still looking healthy, the rest have withered, while we have to think about how to use whatever drop of water comes our way. This is not the first time we’ve run out of water since he came. Yes, he’s a great guy and extremely hard working, but sadly, he sometimes makes unilateral decisions that place both our lives at risk, like now. The first time was exactly a month ago. I got home at 6pm to be told there was no water. I made a quick decision to get water trucked to the house by a commercial supplier and the problem was solved. My neighbours also stepped in and provided water to meet our needs while waiting for the truckers.  However, looking back in hindsight, by quickly stepping in, I denied the gardener an opportunity to learn. Consequently, he missed a key lesson about the importance of water in water-constrained city where diseases like typhoid occur frequently. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves in exactly the same situation again. Normally, I monitor water usage and advise him not to use what’s in storage for the garden. The plants can wait and it usually isn’t very long before the City of Harare remembers that we pay bills to receive water. However, I travelled last week and in my absence, he used water without restraint – to the point of emptying a 5,000 litre tank on his own in one day. I returned from a week-long trip to a home without water. The last drop was exhausted on the day I left and I am not surprised because on the day I left, I had watched in horror as he created what looked like rice paddies that appeared to drown his plants – all this from the reserve tank –  despite being told to use storage water sparingly and only in the absence of council water.

However, rather than arrange to have water trucked again, I decided to remain silent and let him solve the problem in the hope that he will also learn from this experience. His solution was to find the nearest well and ask for water, which he has been using for his daily needs. In a country bedevilled with waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid, in a city with a typhoid outbreak and in a suburb that is among those affected by typhoid, this solution puts both of us at risk of contracting typhoid. 

Much as I have tried to ensure that this house never runs out of water, and have communicated how water is to be used, the quality of my life is being compromised because I am living out the consequences of someone else’s decision. Thankfully, unbeknown to him, I have another private storage facility designed for moments like this, which he cannot access. I thank God he does not know about it because it too, would probably have been exhausted and I would be forced to use water from the unknown well for everything else. Currently, he brings me water every morning, but since it is not from a trusted source, the best I can do is use it for flushing the toilet, while praying that the man to whom i attribute our current water woes will not contract typhoid. However, i have had to temporarily halt certain luxuries until a steady supply of water comes. At the moment, i cannot wear my contact lenses, i have to shower rather than bath, dishes have to queue up in a pile and be washed once a day, toilet usage has been limited to twice a day, laundry cannot be done and mopping has to be with the minimum possible amount of water –  among other changes that compromise the quality of my life.

At least this is a minor and temporary issue. However, many people find themselves in similar positions of living out the consequences of other people’s decisions. For example, the child whose parents make foolish decisions that later shape his/her life, or the faithful spouse who contracts HIV or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from an unfaithful partner who keeps taking risks by having unprotected sex with people outside that union. Some of these are sadly, long term and can affect the direction of one’s life.

Some years ago, when I was doing A level, one of my classmates’ mother opted to buy herself a new dress with money that had been set aside for her daughter’s examination fees a day before the fee deadline. Needless to say the girl did not write examinations and that affected the career she was forced to take up, the pool of men she became exposed to, the type of person she married and the lifestyle she is currently living. Some may say she could have gone back to school after she started working. That’s true, but could she afford it now that she had a family in her new found society where education and a career were not as great a priority as marriage?

I also know of a lady who walked out of a 10 year marriage to start her life from scratch because her husband kept making foolish decisions that were negatively affecting her and their son. The man was in the habit of unilaterally selling off family assets and spending the money alone. When she finally decided to walk out, the husband had decided to sell the family home and she only found out through phone calls when prospective buyers started calling in response to the advert he had placed in the newspaper. Efforts to discuss the matter and reverse his decision were futile, he did not respect her opinion, despite her contribution towards purchasing those assets. She finally figured that if she hung around, they would soon be very poor and she and her son would never enjoy the standard of living she was working hard to attain as long as her husband continued to make unwise choices so she left him and before two years were over, she was happy and prosperous while the husband, now reduced to poverty, was trying to negotiate with her to return.

Also, in 2002, the Women and AIDS Support Network (WASN) conducted the “Voices and Choices”  research, which looked into the sexual and reproductive health and rights of HIV positive women. What struck me among the report’s findings was the percentage of married women who were infected by  the only sexual  partners they had known and within the marital union, contrary to the common belief that the virus affects mostly commercial sex workers who are considered a “high risk” group. More than 70 percent of women interviewed were virgins when they got married and were infected by their husbands. This influenced WASN’s decision to focus its programmes on married women and women in stable relationships, who were at higher risk than commercial sex workers.  The sad reality is that such a large number of women became unwitting victims of the consequences of other people’s choices, that is, their husbands. Although the research is more than a decade old, this reality still applies to some women, particularly those who are economically dependent on their spouses and have very little say.

These examples and my current situation illustrate how one person’s decision can negatively affect other people. The people whose decisions affect us seem to have difficulty learning from life’s experiences, yet we cannot wish such people off the planet. So perhaps, the best to do under such circumstances is first to empower oneself. This may be difficult for the child whose parents make unwise decisions. However, for adults, don’t place yourself in a position of vulnerability where someone’s decisions affect you negatively. If you are economically dependent on that person, find something to do so you can earn your own money and have a say.

Secondly,  where  possible, always have a contingency plan. Indeed not everyone is a good planner and unfortunately sometimes we are affected by other people’s failure to plan. However, when we know the people we are working with, it is possible to predict the consequences of their inability to plan and therefore incumbent upon us to come up with a contingency plan so that we do not become victims when the inevitable happens.

Lastly, I hope in the choices we make, we take time to think about how our decisions have a downstream effect on other people, be it family, friends, colleagues, business associates or strangers. If we try to think of others, perhaps, in a small way, we will make wiser decisions and the world will be a better place.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL: Society’s complicity in breeding narcissism

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

Most of us probably remember this question by the vain queen in the fairy tale: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” written by the

With fairy tales like this spreading the latent message that this kind of beauty will attract a prince, no wonder girls are allowing themselves to be cut so they can get the desired features!

Grimms brothers.

As innocent children this was just another story about good triumphing over evil and we paid more attention to the moral values it promoted while missing out on the fundamental issues raised beyond its entertainment value. What we probably did not realise, was the underlying personality disorder of narcissism suffered by the queen. Sadly, this trait besaddles a large section of our society today.

Narcissism is the personality trait of egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. The name “narcissism” was coined by Freud after Narcissus who in a Greek myth was a pathologically self-absorbed young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool [1]. While in adults a healthy dose of narcissism allows the individual’s perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others,  in psychology and psychiatry, excessive narcissism is recognized as a severe personality dysfunction or personality disorder, most characteristically Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) [2].

According to the fairy tale, Snow White’s step mother, the queen, asked her mirror daily: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the loveliest lady in the land?” The reply was always; “You are, your Majesty.” This daily ritual took a new twist one day when the mirror replied: “Snow White is the loveliest in the land.” Infuriated and filled with jealousy, the stepmother plotted to get rid of her rival. The queen was willing to kill in order to remain the most beautiful woman in the land and went to the extent of giving the little girl a poisoned apple just so she could eliminate competition[3].  

The fairy tale places emphasis on outward beauty, a theme that is carried through most fairy tales and creates an obsession with good looks at an early age. From childhood, our minds are trained to value beauty above other qualities and this is more pronounced in girls than boys. Sadly, it also colours the way men view women. Such perceptions can either make or break the individual’s confidence. Although some people rise beyond these tags of being beautiful or ugly, and earn respect for their achievements, looks remain the primary defining factor for most who achieve very little in life.

Search for a picture of a beautiful woman and this is what comes up - society's current definition of beauty which most are striving to attain at all costs!

In our current context, the death that Snow White’s step mother tried to execute on her unwitting young rival may not be literal, but people are willing to go to great lengths to eliminate competition and be branded the most beautiful. Beauty, of course, in this case has a very narrow definition, usually limited to specific Caucasian features as we have been socialised to believe that these are more acceptable than others. This view starts when we are exposed to fairytales like “Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping beauty,[4]” among others, and is perpetuated through images that are reinforced in the media. A tall slim body, a narrow petit nose, fair skin, a prominent forehead, perfect teeth, high cheek bones and silky long hair are among some of the features that supposedly epitomise beauty. Not surprisingly, those of us who were born without any of these features either have to go through great pain to attain them, or stubbornly cling to the self-belief and conviction that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” against the tide of a world that believes otherwise.

So strong is the pressure to conform to the prevailing standard of beauty, that people go to all kinds of extremes to fit the bill. During my growing years, cheeks with dimples were part of the beauty package. I remember a friend of mine sitting for hours on end, with elbows on knees, chin in palms and index fingers thrust deeply into her cheeks in order to bore holes and acquire the much desired dimples. This continued for some years until attending biology class convinced her that if she was not born with it, she was not likely to acquire it. Needless to say her cheeks are still as chubby and dimple-free as ever, if not chubbier thanks to weight added by maturity and child bearing.

However, technology has overtaken the era of learning to like what you were born with, and now, if you have the money, you can buy the features you like. Hollyhood is the chief culprit, constantly bombarding us with images of perfect people and telling us it’s not alright to be ordinary. However, rather than rebel against this misguided message, most of us willingly comply with this artificial pop culture and the erroneous gospel that “if you don’t like it, change it.” Television programmes like Dr. 90210, Extreme Makeover, and Bridal Plasty among many others tell the gullible public how you can change your face, reshape your booty and even transform the parts that the public will never get to see! Like sheep to the slaughter, we foolishly allow ourselves to be misled, much to the detriment of our society.

Cosmetic surgery has become cheap and made good looks accessible to all.  

  • Got mustard seeds for boobs? You can get breast implants and wake up with melons after just a few hours under the knife.
  • Do you lack the discipline to exercise? Why not get some form of “suction” and re-emerge looking like Barbie?

    Michael Jackson, looking like Snow White, after a series of plastic surgeries.
  • Unhappy with your face? Well, that’s the easiest, Michael Jackson, king of pop and chief hater of natural self demonstrated how that can be transformed. You can also regain your youthful looks through the same procedure, although sadly it will not arrest the aging process.
  • Despise your height? How about bone extension surgery then you’ll be taller, even though you might not grow to be a six foot model.
  • Hate the colour of your eyes? That’s easy, just buy tinted contact lenses and become blue eyed.
  • Resent your complexion? How about de-pigmentation?
  • Don’t like your coarse hair? Simply treat it with chemicals or buy a weave and it need not be artificial, you can get a Brazilian weave that will last longer and is more real.
  • Feeling trapped in the wrong body? You can become a transgender.
  • Hate your privates? There are plenty of solutions to that too!

You can change any part of you, anyhow and anytime, as long as you have the financial means to do so.  Sadly though, there are no guarantees that you’ll fall in love with yourself after the changes and some of the newly acquired features may not be sustainable, e.g the new trim body in the absence of exercise.

What this narcissistic culture neglects to tell, is the truth that if you struggle with self acceptance, that problem will not go away just because you have transformed a body part. People with psychological and social problems need long-term counselling, not surgery.

It has been noted that some of the people who undergo cosmetic surgery have an underlying problem of a low self esteem and are likely to become serial patients or addicts of this type of surgery. Unfortunately, some of them hate the new self after each procedure and wish they could reverse the process, but alas, it will be too late.

If your self-esteem is so low that you view yourself through a filter of self-rejection (“I’m ugly” or “I’m fat”), all the surgery in the world isn’t going to make a difference. If you don’t change the filter through which you look when you see yourself in the mirror, you’ll never be happy[5],” according to Dr. Phil and I couldn’t agree more!

Plastic surgery addiction gone wrong. Sadly, it's irreversible and no amount of it can change a low self-esteem.

Clearly, one of the real issues that need to be addressed is that of self acceptance. Whitney Houston had it right in the 1980s hit song “The Greatest Love,” when she sang “Learning to love yourself is the greatest, love of all.”

I know a lady who underwent de-pigmentation recently and turned up for work a different colour! Her clients could not recognise her and she clearly needed time to adjust to her new self. I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon seeing her, the boss asked why there were unauthorised personnel in the premises. Sadly, up to now, almost a year after the process, she still carries herself as if there is a stranger in her body and everyone around her is still trying to get used to her. Further, she has to keep out of the sun. How sad is that! Also, I cannot guarantee that she is any happier now than she was before.

As society, I think we ought to go back to basics. We are the society that makes the rules and we can change them – although pop culture has the greater say when we allow it. If we all, individually, place less emphasis on people’s outward appearance and choose to focus on their other qualities, then collectively, we can change the world. After all, it’s the invisible and intangible qualities of warmth, love, kindness, patience, friendliness, meekness, sweetness, consideration that make the world go round. These are precious and noticeable regardless of a person’s physical appearance, so why not place more emphasis on them?

We also have to teach ourselves self acceptance, and pass that culture on to the next generation. We need to relearn that it is alright to have a fat nose, chubby cheeks, course hair, short legs and whatever else people are trying to change about themselves.

We need to remind ourselves that as long as you love who you are, the world will follow suit. If you appreciate yourself, so will everyone else. Yes, people may tease you at first, but guess what? They’ll soon get used to your features and life goes on! Come to think of it, people are generally too busy getting on with their lives to care about whether your nose is pinched or your bra size is a 38! Besides, the world’s most good looking and richest people are not necessarily the happiest.

Above all, though, we need to come to terms with the reality that there is more to a person than their outward appearance and that real beauty stems from deep within an individual. Instead of spending huge sums of money transforming the appearance, why not divert those funds towards a worthy cause, spend time in introspection and change the inside because ultimately, that is where real beauty lies. Sipho Gumede’s jazz track “Peacocks today, feather dusters tomorrow,” should remind us that outward beauty fades and in the end, people will remember your intangible qualities that made a difference to their lives!


Of silly dreams, language and meaning….

Sometimes we have such silly dreams we wake up laughing – at least that happens to me!

Words convey meaning and evoke certain images in our minds.

I had one such  silly dream this morning! I dreamt I had moved to a country where the words “yes I would like,” were the same

words used for “I’m horny” in my local language. It was a crazy dream because imagine, throughout the dream people were having conversations and inevitably someone would have to say “yes I would like” so even an offer for a drink would elicit a response that sounded inappropriate in my language. Even a shopping trip became difficult in this dream because expressing what I wanted sounded bizarre!

Anyway, so much for silly dreams but guess what? In this world, it is very possible that seemingly innocent sounding words in one language could mean something crude and unspeakable in another. In the interests of cultural diversity we have no choice but to learn to be sensitive  to such differences. And to prove this, here are a few examples that illustrate what I mean.

I’m currently based in Nairobi, Kenya, and much as there are similarities in Swahili, spoken here and the Shona language back home – sometimes the same words mean something totally different. In Swahili, “mapenzi” is love and a girl’s name which means “beloved,” while in Shona, the same word is the plural for lunatics, the singular being “benzi.”

A family friend caused a stir when she called her child “Ngozi.” In the Nigerian Igbo language the word, also a popular name, means blessing while in Shona and Ndebele back home, it means danger. In fact, in Shona it has a worse meaning because “ngozi” also means a curse that haunts a lineage when a family member commits murder and does not compensate the aggrieved family.  

Not so long ago, I worked with a Zambian colleague whose daughter was called Chende, which I’m told is quite a lovely common name for girls in that country. Well, my colleague’s daughter had a hard time introducing herself at school. Naturally it became difficult for people to keep a straight face whenever she was introduced. Thankfully she also had an English name that she was forced to use throughout her schooling years in Zimbabwe because Chende, in Shona means testicles. Being a primary school child, one can imagine how traumatic the experience must have been!

The name Tunde, originally a name for a native of Nigeria which also means “returns,” conveys images of the natural act of urination because in Shona, tunda is to urinate. There’s also a safari company in Kenya called “Tunda Safaris and Tours.”

Remember Princess Diana’s flame Dodi Al Fayed? Well, in Shona, his name means human waste, so not surprisingly, the name caused quite some excitement in my part of the world.

Marketers can also testify to the fact that products have failed because of brand names that sounded great in one language and awful in another. In 1988, the General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a new telecommunications giant. A brand name was desired that evoked technology and innovation. The winning proposal was GPT for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications. A not very innovative name and not suggestive of technology and a total disaster for European branding. GPT is pronounced in French as “J’ai pété” or “I’ve farted”[1].   

We’ve also heard of taglines that were creative in one language and a total disaster in another. For example, Pepsi’s “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated into “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave,” in Chinese. Another amusing one is General Motors’ Chevy Nova, which failed in Latin America because “Nova” means “It doesn’t go” in Spanish. Ford failed in Brazil when they introduced Pinto to the market. In Brazilian Portuguese slang “pinto” is “small penis”[2].

And for the regular traveller, the classic is the Austrian town of F***ing! Yes, there really is a place in Austria called F***ing. In fact they liked the name so much, it seems that they also have several F***ng roads[3]. I can imagine how people from that place introduce themselves. “Hi, I’m so and so from F***ing.”


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