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You are already somebody


I received an sms last week on Thursday from a friend asking who William Kamkwamba was. I would quote the exact text but I believe this is a family paper.

But that was precisely the point. Success is not the exclusive domain of famous people!

A few years ago, I gave a lift to a staff member from the “floor” as we called it, and as we drove to the city centre asked him what he wanted to do with his life. His reply momentarily stunned me:
“I want to be somebody.”

I didn’t know whether this was a translation from Shona, bad English or a statement affirming that he was a “nobody”.

Let’s address this issue using a famous person to satisfy my friend, from whom I fully expect a sarcastic sms as soon as this is published.

Rafael Nadal has just entered the ranks of the all-time tennis greats by winning what is known in tennis as the Career Golden Slam. Look it up, the Editor is fussy about space.

Wikipedia informs us that twenty-one years ago,” recognising that Rafael had a natural talent for tennis, an uncle, Toni Nadal, a former professional tennis player, introduced him to tennis when he was three years old.

Toni Nadal has been coaching him ever since.

At age eight, Nadal won an under-12 year regional tennis championship at a time when he was also a promising football player.

This made Toni Nadal intensify training, and at that time he encouraged Nadal to play left-handed — for a natural advantage on the tennis court, as he noticed Nadal played forehand shots with two hands.

When Nadal was 12, he won the Spanish and European tennis titles in his age group and was playing tennis and football all the time.

Nadal’s father made him choose between football and tennis so that his school work would not deteriorate entirely. Nadal said: “I chose tennis.

Football had to stop straight away.”

So let’s break this paragraph down then: Someone notices the potential in the young Rafa and urges him to take up tennis.

It is called a defining moment. Have you spotted yours?

In the rough and tumble of making a living, the business of being busy or being mired in self-pity because the country or this marriage “is not working for me” a lot of Zimbabweans miss that still small voice when it summons them to greatness.

Are you listening, watching for it?

Rafa’s uncle encouraged him to use his left hand for natural advantage on the court. Wow!

You are trying to carve a career out of a sport and you start with a disadvantage, learning to play with your left hand, to get an advantage?

This is called leaving your comfort zone (all words you have heard before!)

There you are, with a good job, or living at your relatives’ expense, all dressed up but nowhere to go, what should you do?

Well, this friend of mine, he of the family-challenged text messages, was a well-paid and incentivised MD of a big company in Harare but he left to start his own business.

This was something he had always wanted to do, by the way, and I know that because I helped him write out his mission statement and values over beers on a houseboat in Kariba several years ago.

In fact, the day he got a loan from the bank his first reaction was: “What have I done?” and not in those words exactly!

He had left his comfort zone and his business is now doing well, thank you very much.

Are you prepared to do what you have always really wanted to do?

Last lesson from the paragraph on Rafa: His father made him choose between football and tennis.

If you look at the Olonga brothers (Henry and Victor), you will see that they could have chosen anything from the following options: acting, football, tennis, rugby, cricket and singing. Rafa made a choice. At age 12, he was already “somebody”: a tennis player.

Are you sitting on a talent or unfulfilled dream?

So, the lesson for this week? Rafa, like William Kamkwamba and the Black siblings, was “somebody” at a young age, in this case a tennis player who only turned professional three years later at age 15.

A quote from a fan site: “My ambition is to be a very, very normal guy. A very humble guy.

To play tennis, which I love and I want to be the best. And, when I’m done, I just want to be at home with my friends.”

Do not wait twenty years to get your MBA, CA qualification or PhD to become “somebody”.

You already are! Do me a favour this weekend, find a place where your spirit is quiet and you are at peace with yourself and the world.

Sit under a tree, “light a candle instead of cursing the darkness” and write out your “somebody” statement.

Simply state it and then resume your
innerzela journey. Take a bottle of whisky or water. It might come in handy.

Then just to spoil it all, next week we can talk about opportunities for failure!


Inspiration and discipline. I first heard the word from a caller to a Johannesburg radio station and gave it my own interpretation.

Albert Gumbo is a fellow of the Duke University-UCT United States Southern Africa Centre for Leadership and Public Values.

He writes in his personal capacity. Contact:

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