So long as your dreams are calling…

'Dont hurt the environment, it is already hurting...'

The game is not over

Speech Delivered to students and teachers at Peponi High School, Kenya

Thank you very much Mati for the kind introduction. It was so generous I almost didn’t recognise myself in those words. 

I feel privileged to have been invited. This is a wonderful school – and being here tonight brings back fond memories. My children were students at Peponi 1. They have since moved to England and are doing well – thanks to the strong foundation they received at Peponi.

Coming from the environment profession, I’m a most unlikely candidate. Ours is not the most seductive field, we leave that to investment bankers and the likes. 

But it is in its own right an incredibly exciting, adventurous and rewarding field.

Tonight, I’m going to talk about three key attributes which,in my humble opinion, are crucial for anyone to be truly successful in their profession, no matter the field. These are…

  1. Develop and embrace the art of questioning
  2. Be Kind and have humanity
  3. Stay in the game

In the not so distant future, if everything goes as it should, each of you will graduate from this fine institution, perhaps go on to the university of your dreams, and eventually join the “real world”. 

Undoubtedly you will thrive and succeed in said real world for several years earning yourself the title of “experienced professional”. But beware the illusions of the adult world, we don’t always know what we are doing. 

But you, with all your promise and potential, might just hold the right keys to the future!

Develop and embrace the art of questioning

The careers of the future belong to the most curious among you. The world is changing rapidly and will need people who are passionately curious and inquisitive. 

Cambridge, where my family now live, is a fascinating city. It has outstanding architecture, a rich academic history and, to my delight, numerous trees growing delicious wild berries and apples! 

The first time I went to Cambridge I was struck by how many apples grew in the wild. So plentiful are these fruits that they have firmly planted themselves in myth and history.

Legend has it that a young Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when he was hit upon on the head by a falling apple, a 17th-century “aha moment” that somehow prompted him to contemplate the incredible forces that govern our world and subsequently he came up with the elaborate law of universal gravitation.

Life is filled with such moments, which may be ordinary to many but the truly curious mind and eye will see beyond the ordinary and ask questions that lead to the extraordinary!

Apples are ubiquitous in Cambridge, and many people could see an apple fall to the ground, but it was only a young, insatiably curiousIsaac Newton who had the audacity to ask: why does an apple fall to the ground and not upwards towards the blue sky? 

An absurd question indeed but one that led to ground-breaking discovery that up to today is responsible for our understanding of the way the physical world works.

So, dare to ask extraordinary questions of the world around you. And have the courage and fortitude to pursue answers to your bold questions. You are not ordinary; you are capable of magnificent discoveries and developments in whatever fields of apples and oranges inspire you!

The world is filled with mysteries to uncover, so keep asking questions, and when you think you’ve figured it all out, ask again and again because there is always room for learning, and often from mundane things around you!

The world gets better because of and not in spite of those with a questioning mind. Always seek to leave the world a dash better than you found it – whatever your calling. 

Your generation ask more of their parents than I asked of my father. Greta Thurnburg – who has become the voice for young people on climate change - forced her parents to change profession and do the right thing, because she believed in it. I think that makes you and her better people.

And that leads to the second attribute 

Be Kind and have humanity

Kindness is both a currency and a virtue in today’s world. As you pursue your aspirations and build your careers, I hope you also take time for introspection and make sure that you are building futures for yourselves that have a purpose far greater than the lovely zeroes on a bank balance. 

Make sure that you build lives with great meaning because believe me this will transcend the coming and goings of salaries. What will stand the test of time, and what will actually energise you to wake up every morning, is applying yourself and your great talents towards impacting the world in a positive way

I work for United Nations Environment Program, where I lead the biodiversity and ecosystem services program. I work with a great team of people from countries all over the world on many pressing environment and development issues, including to change how we measure the economic status of nations. 

The current measure, called Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, fails to take into account the well-being and happiness of people. We aim to change that through an alternative called Inclusive Wealth Index. 

We are interested in what it is that drives people to cut down trees, pollute the environment and undermine the biodiversity that underpins the success of life on earth. How is it possible that the burning of the amazon forest, that is now resulting in global outrage, could have happened in the first place? Or burning fossil fuels, that have been blamed for climate change, is still considered a driver of modern economies?  

How is it possible that economies are prospering, but people are increasingly poorer and mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and suicide are on the rise, along with drug and alcohol addiction?

We hope that if we can find the answers to these questions, human societies will live in greater harmony with nature and we will have a more just and fairer society. 

These questions are not just the preserve of academics, but of everyone who has an inquiring mind and has a sense of empathy. The world needs not only incredibly efficient people, but also well-grounded people, who think not only of themselves, but of others who we share this planet with. 

Some of you might remember how global economies crashed in 2008. While the impact, and hence the remedies, were most visible on economies and people’s ability to make a living, the base problem stemmed from greed and lack of kindness and empathy fort others. 

Our actions and decisions whether in the banking sector, or any other, have impacts on others, and often the worst impacts on the most vulnerable.

Many of you will be lucky to go on to be in charge of large teams, institutions and even countries: I hope that you listen to the tug of empathy and humanity within you and make decisions that will make our societies more equal, inclusive and compassionate. 

So, don’t hurt the world, it is already hurting. 

Instead, ‘be kind whenever possible, it is always possible.’ 

Third – It’s not over. 

The hard, and perhaps glorious, thing you will learn about life – if you have not already - is that it is a continuous process of learning. It is quite aptly a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs, glorious and stunning successes and humbling failures. Many many failures but one positive thing about failures is that they offer opportunities to learn and improve. 

But the most important thing to remember in those down moments is this: it's not over.

In the great Shona tradition of my people, we say "The chakata fruit on the ground belongs to all, but the one on the tree is for she who can climb."

It is hard to climb to the top of the chakata tree. On the way up you bruise yourself, sometimes hold on to a not so sturdy brunch and fall down, but the important thing is keeping your eye on the fruit learning from each bruise and continuing the climb till you get what you set your eyes on! 

You are at an exciting but understandably precarious stage in your life, navigating your identities as young adults, trying to find your place in the world, hoping that your future plans are the best, learning how to trust yourself and being confident in your abilities.

Then on top of all that life might hand you rejections, difficult curve balls and at the time seemingly insurmountable problem sets in calculus. And true, you might sometimes stumble and fall. But it is all part of life’s way of teaching you lessons of tenacity, perseverance and furious optimism. 

So, whenever you do fall, dust yourself off, you can count on the encouragement of your support networks, as well as your internal indestructible determination, eventually if you keep going you will get exactly where you desire to be!

So long as your dreams are calling for you, the game is not over. 

Even I, an alleged “experienced professional” have accrued a series of both small and large blunders. I have sent out the wrong email, left out a zero on a budget which made the difference between 20,000 and 200,000 I’ve underestimated my own or others’ abilities. I allowed things to pass, that should not have been passed…  but I’m always willing to learn the lessons. 

We only become experts when we strive towards improvement and don’t let the setbacks get you down

Let me end by emphasising the three key messages for all of you: -

First – Develop and embrace the art of questioning. Whatever your calling, be curious of the world around you, and in the pursuit of answers you will end up building careers and impacts much greater than you could have ever imagined!

Second – Be kind and have humanity. The world needs those who extend compassion in everything they do. Your kindness is both a currency and a virtue. 

Third - Stay in the game. It’s never over… until it’s over.

Conclusion:

As you walk down the road of life, you will be distracted. But you are still young and it doesn’t matter if you don’t have your whole life figured out yet. What does matter is that you keep striving to be your best.

Don’t give up, and trust in your own unique path to greatness

The best fruit is at the top of the chakata tree...and it is for those who dare to climb that tree!  Keep climbing and never give up. 

Thank you very much for your time… and good luck with your studies and future careers

Maxwell Gomera

 

Credits:

Many thanks to....

1. My friend Kemunto Nyamemba for helping me craft and edit this on short notice.

2. My mentors Holly Kearl and Bee Wuethrich for suggestions.

3. My son Taku Gomera for ideas on what really matters to young people

4. Student Head Ms. Matikudza Chiromo and Principal Mr. Mark Durston for the opportunity to speak to the wonderful students of Peponi.