Last week I handed my class their mid semester results, the performance was mixed. As we went through the paper, I reminded the class what I mentioned at the beginning of the semester.

“Mistakes exist so we can learn from them. They do not define us.”

It will take time for that to resonate especially if you have been through the Kenyan 8-4-4 school system. You are raised to believe a grade does define you. And if you fail once, you will fail for life.

The class reactions varied, but one student, I could see was crushed by his result. From the beginning of the semester Andy said that he wanted to learn how to speak better English that was great. He was so enthusiastic he tried his best to participate in class, he would be the first to submit his assignments and at times just drop an email to say hello.

I wasn’t buying what seemed more like “ass kissing” or like we call it here an aspiring “teacher’s pet”.  I honestly felt he was trying hard to please me. Soon, I realised it was just who he was and I felt guilty for my judgment.

Andy’s midterm results crushed him, his face fell and his silence in class was deafening yesterday. I spoke to him after class and encouraged him, he was devastated. I had asked them to do a simple assignment. Andy didn’t hand his in. When I asked him what happened he gave an excuse and punctuated with, “but I have failed anyway”.

His attitude saddened me. While I was on my way to class yesterday I met a former college mate, Joe,  who looked like the life had just been beaten out of him. I greeted him and asked him if he had wrapped up with school.

“No one more year to go,” he said very noncommittal.

“That’s great, almost done!” I retorted enthusiastically.

He nodded and then shook his head,

“So what’s going on?” I prodded.

“I haven’t finished school; there is no work for me without a Psychology degree. You need to earn money to live.”

“There is tonnes of work to be done and loads of organisations who need someone with your skill set.”

“I don’t have skills? And they will say ‘no’ anyway”, his voice croaked slightly. His frustration was palpable.

“Look rejection is part of job seeking and life. They say ‘no’, you try again. A ‘no’ in one office isn’t ‘no’ forever pal, come on!” I was getting irritated by his negativity.

“But I don’t have skills.”

“Look, everyone has a skill set. It’s not just about your academics; there are innate skills we all have. I know a counseling psychologist who just graduated and is passionate about dance , and works at a dance studio around town..”

He cut me short, “I don’t have that skill.”

“It’s not about having her skill; you have some innate skills that can be of use to an organisation. If you are on social media all day and enjoy it, you can run an organisation’s social media account. If you are good at accounts, you can offer your services to a startup that needs help with its books.”

He didn’t look convinced. He sighed his shoulders dropped.

“You need to change your attitude pal.” I said frankly.

“I have been where you have been, but you get nowhere when you constantly refuse to have a positive attitude, however cliché it sounds. If you don’t look for opportunities, then don’t expect it will fall on your lap.”

His eyes widened and he nodded in agreement.

“Look, if you really want a job opportunity”, I unzipped my rucksack and pulled out a business card and handed it to him. “Drop me an email and I will share the opportunities with you. If you are REEEALLY serious that you want an opportunity to work and earn, email me.” I had to emphasize.

The only way to help someone is if the person wants help. There is no amount of coercion or speeches that can inspire an individual if something on the inside says, “there is no chance for me.”

I have spent months on end depressed, at times wondering why I am alive. I recall one of my lowest points in 2015, when I walked into a counsellor’s office and confessed a lack of motivation. Not even the fear of eviction by my landlord for rent arrears bothered me. I just slept my days away. I felt purposeless. But in that state, and forcing myself to engage with my best friend and my family, I realised fear had driven me to hopelessness.

I felt like an imposter, I felt like I had no business desiring to be successful as a writer, or a teacher.

I felt that I had no business sharing my opinions and having one. In a previous post I spoke about almost losing my voice; all because I was afraid. These two men are young in their early twenties and they seem so beaten down by life. Life can do that to you sometimes, I know I have been there.

I have learnt that in order to get out of that rut, it is one action and decision at a time that will get you out. It took months and years to get you there; there is no panacea for years of dejection. But we can start one moment at a time, I started by writing edifying things to myself on post-its and stick them on my bedroom wall where I can see it every morning when I wake up. I have regained my confidence and mojo as a writer.

I now see opportunities and strive to grasp them. It’s never over till you say it’s over. As long as Andy and Joe are willing, I am here to help them grow from the rough patch that now feels like the end of it all.

You can do the same; you just need to force your brain to see what’s great. Even something as simple as, you woke up in the morning, your limbs are fine, and you have food and roof over your head. Start small and take it from there.