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Embracing the freedom of multifacetedness

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

-Walt Whitman

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a pilot. To be fair, my parents wanted me to be one. If you ask me, I didn’t even know what pilots did then. I was perfectly fine with simply waking up to eat bread and stew (my favourite food as a child) for the rest of my life and so I mostly just went along with whatever the grownups said I could become. Considering how I was born in the mid-90s and in the largest city in West Africa, it did seem quite unthinkable that my very-much-so-African parents didn’t immediately want me to become a doctor or lawyer, which were the go-to career choices at the time, for many kids born to Nigerian parents. However, because I am the last-born of 3, those two options automatically went to my predecessors and I was stuck with the next best thing: become an engineer.

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As I got a bit older, it seemed like my path was already pre-established for me. Unlike many children that embark on self-discovery journies, be they destructive or formative, to find the things that interest them, I didn’t quite get involved in any of that. After all, my very wise parents already decided for me and I just needed to follow through. Little did I know that nudge from them was going to set a precedent for a lot of things in my life. Eventually, I started to nurture my aero-engineering aspirations, even though I barely understood any significant parts of it. I was predisposed to the sciences anyway. It felt natural and that was further confirmation for me that, bar whatever anyone said, I was in the right direction.

I must state that all of these were in the early 2000s. At that time, I could count the number of tertiary institutions that were offering aeronautical engineering as a course of study in Nigeria in one hand and I would probably still have a few fingers left uncounted. They were simply not that many and the ones that did were located so far away from where I lived and always hoped to go to university. To summarise, I wanted to become a pilot engineer (not really, to be honest, but for the sake of this post, we’ll stick with that declaration) and for that to happen, I needed to at least attend a university that would teach me how to become one. There came along the first hurdle: the University of my choice couldn’t be asked to teach this program and as such, my expectations had to be timely managed.

Photo by Engin Akyurt

Now why am I telling this long, arduous story? First of all, I love telling stories. Secondly, it felt important to start this off by drawing from a premise that is very familiar to me so that I am able to bring authenticity to this entire post. When I first thought of writing about human multifacetedness, I understood it was a broad topic. However, I wanted to do it from a place of who we are and the many ways in which we can exist. For those who don’t already know, I am not a pilot, lol. I didn’t even go to school to study anything related to planes. But I know that even if I had, it certainly wouldn’t have defined me. Because I would still want to do many of the other one million and one non-plane related things that I find interesting.

In life, many people believe in the idea that we are meant to be/do one singular thing and that if or when we fail at this thing, we have failed at life. Or that even when you do more than one thing, you will lack the ability to attain mastery at anything in particular. It’s why when we reference people as “jack of all trades, master of none”, it indirectly translates to them being inconsistent and having weak opinions. Of course, that philosophy would make sense if we were not multifaceted beings whose innate abilities forbid us to be bound to one singular venture for the entirety of our existence. It goes against everything that we represent in nature to limit ourselves to one role throughout our lives.

I feel like if I still wanted to become a pilot, I could become one. I don’t want to though but I know I could and that knowledge alone makes all the difference in the world. I never really understood what it meant whenever people said “You can be all that you want to be”. I used to think maybe they meant you should be everything you want to be and I found that very matter-of-factly overwhelming. I don’t think anyone should aspire to be everything, that’d simply be too exhausting. However, I believe that everyone should embrace the freedom that comes with acknowledging that you can be all that you want to be in this one lifetime. That it’s okay and totally fine. Because after all, we are capable of being so much more than one singular thing.

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