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Learning Pangs

Updated: Sep 24, 2020


“I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best”- Marilyn Munroe

AB & David has been my very own social anthropological experiment.

I have learnt something enduring from all the people who have come through our doors. From Matthew the day security guard, who makes me laugh out loud with the relatable stories of his wife’s roller coaster pregnancy mood swings, to Goddey, the night security guard who holds me hostage with his bespoke Friday night prophetic prayer and discordant singing, totally unperturbed by the bewildered look on the faces of the Associates who walk by, to Michael, our newest Junior Associate who exudes such a positive aura that I can’t help smothering him with threats of marrying him off.

But the most difficult lesson I am still trying to ace is challenging my infatuation with my long held belief – that, I love to learn from others. I was always confident that the overdose of humility pumped through my veins by my mother and my training at Holy Child School, will make this a walk in the park. But this will be tested in my early years at AB & David and I would be unpleasantly surprised at myself.

It’s my first day of work - July 3, 2000. It’s also Anthony’s first day. Anthony is our Logistics Clerk – problem solver extraordinaire.

I am fired up to prove that I offer enthusiasm and I am willing to learn, indeed. There is no time to doodle, I am put straight to work. I am hunched over my desk etching out what I am confident will be the first in a series of great work.

The moment is here!…………

My “master piece” sits lonely on the conference table, bleeding from the sides - the red pen that David had used to correct my draft. I have a lump in my throat, nearly every sentence is bloodshot. I feel terrible, almost ashamed of myself. I can almost hear in my belly the sound of a deflating whirling helium balloon. David rescues me from my desolation. “You have great writing skills but you are not writing a chapter in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, you are writing a report for a client”. I am momentarily amused at the reference to Thomas Hardy’s iconic novel. But the feeling of dread is too fresh to be overcome by a quaint remark.

This is only the starter, the real pain of learning has just begun. In a spate of five (5) hours, I go through three (3) redrafts of my work. My mind is racing. “Is he serious? This man is challenging not only the content I have laboured so hard on, he is even challenging my use of words and punctuation.” I go through the next few redrafts with the composure of a young lady about to be introduced to her future in laws. Then, in between gritted teeth, I go through two (2) more redrafts. Now, there is a tightness in my throat and I may just be choking. It must be the tears I am trying so hard to swallow.

But I can’t hold up much longer. My calm veneer belies a bubbling irritation. “AAAAAAHHHH!” I want to scream. I have had ENOUGH!!! I can’t take this “defeat” lying down. My defences are up. After all lawyers are trained to win the argument.

So I open my defence in the most defensive way I can muster. I proceed to explain away my writing style, my use of language, my approach to the report etc etc . My feet are involuntarily tapping to the sound of a silent beat. I can’t wait to make my get away! My body language says it all. I don’t like what he said and how he said it. I am sure I won’t last in this “place” that long.

All in a day’s work, its 8:30 pm, I am almost lifeless. I can’t wait to make my escape. Today, I don’t hop on my high-heeled shoes. They are dangling on my fore finger, I don’t have the composure to do a catwalk down those stairs. I just want to “ananse” along the corridors and go home unnoticed.

I slam my body in the back of the taxi. The Rastafarian taxi driver is bobbing in his seat to Bob Marley’s “don’t worry about a thing”. I snap at him to switch to another radio station. He mumbles something incoherent under his breath - locally acquired Patois. Obviously irritated, he obliges grudgingly. Then I am greeted with Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t worry be Happy”. I ask him to turn off the radio. My mistake- now, I have to endure listening to the driver’s rendition of the song.

Over the years, I would catch glimpses of a young me in re-enactments of that July morning. But this time with me as the leading lady. Sometimes, I would forget that this used to be me, then, I remember, then I would giggle in my head or tell my “reincarnation”, in jest, what I know their minds are shouting out.

Many drafts and redrafts later, I will understand why learning is not so easy to do. It is a recognition that you have some dearth of knowledge that someone else has to fill. It is an admission that someone else has the power to add value to you. And then, there is the temptation to focus on the “Trump” trimmings of the lesson and forget the core message.

No doubt, we all hold with our tongues, the power to uplift or shut down someone’s spirit, the power to influence a person to do their best or make them doubt their ability. And, this power should not be taken lightly. But in the real world, there a lot of “Marilyns” leading the cast on a stage where you are for now, a co-star or simply an extra making your way to “stardom”. Your rise to fame could be hinged on what you learn from the “Marilyns”. And if you do get the plot, what a great opportunity to learn what another person has spent years experiencing and learning. And all you need to pay up is a willingness and commitment to learn. It takes open-mindedness to accept a new way of doing things. It takes humility. It takes questioning your own beliefs about yourself, even your greatest attributes.

But you can lose out on the opportunity to learn from the greats because you are too besotted with your own opinion of yourself, or too offended by a careless remark or tone you can’t shake-off or too blinded by the beam in your own eye with which you still see a four-headed Janus.

So before you up and go off in a huff, or throw your hands in the air in exasperation, before you convince yourself that this learning is too hard, that you can only survive if your “nemesis” disappears or is “born again”, do yourself a favour, stop and think again, you could just be losing out on the opportunity to get your first “Oscar”!

Isabel Boaten is the Managing Partner of AB & David Ghana, a business law firm in Ghana, which is the founding member of the Pan African law firm, AB & David Africa. She is married to Kofi Apeagyei and has two sons, Kojo and Papa Kofi. Isabel was named as “a woman in law to watch”, by the Institute of African Women In Law in August, 2020. She is also a lecturer in Law Practice Management at the Ghana School of Law.

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