“Be a professor, not a teacher!” That was the response when, at age 7, I voiced my dream of being a teacher. In the innocent way children see life, I thought there was nothing more amazing than sharing knowledge with others. I was a dreamer who loved reading, telling stories, and drawing. I dreamed of travelling and sharing my passion with others because I didn’t yet know this world’s false hierarchies for achievement. Of course, the adult who responded with, “Be a professor, not a teacher”, only wanted me to aspire for ‘more’. Life happened, and I became neither a teacher nor a professor.
For many years, I told myself I grew out of that dream. Let’s face it, I only got caught up in the flow of conventional success. Many of us are recruited into the rat race early. A little dreamer becomes a career success-chaser. Back then, in secondary school, everyone thought science students were the smartest. So, that was the way to go if you wanted to prove your brilliance. University quickly showed me how wrong I was to try to walk a path I had zero affinity for. I first tried my hands at Microbiology but bailed after taking Chemistry 157. Next, I tried Computer Science. My classmates were mostly people who loved computing and had been doing it for years. On the other hand, I struggled so badly that I quickly changed courses.
It’s interesting how little you struggle when you’re where you ought to be. Studying Combined Social Sciences was tough, but I didn’t struggle as I had at pure science courses. I not only excelled in Psychology, History and Management, but I also enjoyed those courses. In retrospect, they called back to my childhood dream of teaching and, unknown to me, prepared me for my path. Still, a dreamer’s journey is not always a straight path. Often, people say, “Don’t put your dreams on hold”, but sometimes life forces you to. Yet, our dreams have a way of continually calling to us.
“…a dreamer’s journey may not be a straight path, but every diversion offers you experience and grit until you finally have the strength to follow your heart.”
The first time mine called again, I was at Harvard studying for my Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. During the toughest two years of my educational life since I tried to study Computer Science, I found an oasis. I read through case study after case study until, one day, I thought, “Where are the Nigerian stories?”
I’d worked in Nigeria’s business sector for many years, and I knew we had a rich history and culture of business success. I wanted the world to know that. So, for one of my assignments, I decided to write about Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola. My long-dormant dreamer self came alive. I researched, interviewed people, and wrote. I loved every moment of telling his story. That assignment was later expanded into a 2006 HBR Case Study titled ‘Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola and Nigeria’s Manufacturing Sector’*. It was surreal. I wasn’t a teacher like I dreamt of as a child, but I’d created something business schools use as a teaching tool.
That 2006 spark became a full-blown fire in 2020. I decided to give my all to my passion for history, knowledge, and teaching. During the infamous pandemic year, I founded my publishing company, Tani-Series Ltd, and began working on my first book about Nigerians who have made an incredible mark in their sector and/or the world. Two years on, I’ve authored and published three books: I Am A Nigerian In Literary Arts, I Am A Nigerian In Music, and I Am A Nigerian In STEM. Many days, I can’t believe how far along this dreamer has come on her journey, yet I know it’s only just the beginning. I’ve learnt and I keep learning that a dreamer’s journey may not be a straight path, but every diversion offers you experience and grit until you finally have the strength to follow your heart.
*Nohria, Nitin, Anthony Mayo, Foluke Otudeko, and Mark Benson. “Chief Timothy Adeola Odutola and Nigeria’s Manufacturing Sector.” Harvard Business School Case 407-027, December 2006. (Revised January 2007.)