Great Minds of Tomorrow (I call you so because you truly are the ideas of the future), if you had the choice to embark on one of the following journeys, which one would you choose? A simple, direct and short journey that promises to return you safely, unscathed, and the same as you were before; or a long winding yet transformational journey with possibility of slips and falls? You may disagree with me but I argue that you should always take the long and winding one. You know why? Simply because there’d always be another journey and the long winding journey will be a rich source of experiential wisdom to draw from. Like the timelessly phenomenal band—the Beatles—once sang, the long and winding road never disappears.
Perhaps I could share a life episode to bolster my stance. I came into the corporate world with more than sufficient technical training and abilities in using statistical techniques to solve business problems. I started my career at Allstate’s Research Group which was mainly responsible for using rigorous mathematics and statistics to guide the company on risk selection, risk pricing, and other winning strategies. Within a couple of months at my 1st company, I had mastered majority of the statistical methodologies our group used in solving problems and even had ideas on how to improve some of them. However, speaking to another person (especially one with a higher authority) was more intimidating than the hardest mathematical problem I had ever solved. And even when I mustered some courage to talk, the only person who understood my words was myself.
At that time of my professional life, I was presented with a dilemma between two journey options: I could cower into my corner and just safely execute instructions that my boss gives me. At least, by dealing with my boss only, I wouldn’t have to explain myself to many people; also, I could have rationalized such choice with the contorted consolation that technical work are only to be understood by a few people. But even though I am sure I could’ve found many such gratifying consolations for the status quo, it would have been a complete waste of all the technical knowledge I had accumulated in college and graduate school. In this light, I dared to be great or at least have a shot at it. I decided to embark on the much more exciting journey of learning to speak intelligibly and articulately.
Knowing that this journey, like many others, will be 90% mental and only 10% physical, I started to inundate my mind with encouraging quotations and abstained from naysayers, who would kill the spirit by giving you 1000 reasons why you were not born to achieve. I took solace in the words of the all time greatest scientist, Albert Einstein, who said that scientific ideas can be explained in a language comprehensible to anyone, including those who don’t necessarily share our technical expertise: If he could explain his insanely complicated relativity laws to the entire world, I should be able to express my thoughts on how to model insurance losses to any interested audience. I empowered myself with the exhortation of the renowned psychologist and philosopher, William James, who said that, compared to what we ought to be, we are only half-awake; and that we possess powers of various sorts which we habitually fail to use. (These powerful words from Mr. James ought to give any anyone a pause for concern and thought).
Like a baby learning how to walk, it was the first step that was almost impossible to take. But I gathered all my remnant pieces of courage together and answered to any call to speak publicly at the work place whether it’s a round table discussion during a team meeting or an opportunity to get in front of peers (sometimes senior leadership) to speak about a chosen topic. And granted, these initiatives were not without slips and falls. There was an occasion when I, as if seated on an electric chair, shook conspicuously, and clumsily knocked down my water bottle, soiling myself, the neighboring audience, and the laptop with which I presented. At another time, I made hand gestures as frantic as a Kungfu fighter preparing to launch an attack on an adversary. These setbacks had enough carbon dioxide to extinguish the burning enthusiasm of any willing soul. But I continued to keep my eyes on the prize, which Dr. Ralph Smedley, founder of toastmasters, once described as: “The well-balanced intelligent speaker is the natural leader in any group of which he is part of”. I also drew perhaps delusional, yet palpable inner strength from the Holy Scriptures which says I’d soar on wings like an eagle and I’d run but never get weary.
Five years later, I am still on this journey, seeking with every sliver of my strength the grace of eloquence: I am part of an outreach team that speaks to college students about what an actuary does and why we are important for the survival of insurance companies; I have taken a more active role in my church and sometimes I speak to college-bound students about the SAT, success in college and life in the corporate world. Ultimately, I joined Toastmasters where I have the rare opportunity to develop effective speaking techniques by doing and watching others.
Great Minds of Tomorrow, despite the tumultuousness of the journey, I am sticking to it. For just as Gold cannot be obtained in significant quantities without digging some 1000km into the ground, we also have to step outside the boundaries of our comfort to reap extraterritorial fruits like becoming a leading expert in a hot field, calmness amidst storm, loving the world even if it doesn’t love you back, the boldness and eloquence of utterance, and whatever enviable attribute we desperately desire. Alvin Anais says it best, that life shrinks and expands in proportion to our courage. Each one of us has the innate ability to far more achieve. We just need to be brave to avoid the journey, comfortably direct but leads to mediocrity, ordinary and status quo; we should rather take the journey, more convoluted yet worthy and promising of greatness and fulfillment. Otherwise, when we die, we just fade away like fumes of smoke. But that will be an atrophy of the immense talent and purpose endowed us by our Creator. Kind Regards to you all.
Gyasi K. Dapaa is currently the Director of Data Science at Navistar Inc.