Life is not a race. It’s a journey to be enjoyed in the company of others. There’s an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. In my opinion, the keyword in this proverb is the word- together. People who do life together…with family, with friends, can achieve much more than people who do life alone. Why? How do people inspire others to greatness? Some call it friendship, encouragement or love. I’m going to call it the “Power of Together”. I have been inspired by others several times in my life. But I can never forget the three times that I experienced the power of together through companionship, mentorship and inspiration.
When I was a teenager, my family went through some tough financial times. My sisters and I were always coming up with business ideas for a little extra cash. I vividly remember our 1st attempt at Business. We decided to make and sell pies at the community high school concert. We had no idea that it takes a lot of courage to sell anything. When D-day arrived, and we quickly found out it was not cool to be selling pies. I still remember us standing there- in a corner of our concession stand, desperately wishing that we were not there. Our friends kind of pretended that they didn’t see us. No one was buying. We felt like throwing our pies at them! Just as we were about to abandon the pies ….everything changed.
The most popular girl at the high school spontaneously decided to be our marketing manager. She stood by us, and declared that these were the best pies in the world! She made up a jingle and got all her friends to sing it. Pie pie, me oh my! No better pies , oh me oh my, You better buy pie , oh me oh my. Pie! my oh my, I love pie! The pies were sold out in no time. On that day, I learnt the power of having someone show up, stand with you in your corner. Sometimes, they don’t even have to say a word. Just knowing you are not alone on your journey is enough to give courage. That is companionship. That’s the Power of together.
Fast forward a few years later, I was preparing for the University entrance exams, mostly on my bed. Three days to the exams, my elder sister, who was already in 1st year of University realized that I was not going to pass those exams with my level of preparation. But she did not tell me that. Instead, she came up with a plan; “I need to study really hard for an exam over the next three days. Since you are also preparing for an exam, can we study together at the University campus?” I thought it would be cool to study at the University, like an undergraduate student, while helping out my big sister, so I agreed to the plan. Every day for the next 3 days, my sister would wake me up at the crack of dawn . She would have packed up breakfast, lunch and dinner for 2 and then we would head out. She would sit in the furthest corner of the room from me, and ignore me when I wanted to chat instead of study. Can you imagine how I felt when, at the end of the third day, I found out that she had no exams? She had been reading a novel the entire time! I passed those exams by the skin of my teeth and I know I owe that success to her. Sometimes in our journey, we need someone to step to our shoes and walk a mile with us, when we lack the strength to go any further or the wisdom to know that we do not know. That’s mentorship. That’s the power of together.
Many years ago, I was struggling to complete my PhD program.. I remember feeling so discouraged, that I was ready to quit.. So, I called up my mum, to prepare her for the bombshell. I gave her a 1000 reasons why I could not go on. She listened to them all without saying a word. Then, she said, Hmm, Pele, someday, one of your sons will want to quit working on a something really important. You will want to encourage to hang in there and not give up. Then, she asked two profound questions.“What will you say to him? What story will you share with him to inspire him not to give up?”.She did not have to say more. I knew she was sharing her story with me. You see, my mother started her PhD program at age 40 in a bid to earn more money to support the family. By then, she had 5 children, worked full time and ran a small business on the side. It took her 8 years to complete the program but she did it. I started to cry because she gave me no way out. I knew that come hell or high water, I was going to complete the PhD program. I did complete it. What changed? My mother simply gave me a reason to care that was beyond me. Sometimes in your journey, all you need to push through at work, in your relationships, and with your personal goals is a reason to care that is beyond you. That is inspiration. That is the power of together.
In South Africa, the word “Ubuntu” is used to describe humanity. It translates to, “ I am what I am because of who we all are”. As you journey through life, ask yourself, who is in my corner, who is my companion, who is my mentor and who is inspiring me and finally, who am I inspiring? Friends, no man is an island. We can go fast all by ourselves, but we need companionship, mentorship and inspiration to go far. There are 7.5 billion people on earth today. Find at least one of them and experience the power of together.