We want to know how young people become adults. The question we ask is “What’s your coming of age story?” Every Thursday, we’ll bring you the story one young Nigerian’s journey to adulthood and how it shaped them.
The 22-year-old man we spoke to this week is an accomplished sales manger. Getting there wasn’t easy. Still, with his history of low self-esteem and agoraphobia, characterised by bouts of anxiety and panic attacks when speaking to people or speaking in public, he’s somehow managing to breakthrough and record milestones
I grew up in a small neighbourhood in Lagos that had highly ambitious and curious kids. Our parents weren’t restraining; we were allowed to partake in the fads of our time: we collected comics like Supa Strikas and Occultic, followed the life of superhero characters, stayed up to speed with Hollywood and vibed to the latest music videos on Channel O. We also went to summer camps. Because my family was religious, we always went to the ‘Deeper Life Success Camp’. It was never exactly my thing, but it was a good opportunity to meet new people and create new friendships.
Despite the varying belief systems and cultural backgrounds, the neighbourhood was closely knitted. It was the quintessence of communal living. I liked it, even though I wasn’t always up to going out and hanging out with friends. At such a young age, I was something of a recluse. I had more interests in academic books than any other thing. I read encyclopedias on science and technology, the timeline of historic inventions, theology, etc. I had a neighbour who collected encyclopedias about everything. Most of my time outside of school went into reading. These books served as some sort of safe space for me.
The truth is, I had, and I have very fragile self-esteem. I was always the nervous jelly in class — the pushover. Unlike a lot of stories I’ve heard about parents not caring about these kinds of things, my mum did; she still does. Given her experience with disadvantaged children, while working in public education, she understood my problems and was always helping out — teaching and nudging me to accept my inadequacies and revel in my strengths. There was never a time when my problems were referred to as a spiritual issue or treated as one. She made me realise it was all in my head: “Breathe some more and relax your muscles,” she’d say.
What’s even worse is that I had a terrible case of agoraphobia: always overestimating public situations. I remember one particular situation; I must have been four or five. It was children’s anniversary in church and I had been apportioned a memory verse to recite. I can never forget it, Isaiah 60 vs. 1. Such a short passage. Once on stage, I kept stuttering and hyperventilating, even though I knew what to say. It might sound crazy to you, but expressing myself before a litany of faces was beyond me. Thanks to my mum’s prodding, I aced my recitation that day.
Things are a bit better these days, though. While adulthood was never something I consciously envisioned, it’s turning out to be a bewildering milestone. I like to think that I’m an emerging adult, not a fully formed one. I mean there are times I draw upon the defense mechanism of regression, where I try to revert to an earlier stage of development, all in a bid to escape the responsibilities at hand. But I’m learning to accept it as a perpetual state of mind as opposed to a temporary action. I do this by being more responsible and taking initiative.
Speaking still gets me flustered; I’m almost always losing my train of thought. But as I come of age I realise I have to outgrow this irrational fear. I mean, I currently work in sales. For a 22-year-old who grew up with fragile self-esteem, I’m currently a SALES MANAGER. It’s where I’ve found myself, even after studying psychology for four years. In this position, I’m required not to drop the ball in communicating our value propositions to clients and consumers.
I don’t always acknowledge my accomplishments, or give myself credit for anything I do. It boils down to this fragile self-esteem. But I’m learning to do otherwise. I recently volunteered to support my mom with 50% of my brother’s tuition fee this new school session. I think it’s one of my biggest accomplishments as an adult.
With my career, there have been a lot of accomplishments. Yesterday I thought to myself, for a kid your age you aren’t doing so bad, so I took to WhatsApp and shared a recent milestone. The status read: “Can’t seem to shake this feeling… but at 22 I have single-handedly closed a sales transactions of one million naira…” The client emailed me last night again for a repeat order. All transactions were done via email and they paid upfront.
It’s been over a year in sales, but this baby boy has been doing senior-level numbers. I love the work I do, even though the salary is shit and there are no benefits or structures in the organisation. I’m consistently motivating myself to deliver. And even though I’m scouring for jobs elsewhere, this small beginning must count for something. I mean, I have burgeoning skills in data analysis and visualisation, market forecasting, product management, content creation and sales. I am some badass asset and my self-esteem can’t tell me otherwise.