In the first six months after I moved home, I learned the meaning of happiness.
Happiness is being in the place you most want to be, doing exactly the thing(s) you most want to do.
By now you know that I wanted to be in Ghana but what was it I wanted to do? My job? That was part of it. But only part of it. In lesson 2, I talked about finding a job you love. If you do this, your job will be a source of great joy. But I don't know that your job alone is enough. It wasn't for me. I wanted more. I wanted a complete life of happiness and my job is only 1 aspect of my life. I'm a big proponent of having a life outside of work. At the very least, it will keep you refreshed and make you a better worker.
So what did I want to do outside of work? How did I want to spend the rest of my time? How do you want to spend the rest of your time?
I did not really know yet. Or rather, there were so many things that I wanted to do that I couldn't choose. In line with wanting to live my life now, I wanted to do everything I'd always wanted to do. So I didn't choose. I did them all. hehe. I went out. All the time.
I wanted to go everywhere.
Not just to the nice bars and clubs. Not just enjoy the best of life in Accra. But to also eat at the joints and the obscure places so I did. I did it all. I found myself groups of people who satisfied my desires.
To go to nice bars, I spent time with a few returnees. To go to local joints, waakye places and to eat kenkey sitting on the floor at makola, I found people who would do that. I had people who wanted to do trips outside Accra, and people who hung out at hotels, sipping exotic drinks. Then I had people to go see plays with - the artsy types.
I tried acting by auditioning to be in one of Uncle Ebo's plays and make a whole new crop of friends. I completely loved it. I loved how different each group was. I didn't have to limit my experiences to any one set of friends.
When I got tired of the abroad crowd, I'd go trekking to Aburi, or Akim Oda, or Tefle-Sogakope with someone who wasn't in that circle. When I got tired of that, I'd go to Akoma village, a weed-smoking hang out to see what that side of Accra looked like. When I got sick of rasta people, I'd go for a show at the national theatre or a concert at Alliance Francaise.
I was completely stoked. All the time.
Best time of my life. I tell you. I laughed so much so hard. I'd bash music on my way to work. I made friends in traffic. People who just saw me driving to work and dancing to India Arie or Lauren Hill and fell in love with my spirit and wrote their numbers for me. In traffic.
What is the point of all of this experimentation? Why should you try things? A fellow returnee and friend asked me...aren't you going to get tired of Accra in a few years? You'd have seen it all and done it all. Yep, I agree. And another one asked, Ms. Cleland is doing everything. She owns a clothing line, a farm, and is a volunteer, blogger, party girl, actress, and she quits her engineer job to go become a writer. Don't you worry you'll be perceived as a jack of all trades, master of none? At what point does all this experimentation make you seem like a flake? A person without focus. Always moving from one thing to the next?
Who knows? Who cares? hehe. Just kidding.
Let me address that question. It's an important one actually.
The point of experimentation is to help you determine what to focus on. Now if there are 10 things that I'm curious about. I try all 10 to be able to prioritize and choose the one! So I felt that I could give myself 2 years to experiment. In the 2 years, I learn what works and what doesn't.
Everything I've done, started from a curiosity.
The idea that I could be an actress sounded like fun. I wondered if I could act. I'd never tried it. And I wanted to know if I could. When I auditioned and got selected, I was tickled, and excited. Rehearsals was fun. We laughed so much. Uncle Ebo is a wonderful mentor. He told us life stories and encouraged us to reach for the stars. I got to make a completely new set of friends. I also discovered that I acted exactly like the Ghanaian actresses we all love to bash. My acting looked fake. lol. So I learned that if there's such a thing as a "natural", I wasn't it. But more importantly, I learned that to become a professional actress, you had to commit the time to it. It was a long love affair, not a one night stand. To be able to go onstage and perform so that it seemed effortless and natural, required hours and hours of practice...not just at rehearsal but at home. Acting was a full time job not a hobby. To go far, you had to be passionate about it. It wasn't something you did simply to satisfy a curiosity. At that point, you ask yourself...well, is this it for me? Can I commit what it takes? Can I live, and breathe acting for the next number of years? If not, good to know. You've been there, you've done that, you can cross it off your list and never wonder...what if.
What is striking to me is that all of my experiments and ventures taught me the same lesson.
That lesson is FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS.
If you're going to do anything and do it well, you have to not just do it, you have to live it, breathe it, think it, that becomes your life. You have to focus much of your attention to building that thing. If your attention is divided, it takes away from it. But if you can achieve that singleness of purpose, it can take you very far.
But it is for this very reason that you have to try things. Over the 2 years, you'll find which of your ventures has enough long-term potential that you can give up short-term pleasures for. Which of them offers you the most chance to learn and grow. Which of them is meaningful and satisfies your personal values. Which of them you'll be proud of. You have to be able to find that thing that you can dedicate the next 10 years of your life to building. And when you find that thing, you can let go of all the rest.
At that point, you transition from being a flake to being a focussed person working on your life's work. The life's work blurs the lines between life and work. Unlike with a job, you may not feel you need a life outside of it because it becomes your life. For the dreamers, it becomes your way of transforming or bringing change to this world. No one could pay you enough to do that. It is a thing you do because you almost feel like you were born to do this. You respect it. And can pour your heart and sweat and blood into it. Kinda like the difference between working for Steve Jobs and being Steve Jobs, I think.
I suppose people who have already made this choice when they move back home don't need to go through this exercise. For the rest of us, whose initial plans don't quite work out or who don't even have a plan, it can be very useful. Experimentation helps you not to wonder because you tried all the things that seemed fun and interesting to you and out of those you chose what to focus on.
You may find that at the time of choosing what to focus on, you think 2 paths are equally promising but you decide that one can wait another 10 or 20 years. That you might get to it later. And you make peace with that decision. This has been my own experience.And so my experimentation period ends in August 2010, exactly 2 years after my return home.
Goodluck with yours:)
And watch out for lesson 5 in which I'll share 1 more lesson I learned from trying things.