“Successful People” And Their Vague Success Stories

Photo Credit: www.mywallpaper.top
Photo Credit: www.mywallpaper.top

                   Typical conversation between a Journalist/Interviewer and a Successful Person

Interviewer: Please tell us how you were able to achieve so much success in your career. 

                          OR                

What many would like to know is how you were able to rise to prominence and                                             wealth in spite of your humble background.

Successful person: In 1998, I left my small town to seek greener pastures in Lagos. I had only one       shirt with me, which was what I had on that fateful day. I was poor, but I                                                         struggled and worked hard. I paid my way through school with the little money I                                         was able to make from the odd jobs I was doing until I left school and met Mr                                             John…and the rest as they say is history.

                                     OR

It’s been God all the way, God has been very faithful to me and I give him all the                                       glory.

In the example above, the interviewee never really tells us how they became successful. A perusal of the newspapers, magazines and news sites contain interviews that typically go this way. Again and again, successful people say essentially the same thing when asked how they attained their current status. At best it is repetitive and boring. At worst, it is an insult to our collective psyche. An up-and-coming young person who was hoping to learn a thing or two from the one he has always admired and looked up to ends up confused and disappointed.

Many of us can narrate the story of the richest people in the world today off the top of our head. The Bill Gates, Warren Buffets, Oprah Winfreys and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world have been very open about their journey to prominence. A quick search on Wikipedia reveals comprehensive information about their lives. The entirety of their existence so far…their struggles and triumphs are there for anyone who cares to to learn from. There’s hardly any ambiguity in their narrative. A vast difference from what can be said of our important personalities in this part of the world who often shroud the origin of their fortune in secrecy.

Now, I am aware that a person has the exclusive right to offer or withhold information about any aspect of their lives as they deem fit. But, when you grant an interview, it is assumed that you have an idea of the nature of the questions you are going to be asked. And if the interview is worth your time and the time of others, then you owe it to the reading, listening or watching audience to answer the questions as sincerely as possible. Either that, or you decline to speak on the matter outright. It’s not enough to tell us you worked very hard and God was by your side, hence, the fame and fortune we can all see today.

Tell us how you navigated the murky waters of the business world or how you were able to adhere to a strict timetable for study in order to pass that all important exam. By now every adult knows (or at least should know) that the virtues of hard work, persistence and resilience are important in aiming to be more than average in life. What we want to know when you are asked those questions is the practical ways in which you were able to achieve what you achieved.

I’ll admit that I almost fell into the same trap when I was ruminating on what to say to the small circle of undergraduates I was invited to speak to at the Obafemi Awolowo University earlier in the year. At first, I was just going to take the workshop I had been informed that I would handle and then go on to speak generally about the usual hard work, discipline and perseverance in pursuit of goals – the usual monotonous jargon our motivational speakers bore us with all the time. Then it occurred to me; these were undergraduates of a University, and not just any institution, but the prestigious OAU. Did I for once think that they did not have the importance of possessing those values drummed into their ears every day?

What they required was not needless repetition but practical tips on how I keep the writing fire burning and source for content/get inspiration for my weekly blog. They needed to hear something specific and not just the generic “Work hard and pray.” And so, I had to sit back and think through how I have actually been able to keep at what I do so far, combine it with a day job and then share it with my audience.

Dear successful person/top executive, when you are asked how you were able to attain that enviable height, try not to sound so vague or ramble on and on about how you worked your derriere off to arrive at where you are. We already know that some level of hard work and consistency must have gone into whatever it is we can see now. If someone was magnanimous enough to lend you a few millions along the way, please do not conveniently omit that part of your story. If you were fortunate to secure a scholarship to study abroad along the line, please say so. It wouldn’t make your story less inspiring. On the contrary, what it will do is portray you as a truthful person, while also encouraging anyone who wants to be like you to appreciate the peculiarity of their own journey.

I have always been an advocate of speaking from the heart, especially when it involves something that has the potential to change a person’s life. While everyone has the prerogative to reveal or hold back information about themselves, the truth is that there’s something very fulfilling about telling our stories.

We owe it to humanity to help others on the journey we have taken. You never know how far that little success story of yours would go in inspiring someone to be the best they can be.

10 Replies to ““Successful People” And Their Vague Success Stories”

  1. Some people are selfish and dont want to share their stories because they dont want more people in the small circle of ‘the successful’. The mentality is ” if I tell you how i made it, you will take up my ideas, make it better and out run me”.

  2. “It wouldn’t make your story less inspiring”, I believe it’s making the story less inspiring is what makes our so called successful people leave out vital information about their journey to success, more like trying to be a hero who became a success despite facing what the audience would term insurmountable odds. Nice write up, thanks a lot!

  3. Pls permit to bring some religious perspective. This morning as i was reading my Bible, i came across a passage that tells us to share about the good thing God has done in our lives because such could make people believe in Him too. Then some minutes later i got a call from a friend that i was invited to speak at a seminar on entrepreneurship at a church in Lagos. This was so surprising. I know this happened based on my little journey which has been productive. I had to turn down the invitation for personal reasons which hurts but it pleases me so much that someone wants me to give advise to other young minds. Now to stumble on this article only buttresses the point that we need to inspire others by sharing our sucess stories.

    1. I really like your perspective to this. Honestly, life is all about lending a helping hand to other people in whatever way we can. Thanks a lot.

  4. Nice article. I think our cultural bias towards keeping personal information to ourselves plays a large role in this. The Yoruba have an adage which says “when a person’s yam sprouts, he should cover it up with his hands”. I think that sums up the Nigerian mentality quite succinctly. Not very necessary, but it’s hard to break cultural barriers. Maybe journalists asking more pointed questions can help though.

    1. Asking more direct questions might be one way to get more out of the interviewee, but I suspect some of them will still find a way to be evasive. Thanks for weighing in sis.

  5. Just to add I believe a problem with people not sharing their success story is based on trust. We have serious issue of trusting in this country and it’s one of the problems of operating a business. I know of a company that made peppered plantain chips. It was very popular here in Ibadan but after sometime it wasn’t selling again and why because the workers in the production facility went behind and started producing counterfeit chips. Now tell me the man who was the brain behind the chips would want to share knowledge with someone else. A lady who wanted to go into restaurant business was also skeptical that her employees would steal her recipe. I believe if we increase trust levels in Nigeria, a lot of things will be right.

    1. I think you may be mixing things up a little here. It’s not about sharing one’s trade secret in that sense. For example, no one knows the formula being used to produce Coca Cola till this day because it’s a trade secret. It’s about being forthright about how such a person was able to “make it” despite many challenges, and not telling lies or being clearly evasive.

      1. Sorry if the illustration used wasn’t the right one. What i just meant to say is there are issues of trust in our society and that’s why we are sometimes skeptical about even lending a helping hand because others would use it to do otherwise now let alone talking about how you made it to the top. If trust levels were high in this country, people would be free to open up about many things. That’s my take.

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