This is Tayo’s* story, as told to Sheriff

Up until the time I went to university, I was always the best at everything — schoolwork and extracurricular activities. This genuinely made me believe that God anointed my brain to pass any exam . I never had it difficult. I never needed to study too hard for anything. The only time I ever studied hard in my life was in JSS1 when my position briefly dropped from 1st to 2nd because the competition increased. I was smart like that. But that belief was quickly challenged when I got into the university.

I went to college at 15, like others do. But unlike many Nigerian kids who had set ambitions, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with technology, as I’d fallen in love with computers after getting my first one at 8. But that conviction wasn’t strong enough because I was also drawn to pure sciences and had a strong interest in physics. It also didn’t help that the prominent people in physics were revered as being super-smart. So I thought I could be like them. 

You can imagine the look on my dad’s face when I showed him my JAMB form and he saw “Physics” on it. It was one of disgust. “Physics?” he asked. “What do you want to do with it?” I mentioned that I could work at CERN (a huge research lab somewhere in Europe) and that I just loved physics and wanted to pursue it. My man looked me in the eyes and said “Unless you want to become a teacher, I’m not paying for you to go and study this thing”.

I argued this out with him for a few days but my dad is a stubborn man. It also didn’t help that I had zero leverage in this situation. When it finally came to it, he chose a course for me. And you know what he chose? Pharmacy. He argued that getting a job is assured and I could make more money if I start my own thing.

It sounded like a good deal, so I chose it. I filled out the form, wrote the test and scored high enough to study pharmacy. That was the beginning of all my problems. Coming from a relatively comfortable school life, I was quickly introduced to running after lecturers in search of a lecture hall, sitting on the floor in overfilled classes, and extremely long hours under the sun in the name of ccomputer-based tests. In short, I suffered. But that was my first year.

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In my second year, the suffering moved from physical to mental. 10-hour classes every day, with extra labs on top. That boy who never had to stress to get through school suddenly started freaking out every day. My first year dealt the first blow to my ego, but the real kicker came in my second year. 

During my second year final exams, I fell sick. I was so sick that I had to be admitted in the hospital for a few days. I’d forced myself to push through three exams in my half-alive mental state, I failed those three courses. Three D’s in one semester. At first, I was confused. I had okay test scores. So how did this happen? As it turned out, I wasn’t dreaming at all. I had a D in all three of them, and in my department, that meant that I had three carryovers.

What followed was the roughest period of my life. Denial was the first phase, so I started trying to prove to myself that it wasn’t really me and that something was wrong. I worked twice as hard as I used to, and even took everything way more seriously than I ever had. But nothing worked. My grades didn’t go back to being stellar. I’d have panic attacks before exams and sometimes fall physically ill whenever a huge deadline was coming up. In the end, my grades were slightly above average at best.

This felt like an attack on who Ithought I was, and I spent the next two years nursing an identity crisis. I started searching for that validation outside of school. I learned new things and picked up new skills to prove to myself that I was still that guy. I guess it’s hard to know if I was because I didn’t have to write any exams. I got reasonably good at those things but the minute I realized that I was, I dropped it and started to pursue something else.

Over that time, I learned to code, learned to write, and dabbled in finance, among other things. They all came in handy as I started earning a lot of money before I graduated from college. I was working two remote jobs at a point, making $1000 a month. I finished the degree and even though all my toiling in school had stopped, my personal scrambling continued. But one day, after stressing so much to get a finance certification, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying most of these things. I was doing them to prove something to myself. But I didn’t need to. School was already behind me and I could just face real life now, and the good part was, there are no exams here.

To be honest, I think my life would have been so much easier if I’d cut myself some slack. I’m not that special, and there’s honestly no need to be. After coming to that realisation, I decided to take a step back from working so much to figure out what I actually enjoyed. 

I realized that it was computers all along. This might sound cliche but while I’d changed so much, I’d also remained the same. I’ve always enjoyed working with them and learning about them. I had so much more clarity when I stepped back from overwork than all my years of trying to force my way through. I feel like I’ve finally figured my life out, and I just want one thing from here on out — to do what I love and make I life out of it. At the moment, I’m doing an MSc in computer science at a school in the USA and even though it’s not easy, I know I chose for myself this time.

*Names have been changed for the sake of anonymity

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