Extraordinary

Two world famous, greatly accomplished and very inspiring people have died in the past week – Wangari Maathai and Steve Jobs. I can’t seem to get enough of all that has been written, sang or said about them. I have watched/read the links i share below countless times. Everything about them fascinates me. Their families, upbringing, education, life choices and I can’t help feeling like they were born for this; born to be more than just ordinary. I admire, perhaps even envy them greatly. For their larger-than-life accomplishments, for following their hearts’ passions, for making tasty lemonade from lemons thrown at them, for living out their lives so very well. They have each died empty; used up all their potential; given the best of their gifts for the good of the universe. How extraordinary!

Soon after I started this blog, I made a friend who is absolutely convinced of my extraordinary nature. Every day they identify one more thought, perspective, or attitude that they see as extra-ordinary. I laugh about it, it’s cute (read: imaginative) but presently without factual backing. Then i offer to pay for their griot services, :-).

(Griots are a west-African phenomenon. Historically they were skilled musicians and poets that told the stories of the greats; they existed purely to sing the praises of extraordinary people around them. Today their songs basically target politicians and other wealthy people in the hope of getting kick-backs. Still, majority of Senegal’s musicians are from griot families.)

Who in this world wants to be ordinary? We are born wanting to be extra special. We grow up hoping that we have some valuable talent or soon to be discovered genius. We celebrate the child that can run faster, sing sweeter and do better at math than their compatriots. Though never giving up the approval-seeking behavior, those who rarely end up top begin to accept their ordinary nature. Reading Wangari’s and Steve’s stories is reigniting a spark, reminding me that ordinary can turn into extraordinary. Maybe I just need to find what I love and run with it.

When I was little, my extraordinary thing was reading; I read my first four-hundred page autobiography at the age of seven. It was no wonder that I wanted to be Christiane Amanpour; I was curious and talkative and everyone agreed that I’d make a great journalist. Then I went to journalism school, tried it for a while and instantly knew it was not for me. It’s hard to explain how. The French say, tastes and colors cannot be disputed, some things just are. I was not meant for news journalism, that I know for sure.

Recently I remembered my Christiane Amanpour dream, or more precisely what I loved about her. It was the way she interviewed people, the way she asked questions and got answers that even the interviewees never knew they had. She helped them tell their stories; she created a narrative, a context that made each one of them stand-out from the ordinary. That’s what I really loved, still love about her.

I have always loved storytelling. My parents often had friends, neighbors or young people they were mentoring come over late in the evening, when the kids had gone to bed. I loved hearing their stories. So I pretended to fall asleep then later got up and stealthily climbed down the stairs to eavesdrop. (I wonder if they knew this, I guess they do now 🙂 ).

I love a good story, be it book, audio or film. I love listening to the tone, the choice of words, the emotion and the hard-to-believe twists… especially directly from the horse’s mouth. Autobiographies are my absolute favorite write-ups; in fact, I dream of someday writing my parents’ memoirs, perhaps even a family chronology.

I want to write stories that inspire; stories that redefine the world for a future 16-year-old version of me, just like the late Margaret Ogola did. I want to tell stories that give hope, that remind us that we are human and that God loves us anyway. Stories that make sense out of confusion, that remind us we are not alone. I want to put out words; my words, others’ words, words that will live on long after I find my way to the grave. I want to tell a story that leaves the world immeasurably better because I did.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish – Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs’s highlights are well-known: adopted, dropped out of college and, at 21, started a computer company in his parents’ garage; a multimillionaire by 25; on the cover of Time magazine at 26; and thrown out of the company at age 30, in 1985. Today he died internationally recognized as one of the greatest and most visionary CEOs that ever lived.

Here is a link to some of Steve’s jobs greatest quotes, and below the 2005 Stanford graduation speech that inspired the world.

Be a Humming Bird – Wangari Maathai
I admire her guts…how she organized people and stood up against the government;
I love the way she offers practical solutions to Africa’s problems;
I love the way that she spoke with clarity giving examples out of her daily experiences;
I love her tough as nails yet super positive and always smiling attitude;
I love that she had the courage to be the first in so many instances;
I love that none of that got into her head (a mark of a true leader);
I can go on and on, she accomplished all this and made it look so easy to attain;
But then again most extraordinary people do.

Here are two of my most favorite memories of Madame Wangari; a lengthy exclusive Interview with Wangari Maathai and the other a short video where she paints a beautiful picture-story of what motivated her.

Song of the Week – Mandisa – Born For This (From the Bible Story of Esther)

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10 thoughts on “Extraordinary

  1. That is a very good piece of writing and eulogy. You have what it takes to write the story and you are actually doing it. Like prophet Ezekiel open your mouth (pen) and it is the Lord who will fill you with the words. Ezekiel 3:27 But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse. . . NIV
    Through a discussion on politics and leaders in key cutting shop the conversation moved to Wangari and how she had saved the country by her courage. Somehow one of the men said that Wangari was a man, and we all naturally agreed. As I thought about the talk, it dawned to me how thoughts and words are intertwined. The word for courage in Kikuyu is Urume and Njamba which means manhood or Cork. There is no Kikuyu description for a courageous woman. To say a woman is courageous is negative because she is like a man. However, it was acceptable to the men in the talk to have Wangari framed as a man. I therefore that somehow cut across a strong cultural barrier.

    • I had never thought about that “for Wangari to be great, she had to be described and framed as a man”. Very interesting take on Kikuyu association of strength and courage as masculine traits. .Taking count of the cultural and gender barriers that Wangari Maatha overcame makes her accomplishments seem even more astounding.

      Wow. Let’s be extraordinary.

  2. They both made made profound contributions to our world. As you say they ‘died empty’ having empty their vast fountains into bettering humanity. And as you imply, perhaps a call for a deep look inside and that which you (and I) must do.

    Wonderful piece-seems you have already began to investigate what you’re about, no?

    • Lol. You have great griot genes. You too are extraordinary, a well-bred horse that knows for sure that it ain’t a donkey. We need to see more of your extraordinary writing “summing-up” your world:-).

      PS – Si you find me at our usual joint…its been a minute.

  3. For one, It’s a blog i can relate to! There’s less mental stretching for me…it’s kinda stretching to relate to..I’ve always got the feeling that being light skinned was prettier or approaching 30 without having been chosen! So i can relate to this one.

    Is it just me who sees the paradox…between the line at the top of the page and the general theme of being extra ordinary. I’ finding hard to imagine the extra ordinay person being content with “if can cheer someone with a smile…then my life will not be in vain.” I love the quote and the blog, but i just thought hmmm…i like the paradox.

    Then speaking of greatness, I choose to disagree, I find more and more people are willing to settle for mediocrity. One because really they don’t have a dream for greatness…the stereotypical person who lives for his next pay day and hopes for a promotion and has a good time once in a while, but who when you talk to you him/her really don’t get the feeling that he/sheis pursuing greatness. Just living for the next good job where they can be paid more but work less, or the payday or some other not so great thing i.e., you do not live inspired! Greatness is also challenging to achieve, I find there is little wrestling on the subject. As they say talk is cheap, it is rare to find a person who has actually reflected on greatness…someone not just blinded by the ego of being great but one who has come to terms with the price it will cost him/her, a willingness to pay that price because of a greater purposes! Now when i meet one of those…I see greatness! For me to be inspired by greatness i have to see an all round understanding of it…not just I want to be great! Thirdly i have also found that many start of well but as soon as a major obstacle hits…the dream kinda dies. So my take is that, it’s actually not too many of us,perhaps me included, who want to be great. Many of us are content to live with mediocrity or comfort, secondly many of us scarcely have reflected on what it trully means to be great and the cost it will take a sort of naivet understanding of greatness, lastly many drop their dreams as soon as crisis hit in. . Well this is just from observation and interactions …the word many is based from astatistically incorrect and inadequate sample of my otherwise limited interactions with people who do not in any way form a comprehensive sample of the world at large:)

    I like your examples Christiane Amanpour and Margaret Ogola. I like that they are not normal.I really get that steve jobs is great…my goodness that is a man who has overcome great odds, he has successfully redefined the entertainment world as we know it…do people still buy mp3 players?. Unfortunately i cannot say i have a deep interest in the tech world…maybe hardcore tech, but not entertainement tech world. But it seems to me that this is the industry that is growing by leaps and bounds…a couple of years ago there was no face book and i believe last year Mark was the times person of the year, and the year before it was steve jobs. So it is unfortunate for me that this is not per se the field i am interested in. I also find that however there is too much hype related to the tech world…I guess because it is a the tech world. We are such a entertainment and glitz and glamour focused world. Ttell me ever heard of these names; Mukesh Ambani? Eike Batista?Stefan Persson?Liliane Bettencourt ? …maybe some you have heard of, some you haven’t…that just happens to be 4 random names i have picked from the list of the top 20 richest people in the world! People if you ask me, have resources and influence much more than steve jobs, but who if they died…will appear somewhere on page 6 of the nation…Indian Billionare dies. Please i don’t want to start a fight!! I am not saying steve jobs is not great! No goodness no!No!…I am saying in our desire to seek the extra ordinary we should take a broader view beyond what the media likes selling. There is a lot of news on Aple and facebook…like the time facebook changed its settings there was global outroar…it seems that’s the news we like. But ask yourself what would really happen in facebook went down, or apple? Now ask yourself what would happen if a comapny you probably dont give much throught to say such as Maersk went down…the largest shipping company in the world, a significant portion of world trade is directly dependent on this company, and that’s just business…think of all the food, cars, medicine, oil etc (and the list is surely endless) that are carried on Maersk’s vessels…but do you know the CEO’s name? So back to my point i like your examples, I want to emphasis a point you have brought out very subltly…in our pursuit of greatness…let’s not be blinded by glitz and glamour…look into your heart and be courageous to look for your own heroes after whom you can model yourself after. There are great people out there who controll much more resources than steve jobs ever did, who overcome much greater challenges but because they are not in the glitz and glamour world we don’t know much about them. There are also great people out there who are not rich and famous, who are not CEO’s of big companies. Ever heard of the name Dan Shechtman, that just happens to be the man who a few days was awarded the nobel peace price for chemistry for the discovery of quasicrystals…don’t ask! But prior to this he was a commoner, he was probably a touch less than a commoner, his findings as much i can’t understand them were radical, and they were from years past, they were so radical he got kicked out of some boards…years later the world is accepting that this guy was right! I guess it’s a challenge for me…in my pursuit of greatness to not be blinded by glitz and glamour…to realise that greatness is not necessarily equal to fame. Again i ask what would happen to the world if Pfizer went down…it just happens to be the largest pharmaceutical company in the world?? Do you know the CEO of Maersk? Shell? Toyota? Pfizer? …take a look around you these are the companies that affect your day to day living. Okay i think i’m going round the same point. I like your heroes, I like that they are unique…keep that up.YOU need to define what is great to you.

    I like that you have narrowed down on what it means to be great to you…to tell stories that change the world….and it seems from the blog…your in the right direction. The proof of desire is pursuit…one of my all time greatest sayings. A challenge to those of us who quite don’t know where our sphere of greatness lies? I like the clarity you have on your scope of greatness. Self awareness is key to greatness…knowing what you like, what your pasionate about, what your strenghts are…and the flip side…what you can’t do, what will not make you great…like you realised about Journalism.

    I like what the French say!!

    As for your griot friend…I’ve only read 2 blogs of yours, this is the only one you have dedicated a single paragraph to one person…and the impact they had on you personally. The space you have given him/her is rather substantial… It seems to me, not just he thinks you are extra ordinary… but in some way you do. Or at least at a bare minimum whatever he/she said affected you as much as to give it this amount of space in your blog.

  4. my gosh blog within a blog… great read on wangari. Gachuki, does life have to be this complex? or does that make me mediocre?

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