Imperfectly Awesome: Embracing and Becoming a Wholesome You by Omotola  Bamigbaiye

Imperfectly Awesome: Embracing and Becoming a Wholesome You by Omotola Bamigbaiye

A Confucian maxim about perseverance goes thusly: “Our glory is not in never falling but in rising each time we fall.” The aphorism has also been a

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A Confucian maxim about perseverance goes thusly: “Our glory is not in never falling but in rising each time we fall.”

The aphorism has also been attributed to South Africa’s sagely statesman, Nelson Mandela and, perhaps, fittingly so. Unbroken physically, mentally and spiritually in a penal colony for nearly three decades, he emerged to become first black president of the former apartheid enclave.

Under that circumstance, it is easy to understand why such stoic aphorism can be credited to one of the world leaders of the 21 st century with the famous benign smile.

Ms. Omotola Bamigbaiye is not a Confucian. She has never been president of any country either. But she clearly espouses the spirit of rising after falling as the Chinese philosopher exhorted his followers and as Mandela demonstrated in his exemplary life. That Confucian perseverance, stoicism shines through her first ever publication Imperfectly Awesome: Embracing and Becoming a Wholesome You.

The Robben Island in Omotola’s life, for starters, was less a physical confinement and more a natural predicament. Omotola enjoyed certain privileges growing up in an average family. Father was a civil servant while mother retired from NEPA and then became a notable entrepreneur. There were six siblings of which Omotola was the third daughter.

“We were not rich but we had everything we needed, particularly when it came to funding our education,” the author recalls.

But then, she had to battle a speech impediment from very early on – stuttering. For this reason, she kept pretty much to herself, cut off from the comradeship of peers in school and at play who were more than likely to make fun of her. While her mates gamboled around, she stayed glued to newspapers her father brought home. She also read books. Being a bibliophile, she got good grades from school, had a head start in her first career as a banker.

She was the youngest at her place of work but very productive. Still, some of her colleagues regarded her as an overzealous upstart.
Nor was management very much impressed with her productivity. When it was time to lay off staff to re-strategise the company for optimal performance, Omotola was one of the first to be axed. It was devastating. It would be one of the many obstacles strewn across her path as the years rolled by. Of that particular experience, she reminisces sadly about her job loss: “The empty feeling wraps its icy fingers around my heart, squeezing out the warmth of hope and replacing it with a weight of desolation…the pain of losing not just a job but a significant part of my identity sank in, leaving me with a heavy heart…I felt like a landscape coloured in muted tones where the vibrancy of life seemed to fade away in a grey of self-doubt.”

The self-doubt was soon dispelled with: another job opportunity, this time as a lecturer in a university. But then, there was the stammer! Before Demosthenes became one of the best orators in ancient Greece, he was almost as famous for his stutter. But he overcame it. So did Omotola. From the very first day in class, the new teacher was determined to overcome it, telling readers that “despite the nervous stutter, there was a hint of determination in my voice.  Today was just the first step, and I was ready to face the challenge one word at a time.”

From page to page and chapter by chapter, it is that spirit of overcoming obstacles and moving on and up, of “spiting the storms and surviving the rains,” as the poets urge, that Omotola displays in Imperfectly Awesome, an oxymoronic title needling the reader’s mind with questions like how can there be anything awesome in an imperfect person or state? Though people strive for perfection, it is hardly comforting because there will be nothing more to aspire to. You become sort of ambitionless once you reach that state of perfection. Even so, people are less enamoured of imperfection for obvious reasons. But to the author, that state of imperfection is sometimes the ideal launch pad to propel you to greater heights.

And she makes a persuasive case of that hypothesis using her real-life experiences. Preceded by catchy epigrams in every chapter, readers get a hint of what is to follow: how the author self-crawled out of seemingly impossible situations that would have had others caving in. “Learning isn’t confined to classrooms,” the first epigram states in the first chapter of Omotola’s book.

“Sometimes, the most profound lessons come from the twists and turns of life.”

For more than a hundred pages, the author lays bare for readers her different experiences of capricious “twists and turns of life.” She
recalls waking up one day to find that a car purchased with yet-to-be repaid loan had been stolen. Just like that. And then, there was the divorce after many years of marriage. A potential replacement for a spouse chickened out after a promising courtship. Almost always at the mercy of fate, Omotola showed an uncommon determination to claw her way back to the top.

“When the world tells you: Stay in your pit, that’s the best time to strive for success. And find your way out.”

Writing the book itself is proof that Omotola got out of every impossible situation, whether caused by others or as a result of a natural sequence of events. Part autobiographical, readers get a composite portrait of Omotola from her younger years through adolescence to adulthood. There are character portraits of others as well, her parents who devoted much time and resources to seeing that their wards never lacked. Even when Omotola became a single parent, her father, mother and a phalanx of older relatives lent a helping hand.

A homemaker, Omotola avails readers with that homely touch, that ambience of being in a house brimming with the warmth of cousins and nieces, all of them enjoying holidays together. And cooking, too. “The kitchen,” she writes knowledgeably, “with its warm ambience and inviting aromas, is a haven where family bonds are forged, and culinary dreams come to life.”

Nor does she gloss over the daily interactions between neighbours. On one occasion, Omotola recounts borrowing a blender from a neighbour called Mama Kay. Thinking that she’d damaged the appliance, she hoped to repair it before returning it to the owner. Time passed, stretching into days. Mama Kay had to come for the blender herself, making Omotola feel quite uneasy.

Even at that, Mama Kay, like some understanding neighbours would, was unruffled. The author remembers the lender marching “past me and headed straight to my kitchen. Her buttocks swung left and right in her faded Ankara wrapper.”

Both lender and borrower became the best of friends thereafter and then engaged in neighbourly tittle-tattle.

What readers take away mostly from ‘Imperfectly Awesome’ is the motivational aspect. In parts, it reads like some of those self-help publications on picking yourself up after unexpected downfalls. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking comes to mind. “Self-motivation,” Omotola enjoins readers, “isn’t magic. Life throws curveballs and finding the ‘why’ can feel like searching for stars in a storm. But remember, even the faintest glow can guide you in the darkest path.”

Another theme the author tackles seriously in her book is living your life and doing things as you please and not what society dictates or expects of you. Using the example of two women, Doyin and Grace, Omotola shows how societal expectations can, and sometimes do, frustrate people, especially women in their attempt to juggle between their professional careers and managing the home front. An accomplished artist, Doyin had to forsake her art to take care of two children at home. As the author pointedly recounts, society whispered into Doyin’s ear, “reminding her that a woman could either be a dedicated mother or a successful career woman, but never both.”

The result is all too familiar: “Doyin felt the scrutiny of judgmental eyes, both from the art world that questioned her commitment and from the town that wondered if she was neglecting her children.”

She left her art.

Grace faced such a similar dilemma, a teacher who had children to take care of as well. Omotola likens both women’s predicament to her own mother, an only child, who was stretched to the limit as a parent.

The chapter headings in ‘Imperfectly Awesome’ are encouraging enough. Thus, there is “Girl, Get Up,” “Good Enough,” “My Table – My Guests” and “Unapologetic.” Likening one’s existence to a table, Omotola muses that “in the heart of our existence, there lies a table – symbol of the life we shape for ourselves, bearing the weight of pain and struggle, yet standing strong on its sturdy legs of resilience.”

As the saying goes, only the dead are without problems. But for the living, there are problems aplenty. It is the determination you bring to overcoming the obstacles that makes life worth living, not allowing the problems weigh you down. A disagreeable boss may decide to fire you despite your commitment to the job. A spouse may decide on a whim he or she is done with the union. All that is nothing compared to the story of Job for sure. But it is enough to sink some people, to put them in a permanent state of depression, what Churchill called his “Black Dog.” What to do to move on and up? Turn the setbacks to comebacks hence the headline of this review. That is the short and sharp message from the author of this publication with a title that seems odd at first. It is not. In fact, it is a deliberate choice by Bamigbaiye, a marketing professional with a proven record in portfolio management.

‘Imperfectly Awesome’ is an unforgettable first publication from Omotola. There’s no doubt that a second or third will follow.

“This isn’t the end of the story,” she writes in the postscript, “just a pause between chapters.”

Judging from what we have at hand, readers should wait for the sequel with febrile anticipation.