Sunday, May 02, 2021

Life Lately: How recognition from a kind teacher changed my life; Work anniversary

1998, at Adesola Kings & Queens School, Ibadan, Nigeria

I posted this picture on Instagram during the week with the caption “I am somewhere in this picture doing what comes naturally to me in a large group”. 19 friends responded, some with one word, and they were nearly all right. If you look closely, you too can see me. Go on, look for me. Do you see me?

I’m third from the left in the middle row, hiding about half my body behind the kid to my left. For as long as I can remember, my inclination in a large group has always been to hide, to blend into the background.

A few responses to my post

But as many people who know me will say, I haven’t really succeeded at this. For someone who prefers to hide, I tend to end up in very visible roles. Class representative for most of my secondary and university education, a bunch of visible roles in student associations, very visible projects at work… There are many reasons for this seeming contradiction, but one of the most fundamental happened on yet another day in school.

Fast-forward to 2001, the first term of my second year in Loyola College Ibadan. My English class was such that one student would read aloud from a book, then the teacher would teach concepts from the passage. After trying a few students who volunteered, the teacher selected a designated reader who read at the start of every class. I often sat there and thought to myself that I could read just as well, if not better, but I hadn’t put my hand up during the initial call for volunteers and couldn’t work up the courage to ask for a trial.

Then the designated reader missed class a few days in a row. Our teacher tried a few other students, then glanced at me and said “You there. What’s your name? Gbeke? You never say anything. Do you know how to read?” Ah. Me that I read and acted Macbeth with my mum every afternoon after school? Of course I could read. I stood up, making myself even smaller than I was, cleared my throat, and began to read.

The class went silent. My voice rose and fell as I read out, adopting different pitches for the different characters in the passage and painting the scene in bold colors. When I finished, the teacher said to me, “Who knew you could read like that? Why do you hide at the back of the class? Your reading ability is far ahead of your age. You are now our designated reader.”

And that was it. Following the additional visibility from reading so well in class, I was elected Class Captain a few weeks later. Her voice lived rent-free in my head for years, reminding me - "Why do you hide at the back of the class?" My lifelong lesson in balancing my introversion with a sense of ownership for individual and group results started with recognition from a kind and thoughtful teacher. While it may have been insignificant to her and most of my classmates, I still remember it very clearly – two decades after.

Recognition can be such a powerful thing. In their book, The Power of Moments, the Heath brothers write “Of all the ways we can create moments of pride for others, the simplest is to offer them recognition.” I have seen this happen several times since then, at school, at work, even in church.

“If you knew you could make a positive difference in someone’s life—that you could create a memory for them that would last for years—and it would take only a trivial amount of time on your part, would you do it?”

Will you do it?


It's six months today since I joined Amazon. I’ve really enjoyed these six months and it’s been all I expected it to be and then some. Given all that can go wrong when changing jobs and how much was outside my control (such as the makeup of my team), I am very grateful that this is working out well. I am looking forward to seeing where this journey goes.


What I’m currently reading: I recently picked up the Faraway Collection, free to read on Kindle for Amazon Prime members. The five books in the collection are reimaginations of classic fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Cinderella. I’ve now finished one of the five, Hazel and Gray, and I really enjoyed it!

What I’m currently listening to: Why Conversations Go Wrong (Hidden Brain). I listened to this yesterday and I loved it. You can’t really go wrong with Hidden Brain. In this episode, linguist Deborah Tannen and podcast host and author Shankar talk about how our conversational styles can cause unintended consequences, and what we can do to communicate more effectively with the people in our lives.

Cheers to the coming week!


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