Thoughts on Turning 21

Everything was set up so nicely, I almost feel ashamed for what I did. I turned 21 on a certain Friday some weeks ago. I had money in my pocket, I’d just finished my end of year exams, and I was in the big, bad city that is Nairobi. You’d think that I’d paint the town red and do all sort of things that cannot be printed online for the sake of decency.

Instead, I bought four seasons of one of my favorite childhood series, 24. Season 6-9 (9 is 24, live another day). I spent the better part of that golden weekend binge watching Jack Bauer, appreciating the ‘fact’ that he was the only one man enough to do what was required in order to save his country from terrorists hell-bent on destroying it.  My adrenaline levels were through the roof that weekend, and I did it all at home (I’m badass like that!).


21 is regarded as a major milestone in a person’s life, and I totally agree. However, in my country, the legal drinking age is 18, hence if it was the ability to down crates of beer, whisky, etc in public that I had been waiting for, that ship had sailed a long time ago. Not that I have any liking for the fiery drinks anyway. I’m weird like that.

The day felt like an official rubber stamp. I did not feel any different from the day before. I surmised I’d turned 21 a long time ago. But I did spend a ‘few’ minutes to assess myself, to see where I’d come from, where I was, and where I was headed to. Maybe I should share these thoughts with other people, so that they can benefit in a small way as they navigate their own lives. Or maybe what I’m going to say will not be meaningful in any way to anyone but me.

It seems like three decades have passed from the day I turned 18. When I look back at the person I was then, and compare that image with the person I can see in the mirror, I sense that a big change has already taken place. For starters, I can state with a certain confidence that I am more socially adept than I was three years ago. I’m not at the pinnacle of social grace and etiquette yet, but I’m getting there. Slowly.

I’ve also learnt how to slow down a little bit. When I was 18, I wanted everything to happen fast. I was very intense. Whether it was relationships or studies or anything else, it did not matter to me. I was a sucker for instant gratification. Strangely enough, this was not properly mirrored on the chessboard, where I thrive like a fish in water. I was risk averse, to say the least. I’m glad to say that too has changed, somewhat.

My play on the board was akin to the deadly, yet slow attack that a python launches on its prey. I used to stay for hours on the board, accumulating advantage after advantage, suffocating my opponents, assuming they did not get bored to death with my risk free method of play. I was too scared to take chances, to risk material. I know now that this was pride working in me. I could not (then) suffer to lose. It felt humiliating. I hated failure. I even used to cry sometimes.

But now that I have been humbled a little bit by the vagaries of life, I have come to accept the role that failure has to play on character development. I’m not saying I love failing. If I could be perpetually successful till my last breath on this earth, I wouldn’t care much for failure and the lessons that it has to share. Sadly (maybe happily?), we all have to fail at some point. Sometimes more than three times in a row. We just have to master the art of getting back on the saddle. Eventually (I believe), our stubbornness will pay off.

I have accepted the fact that change is a process and not an overnight event. While I’m still very intense (especially with things that I’m passionate about), I do not expect everything to go my way. I have been taught patience by the world (read rejection!).

I have also began to take more chances. I only take risks in which I can live with the worst case scenario. I’m now very comfortable with losing on the chessboard, so that means that my play has become quicker, more aggressive, and more dangerous. It has become livelier than I’d ever imagined it to be. I have lost many times, but every time I win after conducting a daring raid on the enemy camp, I have left the battlefield feeling immensely proud of myself.

At 18, I was basically clueless about girls. Now I can sit back and say that I know one or two things about them. I used to go all out, conducting a direct, frontal assault to avoid getting stuck in the wasteland that is the Friendzone. It was horrible. I got banished to the acquaintances’ waiting area instead! I feel so ashamed for extending myself to some people like that.

One mistake still haunts me up to this day, and it’s probably due to the fact that the girl in question is just so amazing! I wonder how in the world I could ever go back to the beginning and play it cool. Clearly it seems that I cannot live with the worst case scenario in this case. But I took the plunge a long time ago, and unlike God, I do not have the power to turn back time. I know what has to be done. I have to keep it moving. But this is a loss that seems to be too painful to bear, even though it’s really nothing.Maybe I’ve already met the ‘one that got away’. And maybe I’ll meet many more with time. Or maybe I’ll get famous for being the man who can’t be moved, Who knows?

I have also come to learn that I like operating in the grey area that exists between being ‘too good’ and ‘not too bad’. I like having fun and I wouldn’t mind some excitement here and there, as long as I can live with the worst case scenario of each action (limited tolerance here!)

At 18, I had no clear, iron clad idea of what I was doing with myself. Now I have a vision for the next 20-30 years of my life. Before you start with the cynical criticism, I know full well that ‘A man may determine the course of his life in his heart, but the Lord determines his steps’. I am also aware of the way we young people have ambitious dreams and visions that get scorched by the sun of adulthood.

However, it simply makes no sense to me to let the winds of life sway me in whatever direction that they wish. I have come to loathe being treated like a doormat. I will not sugar coat it and say that I’m experiencing life and ‘finding myself’. Stubborn people get what they want (most of the time). I will not be led like a sheep to the slaughter-house. I have a general direction of where I want to be. I can see it in the morning in my head. The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes. I can even see some of the small steps and achievements that I will have to accomplish. It’s a delicious challenge, one that I’m quite ready to focus on and give it my all.

The one thing I’m not sure of is whether I can live with the worst case scenario in this case. Our lives are like a small ball of snow on top of a hill. Once the ball starts moving downwards, there is no reset button. You are the only person who will determine how big that snowball will get.

Finally, I can see, now more than ever before, that this life is not a rehearsal. We’re not practicing for the main event. WE ARE ALREADY THERE! WE’RE ON AIR! We’d better start acting like it (and not like we’re backstage waiting for the curtain to be raised)!