I was eleven years old when I put my mind to the career I would ultimately follow. I did not know what it was called, I only knew its outputs – little paper model houses. I was skillful and confident using my hands, making play toys out of paper, mud, metal clothes hangers, torn slippers and whatever else I came across that I could mould into a little model. However, society impressed upon me that it was a course for boys. I took to the challenge to be the first girl in our community to take up this difficult course of life, if only to set a precedent; and prove that it was possible for me to accomplish whatever I dreamt about.
As an avid learner, I’m continuously looking for opportunities to improve myself and grow both intellectually and socially. Be it academics, entrepreneurship, church programs, sports or community services, I am energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. For example, I never learned how to swim as a child and I was terrified of pools and water bodies. One day, my friends and I went to Lamu, a gorgeous island and, unfortunately, a tragedy occurred when one of my friends drowned because he could not swim. That was my turning point. When I went back to Nairobi, I signed up for swimming lessons at twenty nine years of age. I was now driven by my need to learn how to swim than my fear for losing my life. Even though earlier, swimming seemed esoteric and elitist, I told myself that I would be a catalyst for change – where others my age would be intimidated by the new skill, my willingness to soak up the newness would possibly calm their fears and spur them into action.
Overcoming the fear of pools was more fulfilling than the actual swimming lessons. The thrill of the first few lessons, the early efforts to practice what I had learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered – this is the process that truly enticed me. I would laugh at myself later, at how difficult it became to get me out of the pool. The “world” of swimming and pools was mine to explore. Certainly, I did not seek to be an expert swimmer, or strive to achieve the respect that accompanies a professional swimmer, but learning how to swim and overcoming my fear of pools was most fulfilling. The process of learning how to swim showed me what matters to me most – that I thoroughly enjoy opportunities to acquire additional skills and experiences. It’s not the ‘when’ I learned how to swim, but the ‘why’ that mattered. That period of uninterrupted thinking while in the water, just as when one is quietly floating and allowing the water to hold them, gave me great pleasure. Time disappears and my attention intensifies while immersed in studying or learning. It is the process, more than the content or the result, that is especially exciting for me.
The question begs, why does being open to learning matter to me? It instinctively causes me to take things apart in order to understand how the pieces function and relate to one another. As a task-oriented person, I follow through an orderly path to piece it together. Swimming taught me that I must relax in order to stay afloat. I also learned that there was a technique to breathing while under water, without suffocating-how exciting! During the period I took swimming classes, it was a beautiful mix of understanding that as much as the end goal is important, it is the content in the process that builds me as a person. It became crystal clear that learning is not an event but an ongoing activity. These are lessons that I have held close to my heart in everyday life: learning to be calm amidst a storm, taking a deep breath and putting aside my stubbornness while seeking alternatives. In moments when I am flustered, for example when I am running beyond a deadline on a client’s work, I have come to realize that finding my breathing technique and staying calm helps in solving the conundrum in a rational manner while understanding how each piece relates to the other.
My deep love for learning was cultivated early. The pursuit for learning has been very fulfilling and has allowed me to continuously pursue different experiences like swimming, and many others. It is with introspection that I zealously pursue learning, making me a life-long learner.