Where Do I Belong?

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| This is the 434th story of Our Life Logs |


I grew up in the 1980s in Lagos State, Nigeria with my three brothers. My father was an engineer and my mother, a teacher. They both were unrelentingly strict with us when it came to our studies. My father insisted on quality education for all his children and expected the best performance from us since he himself once shone as a bright star student. My brothers all fulfilled his expectations, excelling with ease. I, on the other hand, couldn’t focus on academics and seemed to always fall behind my peers. My teachers were telling me that I’d amount to nothing because I couldn’t keep up. Sitting down and spending countless hours to teach me was like pouring water into a sieve—nothing retained. It was meaningless.

Seeing the disappointment from my parents and teachers over and over again made me feel worthless. I began to hate myself. I felt that the day I was created was just a punishment. I was a total waste to mankind. What was I here to do?

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I struggled throughout primary school but somehow managed to pass it anyway. Secondary school was clouded with more confusion as I fought to keep up. In senior secondary school, I changed my stream to arts thinking I’d have an easier time, but one year down the line, I started to hate it. The hurdle of understanding the various figures of speech, how to differentiate them, and comprehending literature was all too hard for me. I began to wonder if I’d ever find a place for myself in the world, if I was meant to do anything.

Searching for an escape or inspiration, I asked my friend what he wanted to study in university after secondary school. “Petroleum engineering,” he said. Of course, I thought.  Graduates of this course were almost guaranteed millionaires because of the financial benefits the career path offered.

I wanted to be successful to make my family proud, so I decided to quit the arts department and delve into science in my sophomore year of senior secondary school. Deep down within me, I knew that I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire itself, because science required much more work, more memorization and comprehension. However, I was determined to at least try. I’d just have to spend more time studying and getting acquainted with the technicalities that came with it, I told myself.

And I did. I basically had to fall in love with figures and diagrams by force. It was never easy for me, but fortunately, I had many classmates who were willing to help me. Through them, I sharpened my ability, and when the time came for the compulsory O-Level exams, I passed, clearing off eight out of nine subjects!

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Science was still hard, but passing the exams finally gave me the confidence to stare the world in the face and begin my journey in the tertiary space. In 2007, I secured admission into one of Nigeria’s premier universities. My father suggested that I apply for the major of medicine and surgery. I had little interest, but I followed his words anyway. Although, it didn’t really matter in the end, because I couldn’t get into the medical school and was assigned to study botany instead. I had even less interest in botany, but given that securing a university admission was like winning the jackpot, I decided to accept it. I decided I’d work extra hard to improve my grades so I could swiftly change to medicine. What I didn’t realize just yet was how hard keeping my grades steady would be in university.

I wound up spending the year playing catch-up. Instead of improving my grades, I was patching up the “wear and tear” of studying. The weight of trying to excel in a field I wasn’t good at or had much interest in coupled with my poor academic disposition had me drifting into depression—well, educational depression. I was just a lowly art-turned-to-science student without a firm background in the subjects.

That first year, I struggled and didn’t understand a single thing that was being taught to me. That doubt I’d always felt about myself crept back in, and once again, I started to believe that I didn’t have the capacity to be successful.

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Just when I thought things were hopeless, I was shown a path I’d never considered. During one of the holidays, I volunteered at my local church to give the announcements and spiritual readings. After mass one day, a broadcaster who attended the service approached me. He commended me on the readings and how well I pronounced the words. He told me that if I would be interested in studying at the Institute of Journalism, he would gladly recommend me. Wow, that was new. Should I?

I considered his suggestion. While I wanted to make my father proud, knowing I had an ability I could put to good use was enticing. It was the perfect way to escape the horrible route I’d found myself on. So, I decided to do it. Within a few months, I had taken the required exam and applied to the Nigerian Institute of Journalism in Lagos, despite the disgust of my father.

After several months of what felt like endless waiting, I was finally sent the news in July 2008 that I’d been admitted into the institute to study mass communication. Even though I was venturing into a field that was alien to me, totally different from the technicalities of sciences and the litany of the practical world of glass prisms and chemicals, I was excited for the beginning of a new journey. I abandoned my fees, rent and everything else in the university in Osun State and headed for Lagos.

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Life at the institute was an entirely different ball game. I struggled to adjust to my new reality. Compared to the science route I’d come to know, there was much more writing and many more discussions here. I was shocked by what felt like endless talking in classes. But as I spent more time in the program, I had a mentality shift. The institute was wholly focused on writing, reading and speaking ability. You didn’t have to solve any formula to be accepted here, and that was the starting point for my mental rehabilitation.

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At the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Lagos, 2010 (me on the left).

Broadcasting had its challenges but I was ready to take them on. I had every bit of the bittersweet feeling of having to be corrected on my broadcasting language, how to use the broadcasting equipment, and the proper position to sit and make eye contact. Every week, we were given assignments on topical issues to talk about and inform our listening community. Through them, I enhanced my research skills and learned how to develop a neutral stance for on-air presenting. My voice, according to my peers, was great for broadcasting, but being on air for the first time was quite nerve-wrecking. I’m sure you can imagine. Thankfully, my producer encouraged me to just be myself and take charge like I knew the topic more than the listeners, and that really helped me build up my confidence.

At the same time, the program helped me see that everyone was special and unique with different strengths. Just because you’re not good at science doesn’t mean you aren’t good at anything. Finally, after all these years of struggling, I felt like I was good at something now, that I wasn’t a total failure. I’d found my place.

Discovering this encouraged me to study more and unearth a part of me that was probably asleep. It was like everything clicked into place in my brain, and I actually thrived. After two semesters in the program, I had become one of the well-known broadcast figures at my school. Because of my versatility to fit in a range of discussion topics, from entertainment to fashion to sports, I was placed in most of the school’s radio programs and became the anchor for public events. Anyone who looked at me then would never have guessed the struggles I’d been through. I was a new person, like a rebirth.

Fast forward to graduation in 2010, I obtained my National Diploma (associate degree) in Mass Communication. Within a year, I obtained a job as a presenter and newscaster at a business television station. This brought with it an apartment and many travelling opportunities. But I knew I couldn’t stop there. After a year, I returned to school and received my Higher National Diploma (bachelor’s degree) in Mass Communication. Since then, I’ve worked in several international television stations representing them at global events and creating special reports aired across the country. I’ve also worked as an assistant publicist and a content executive where I had several works published in an international magazine.

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Reporting live from a special anti-robbery squad exhibition in Abeokuta, 2016.

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So, what about now? Well, I am currently the Director of Media and Publicity at a start-up company that runs a ride-sharing app in Nigeria. We launched the product in June 2019. Truth be told, I see more for myself, but I am content with where I am in retrospect to where I once was. I have finally found the self-confidence that I was never born with. I know it couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken the risk to change majors. I’d always had trouble with learning but when I discovered my purpose, it all clicked together. I’ve found my place in the world, and I hope you find yours too, if not already.

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Me (right) interviewing popular Nigerian actor Bolanle Ninalowo at Genevieve Magazine, 2018.

 

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This is the story of Ifeanyi Oparah

Ifeanyi currently resides in Lagos, Nigeria where he works in the communication field. Growing up, Ifeanyi had a hard time focusing on his studies and always felt that he was not smart enough to achieve anything. Because of self-doubt, he found himself not caring about life and joining programs his father wanted for him. Along the line, he felt lost, not knowing his purpose until he discovered mass communication and joined their program. Through it, he found his place in the world. It helped him build up self-confidence and happiness. He has since gone ahead to achieve great strides in his new-found passion to the awe of his parents and peers. He hopes to continue to climb the communication ladder and become even more successful. Ifeanyi is an ardent lover of adventure and is currently running a startup with some friends. He loves reading and cooking. He is working on marrying the love of his life next year. One of his most preferred destinations for vacation is Ibiza, Spain, and he hopes to visit the beautiful beach city during his honeymoon.

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 14, 2019.

| Writer: Jeffery Oparah | Editor: Kristen Petronio |

 


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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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