|Ramatu Ada Ochekliye|
Hi. I’m Ramat and I am a perfectionist; but you know that already, don’tcha?
I’ve known this about myself since forever. Quite frankly, I am not ashamed of it. It has pushed me to go hard for what I want, improve myself, demand the best from myself (and others) and always put my mind in a position to learn more. That has made me a workaholic, social media junkie, adept reader and a terrible info-maniac.
There is a downside to this though. You see, the perfectionist has a range of problems; from wondering if he/she is ever good enough, to a painful fear of failure that can be so crippling it prevents the person from realizing his/her full potential. The perfectionist is also very caustic, intolerant, unwilling to show weakness and overly demanding of perfection from others.
I am all of these things…and more.
Today, I want to do something that goes against the persona I project to people.
I Am. Admitting. That. I. Fail. At. Things.
Phewwwww! That was a relief!
Or maybe it isn’t.
Either way, a story might explain why I am making this confession. I’m just going to start before my other personality takes over.
Sometime in July, 2015, I saw this advert about an audition for on-air-personalities with Ebony Life TV, Lagos, scheduled for the second week of august. I was stoked at the possibilities a move to that station would do for my career. I got excited; really excited! I told my friends and my sisters about the audition and I guess my excitement was infectious. Soon enough, we were discussing logistics because I had never been to Lagos State. Yeah you heard that right; I had never been to Lagos State!
I knew I had two options; take a luxurious bus for a pretty long donkey trip or take a flight. Here is another thing though; I had also never been in a luxurious bus or on a plane! I imagined disgracing my grandmother with my show of nerves on a flight so I decided that I was going by road. In case you missed it, I decided to go by road from Yola in Adamawa State, North East Nigeria, to Lagos State, South West Nigeria; a journey that was pegged at almost 23 hours. That was when it occurred to me that I could break my trip; go to Abuja and spend the night, then head to Lagos the next day.
My trip was fine until day two of my journey. It was Friday and I was finally on my first luxurious bus ride heading to the big ole Eko and I knew that I had to stay awake to catch all the sights of the States I had never been to.
We got to the NASFAT area at about 7pm after having to deal with lots of traffic jam. That was when my problems started. There were too many people having a festival of sorts, or more appropriately, prayers at the NASFAT area. I could feel the claustrophobia closing in and I just wanted to leave that place. I kept imagining what would happen if an adventurous bomber decided to strike. The plagues of living in the North Eastern part of the country right?
That thought had not finished forming when we heard these bangs on the body of the car. They were so loud they jolted most of us into sitting positions. I remembered all the stories I had heard about Lagos and imagined that a gang of robbers were about to pounce on us and kill us all. My heart was literally in my mouth. I cursed my alter ego that deceived me into taking a window seat. After some minutes, I looked down and saw that the rabble rousers were part of the worshipers. I breathed a quarter sigh of relief and started seriously praying to God to protect me.
We were at that same spot around the NASFAT area for five hours! 5 frigging hours! My bum was on fire, my friends and sisters were sick with worry, and the claustrophobia had given me really horrible chest pains and a headache. A little after 12am, we broke even and continued on our way. That was when I realized that I had not even entered Lagos yet! Arrgghhh!
When we got to the destination my friend asked me to alight at, it was 2am and pitch black. As soon as the bus stopped, some thugs – and I use that term knowing its full meaning – came up to the bus just as I was about to step out. I didn’t see any tricycle, taxi, or any form of public transportation. I imagined how the hell I was supposed to get to her place.
One woman started shouting in the car about how the driver was endangering our lives and that he had to get us away from that place. You know I died a thousand deaths right? In retrospect, it is funny how scared I was though the fact that I nearly peed myself is really quite embarrassing.
I deviate. Back to my story. Some woman in the car said, ‘Young woman, those are thugs there. You better go and sleep in the bus station if you do not want wahala.’ She didn’t need to tell me the ‘wahala’ before I quickly rushed back to my seat and settled in. The driver started the car again and we headed to the bus station.
We got to the park after an additional 15 or 20 minutes on the road. For the first time in my life, I was going to sleep on a bench in a bus park. Definitely got my Lagos hustle on!
I slept fitfully and woke up at 5am to some of the other passengers arguing about the roles of women in society. That would have been my cue to jump in but my body was bushed and I just needed to get to my friend’s.
I asked around and was told to wait till maybe 5:30am before heading to my friend’s house but I was adamant. I set out to get a bus to Ikeja and found one almost immediately. I sat in front and asked the guy beside me to notify me when I got to Allen Avenue Junction. He was very nice until he asked for my number. I smiled, gave it to him and waved a proper goodbye when I finally dropped from the bus. You guessed right; I blocked his number immediately! Ain’t nobody got time for that!
When I got to my friend’s, we had the customary crazy reunion of best friends but it didn’t last long because she had to go to work. She showed me around and was off like a plane. I showered and dressed up in a really nice jumpsuit I had never worn and my ‘Confident Lady’ shoes; high, nude and very classy. That was a HUGE mistake!
I headed out to look for a business center or more appropriately, a photocopy shop. I walked around in my heels until there was a clear pain in the small of my back.
Shade kept telling me that Lagos traffic could get crazy and that I needed to hurry up since I was heading to the Island. So I got on a bus at about 7:30am and headed to the Island. It was two stops but it was a bit uneventful except that at the second stop, I had to do more walking because I didn’t stop where Shade said I should drop. It was a surprise to me though that the bus conductors were nice when I asked them to please let me know when we got to my destination. I had heard so many razz conductor stories that I felt they would cheat the life out of me and be rude at it. In Shade’s words, ‘It was the “please”. Plus Lagos is not like it used to be.’
When I got to the Island, I asked a Keke rider to take me where I could print out my documents. He asked another guy where he could find a printing shop and after listening to the instructions on how to get there, asked me to jump in. I looked at my time and saw that I had roughly 30 minutes to the start of the auditions. I jumped in; literally. He kept going on and on until we finally arrived at the plaza. When I asked how much, I was blown when he told me N500. I was like ‘What?!’
Guy didn’t even flinch; just repeated N500 again. I grumbled and doled out the cash. I ran to the plaza, got my forms printed out and ran back out. By this time, it was 8:55am; 5 minutes until the auditions commenced. When I got a Keke and asked him if he knew the venue of the audition, he said no. Another Keke rider said he knew the venue and I should hop in. I asked how much and he said ‘N500’. I looked at him, looked at the time, looked at him again and then jumped in. I just assumed that everything on the Island was expensive. Shade said I was cheated and they had a good laugh about my JJC behavior, but that happened later. Let me continue.
I got to the venue at exactly 9:18am and was so thankful to GOD that they had not shut the gates. I went in and just stood around for a bit. There were so many people wanting to audition too! I imagined just how many openings there was that lots of people came out like that. That was when I noticed that there seemed to be a queue. I asked around and was told it was a line to register for the auditions. I joined the queue and waited. After a few minutes, we noticed that the line was not moving. Someone asked questions and we realized we were on the wrong line. We righted the wrong and after a few minutes, I was finally registered; I was number 358 on the list.
I started hearing the various, non-Nigerian accents and I felt like I was out already. I had lived my life believing that my accent was good enough for my job and that I would never pick any fake accent. I moved away from the crowd so I could just breathe. Okay. You caught me. I moved away because I couldn’t stand the fake American and British accents and the blend of some that sounded even Turkish! But since most people were speaking that way, I felt like I may be the odd one out. It was while I was processing that thought that a young guy walked up to me. He didn’t have a fake accent and I warmed up to him. He smiled and asked me if I had crammed the script. My heart did multiple back flips and I may not be white but I blanched! WHAT SCRIPT?!
He asked me to calm down, that he had not seen the script too but he copied it from someone. I knew I was in trouble; I cannot cram anything! If I had ample time, I could possibly own the script after much practice but the time was too short! What the hell was I supposed to do?
The guy had a very calming influence on me and he got me to copy the script. I went to work trying my best to cram it. Soon, our group grew to seven people and we got talking and laughing. Turns out the guy with the calming influence on me was also a worrywart (like me) and would panic if he thought he had not crammed his script. I tried to act cool but I was more worried that my face showed. From our little group, I realized that we were made of people who had come from all over the country for the auditions; Enugu, Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt and me from Yola. Quite frankly, I was the one who had come the farthest and we had a good laugh about that.
The auditions commenced and we started gleaning information from those who had gone in. There was one common thread; the judges did not want any FAKE ACCENTS! Whoot whoot! I could have done the Nae Nae if I wasn’t so conscious of my image! My accent would fit right in!
Reading and rereading the script soon became a bore for me and most of our little group. By the twenty ‘somethinget’ time or there about, I had fully crammed the script and was feeling good about myself. I knew that I needed a distraction though. We were tired from just standing around, since no chairs were provided. By 2pm, the judges had just auditioned the first 100 candidates. I didn’t need to be Sheldon Cooper to know that the longer the judges were at it, the less likely it seemed that they would maintain their objectivity, interest or enthusiasm. I knew that, as time progressed, the judges could be faced with raw talent and would still not see it because of tiredness. That added to my stress level and it became harder to remember all I had crammed from my script. Plus, by this time, my entire legs were on fire and I desperately needed to get off the high heels! Unfortunately for me, I did not bring any flats so I had to bare the excruciating pain. Soon, my little group started breaking up as they went in for their auditions until we were just three left; the guy who told me about the script (number 357), a girl from Lagos called Zainab (number 471) and me.
When 4pm came and I was still not called, I started having panic attacks. Would the judges cancel the auditions for the rest of us? Would they ask us to return on Monday? The guy who called out the numbers came out again and we besieged him. Everyone was asking questions at the same darn time. I just hung behind, imagining what would happen if they told us that those of us who came late would not be auditioned. The guy calmed our nerves and told us that we would ALL be auditioned. I wish I could say I breathed a sigh of relief, but I didn’t. I secretly wanted it to be cancelled so that I could have ample time to own the script and face a set of judges that that were not tired and worn out.
At 5:50pm, they finally called in numbers 330 to 360. Some of the candidates had gone home so we were only about 19 or 20 left. When I heard my number, my heart jumped! This was it! I was going to face the judges and try to bluff my way into a job!
We were led into a room and I smiled when I saw chairs! Oh GOD! You cannot imagine the pure pleasure it was to finally rest those feet. We were given more forms to fill and told to line up. We started seat hopping as each person got up to be auditioned, moving closer and closer to the audition hall. Everyone in that room looked all kinds of glamorous; after all, the judges had asked that we dress to impress! I looked at my simple look and felt out of place; again. How did they manage to still look good after hours and hour of standing?! My heart was beating much worse than before and the sweat in armpits rained. I was a nervous wreck waiting to happen!
It finally got to my turn at about 6:30pm. By then, I couldn’t even feign a smile. My whole body ached; I was hungry, tired and my head hurt like hell. Even though we were finally given seats as we got closer to the judges, it wasn’t enough to calm me and ease the pain.
The guy went in and came out less than a minute later. He looked shattered and I got scared all over again. My heart was thumping and was about to burst in my chest. I was so nervous that when I heard ‘NEXT’, I almost couldn’t stand up. I did though, took a long breath and entered the audition hall.
The light was the first thing I noticed because it was almost blinding, but I adjusted quickly. I said good evening and smiled. I saw that there were at least five people in the room. One of the judges looked at my forms and said, ‘Ramatu right?’ I smiled again and said yes. Another judge said, ‘Hello ma’am. Walk to the mark and look at the camera.’ I did as she asked but my brain latched on to one word; MA’AM! Did I look old? Would that disqualify me? I wanted to look at them and scream that I am in my 20s and not a ‘ma’am’ but before I could even do anything stupid, the judge asked me to do my thing.
I looked into the camera, took a pose, smiled….and drew a blank! The script had evaporated from my head!
I smiled wider as snippets came back to me. I said the first line and drew a blank again. The judge who called me ma’am said, ‘Ramatu, you have been here since morning and now that you are here, you are messing it up! I will give you one more opportunity.’
Instead of getting my wits together, I got mad! Why the flying french did she just go ham on me? The anger spurred me and I smiled again; albeit a fake one. This time my pose was more ‘power woman’ than the first one. I started talking and from the corner of my eye, saw one of the judges nodding his head. Then a voice in my head said, ‘You better not mess it up!’
That was when I messed up.
I forgot the remaining lines. I knew I wouldn’t be given another chance. My shoulders slumped in defeat and even as the lady told me ‘Thank you for coming’, I was already heading out.
I got my stuff and started walking out of the venue. When I got to the bus stop, my eyes were pregnant with heavy tears and they kept refusing to stay in. I got into a bus and the tears decided they didn’t want the comfort of my eyes any longer. They poured. They came down so hard that I had to cover my face with my handkerchief.
When I finally raised my head up, it was to the conductor telling me that I was at CMS. I said I wasn’t. He said I was. I remembered the trip from CMS to the Island being far. I said I wasn’t there. He started shouting so I turned to the driver and said it was not where I was going. We continued on our way and after a few more minutes, I told him to I would alight there; there been somewhere I didn’t know.
I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know how to get back to Ikeja. The neighborhood looked rough and seedy. I was lost in Lagos! My worst nightmare had finally happened. This time, I didn’t bother hiding the tears; I just left them in free fall mode. I called the friend I was staying with. Her phone was unreachable. I called Shade. She walked me through the tears and asked me to listen to what location the buses were calling. I did, she told me what to do from there and how to get home. I followed her instructions. She called me every other minute to see how I was faring. After a couple of hours, I finally got home. I went into my friend’s bathroom, sat in the bath tub and cried!
I imagined all I had been through to attend the audition. I visualized how I had spent my last cash coming to a new city. I dwelled on how all I went through should have spurred me to deliver a five star performance like Abdul said I would, or wow them as Abe felt I would. I remembered how Enigbe and Sadiya told me they were sure of my performance and how Shade said my opportunity to leave Yola had finally come. The images of Triqx encouraging me flashed through my eyes. I kept imagining how I had disappointed my friends and family, but worse, how I had disappointed myself. I called my sister and friends and told them what happened. They tried to encourage me and it just wasn’t working.
The pain in my chest, the splitting headache, the unending tears and the heavy feeling in my stomach all screamed one thing; I HAD FAILED! When the opportunity I had been waiting for finally came, I botched it! I messed up! I disgraced myself! I was not good enough! And the more I thought about my failure, the deeper into depression I sunk! When a perfectionist fails, it is almost impossible to get over that failure!
Yes; I could blame the road trip to Lagos, the fact that I wore painful heels, my not seeing the script beforehand, the long time I had to stand or even Ebony Life TV for not providing chairs but all of that does not matter. Truth is, life is bound to throw you some hard knocks! The thing is, working with those hard knocks to become refined and better is what separates winners from others. Wouldn’t it be great if, in spite of all the stress I had been through, I put up a stellar performance and wowed them?!
Instead, I let my fear consume me, I allowed myself believe I could not cram anything, I listened to that little voice that said, ‘Ramat, you are not good enough’ and I let that voice win. Instead, I am here telling a story of failure. And it took me three whole months to admit it and put it in writing!
Well, sometime you get faced with a daunting task. Sometimes you feel fear. Sometimes you feel inadequate. That does not mean that you are not good enough, or that you don’t deserve the best, or you are a failure. And even if you fail woefully at something, it doesn’t mean that you cannot excel tomorrow. I could become clichéd and mention lots of people who failed over and over again and who are successes today but quite frankly, I won’t.
I will say this though. It is okay to fail. It is okay to mess up. It is okay to blow that opportunity. It is okay to feel you are not good enough. It is all okay as long as you don’t stay there, as long as you learn something from that failure, as long as you keep striving for the best, as long as you fight harder, as long as you never give up.
I have learned so much from that experience that it will take another article to tell that story.
Many people only write their struggle stories when they have become successful. Well, I am writing mine now as I anticipate my success story. I will fail again…and then some. But each time, I will get up, put on some good shoes, smile and channel my inner Aaliyah; and try again!
So yes! I am Ramat. I am a perfectionist. I fail sometimes but I will never be a failure! Quite frankly, I am more than a few falls. I am a compilation of my successes…and failures! I will be darned if anyone will take that from me.
NB: My trip to Lagos wasn’t all bad. I was on my first flight and was flown to Abuja by my friend! I didn’t disgrace my grandmother, but that is a story for another day!