African media expert, Biola Alabi was a Keynote speaker at Women’s Day Gala Luncheon, hosted by the South African Consulate General last week. In her keynote speech she shared with young people what she wished she was told when she was a 21/22 years old graduating from University.
Read excerpt from her speech below;
Over the years, I have given and I have received a lot of great advice from great people, men and women, and I have appreciated each and every bit of wisdom shared with me. I may not have agreed with everything they said, but I understood that in giving me their insights, they were trying to help me. I hope you see my talk today in the same light – as something to think about, that’s all.
So what do I wish I had been told when I was your age? There are five key points and as I go through them, I will use examples from my own life to illustrate my points. At the end of my talk, I will be more than happy to take your questions and comments.
The first thing I wish I had been told when I was your age is that I don’t know everything and to be committed to continually learning.
It’s easy when you’re in school and you’re being taught so much all the time to believe that you know a lot.
The truth is that you and I still have a lot to learn about life. Yes, me too. I am much older than you but the one thing I have learned over the years is that I will never know everything I need to know – there is too much information out there. What I can control however is my desire to keep learning. I keep that flame alive and you must too. You can learn from books, you will learn from your experiences and you must learn from other people.
It doesn’t matter how rich or poor someone is, how well educated they are or aren’t, how popular or unpopular they seem to be…everyone has something they can teach you. Keep your eyes open to see what you can learn from people. Then make sure you constantly read, you constantly improve your knowledge. It is so important and it is important not just now when you are young, but when you are older.
So often we leave school or university and we stop seeking knowledge. Qualifications may be difficult to get but you will never regret getting them. I studied at the University of Cincinnati and I have been fortunate to study at the prestigious Yale University just last year. Whilst these experiences were decades apart, I thoroughly enjoyed them both. In fact my experience last year was much richer because I have come to appreciate really what it means to get time to study, time to focus on studying. So whilst you have it, whenever you can get it, make the most of it.
The second thing I wish I had been told at your age was to practice respect.
A lot of us think that respect for others is something we simply have. That’s not true. Yes, our parents may have taught us to be respectful of our elders, but respect cannot be taught only. It must be lived. Monitor yourself on a daily basis and see where and when you could have been more respectful of someone’s opinion, someone’s choice, and someone’s ambitions.
Yes, we often are so focused on ourselves that we forget that the measure of a person is not what they have but how they behave. The old saying ‘manners maketh the man’ is no less true or necessary for women. Be kind, be polite, be tolerant. I am not saying you must be a doormat, quite the contrary. Women who can respect others remember to respect themselves.
As young women, many people will test your respect for yourself by asking you to do things you don’t believe, say things you don’t want to say, be someone you don’t want to be. For some reason, the world is so eager to shape young women into what they should be. Let no one shape you. You must always remember to respect yourself, shape your own destiny.
It’s not an easy thing to do but respecting yourself will make you independent and in becoming independent you will write your own story. It may seem like such a silly thing to hear now because I am sure you are all determined to live life on your own terms but when life intrudes remember my words. Your body, your mind, your future…it belongs to you. Respect that and respect yourself.
My third thing that I wish someone had told me when I was your age, was that the world is a big, big place.
I have been fortunate enough to live and work in the US, Africa and Asia. I have travelled Europe extensively. Each time I have got on a plane, on a train or in a car and gone anywhere new, I have learnt something. About myself, about my place in the world, about the many opportunities that lie out there, about the way different people live, about what my contribution to the world can be.
Every experience has given me memories and motivation. So if you get the chance to see a new place, take it. Of course, please be safe. Don’t travel with people you don’t know. Always keep your passport with you. Don’t ever place your faith blindly into someone else, someone you don’t know. That is dangerous. But if there is an opportunity to be safe and see the world, don’t hide from it.
I learned in Asia how to fit in where you don’t naturally think you can, I learnt when I travelled Africa that not all Africans are the same but that we have many things in common. I learned when I travelled to Europe that my culture is loved, I learned in America that home can be two places and I learned right here in Lagos that my birthright is my blessing. And in every place, I learned that I was stronger than I thought and smarter than anyone told me.
The fourth thing that I wish someone had told me when I was your age was that what I really wanted at 16 isn’t necessarily what I would go on to want at 20 or even at 30.
Life changes so you must be prepared to change with it. Your ideas will grow, be patient with yourself. You may feel that you don’t fit in at school or somewhere else, but maybe that is because you were meant to stand out. You may desperately want to be accepted by a certain group of people but remember that even if they don’t accept you, that’s their problem, not yours.
Also you may find that you look up to someone and want to be just like them, and wonder why you aren’t just like that but remember they didn’t become that smart overnight, they didn’t become successful immediately. Things take time. Work hard and keep going, even when it seems like nothing is going according to plan. Believe in yourself. You may not have the most expensive clothes, or the coolest gadgets or the best shoes and bags, but as you get older you will realize that you are special. You are talented. You are valuable. Never forget that.
I remember when I was unemployed and living in NYC, I felt lost, and couldn’t see how I would be able to make a contribution in the world. To make ends meet I was working at restaurants and walking dogs. I was such a hard worker that one of my clients asked me what do I do. I told her that I was a marketing executive looking for work in TV and Film. She was instrumental in introducing me to one of her clients who helped me find a job in NYC, event when things don’t look they are going well you have to be patient.
The final thing I wish someone had told me when I was your age was that life is precious.
When you’re young, you take it for granted. You think life will carry on forever. You never think that you need to take care of yourself; you never think that you need to protect yourself. You think you really are invincible. That nothing and no-one will ever stop you. So very often young women unexpectedly put themselves into danger – not maybe in a superhero kind of way but in small ways. You don’t take care of your health. You don’t eat well. You don’t exercise. You try to lose weight in ways that harmful to you. You develop bad habits, keep bad company. I’m here to tell you that life is precious. Be healthy. Make good choices. Think before you act. Yes live life boldly, be daring but also be sensible and be thoughtful. You’ll thank me for this advice in years to come.
For now, those are my top five points to you. I do hope that they help you and that you go on to make your mark in the world. I have no doubt that you will. Your generation will be a better version than mine and that is how it should be.
Photo Credit – Hello Magazine