By Cynthia Ayeza, Uganda:
When I was about 7 years old, my mother introduced us to swimming. I may have been younger but I remember my mother insisted that my sister and I learn how to swim. We had a trainer and we learnt pretty fast. After some time in training and later being allowed to go to the deep end of the swimming pool, a competition was organized (the competition was probably two or three years years later), and might I add, one that everyone expected me to win. Even I was certain I would win. I was the strongest swimmer in the camp, apart from my sister, who wasn't part of the competition.
When the day arrived, I put on my swim suit and got ready to compete. Just before my race began, a friend of mine came up to me with flowers, saying they were for me from a boy. They were red roses. I could not have been more than ten years old at the time. As is probably common with many young people of that age, I was both irritated and mortified. How could a boy like me? Send me flowers? The audacity was a turn off. Never mind the fact that I was a tomboy – I played almost every game that boys played. I was one of them. What's more is that I looked like a boy. I had no hair, wore boyish clothes and only played games with the girls if it was soccer or round ball. But this boy was really gutsy.
It was time for me to compete and so I ran to take my position, and the whistle was blown. I dived into the pool way too deep. I could not stop thinking about how terrible this boy's timing was. I felt that the whole world could see that he was interested in me! As I made my way to the surface, I realised that the other competitors were ahead of me in the pool. My mother had come to watch me compete. Of all the occasions I had ever needed her to come and support me, she had chosen to come to this race. I had wanted her to come because I was so sure that I would win. And so I mustered every bit of strength within me and managed to go past three people. I had one more person to beat, and then I would swim the final lap and win. As I increased the velocity of my strokes, and drew nearer to the person who was in first place, I remembered the red roses. Suddenly, I stopped, and allowed my body to sink to the bottom of the pool, and then simply got out of the water.
All this time, my mother was standing somewhere watching, not really cheering but just watching. When I got out, my eyes found her very quickly and the disappointment in her eyes was gut-wrenching. I could have made her proud but a silly, well-intended gesture from an infatuated boy took that away from me…more specifically, I allowed it to get in the way of making my mom's day. I embarrassed her. I have never forgotten that event. Ever since then, I have disliked red roses (I generally do not like roses). I was young and it doesn't matter now. But this experience got me thinking recently about how easy it is to lose one's way when we take our eyes off the prize; when we allow trivial infatuations to distract us from the ultimate audience and goal. It mattered so much to me that my mom got to witness me win – and as I mentioned, everyone (literally) expected no other winner. All the other competitors were gunning for second place, and at best, an attempt at finishing with me.
It did not matter to me that I was expected to win. I did not care about that at all. I cared that my mother was there to watch me, and cheer me (albeit silently since she was not the cheerleader type) and be able to proudly walk out of there knowing I was the best.
Very often, we set out to pursue what we strongly believe in; what we are certain we will excel at. But along the way, we may be enticed by things that we think are part of the plan and yet ultimately distract us from the goal. Sometimes it is easy to realise that it is a distraction but most times we find that we are already in way over our heads. My friend brought me the flowers from the boy. She had known that he had flowers for me. She had encouraged him to “try his luck”. Had she known better, she would have waited until after the competition. Had I also known better (given that I was 10 years old and very impressionable) I would have asked her to wait until after the competition.
The great thing about being an adult now is that I know better, and whatever I do is a matter of choice, and rarely or hardly ever a matter of naiveté. People will come around and offer us feel good options, seemingly aligned with our dreams; suggestions, ideas that make sense and so on. We may take them on because we will be accepted – but the applause of friends or the people around us are not always a good thing, nor is it a good sign. I will give a more direct example: just because the people around you applaud your choice of a partner or husband/wife does not mean that you are making the right/best choice for yourself. Studying further may make sense, and indeed often makes sense but it may not be what you are called to. It is said that nothing is ever really a waste in life but time is not kind to those who refuse to be true to their dreams. What's worse is that your memory is even more unforgiving: it will constantly remind you of the thing you ought to be doing.
Don't lose sight of your goal, dream or who your real audience is.
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