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September, the month when life was given and taken

A tribute to my father, who was tragically taken from us just before my fifth birthday… September, the month of my birth, is a time of conflicting emotions for me. Not only was I born in this…

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September, the month when life was given and taken

A tribute to my father, who was tragically taken from us just before my fifth birthday…

September, the month of my birth, is a time of conflicting emotions for me. Not only was I born in this month, but my father and paternal grandmother also died in September. To me, it represents a time of both birth and death, rejoicing and mourning, joy and pain, the giving and taking of life.

How I can transition between these opposing poles will always be a mystery to me, but I must admit that I have always struggled to deal with the emotions that well up inside me at this time of the year, annually.

As my father passed away on the first day of this month, I first have to deal with the emotions of his loss. Tragically snatched from us by death’s cruel talons when I was only four years old, I’ve always felt robbed. I’ve never known how my siblings felt about his departure or coped with it because we don’t talk about it, but I imagine it must be equally painful for them. My elder brother and sister, then aged nine and eight respectively, were probably more conscious of the meaning of death than my younger brother, who was in an incubator after our mother prematurely went into stress-induced labour, and I – then only four years old and unable to comprehend much of the world around me.

Not surprisingly, for a very long time I was filled with unexplained anger. I was angry at death for stealing my dad, angry at the doctors who could have saved his life for being absent at a crucial time when he needed them most, angry at society for discriminating against widows and single mothers – for that is what my mother became after he died. For a myriad of reasons, I was angry.

That anger seethed within me for years, like a river about to burst its banks, waiting for expression but finding none. I suppressed my emotions for years, not knowing how to deal with them. How could I, for I was only a child when he died. I was too young and confused to know what was happening and years later, I felt it was too late to mourn, yet it wasn’t. My emotions finally found expression one day, in my thirties, when I just sat in my room and cried. I cried over his loss – for every year lived without him. I cried for all that could have been but was not because he was gone. I cried for the man he could have been and the man he was but whom I would never know. I probably cried on behalf of my mother and siblings too. Locked up in my little studio apartment, in a foreign country, far from all that’s familiar, I just let go of everything and cried.

On that day, more than thirty years after my father’s death, I finally gave in to the pain and allowed myself to mourn.

There is liberty in mourning. A kind of letting go that releases burdens. That day, I felt a weight had been removed from my shoulders. My anger, pain and whatever other undefined emotions I felt, dissipated and I learnt to cope with the reality of death. Yes we had been robbed, but I did not have to carry it as a weight on my shoulders for the rest of my life. I learnt to celebrate my father. Piece by piece, I put together my memories, photographs and the stories I’d heard of him and wove them into a tapestry of who he was. I developed a new knowledge of him and respect for who he was, and with that came appreciation and the evolution of his legacy. As I went through the process, I learnt to celebrate his life and who he was.

Now I think of him with fond memories. As a family, our lives our littered with reminders of him, some of which are encapsulated in the choices he made that still influence our lives today. I also see him in some pieces of furniture that my mother has held onto, our facial features, some of our habits and preferences, the decisions we make and most of all, in his grand children as his genes perpetuate. I’m amazed at how nature has a way of preserving our best qualities through future generations.

Despite the paradox of September bringing both joy and pain to my family, I no longer associate the month with negative emotions. Yes, I still take note of the first of September and pay tribute to my father, just as I acknowledge the second of September when my grandmother joined him, then on the 12th of the month, I celebrate my birth.

September has therefore become a month of celebration as I celebrate two lives, my father’s and mine.

3 things I can’t stand about African men

Africans are generally warm and respectful people. However, as with all good people and things, Africans – particularly men – have three annoying tendencies. Although I usually ignore t…

Source: 3 things I can’t stand about African men

3 things I can’t stand about African men

black-cartoon-people-three-young-african-men-one-angrily-pointing-one-trendy-city-other-working-30338831Africans are generally warm and respectful people. However, as with all good people and things, Africans – particularly men – have three annoying tendencies. Although I usually ignore those traits, they’ve vexed me long enough to earn a place among my top peeves.  These traits miff women more than men, so I am writing this from a woman’s perspective based on my experience and that of some friends with the African men we have met over the years.

  1. The assumption of some form of kinship

“Sister, auntie, mother, ambuya (Shona for mother-in-law or grandmother depending on the intonation) – these are titles that the average woman is called from the age of 18, often by men in the name of “respect.”

Much as we preach unity and speak of being one big family, there is a tendency by African men to assign titles to women based on assumed age. So, depending on the assumptions, we African women often find ourselves being called sister, auntie,  mom in the name of “respect.” The truth is, this is annoying, particularly when they get the age wrong. For example, it does not make sense for a 30 something year old man to call a 40 year old woman “mummy,” unless he is from a culture that condones child marriage!

Everyone wants to be respected, but not when it comes with the tag of being called mother by grown men!

The problem with such tags, in my view, is that they come with prescribed behaviour. For example, when a person calls you their mother, they expect you to fit into that mould. Essentially, this strips us women of our individuality and attempts to box us into the expected behaviour based on the imposed title and its assumed roles and responsibilities. If the person’s mother is illiterate, then the person being referred to as mom is somehow treated as illiterate. Similarly, if he is close to his mother, he will assume closeness to you even though you are strangers. African women therefore find themselves burdened with the cloak that comes with the kinship, including the mother’s personality and love.

These assumptions of kinship are particularly annoying in the business environment. Such “respect” is therefore contradictory because it disempowers the person who is supposedly being respected.

I recently contracted an African man’s company to do some work at home. The work began while I was out of the country and all was going well. However, after I returned and met the company owner, everything changed. The man, who is roughly my age, decided to call me “mother” and started misbehaving. On some days, he would not turn up for work and on others he would change the rules for his team. Somehow, I was expected to be a good “mother” and tolerate his lack of responsibility. I believe that if I had not turned up and remained faceless he would have done his work diligently and completed his tasks on time.

Elsewhere, I found myself being converted to a “younger sister or daughter” in the business environment. Of course this came with patronage and expectations of subservience on my part. Naturally, this meant the “big brothers and fathers” were stripping me of my authority, expertise and professionalism. We were now family and they expected me to fit into the subservient roles assigned to me and redrawing the boundaries was seen as a diversion from the expected “African” behaviour.

And then there was the gentleman who is about my age but insisted on calling me his aunt because he was facing challenges and wanted to me to pay his rent and living expenses. By playing the nephew he could abdicate both the responsibility and shame of being dependent on a woman he barely knew while benefiting financially. Although I lent him some support, I made it clear that as a grown man he should take responsibility for his life and expressed my reluctance to play his aunt.

Then once, when my sister and I were shopping in Botswana, a man behind us kept shouting “mme” (mother in Setswana) but we continued walking because we assumed he was calling his mother. When he reached us, we realised he had been trying to draw our attention because the shop was about to close and we were the only customers left.

Perhaps the average African man does not realise that it is very awkward and confusing to be switching roles between being mom, sister and aunt to strangers, particularly when the roles are imposed.

My advice to these men is stop looking for your mother or some relative in every woman. Just let us be who we are as individuals. To be very honest, I really prefer to be called by my name and if you don’t know my name, “madam” is more respectful than any of these titles of assumed kinship as it is free of the obligations that come with the associated relationship.

  1. The assumption that one community’s culture is universal

Indeed I am a black African who grew up in Africa. However, I am a black Zimbabwean from a specific community in urban Bulawayo and my experience is different from that of someone who grew up in Jos, Nigeria or Wau, South Sudan or Lusaka, Zambia or Nairobi, Kenya or Cape Town, South Africa or any other place on the continent.

Africa is rich with diverse cultures. Our common cultural practices unite us, but we should not disregard the diversity that adds to the continent’s cultural wealth. However, there is a tendency by African men to want to dictate what is “African” and what is not and usually their definition of “African” is behaviour that is convenient for them at a given time.

My struggle in the business arena has been with African men from cultures that do not condone education and careers for women. I have observed the way some of these men relate with women and found that while they do not have challenges working with women from other races, they struggle to relate with African women as professionals. The African women in the workplace seem to be an embodiment of the women they suppress at home. Such men automatically assume authority regardless of their titles and expect the African woman to be in constant subordination. These men prefer roles where they give instructions to the African woman, and struggle to relate with her as an equal or superior. Consequently, when an African woman asks questions, expresses a contrary view, participates in meetings, gives instructions, is assertive or tries to do her work, she is often dismissed and perceived as un-African. Naturally, the African woman in such circumstances finds herself constantly fighting not to be put in the same box that these men have placed the women in their personal lives.

My advice is let’s celebrate our diversity and acknowledge that Africa is not one big village with a universal culture so, do not impose your culture on everyone. Some African countries have made greater strides than others when it comes to the treatment of women and women from such countries will not cede their freedom to accommodate anyone’s culture or assumptions.

  1. The assumption that we all grew up the same way.

Just as African culture is diverse, African countries are at different levels of development. The truth is we may have grown up in Africa, but we were not brought up in the same way. In any country, there are geographic, cultural and class divisions.

I am often annoyed by social media posts like “you are not African if….”

The truth is even if we are all African, our experiences are different. It is both unfortunate and unfair to elevate one experience over another.

Once while having lunch with colleagues, an African man shared his experience of growing up in rural Zimbabwe, where life was a struggle because the family relied on his mother’s farming for subsistence. He told us that he never had a balanced diet then, and meat was a luxury that was eaten on special occasions when a cow was slaughtered and some of the meat was preserved as biltong for the leaner season. He then asked me to affirm that as the standard way of life for Zimbabweans but I could not because that was not my experience. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge that their experience was not universal, all the African men from similar backgrounds at the table got upset with me. Growing up in Bulawayo with professional parents, my experience was that meat was bought at the butchery or shops and preserved in the refrigerator. These people overlooked the fact that 75 per cent of Zimbabweans live in rural areas and 25 per cent in urban areas and their experiences are different. What is practical in rural areas may not apply in urban areas but that does not make anyone less African than the other.

My advice is come to terms with the reality that all Africans were not brought up in the same home. We have different experiences but that does not make one experience more superior to the other.

Without a place…

They say the world has become a global village. I like to be part of the global arena while remaining anchored in my national identity as a Zimbabwean. Yet I find it easier to locate myself globall…

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Without a place…

They say the world has become a global village. I like to be part of the global arena while remaining anchored in my national identity as a Zimbabwean. Yet I find it easier to locate myself globally than locally.

While it is easy to tell the world I am Zimbabwean, an identity of which I am proud, finding a place here at home remains a struggle. This struggle has probably been with me since childhood, yet, I did not understand it then and suddenly had a rude awakening in my adulthood. I woke up to the reality that a vast majority of people I have encountered believe Zimbabwe is divided into two major tribal groups and I do not quite fit into either of them.

True, the country has two major tribal groups, namely the Shona and the Ndebele. However, I find myself battling against a society that has drawn an invisible straight line that divides Zimbabwe into Mashonaland and Matabeleland regions, with nothing in between. Subsequently, it is assumed one must be either a Shona speaker from Mashonaland or Ndebele speaker from Matabeleland and it should be supposedly easy to tell which group one belongs to. For instance, one’s first name, surname or village of origin should automatically point to one’s tribe. Clearly, this division of the country ignores other tribes, such as the Tonga, Kalanga, Sotho and Venda among others who do not fit into these two groupings. Nonetheless, as these other tribes are “clearly defined” I will focus on my group who seem neither here nor there by the majority’s narrow categories.

These assumptions of a dichotomous country leave little room for Zimbabweans, like myself, who fall outside the confines of the two sub-groups. They create challenges for those of us who originate from places like the Midlands province, which from its name, implies being somewhere in the middle. For instance, where does one place me and my relatives, whose names do not point to specific tribal groupings or, who practice a culture that is not aligned to the names they bear? What about villages that have a name in one language but are populated by a majority of people who speak another language? And, what becomes of urbanites who have a name in one language, practice another culture and speak with a neutral accent or one that reflects the dominant culture in the place where they grew up? People like me, find ourselves constantly being reassigned to either tribe based on ill-informed assumptions. Sadly, we are subjected to the discrimination that tribes like to direct at each other. We find ourselves judged on stereotypes that are not even reflected in our characters. We bear double the brunt for the sins of the ancestors of either tribe and sometimes unjustly face the consequences of actions that were committed before our time. We have to contend with the double-edged sword of being rejected by both tribes because we do not quite fit into the narrow tribal definitions that have been prescribed. I have been treated like a prostitute because some individuals believed that women from the tribe I had been assigned were of loose morals and I have been insulted because it was assumed that I was from a tribe of people who exhibited certain negative traits, even though I identified with none of the groupings or prescribed behaviours. Sadly, these were not isolated incidents but are frequent occurances, which warrant putting pen to paper.

Being a Zimbabwean whose parents came from a province called the Midlands, I grew up with cousins who have names like Netsai Mpofu or Xolani Badza. That the names and surnames were in two different languages was immaterial, what mattered was what the first name expressed to the parents. Similarly, one could find names like Thabiso (Ndebele) and Farai (Shona) among siblings within the same family and the language factor did not quite seem to bother anyone in the same way that one can have an English name and a surname in a local language. We lived and accepted each other, oblivious of “isms” that were supposed to divide us such as tribalism, regionalism or whatever other evil “isms” existed.

We spoke different languages within the home and our parents encouraged it because they did like wise. If new neighbours who spoke a different language moved into the neighbourhood, we quickly learnt their language to facilitate smooth communication. We could transition seamlessly from one local language to another in the same conversation and still understand each other. So it was, that members of the community I grew up in communicated fluently in various languages and settling in different parts of the country became easy for us. Our “tribal identity” only became evident during cultural practices such as funerals, weddings and other events of importance. Only then would we do what was specific to our various tribes, yet that did not stop us from embracing each other and the world with its differences. Displaying our differences was never a licence for discrimination. For my family, such events were conducted according to Karanga culture, a sub-group of the Shona tribe.

Increasingly, however, I find my identity constantly being challenged and threatened simply because it does not quite fit within the confines prescribed by this “dichotomous” notion.

I am saddened that in this century, people still view each other according to tribal stereotypes. As a result, I have become very wary of people who upon meeting me ask the question “kumusha ndekupi? (Shona)” or “ekhaya kungaphi? (Ndebele)” which means “where do you originate from?” In my view, this translates to “are you one of us and should I like or hate you?” I have seen people’s countenance change on hearing where I “originate” from and often, I can predict whether we will be friends or enemies just from the answer to that question. I find people who ask this question tend to treat their tribes like exclusive social clubs and by asking that question, simply wish to determine whether or not I qualify to be a member. What follows is either unconditional love or rejection and the subsequent “isms.”

Having burnt our fingers a number of times, my siblings and I learnt that a safe answer to that question is to say “I’m from the Midlands.” This should somehow communicate neutrality and is an indirect way of saying “I don’t want to be part of a tribal club just please accept me for who I am.” However, some insist on probing further to establish whether it is the predominantly Shona or Ndebele speaking side of the Midlands, which presents a challenge because then I know I must prepare to face some “ism.”

As a Zimbabwean woman, I look forward to the day when we will see ourselves as Zimbabweans regardless of where our forebears chose to settle in the past. I long for a tribeless society where we live and let live. Like Martin Luther King, I too, long for a society where we will be judged by the content of our character and not the sound of our names, accents or villages that our grandparents lived in. I don’t want to pay for the wars of our ancestors and I believe we have to get past that as a nation. I believe real progress will come when we, as Zimbabweans, embrace each other regardless of our differences, whether real or imagined. I await a time when we will perceive each other as individuals who enrich this society with our diversity and have something to contribute towards nation-building.

Until then, I guess I will remain a Zimbabwean without a place in this beloved country of ours.

First published by Matilda Moyo on World Pulse in June 2010

 

5 signs that it’s time to move on

Ever feel stuck and wonder if you should stay put or move on? Here are 5Cs to help you decide. Sometimes we find ourselves in unpleasant spaces. We know we need to move but somehow, seem rooted in …

Source: 5 signs that it’s time to move on

5 signs that it’s time to move on

Ever feel stuck and wonder if you should stay put or move on? Here are 5Cs to help you decide.

life is too shortSometimes we find ourselves in unpleasant spaces. We know we need to move but somehow, seem rooted in that negative place. In our reluctance to rock the boat, we hang in there, hoping that change will come without any action on our part. We somehow don’t seem to realize how the situation could be damaging us, or how much we could be hurting ourselves.

The situation could be a job, relationship, or any other scenario that should normally be beneficial but turns out to be the opposite. As human beings, our ability to adapt to change is often celebrated and has been credited for our survival against extinction and other threats throughout the ages.

However, not everyone is versatile and sometimes we struggle to change. Indeed change can be difficult as it almost always comes at a cost. So, more often than not, we make excuses to avoid moving out of a situation that is detrimental to our life and health simply because we want to avoid the pain of change. Take for instance the battered wife who stays with an abusive husband until he kills her. Alternatively, we turn to negative coping mechanisms and find outlets for our frustration that soothe us without addressing the problem, for example the employee who turns to binge eating because she cannot handle an abusive supervisor.

The truth we all know is that piecemeal solutions will never work. They are merely a temporary salve to a deepening wound which can contaminate other aspects of our lives if left untreated.

The reality of life is that it is littered with challenges – that’s normal. However, putting up with a challenge over the long-term and learning to live with a negative situation is not ideal. The best we can do for ourselves is to face those challenges and deal with them before they overcome us.

Of course we don’t want to over-react to every minor situation by taking drastic measures. So, there question is, how do we differentiate a temporary situation that will self-resolve, from something potentially permanent that requires dramatic action on our part? I believe there are always some tell-tale signs hence it is important to pay attention, take heed and know when to move.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that the signs that it’s time to move on are often pretty obvious, yet we ignore them and wait until the situation becomes untenable, then we make irrational, desperate decisions that can potentially aggravate the situation.

Here are some suggested tell-tale signs that a situation is untenable and one needs to act. Although the list is by no-means exhaustive, I believe that anyone who is experiencing at least three of these in a particular situation should seriously weigh the options and take action.

  1. Plummeting confidence

Anyone whose confidence is constantly battered will eventually lose it. When pressure is repeatedly applied to a particular spot on an object, that point gradually weakens and the object eventually breaks. The same applies to a person’s confidence. If one is in an environment where that confidence is persistently attacked, it will eventually  give in. These attacks could be in the form of words or actions.

A highly accomplished lawyer friend of mine was consistently verbally abused by her ex-husband who cheated on her with adolescents and justified the action by frequently telling her that they were more intelligent than her. Although she brushed off the words and appeared to be coping well in most areas of her life, the verbal abuse eventually took a toll on her work and threatened her career. She became unsure of herself and this was most evident in meetings and situations that required written work as speaking out and writing revealed her mind, which she was no longer sure of. Consequently, any criticism  of her work, no matter how constructive, was perceived as an attack on her intelligence. It was only after she separated from him and surrounded herself with positive people who gave reaffirmed her that she gradually regained her confidence.

My advice is, if you are in a situation where your confidence is consistently being chipped, then you need to act urgently for your own sake.  Address the people or circumstances that are causing your confidence to dip. Assuming you can cope without taking any meaningful steps to address the situation will only serve to prolong your misery. Face the situation squarely and deal with it.

  1. Confinement

Every living thing is expected to grow – this is the normal order in life. In the absence of growth, degeneration and regression set in. If for example, you are stuck in a career that is not going anywhere, then it is time to seriously consider moving on. The danger with staying in a confined place for too long is that you will eventually settle for less than you deserve. In this ever changing world of more frequent new discoveries, knowledge can easily become redundant. If you are in a confined space, chances are you are not learning anything new and you are not growing, while what you know is quickly becoming irrelevant.

Confinement will do you no good. It will only serve to curtail your progress, while you become increasingly frustrated. So, do yourself a favour, get up and move on.

Life is supposed to be progressive and we should keep moving forward in order to reach our next level. Stagnancy under any circumstances can only lead to frustration.

  1. Reduced capacity/capability

I’m sure we have all heard that there are two kinds of resources – the finite and the infinite. Finite resources, which are usually tangible, decrease with use, while the infinite resources, which are often intangible, increase with use. These infinite resources, with reference to an individual, include one’s mind, ideas, relationships and general capacity. If one’s capability is either redundant or under-utilized, erosion and subsequent frustration are inevitable. If your capacity is being reduced, then most likely you are neither reaching your potential nor contributing meaningfully to society so you are better off moving to a place where you can grow and be of greater value to society.

  1. Feelings of being caged
caged
Photo credit: www.christianrivera.net 

Ever seen a caged animal? Being in Africa, I see lots of those, but I also see animals that are roaming free. From my non-animal expert opinion, I get a sense that the animals that roam freely in the wild are much healthier than the ones that are confined.

The same is true of human beings. We thrive when we are given room. Any kind of confinement is to our detriment. If, in your career, you feel like a caged animal, then it’s time to move on.

I once worked in an office where I was excluded and was a virtual stranger throughout my tenure in that office. I was not the only person who felt that way. The office we worked in was very fractured and the leadership applied a policy of divide and rule. Consequently, cliques emerged and because the leadership preferred to work with a chosen few individuals, everyone else was left out in the cold. Colleagues who were in the clique played along as it eliminated competition and allowed them to shine. It was a very sad place to be because I would wake up every morning and go to work to sit and watch everyone else working. My efforts to contribute were quashed and whatever I had to offer was trashed.

Assignments were dished out to everyone around me – along with superfluous compliments. I was caught up in a situation where the office was bustling with activity while I was locked out by an invisible barrier of systematic psychosocial abuse and a curtain of exclusion. In order to be productive, I had to scrounge for work, picking up the tasks that no one else wanted to do. Needless to say I ended up picking up the unpleasant, tedious and menial tasks, which could often be done within minutes, then I’d be bored again, while scrounging for more work.

My efforts to initiate ideas that would have made my work more exciting were crushed as soon as they were uttered.

Like a caged animal, I watched longingly as colleagues got about their work, their negative attitude forming invisible iron bars that kept me out of the collective space. My participation at work was at best vicarious and at worst non-existent. Information related to work was kept a closely guarded secret and my efforts to get involved were like trying  to break into a secret society with a cryptic code of conduct.

Human beings adapt quickly and are easily conditioned so I soon crept into the shadows and learnt to be invisible just to maintain a peaceful co-existence. I also realized that as long as I stayed in the organization, I would not grow. Working there was like wearing the same, tight shoe everyday while trying to walk comfortably and convince the world that all was well regardless of the arrows that were being shot at me.

I love my work and enjoy what I do, so having that taken away from me was devastating. After some introspection and consultation with trusted colleagues, I realized that the problem was not with me, but with a manipulative, handicapped leadership that created and fanned divisions for its own ends.

Unable to cope with the psychological abuse and being mindful of its potential long-term damage, I was forced to make the choice to move on. I had to decide whether to stay on and let my spirit continue to be bruised until it was crushed, or move on to an organization that valued my skills and contribution. I chose the latter and moved on, although it took months for me to get another job.

  1. Incessant criticism

Nobody is perfect, we all err hence criticism is a normal part of human life. Constructive criticism is helpful and can result in improvement. On the other hand, when criticism is incessant and based on prejudice and pre-conceived notions, it loses its objectivity and becomes destructive. If you find yourself in such a situation, self-evaluate and ask objective people around you to help evaluate you. If there is nothing wanting on your part, then perhaps it’s because the people around you are biased.

In the final analysis, you are your best advisor. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what’s best for you, after all, you will live with the consequences of other people’s advice long after they have forgotten what they said. If you feel it’s time to move, then by all means take the leap.

The truth is, people give advice based on their experiences and assumptions. On the other hand, you’re wearing the shoe and you feel the pinch. Don’t let their assumptions overrule your experience.

The danger of staying in the wrong place for too long is that you lose who you are. Don’t let that happen to you. Evaluate your situation, make a decision, then take the leap!

Beyond fooling around, this April…

April FoolsToday is 1 April.

To some it is April Fools’ Day – a day when people play pranks on each other and enjoy a few good laughs.

To others, though, it is an opportunity for sober reflection. It is a sign of the passage of time. It marks the end of the first quarter of the year and entry into the second quarter. It means instead of the 12 months we had to pursue our dreams on 1 January, we now have nine months left.  It is a wake-up call, a reminder that time is moving and, as Freddie Mercury sang, “time waits for nobody.”

Today, have fun while playing pranks on others, but take time to reflect on your goals and achievements.

What goals did you set for yourself this year? What do you hope to achieve? Do you have an action plan? How far have you gone in achieving those goals? Are you on track with your action plan?

If you have made some progress, well done, keep going. You still have another nine months, continue so use them wisely, just don’t relax or lose track.

On the other hand, if you have not made much progress, let today be one of reflection. Revisit your plans. If you are not making progress, look at where you have gone wrong. What is hindering you from fulfilling your dreams?

The range of possibilities is very broad. It could be that the goal was unrealistic in the first place, or the action plan is impractical, or one had not planned properly for the required resources.

Unrealistic goals

goal is a desired result that a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve: a personal or organizational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development. Many people endeavor to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines.

It is always great to dream big. However, implementation is not always as easy. Bear that in mind as you pursue your goals because being overly ambitious can sometimes work against you. Perhaps you set unrealistic goals that cannot be achieved within the allocated time, or perhaps your goals are fine but you need to work on other factors. Relook at your goal and see how you can make it more practical and achievable. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals that you won’t even come close to achieving.

For example, assuming you decided to launch a new business but have not made much progress because you dreamt of having a huge fashion boutique in a prime location yet you  don’t have a client base and can’t find shop space. You may need to make adjust some aspects as you inch towards your ultimate goal. You can still run your business, but perhaps from a different location.

Assess your options and go for what works well for you. It is important to start moving, rather than wait until everything is in place, so start where you are and work with what you have to make your dream a reality.

Impractical action plan

Perhaps your goal is great but your action plan is impractical. An action plan is a detailed plan outlining actions needed to reach your goals.

A lady I know decided to start a business that required use of a truck all day, every day during the harvest season. What I did not know was that the whole plan was based on the use of my truck. When everything was in place she asked for my truck. As I was hiring it out to clients who were already scheduled, I could not release it to her. I asked her how long she intended to use it then calculated the charges accordingly but she was reluctant to pay me. She had planned to use the truck all day, every day for free throughout the duration of the project.  In all this, she had not considered that the truck was in itself a business that was bringing in income. Harvest time was also a peak season for me as farmers required transport to the market. By lending her the truck, I would miss out on income which I could not forego unless she was willing to compensate me at the same rate.  I was not her only inconvenience. Her entire plan rested on the free use of other people’s resources. Naturally, the plan crumbled because no one was willing to lend their assets over a long time while losing much-needed income.

My advice to her was simple. As much as you can, use your own means. Indeed people are willing to invest in projects with potential and help a friend in need. However, this has to be within reason. Very few people will forego their income to support a prolonged experiment with little promise success.

Inadequate resources

Resources, whether financial, material or human, are important in helping us to fulfill our goals. For a myriad of reasons, you may find yourself under resourced. Perhaps the economy is not performing as well as projected and inflation has eroded your financial base, or you overlooked some costs that cannot be covered by your contingency funds, or perhaps a personal crisis has forced you to rearrange your priorities, or one of your partners is not as honest as you assumed. Anything is possible.

I know a man who planned well for his business, prepared in advance, quit his job and started working for his own company. Unfortunately, he entered a partnership with someone who had not planned so well for his life and the consequences were disastrous. Although their business should have been thriving, they had to file for bankruptcy within months. My friend had not realized that his partner was not only heavily indebted, but also had bad spending habits that were of great cost to the business. In no time at all, whatever profits the business should have been enjoying were absorbed by the partner’s debts. The two parted ways and my friend, who had lost everything he invested in the business, had to start from scratch. It took him some years to recover, during which he had to make major adjustments to his lifestyle and rebuild his credibility to regain his clients. He has since recovered and is running a successful business concern, this time on his own.

Whatever financial situation you find yourself in is no excuse to abandon your goals and sit on your laurels. Make adjustments and keep moving.

Not conducting regular reviews

How can you be confident that you are making progress if you do not conduct regular reviews? It is important to frequently look at how far you have come, what is working well, what has gone wrong and how best to address challenges along the way. Some recommend quarterly reviews. The frequency is entirely up to you. If you have not been evaluating yourself regularly, let today be the starting point. The timing is appropriate as it marks the end of the first quarter of this year.

Also, set milestones. This will help you to see whether or not you are making progress. Remember, it takes a number of spoonfuls over time to fill a bowl.

As you inch towards achieving your goals, celebrate the successes and face the challenges head on.

Now, keep moving

Whatever happens, don’t be discouraged. You may have lost three months, but you still have another nine and can make use of them. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve once you set your mind to it.

Focus on your goals, adapt your action plan, build on the lessons learnt and keep moving. In some cases, your action plan may require a minor change like waking up 30 minutes earlier than usual so you can exercise, or adjusting your budget so you can invest in further studies, or dropping sodas from your diet so you can lose some weight. However, in other cases, major changes that affect the lives of other people might be required, such as a family relocation to another country. Whatever the case, remember that the human race has evaded extinction because of our ability to adapt to change. Make the necessary changes knowing that they may cause some discomfort, but will not kill you. Invest in your dreams and if you cannot afford it, there are also plenty of free online resources that can help you to set goals, develop an action plan etc.

This April Fools’ Day, don’t be the fool, make time for honest reflection and chart your course towards making the rest of this year more productive!

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