Thoughts on moving in silence.

By Philip Obosi
23 December 2021

It's been a struggle deciding whether to be public about my work, achievements and successes. My natural programming is to move in silence and not over share. This is an attempt to reflect on this choice.

Growing up, I had dreams of doing remarkable things and in some way impacting the world for good. Many of us had those, and most of us shared them with someone as soon as we could. In the end, a handful would go on to accomplish them while others fall short somewhere along the line. For me, it was different. I had heard the same message in several forms.

Over time, I had internalized this message so much that it had become my way of living for years. And I grew all the more solidified in it as studies began to pop up showing that there was a strong correlation between not voicing your goals and achieving them.

In recent times, however, I have been privileged to revisit most of the things I consider my core and in many cases poke at them for faults that could be detrimental. Seeing that it had become quite a conversation on Twitter as well, I decided to pen my thoughts as regards the topic in a hopefully well-articulated manner while providing the context necessary(as you mostly can’t do in 250 words).

I remember growing up, the equation for success as a young dreamer was pretty straightforward.

Hardwork + Perseverance = Success

As someone who wanted to be great at anything, all you had to do was work hard. Dedicate yourself to the cause and become good at whatever it is you do, then the opportunities will come running. Honestly, I loved this equation so much. I love the clarity and a clear sense of how things work and what needs to be done. However, I very quickly realized that the world around me had evolved and this was no longer the case. Then a new wave of advice came. I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this one before.

“Work smart, not hard” 🤡. Eventually, the wise men of this world seemed to have figured out that there’s often more to success beyond the effect of your hard work and perseverance. But what does it even mean to work smart? While I’m definitely in no position to speak for “the wise men”, I guess they figured that very often, success requires a more efficient dispensation of ones’ energy and available resources to reach the desired outcome. In short, “strategy matters”. So, is this it? Have we figured it out? Not yet.

“Another important component of success is luck”, they say. Luck? I don’t get it. Do you mean my strategy, dedication and actions aren’t enough to guarantee success at anything? This was the most difficult pill of “the successful man prescription” to swallow. It turns out, in some cases, you may do everything right and still not succeed. The “universe” needs to be in your favour or you need to hope for some coincidental alignment of favourable events. Some have gone further to explain how luck isn’t random and we can create our luck. Is that true? Perhaps. But I won’t let that derail my thoughts here.

Interestingly, the success equation has continued to evolve, and in all honesty, I was never prepared for the next wave of this evolution. As a creator, I always figured all I needed to do was be good at what I do. So imagine my surprise watching things go from “be so good that they can’t ignore you” to “sell yourself”. Yes, that’s it, sell yourself! Sell myself? WTF does that even mean? So after putting in all the work and sleepless nights to make “amazing things”, I’d need to peddle my work and convince people that it’s great work? Or that it’s useful to them? As someone who is somewhat naturally inclined towards pride, you can probably see how this did not seem right to me. If I’m being honest, it still doesn’t. However, sitting back and thinking deeply about the so-called “success equation” that has evolved over the years has brought me to a couple of very important realizations.

Everything is and is not

One of the best things that I think has happened to me in my relatively short life is the realization that while I am special and unique in my own smaller context, I’m utterly irrelevant in the larger context of things. This is not to say that I don’t matter, but this outlook has made it easier for me to see how my experiences and understanding of things can never and will never be ultimately accurate and universally binding. There’s hardly an equation to anything. As creatures of habit who draw inferences and knowledge from the things that we experience, it is quite natural for us to formulate an equation for success based on the largely insufficient data we’ve been able to gather. And that’s okay. What I think is not okay would be enforcing our mostly uninformed assumptions on others experiencing life within a different context. The success formula will continue to vary for each person. While we have the opportunity to draw from the examples of others before us, I think it’s relevant to maintain context that none of these deductions will be universally binding. There are examples both ways. Some folks will move in silence. Some will never forget to announce things even the ones we honestly don’t give a fuck about. But in the end, we all get to choose where we lie, and honestly, it’s fine either way.

Digging deeper

Beyond the discussion of to move in silence or not, I believe there are some more important things to think about at the core of whatever direction you choose to go.

I believe it was Socrates who said “man knows thyself”. If only that's always true. After spending 23 years with myself on earth, I have found flaws in my desires and reasons for doing things that turned out more harmful than my actions themselves. So I've made it a matter of importance to ask myself why exactly I feel the need to act one way or the other. If you feel inclined to show off and announce stuff, why is that? If you feel inclined to hide things and move in silence, why is that? This manner of thought has led me to discover several underlying insecurities. In the case of showing off/ announcing things, I realized I had begun to do it because it seemed like that was the way to succeed now. Sell yourself had become so strongly entrenched amidst our behavioral norms that I began to feel left behind. I’d watch people around me that honestly weren’t as competent as I was at stuff get the accolades and opportunities because they “sold themselves”. And for some friends of mine, they’ve reached the realization that they show off so people can see that they are making it.

That’s where I think the problem lies. More than the decision to move in silence or not, what may be more important is staying true to yourself and overcoming your insecurities. You can be successful while moving in silence and you can do it while doing a lot of talk too. If anything, I’ve realized the decision to move in silence or not is irrelevant as long as you keep doing great things. A likely challenge to being the guy who shares everything would be the ease of falling victim to “local champion syndrome” due to all the praise you may get. Such that you no longer try to be more. But like everything else in life, I think that’s just a challenge you need to deal with. As an introverted person, an obvious challenge to moving in silence is not being seen or known as much despite how good you may be. And even in cases where your work eventually gets to speak for you, it’s often a longer journey and may take more time to get there. Make a choice that is truly yours and live with it.

For me, I’m on a campaign to live openly and die empty. Thus I’m sharing everything I think anyone might find useful. I have come to believe that my life is not worth anything if lived in a silo. The thought that my life, work, and experiences could in some way make things better for someone is a solid motivation for me to keep living and get through life’s messiness. So, I’ll stay true to myself and I hope you do too.

To dying empty 🥂.