Dear Benjamin from January 2012.
As I write you this letter I am sitting on my balcony on a sunny Saturday morning at the Mare Monte Beach Hotel on the beautiful Greek island of Crete.
I was thinking about you all night long and I figured that I would take the time out to send you a message from the future in order to let you know that everything, absolutely everything that you ever dreamed of eventually worked out. That ingenious idea that you had right after you left university, led to a massively successful tech startup which attracted a large amount of international attention, billions of dollars worth of venture capital and managed to disrupt an entire industry. This fast-paced growth eventually lead to an IPO that netted you a massive personal fortune which will allow you and your future wife (who is proving to be very elusive) and kids to live comfortably for the rest of your lives. Your name will forever be remembered and you will be immortalized in the history books as the young ambitious East African boy who changed the world forever. Even though we are only at the tender age of 26 right now, you have officially retired and you no longer need to worry about working or making money for the remainder of your entire life.
Ok, the first sentence was true, you are at a beachside hotel on the beautiful island of Crete right now for Zappi’s annual Zigl Away Days (ZDA) work conference, but the rest of the paragraph is a slight exaggeration. You are not a billionaire, you are not famous, you did not change an entire industry, you are not on the forbes list, and while you are 26, you are certainly not retired yet, far from it. In fact, you don’t even have a pension fund, any tangible investments, or any sort of retirement annuity whatsoever. The sad truth is that you actually don’t even have any savings, instead what you actually have is an unflattering amount of credit card debt, which I am trying to help us pay off gradually. But despite all of this, knowing you, it is very likely that the most difficult pill for you to swallow out of all of these hard-hitting truths is the fact that you are not even self-employed anymore. Yes, Benjamin Jacob Mmari, you have a J-O-B. But PLEASE! Continue reading, don’t cry, keep calm, it gets better I promise. Step away from the ledge, put the knife down and please, stop googling “how to tie a proper noose”, you are better than this. Firstly, you don’t even have the right material for the rope and secondly, I know how bad you are at following instructions anyway, (yes, we still can’t cook very well) so I prefer it if you don’t embarrass us because it is very likely that you will fail miserably, I can see the headline in the Swazi Times newspaper already…
Heart to heart
I of all people know how convinced you were that entrepreneurship was the only path that you were truly destined for. I know you want to make your parents proud by starting and running your own business from an early age. I know you want to make your mother proud by leaving the nest and living a life of independence. I know you want to make your father proud by obtaining a degree in Computer Science from the best University in Africa, and congratulations, you will do all these things and I really commend you on all your effort and commitment thus far, but the truth is that, as it stands, your life didn’t completely work out exactly the way that you wanted it to, or rather, it did not work out in the naive way that you thought you wanted it to work out (detailed in the first paragraph), but don’t despair, because you are still here and you live to tell the tale.
There are two sides to every coin
24 months from now, after working your ass off for four consecutive years, you will graduate from the University of Cape Town with a first class honours degree in Computer Science, you will get a corporate job at a good company with offices based in the Cape Town CBD, which – being the rebel that you are – you will eventually resign from after 18 months before proceeding to start and run your own business, an IT consultancy that focuses on designing and developing mobile applications, while dabbling in a variety of different business ventures along the way.
During this turbulent period, you will gain a vast amount of experience. You will find yourself in situations that no business/self-help/fiction book could ever prepare you for, you will meet with people that you would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet with, you will work on projects that will add a vast amount of capabilities and skills to your knowledge base and of course, as any sane person that is running a business would expect, you will make a whole lot of money.
On the other hand, you will also make a lot of sacrifices. You will go many months without receiving a salary and you will spend the majority of your weekends in isolation, staring at your computer, furiously typing away at your keyboard. At some point, you will even have to borrow money, first from the bank and then from family, and as a result of this lifestyle, over time you will literally watch your already fragile body wither away in front of your eyes as stress, fatigue, poor diet and chronic sickness mercilessly take their toll on you.
Due to your constant digestive issues, you will undergo four separate procedures spread across four years whereby you will get a tiny camera fixed at the end of a flexible tube shoved down your throat (three times) and up your anus (once) as well, but I promise you that it’s all for a good cause.
Look, I am not trying to deter you, I’m just trying to inform you that this is the life that you are about to sign up for and you need to understand it, as hard and daunting as it may be to accept.
Why am I writing you this letter?
Let’s face it, no one knows you better than I do. I know you that tend to think a lot and that you spend hours on end planning, scheming and worrying about the future. I know that you strive for independence and that you strongly believe that you can do it all on your own. I know that you are vehemently against the ‘system’ and that you really want things to happen exactly the way you planned them because you are absolutely terrible at dealing with surprises, unknowns, and uncertainty. I know that you fluctuate between ambition and delusion, I know that you seem to reside in a simultaneous state of certainty and confusion and that your philosophical stance on life often alternates between existentialism and nihilism. I know all of this very well, and this is exactly why I was thinking about you last night.
I just wanted to write you this letter to let you know that everything is going to be ok. Despite the fact that you have been a major advocate of autonomy, sovereignty and complete and utter independence, you are currently employed again and believe it or not, you are actually extremely happy; yes, two distinct phrases that you never thought you would be able to utter in the same sentence ever again.
You are currently surrounded by people that mentally stimulate you, you are working at a company which will throw you challenges and obstacles that will push you to the absolute edge of your mental capabilities. You have a lot to learn, a long way to go and even though you are back to having an employee number, a brick and mortar office (with the option of working remotely whenever you want) and a payslip, thankfully, because of the company that you joined you still have your independence, your autonomy and the ability to make a real impact, which is at the very core of what you have been chasing all this time. You are working on a team of extremely intelligent and talented individuals, where every single person is working towards a common goal, and I will say this again in case it didn’t hit you the first time; you are actually happy!
A few words of wisdom from me to you
Without going into to much more detail, lest I ruin the surprise for you, I just want to give you a few pointers as you continue on to the next phase of your life:
Don’t worry – There are certain things that you can control and there are certain things that you cannot control. The things that you can control, do your best to plan and prepare for them, but for the things that you cannot control, let them take care of themselves. The world as you know it is a beautiful balance of chaos and order and it has been like this for the past 4.5 billion years, and as an organism produced by this world, your life is no different. So you should strive to organize what must be organized, but never be afraid to embrace the chaos, it is extremely necessary.
Trust the process – I can’t even begin to explain how well things have worked out for us thus far, and in the majority of cases we had almost nothing to do with it. We always seem to be at the right place at the right time and just happen to do the right actions, say the right words or know the right people. So make it a point to continuously put yourself out there, meet people, continue expressing yourself (never stop writing!) and never hold back from showing your true identity, never hesitate to project your desires and goals out into the world because you never know who might be listening. Trust the process and let the Universe take care of the rest. Trust me, it’s always got your back.
Always keep the bigger picture in mind – Yes, I know you want this and you want that and that you think life should always happen in a particular way but the truth is that the real world does not work like that. You will be thrown curve balls, shit will hit the fan, you will be terribly confused and at some point, nothing will make any sense whatsoever. You may not always know what step to take next, you may have to do things that you feel strongly against, but no matter what you do, who you meet or where you go, you must always remember to keep the bigger picture in mind. The bigger picture will make everything worth it, the bigger picture is what we are always striving towards and you should use the end goal to justify whatever detours you end up taking along the way to your predetermined destinations. You will definitely pivot A LOT along the way, and this is fine, but just know that you need to aim towards something, to begin with, because if you don’t know where you are going, then any road will get you there.
Don’t hold too strongly onto the idea of ‘who you are’ – Life changes, people change, you change and this is an ongoing process. Don’t hold on too tightly to this permanent fictitious idea of who you are and what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t limit yourself or hold yourself back, there are so many opportunities, situations and people that you could allow to completely pass you by because of your naivety, stubbornness, and pride.
Do yourself a favor and dissolve your ego, die to self and as Wayne Dyer used to say: “keep a mind that is open to everything yet attached to nothing.”. Don’t be naive and think that you know yourself fully and that there is nothing more to learn. Firstly you are far too complex to completely understand yourself and secondly, life as we know it is the epitome of impermanence. So yes, sometimes the onus is on you to tell the world who you are, but other times you should let the world show you who you are.
Always prioritize personal growth: Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to ‘succeed’ and ‘achieve’, your main priority should be to grow. That should be number one. Success, achievement, glory, fame, wealth – these are all relative to how everyone else around you is doing but don’t worry about them. Don’t spend too much time on social media wondering how your one friend can afford to travel to different places throughout the year, how another friend manages to run a full marathon every weekend, or how other friends are making a fortune from investing and trading in the magical, virtual world of cryptocurrency. What you should do is admire them, learn from them, ask them how they do it, but always focus on yourself. Remember rule 4 from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.
Focus on your journey: You are Benjamin Jacob Mmari, a Tanzanian who grew up in Swaziland, who can somehow only speak English fluently and who has a fascination with philosophy, psychology, and evolutionary biology to name a few. You are not Steve Jobs, you are not Pieter Thiel, you are not Vinny Lingham, Elon Musk, Mohammed Ali, Herman Chinery-Hesse, Seth Godin or Elizabeth Gilbert. You are not your flatmate, you are not your parents, you are not your siblings, you are not your colleagues and you are not your friends. Everyone is on their own journey and if you don’t harness the talents, skills, and passions that reside in your own being then you will waste a lot of time trying to emulate the lives of those around you. Don’t do that. You have been truly blessed with many abilities that are unique to who you are as an individual and if you don’t focus on them you will eventually lose them. A lot of people around you are indeed doing amazing things and they should always serve as inspirations and role models for you, but amidst your idolizing, remember to focus on your own personal journey. I know you love writing, so keep on writing. I know you love solving problems, writing code and making cool shit, so keep on doing that, and I know how much you love expressing yourself, so never hold yourself back from being who you are at any point in time.
Isolation is the enemy: As a fellow introvert I know how enticing the idea of locking yourself away from the world while you tirelessly build towards your future may be, but avoid it, it’s unnecessary. You need people, and when you find the good ones, hold onto them very tightly, extremely tightly. No really, don’t let go of them, ever. Ideally, if you can, you should trick them into coming over to your apartment, chain them by the hands and feet, lock them in a room and hold them hostage, forever. Just remember to provide them with an adequate amount of food and water on a daily basis and of course, decent sanitation facilities so that disease and infection do not spread rapidly throughout the group.
Ok, Ben, that was a joke, but I am actually very worried about how much you were entertaining that idea. Wow, you are such a strange human being.
Anyways, over the next few years, you will meet many new people and you will debate on which acquaintances and friendships are worth holding onto. Keep the good ones close, and don’t stress too much about the ones that fade away, and while you should always maintain a good amount of time for introspection and reflection you should never isolate yourself away from the world for long periods of time because you are only hurting yourself in the long run. Remember law 18 from The 48 Laws of Power: Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous
Travel – I started writing this letter on Saturday morning from my beachside hotel room in Crete just before the 12:30 check out time and I continued writing at the airport during my layover in Athens that same Saturday night. I have written the last few paragraphs over the past 3 hours while seated in seat 20J in zone D, one of the middle seats of the massive Boeing 777, on my 9-hour Fly Emirates flight from Dubai to Cape Town on Sunday morning.
We literally just had one of the most insightful weeks of our lives to date as we met with our colleagues from all around the world and spent a full week grinding out solutions in order to solve real problems experienced by real people, and we did this all while basking in the majestic scenery of Crete, the birthplace of Zeus himself. While on this trip we took some time out to go kayaking on the Mediterranean Sea, pedal boating on Lake Kournas, and strolling through the nearby town, meeting some of the friendly locals; all truly life-changing experiences that are extremely invaluable.
So, needless to say, my final piece of advice to you would be to travel. You need to see the world young man. You need to expose yourself to different people, different cultures, and different environments. You can read all the books, watch all the youtube videos and sign up for all the meetups that you can, but nothing will truly broaden your mind like exposure to the real world. And you really deserve to get out there and see the world for what it is. You have many questions, you have an active mind and you are always plotting and scheming, so stepping out of your comfort zone once in a while will really help quieten all those voices in your head and hey, it might also help you find this elusive future wife of yours as well.
Family first – As a final heads up, even though I know you are well aware of this already because you were raised by one amazing mother, just keep in mind that whenever you are in any sort of doubt whatsoever, you should remember that family will be the most important aspect of your entire life, and trust me, dude, you have been blessed with one kick-ass family, so never ever take that for granted. Never put work over family, blood is thicker than money and love is far more important than any sort of superficial, temporary worldly success.
Alright, I have 3 hours and 19 minutes left on this flight so I’m going to attempt to squeeze in my third movie of this trip in order to pass time by before landing in the currently drought-stricken Mother City. Yes, be warned, El Nino is coming bro, so you best enjoy your long showers while you still can.
Anyways, I really love you man. And I am extremely proud of who you are right now and the person that you are gradually growing up to be, so keep it up, and always, always, always remember that everything, and I mean absolutely everything, is going to be alright.
Ben from May 2018