I was on my way to the Special Students Advisory office, my second visit in two days. The sky was cloudy, some pregnant with rain and others frantically trying to catch up with their counterparts, not wanting to be left behind when the heavens would burst and shower everything below with rain, probably full of the noxious gases that we have continually emitted into the atmosphere. I had my umbrella with me, and a heavy jacket on. I had nothing to worry about on that front. I walked briskly to the bus terminus outside the hospital and identified a bus that was not quite full (meaning I’d get a good seat while not having to spend a lot of time doing nothing). It was at that precise moment that I spotted him.
I do not remember the features of his face, and if you took me to a line up today, less than 24 hours when I laid my eyes on him, I wouldn’t pick him out. He was my age or thereabouts, and he was sitting in a wheelchair, next to the bus, not making eye contact with anyone. But he was there. His presence was communicating something, and I decoded his body language: he wanted to get on the bus. I immediately felt the urge to help him up the stairs, but almost concurrently to the basic human instinct to help came two sobering thoughts: surely there was someone responsible for him? I wasn’t that big or strong to lift him up into the bus on my own. I’d probably end up hurting him and since I’d already established a duty of care by offering to help, I’d be liable to a civil suit if anything went wrong. With these incredulous but realistic thoughts in mind, I walked past him and entered the bus, immediately feeling the guilt and shame of ignoring someone in need washing over me. I didn’t feel better when I encountered his mother (intelligent guess) inside, a frail, old lady with a despondent look on her face. I felt really bad.
Other people came in, many of them oblivious of the young boy patiently waiting outside. Many of these people had their own health problems. Some were patients and others were visitors of relatives, friends and loved ones holed up in the hospital wards. A young man finally did what I was incapable of doing and the young boy managed to get inside. I closed my eyes and prayed in my heart for the two of them, for that is the best I had to offer them at that moment of time. I placed myself in his shoes, and felt the frustration I would likely experience if I were in his predicament (his legs looked like they’d never been used before). I wondered how it must be like to see able bodied people walking and running past you all the time, inadvertently mocking your inability to move as quickly as they could. It was a glass ceiling of sorts, and it was here that I found common ground with the boy in the wheelchair. It was here that my thoughts settled on as a point of departure from the guilt and shame that was slowly subsiding, instead being replaced by a flurry of images and memories, all somehow related to the glass ceiling that has a commanding influence on a large majority of the youth all over the world.
In my quest to find the missing link connecting point A and point B, it seemed too easy to simply accumulate knowledge and seize an opportunity and subsequently traipse to the finish line, being crowned with glory, fame and riches while leaving an impact on the world at the same time. It all smacks of naivety and a big sense of entitlement. I had thought that innovation, disruption and launching a startup company or something along that line as soon as I could after finishing school was the surefire way of cutting through all the white noise and red tape of bureaucracy and dictatorial tendencies of government and corporate employers. This article on the struggle of one Startup to survive Silicon Valley has shown me that the path is not as straight and narrow as I thought it to be.
I still believe in the whole process of first getting informed, using that info to broaden your horizons and deepen your skill set, and then leveraging that skill set to solve pertinent pain points in society. However, I have seen how people with lofty visions like mine meet the real world and change their plans midway (pivot), as this article clearly shows (and this one as well). So all this new information (which just goes to show you the importance of constantly updating and improving yourself) has made me more cautious, and less likely to launch into an idealistic and revolutionary rhetoric every time I sit down to have lunch with a few friends, as I am prone to do.
There is a glass ceiling that exists for young people in Kenya who were not born in the right family and who do not have the connections to get into the right schools and get the right jobs or even get the right customers for their nascent businesses. If we extrapolated this further and looked at it from a global perspective, there is an immense glass ceiling for people in developing countries, which are too often mired in artificial poverty and chronic mismanagement. I call it artificial poverty simply due to the fact that such countries are often resource rich but are plagued with the resource curse and other evils that lead to a situation like this.
Getting from Point A to Point B requires more than finding a great idea and executing it. It requires more than simply accumulating knowledge and expanding your skills, deepening your hobbies and solving pain points. If it were that easy then everyone would be able to do it without thinking twice. There is an invisible barrier in place that constantly seeks to impede our progress, and I will expound on some of the components that make up this invisible barrier in future.
This does not mean that there is no hope at all for those who want to better their lot in life, people who want to have the freedom from dealing with the daily bustle in life but instead want to tackle big, global problems, or just simply want to spend time with their loved ones while giving back to society for this privilege. There is a global upheaval in the horizon, evidenced by new advancements in renewable energy one one hand, and the growth of a decentralized, global, if somewhat anarchist movement that seeks to level the playing field.
The race to breaking the glass ceiling is certainly on.