"The heights by Great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept were toiling upward in the night." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow-February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882)
I wanted to share this quote with all my friends and colleagues who may feel that their efforts in life’s transitions or waiting seasons are dormant, passive and lead to no where. That feeling might cause folks to throw in the towel and set their lives on free fall. Just don’t do that. Allow me to sound biblical here for a moment: I implore you brethren, never give up and never lose hope. Maintain your faith in what is possible and keep up the good work which literally means that keep grinding. The good book I allude to and from which I receive my inspiration reminds us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” Hebrews 11:1.
I use Longfellow’s quotation with the knowledge that it has some limitations. It speaks of only great men. Obviously the season in which he lived did not recognize women’s efforts. Of course I am now the father of a pretty daughter who I believe is bound to do amazing things. Over the course of my life, I have also met and seen some incredible women with powerful accomplishments. I therefore quote Longfellow in the context of the 21st century where not only men have done exploits but great women as well. To some, the phrase “…while their companions slept…” may connote of wives sleeping while the men did all the work throughout the night until the wee hours of the morning. I adopt the larger context of anyone from peers, classmates, colleagues, friends, family members and enemies.
Also, watch out for bystanders who talk too much about your failures and struggles without understanding or appreciating your journey. Unfortunately, quite a few of those individuals do not advance in constructive ways-neither do some of them use their elevated platforms to contribute to the greater good in society. As you do your grind, never mind about such fellows. Stay in your lane and diligently craft the pages of your life-one milestone at a time. Allow me to share part of my life’s journey to explore with you about what ought to happen during this so called waiting game, grinding season or dormant time:
17 years ago, I got the rare opportunity to manage the post traumatic stress disorders among children survivors of the Rwandan Genocide of the early 90s. This group, together with some formerly destitute and street children from Ugandan and Kenya-comprised the Grammy Award nominated African Children’s Choir #16. I was privileged to lead this choir on a world tour. The choir presented a professional musical program which displayed their dancing, singing and story telling skills. The objective of this program, was to raise awareness about the plight of African Children in developing countries during the era of reckless civil wars, brutal dictatorships, bad governance, abject poverty, poor health care and fatherless homes.
The Choir toured over 35 States in America and Europe-in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland. While on tour, my other crucial roles included being the children’s Pastor, Choir director and tour chaperone. The pivotal role was being their spokesman on every stage they performed across America and Europe. I loved being their spokesman! Whenever I spoke on behalf of the children hundreds of times, I was always beside myself. I knew that with my words, a child was bound to be impacted in more positive ways than one. Indeed they were. But something else was going on. I did my best hoping and trusting that one day, some one who would impact my life would recognize me as well. I was deliberate while advocating for the children.
Folks, this too was my transition. I was a 28 year old young adult waiting patiently for something transformational to happen in my life. First, I had dreams of traveling the world. But second, I aspired to receive a classical education. For many of my peers from families that had both parents, this was a normal experience. I say this because the regime of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was responsible for the brutal deaths of many fathers. My Dad was among those fallen men. I therefore grew up experiencing struggles similar to those of the children I was now leading on the world tour. By the time I was called to direct the choir, I was only a high school graduate with no prospects. I could not continue on to college or university due to money and other constraints. I needed a champion in my life. But I had to first toil and in certain cases prove myself. This is the waiting game. It is also called the grinding season and to some, it is dormant time. What one chooses to do during this period is bound to set their life's trajectory.
If you would ask me whether I was being paid for the time and efforts I put in during the two year world tour, my answer would initially be “no.” Yet, I am confident I would surprise you about the priceless rewards which came out of this volunteer work. But first, let me finish: While on tour through this well organized advocacy platform, I raised tens of thousands of dollars on behalf of the African Children’s Choir. These funds took care of their education, feeding, clothing and medicals. They were also part of the larger fund which helped all the other kids who could not come on tour. So the children were ambassadors not only of their countries but particularly on behalf of their fellow children who did not tour.
The world tour was far from being passive for me because I got tell you, it was more than what I bargained for. Through this volunteer opportunity, I got to fulfill part of my childhood dream: To tour the world. I also achieved my long awaited aspiration of a classical education. First, part of the children’s healing regimen included having fun at amazing destinations like the Grand Canyon, San Diego Zoo, Fish aquariums, Niagara Falls, Disneyland, Hollywood, various palaces and castles, etc. While in Europe, I was introduced to the “rich or royal folks’ food,” proudly called caviar. Is it my cup of tea? not really but the idea that I happened to rub shoulders with the socialites of this world was enriching to my life’s journey. I mean, these children performed professionally before thousands of people. They toured the world as special delegates. Of course they conducted their advocacy business with pleasure and I was just privileged to be part of it.
Second, while touring the U.S., a kind man and his beautiful wife who would prefer to remain anonymous offered to sponsor my undergraduate and graduate studies. Not only did this family provide my college tuition, but they used to send me a monthly stipend like I was on a paid scholarship. Imagine that. You see, for some people in this world, those two fulfilled dreams of mine are normal right of passage. Yet still to others, they are chores they usually want to do away with quickly and haphazardly, then go on to do other things. But to me and to the kids I led on tour, it was the difference between growing up with no father figures or any surrogates to guide and provide for us and the rewarding idea of genuine sponsorship. Indeed as I advocated for these amazing children, I saw my own reflection through them.
What do I want to say to all my friends and colleagues? To echo Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words, the above simple or not so simple but fulfilled dreams of mine are some of my heights that I have reached and kept. They have now created a platform for me to be and do what I do today as Founder and Senior Organizer of my company, NileBridge International. I also would like to add that for an orphan child like I once was, those accomplishments never happened by chance. It was not a happenstance or some feat attained by sudden flight. What was I doing while in my waiting and transition season?
I applied myself diligently. This was way before the executive directors of the Children’s Choir had singled me out from a musical youth group I belonged to, and asked me to lead the children. My youth days highlight my early gifts of music; writing, composing and singing. I was also a guitar wizard. Those who were inspired by my sounds used to brand me as the George Benson of Uganda. So you know, I used to feel great about that kind of profiling folks. And so I practiced and performed even harder.
Together with my other youth peers with whom we had formed a musical band, I appeared in hundreds of performances nationally and regionally. I also featured on TV programs, national newspapers and excelled on other volunteer platforms. I was already volunteering as the MC of the African Children’s Choir way before I was appointed to lead them on a world tour. Let me challenge you with a question-and it is not only paused for the amateurs but also for those who have been involved in executive settings and are currently in transition to their next big assignment:
Are you willing to be available and ready to volunteer or display your talents and skills for the benefit of others-even when you are not going to be paid or recognized? This is your grinding time, dormant time and waiting game. Use it wisely.
I remember the very first time I was going to board my flight to the U.S. It was also going to be my first time to fly anywhere. My siblings were so happy for me and they had accompanied me to the airport. It was there when Sophie one of my sisters said,
“Hah, but Solomon bro, you played that guitar loud every night non stop and sometimes we never enjoyed our deep sleep because of your playing, almost until the morning man.”
Guilty as charged, I smiled, my eyes wide.
"Why wouldn’t you guys ask me to play softly?" I asked.
“ Shh, we feared you big bro," she answered.
"Who could dare tell you to lower down your sound when you called all the shots? you were and still are our elder brother, remember?" She looked down as she chuckled.
At this time, we were getting ready to say our goodbyes, tears in our eyes. A little nostalgia, I guess for the family battles so far fought.
"You know," Sophie said as she hugged me. "There was such an intensity in what you were doing and now for sure we can witness the results. Given our humble background, what you got out of your sleepless nights is even louder and clearer to all of us your siblings.”
I will never forget my sister’s words which resonate well with Longfellow's quotation. Now in retrospect, I can surely say with confidence that it was during those delicate moments of transition and sleepless nights. It was during that waiting game, and grinding season that I crafted a specific skill. Sometimes with no food or bread. Oftentimes with no sugar or milk-to add to my African tea so I could warm and quieten down my tummy’s hungry moans. It was during those seemingly dormant times that I really applied myself. This was the “substance” and “evidence” of my faith in the possible. It was the belief that one day, someone significant would recognize my talent and the rest would be history. Of course forward my journey to today, there are so many more sleepless nights folks…
I hope that many of you are encouraged by this part of my life’s journey. I trust that during those transitions and passive times of your waiting, you can always ask yourself:
“What do I have that I can work hard and improve my skills on while the entire universe is either sleeping or watching and judging my failure or progress?”
Are you in any kind of transition? Do you feel like time is passing you by as you wait for your break in life? Maybe you have heard from various naysayers and those bystanders say, "But you are too old... Your age can no longer cut it...You are too young...You must first lose that weight. Hey, move along, your ideas do not work here..., etc." Keep grinding and never give up! Never be limited by the color of your skin, your accent or geographical background.
Hone in on that specific skill you are already good at. Learn a new one. Volunteer. Give of your time and skills freely. If you are a young man or woman, remember that there are almost no short cuts in life. If they exist, they are limited to a specific few. Sad thing is, most of them are very dangerous. Apply yourself to what is true and solid. Excel in school and in whatever internships you land. Watch and see those bigger doors open up for you. They will open up. But when they do, will you be ready?
Now as I go back to my grind, let me reiterate what we have perhaps heard a few times: "Never despise the days of humble beginnings." You must never let others devalue your struggle. Such fellows simply have no clue about the beginnings or rewarding raptures of your journey. How you chose to write your own life's pages will determine how others read and interpret them. So now you can remember this paraphrased quote:
“The heights by Great men or women reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while others slept or despised-were toiling upward in the night.”
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