Building character and establishing your guiding system

How to Unlock the One Superpower in Discovering Your Best Self
A crucial skill to spark positive change and unlock new insight at work and in life

You are likely to have come across some literature stating that glossophobia ranks as the number one fear. And I read that 75% of people surveyed by the National Institute of Mental Health (USA) ranked the fear of public speaking as their number one fear. Would you agree?

I believe otherwise. One critical and fundamental question ranks above the fear of public speaking when asked in the right mood and context. My friends chastise me for daring to ask this question of myself. But, some devastating news I received recently brought this question poignantly into focus. 

Our alumni group have been in upbeat spirit, counting down to our much-anticipated reunion dinner. The event has been about two years in the planning, partly halted by COVID-19 travel restrictions. With a date locked down for Dec 2021, we were super excited to reunite after 25 years. Our aim for the dinner night was simple – reconnect, engage and enjoy the festive cheers.

But nothing is simple with a group of accountants, IT professionals and PhD holders. The intellectual exchanges in some of our event planning meetings sounded like Apollo 11 planning meetings. One planning committee member was always on point to remind us of the goal – to meet, greet and party. “Allow me to enjoy myself” was her favour meme phrase. After some jubilant, light-hearted exchanges in our WhatsApp group chat, I asked, “is this the Aminata I used to know?” The studious, no-play, no-nonsense lady at the Institute was now super active, full of life and ready to party. That was on a Sunday.

The following Wednesday, I checked my phone after a busy, long day at the office and on the cycling track. I sank into my sofa, teary-eyed and in utter disbelief at what I was reading. “Aminata Adam Samura passed. May her soul RIP. I am broken, completely broken. Talk soon.” A friend posted. She was gone five weeks after her daughter, Malaika’s, 16th birthday.

We were devastated to lose one of our active Steerco members 20 days before our reunion dinner. There was an overwhelming outpouring of condolence messages and vivid recollections of Aminata and what she stood for. And there were many questions too, but one profound – “what is life, if we can lose, so soon, someone who was kind-hearted, generous and full of life?”

“It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Our dear friend did live well; she touched many lives through her philanthropic endeavours. She stood for unity. She celebrated life and appreciated every moment of it, full of gratitude. She left a glittering legacy, personified in the daughter she gave to the world.

Maliaka was bold, strong, and of good cheer, giving the eulogy at her mum’s memorial service. Malaika’s tribute to her mum was full of wisdom way beyond her years.

“She taught us to live because we have one life. She died a peaceful death, I believe. So, there is no bitterness in my heart. ¬– Maliaka Adam-Samura

Malaika’s demeanour and composure were as if her mum had prepared her for that moment. And the emotional tributes from colleagues, friends and family were as though Aminata led her life for that moment – the moment when people would say what kind of mother, friend, and colleague she was.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Oliver Wendell Holme

In your quiet moment and a sober reflection, you will agree with me that glossophobia ranks below this question –What would speakers say about you and your life at your funeral?

While it might be death than the question itself that evokes fear, reflecting on the answer will help establish your guidance and values system in how you lead your life. According to Stephen R Covey:

“Begin today with the image, picture, or paradigm of the end of your life as your frame of reference or the criterion by which everything else is examined.”

Here are my top seven non-exhaustive, guiding principles and values I hope may help you in finding yours, if mine do not resonate with you:

1) Putting God first
2) Prioritising family
3) Practising gratitude
4) Asking questions and accepting I do not have all the answers
5) Focusing on making a difference
6) Always giving my best, aim for progress, not perfection
7) Living life to the fullest

Whatever principles guide you and whatever values you hold dear, always lead your best life as if today was your last. Because one day you would be right.

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

True success will be in knowing what you would want people to say at your funeral and achieving that. And if you did that, you would have led a purposeful life.

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