Failing Successfully At Being Special

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success?

I’m back home again after a day of corporate warfare and my eyes are tired. My theory is that that weariness happens when you stare at a screen all day. My other theory stems from a soul tiredness which crops up from time to time.

I turn into a mess once in a while, an amalgamation of what-is-even-left-to-live-for and I-need-to-take-a-nap. I’m not suicidal. Maybe I’m just bored. Sometimes life seems so empty. So what if I have a job? I’m grateful. But then what? What if I’ve travelled enough to know it doesn’t change you as much as you hope it will? Then what? My goals are supposed to be as follows: become a homeowner, a parent, a lover, the ultimate free bird, a world-changer, or want to be a billionaire ‘so freakin’ bad’. Then what?

My 11 year old niece told me the other day that she wants to be a celebrity. Not that she wants to be good in anything in particular. She just wants to be a celebrity. She’s entitled to her own dreams but sometimes I find myself asking what is it all for? For other people? If she existed in a vacuum, would she care about celebrity? It isn’t fair that, suppose, she feels a void because she’s not widely known or very rich -as this is how she defines celebrity. When did that work its way up to the top 3 most popular dreams among 11 year olds?

Was it always like this and I just didn’t notice? I thought we used to know that there were popular people, then there were ordinary people and that’s okay. We don’t seem to know that anymore. Average became failure at some point. You shouldn’t be average or “different”, apparently. But you must be special.

And so I’ve become a little jaded, maybe. World-weary. I’m tired of the things we value. I’m tired of wanting too little, even though I keep being told I should be striving for the extraordinary. I’m tired of being thought of as weird if I don’t crave things -a case of unrealised potential, if I don’t have them. I’m tired of having to want them, or pursue them, so that I earn a substantial amount of social capital with which to navigate this world -racing to become the epitome of a human commodity. I’m tired of having to pretend I want them so that I don’t seem too weird.

This feeling will pass, in the sense that I’ll remember how to ignore it so that I can keep my life together. I came back home weary of people and their desires. I’ve left work as soon as the clock struck 5. And I’ve climbed straight into bed. I’m taking a nap. Recess.

How has failing to want to be special set me up for success?

Well, whenever I am who I want to be, I am able to revel in it. I’ve learned how to enjoy a personal win -with or without any prestige that may be attached to it. Maybe I have learned to respect the advantages of a successfully average existence.


Sometimes living feels like
singing but too loud,
talking but indecipherable,
dancing with chains round the ankles
of two left feet;

caring but too much,
waiting too long,
leaving too soon,
never enough,
ever too much;

the loner:
a welcome presence in a crowd,
simultaneously languishing in singularity;

an unwilling oddity,
surrounded by normal,
good people;
I am engulfed
in their beautiful sanity.

The extraterrestrials landed long ago.

I am one of them.

All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2022 Tebogo Ndlovu

Similar Miseries

We both bleed orange when the car swings down the driveway,search for bandaidsto conceal evidence,dive underneath a cozy bundle of excuses,reasons to continue to sharesimilar miseries. Siblings in distress,bonded by chaos,dread in colour. Maybe, together,we will eventually find territoryon which … Continue reading

Mr. Time’s Waltz

Before you go,
sit here.

Is it time to go back
to the awkwardness of strangerhood?
To stop missing each other
until we wish we needed ‘us’
To entertain the curves of infinity,
the one they thought reaches forward endlessly,
only for him to return to the clutches of her who wants him,
him who retreats from the embrace of nature,
only to stride back

Sit here.
Humour her
with the promise of now.

All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2022 Tebogo Ndlovu

The Race Series (Sort Of): Where’s that?

Yesterday, I was talking with my Southern African family about a trip I’m taking to Tanzania. I’ve never been to Tanzania. But a friend wanted to celebrate her birthday there, so we’re going. By the time this article is published, we’d have gone and come back to Southern Africa.

My family was asking: where is Tanzania? What is it known for? Does it have beaches?

All the questions made me remember how it is assumed that an African knows about the whole of Africa, regardless of where exactly they’re from. It also reminded me of how I used to think that Europeans know about the whole of Europe, regardless of exactly where they’re from. I thought they’re always in and out of each other’s countries. I thought: why wouldn’t they be? Their countries seem so pretty and organised and the standard of living is high. They can easily save up and visit once a year. Or easily move to the next European country and stay there for some years. So I grew up thinking Europe was this melting pot where everyone knows of everyone else’s culture and knows at least 3 languages. I was later there, briefly, and was told by an European that’s not the case. Everyone keeps to their own country, language(s) and culture unless they are forced to go elsewhere or unless they belong to the younger generations which are more keen to travel.

We are all like this, I suppose. It’s definitely the case where I’m from. We travel a lot but not necessarily to other African countries. We seek career opportunities in the Western world and tend to move there. Or go to exotic places like Bali or Dubai on holiday for those who want to flex and can afford it. (I haven’t had the good fortune to go there yet, but if I had the money I would go to Vietnam.) But we don’t seem to know much about other African countries, especially those in East, West or North Africa. I suppose this is natural because everyone all over the world sticks to their own religion, family values and social norms, don’t they? Whatever we are raised with, that is truth to us. But I tend to find myself wondering: how different is it over there in East, West and North Africa? I finally have a chance to go somewhere so that’s exciting. I’d like to create more opportunities to go to those places and see for myself what it’s like.

Even though the entire family always knew there was a place called Tanzania, most of us hadn’t looked it up in detail and we didn’t know anyone who’s ever gone there. I’ve been instructed by my mother to come back with some Kente fabric because hers has grown old and is falling apart. My personal mission is to explore the food and the beach. (We come from a landlocked country -which is why everyone in the family is so keen on beaches.) I also wanted to make some friends there who I can continue talking with after the trip. I’m curious about the culture there and how everyday life is. It’s easier finding out if you know someone who lives there, versus relying solely on a 5-day trip.

I just thought I’d share a few realities of a somewhat sheltered, Southern African person. If you enjoy reading about those kinds of insights, let me know and I’ll write more about life in all parts of Africa as I find out more about places outside the south.

Random Thoughts: Pretending I Knew A Famous, Dead Stranger

I once watched a movie which depicted the life of a painter… The painter, described by the Internet as ‘morally skittish’, left his family behind for a carefree, Tahitian existence. If I remember correctly, the painter had a friend who … Continue reading