#ThoughtivityOpinion: On Child Prodigies and Impostor Syndrome


When I was in J.S.S 2, there was this student in my class whom we called Mustapha. Given that that was more than 15 years ago, I do not remember his surname or much about him other than the fact that He was anywhere from between his mid-twenties to his early thirties at that point, which put him at least between fifteen to twenty years older than the rest of us in the class. Needless to say Mustapha was something of a braggart (who wouldn’t be if you had a group of 12 year olds who hung upon your every word), who loved sharing stories of his sexual exploits. So on this day we were gathered around him like the disciples at the feet of Jesus Christ, while he described to us in detail how he deflowered a girl in his area, the way he removed her hymen and the sex that followed and all that. Given that none of us had had sex at that point, none of us could tell if there was any holes in his story or not, but by the time the discussion ended, there I was with all my 12 years of life believing I knew everything there is to know about sex and deflowering girls.

It was this story that came back into my memory, after more than fifteen years, on the 20th of April this year when the news broke that Tim Bergling aka AVICII had died. AVICII’s death hit me hard not because I loved his music, but because we are the same age. In fact he was born a mere 16 days after me. There is something that hits you when someone your age dies, even when you have nothing in common with that person other than the fact that you were born in the same year. It forces you to reconsider your perspective on your own mortality. When the news came out even later that he had committed suicide, I was not really shocked, I knew exactly why he decided to end it all- because I had experienced a micro version of the exact thing years before.

From 2011 to 2016, when he retired from actively touring due to health issues, AVICII performed more than 800 shows, headlining events all over the world, and performing on the biggest music stages. Even a lawyer trying to make partner at a firm or a medical doctor trying to make consultant does not have that kind of schedule. That kind of schedule wrecks you physically, mentally and emotionally, little wonder he turned to addiction to alcohol to cope. It is like living life in fast forward. AVICII lived a life time in 7 years, and at twenty eight, he felt he had seen it all, done it all, and got the T-shirt, just like I felt after the Mustapha incident. The problem is he hadn’t, he only thought he had because the people around him had been pushing him to go faster and faster. He was only 28.

An incident happened during Big Brother Naija: Double Wahala that reinforced my theory about prodigies. It was CeeCee’s tirades at Tobi, complaining that he was not a “man” like Teddy A or Ebuka. The thing that struck me was how nobody, not us the viewers, and certainly not CeeCee herself noticed how weird it was that she essentially comparing Tobi who is 23, to Teddy A who is 29 and Ebuka who is 35. In other words, we are all essentially somehow expecting Tobi to be neck on neck with Ebuka in a race where Ebuka has had a 12 year head start. In other words, we are all actively pushing a 23 year old to somehow gain twelve years of experience miraculously because he is on live TV. We don’t realize that we are literally pushing to second guess himself, and to trash his self-esteem. It is easy for me to use my 28 year old brain to “yab” Tobi for “following CeeCee around like a puppy” forgetting that when I was his age, only the first line of Bruno Mars would get me melting in my feelings. But then I am a not a celebrity, so I am allowed to be stupid, to make mistakes, to experience growing pains, but Tobi Bakre is only allowed to be Albert Einstein, Solomon and Socrates all at the same time. Otherwise “he is not a man”

Perhaps in ten years’ time, 34year old CeeCee Nwadiora will think about Big Brother Naija: Double Wahala and think to herself “I was very stupid sha…” because she would have grown as a person, just like I am currently laughing at the 12year old boy who believed all of Mustapha’s boasting because he didn’t know any better. But I am willing to bet that 10 years from now we will all still remember CeeCee as “that woman who had a meltdown on live TV.” We will keep going on about how she has ruined her own reputation for ever. As nobody has never made mistakes when they were 24.

We are a society that believes that “If a child knows how to wash his hands properly, he will dine with elders”. We have as a society come to believe that talent is somehow equal to or even greater than experience. Unfortunately the child that “dines with his elders” will soon be seen as an elder and given the skull of an elephant to carry and the skull of that elephant will ultimately crush him.

AVICII is dead now, a victim of our society’s belief that if you are talented enough, you can somehow substitute it for experience. We are fixated on A David vs Goliath style underdog takes down a behemoth beat down, forgetting that David had help from an omnipotent deity. AVICII reached out for help, he found no one to help him, because somehow we all believed that he has washed his hands he is dining with elders so he has become an elder. Only he is not, he is only a child who has been pushed beyond what his spirit can handle. Like a certain 12 year old boy who thought he knew everything he needed to know about sex because he heard it from someone, who may have not been telling the whole truth.

So dear young prodigy, if you find that you are under pressure to be what you are not because of your talent, you must realize that that it is not a crime to act your age. Cry, be silly, play, ask for help from older people, Do what people your age do, live. At the end of the day, you also deserve to live your life to the fullest regardless of what you might have achieved at a young age.

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