I often wondered what it meant to be a ‘winner.’ Now I know a winner sees a problem and, with teamwork, finds solutions.

I want to be a winner who leaves the world a better place 1

The author receiving an award for placing 5th in Orator of the Year competition at her school.

 This article, by high school student Maame Afua Kome-Mensah, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Maame is a student at SOS-HGIC, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

This story was a runner-up in News Decoder’s 12th Storytelling Contest.

Every person, tall or short, red or blue, is part of a society. Immediately we are born, we fall into the warm yet unfamiliar embrace of society. Thereafter, we are supposed to metamorphosize into “winners.”

To this day, I am not sure what a winner should look like. Are they red? Or perhaps blue?

In discovering what society expects of us, who are the future sons and daughters, I did not go too far. On a hot Saturday afternoon after eating a meal fit for a king, I headed out to my local mall to inquire. I received all sorts of answers. One middle aged woman said, “My son? Oh definitely, he looks like a doctor! I can see it in his eyes.” An older man about 65 years of age made an alarming conjecture. “My daughter? She is fit to be a wife.”

Even past the infant stage, society never weakens its grip on the very soles of our feet. As I was processing these very imposing answers, I happened to meet a young boy being scolded by his grandfather. He said to the teenage male, “You are a man. Men are to be ugly and fearful. The only emotion you should express outwardly is anger.”

Anger was not the only emotion stirred up in me. I realized at that moment that the journey of self-realization had just begun. The journey of finding the bridge between all these expectations and what our inner selves truly desired.

I began reminiscing on how life has unfolded in front of my 18-year-old eyes. On my path to breaking free from the yoke of society’s expectations to a personal measurement of success, I have learnt both how to be abased and how to abound.

In my life, my showdown with society was in the form of the expectations of all those around me. Nine-year-old Maame saw failure as the hallmark of her life. The feeling of failure was indeed a familiar friend growing up. Living in my grandparents’ house with my mother and my sister taught me to be comfortable with having little. You would never guess that growing up, life was hard. I had my foot twisted in ways a foot shouldn’t. I was so good at beaming with joy that you wouldn’t see the tsunami in my eyes. I will admit, there were always oceans behind my eyes. They kept raging, but I had carefully mastered the art of keeping them within their boundaries.

‘Choosing your inner-self over societal expectations’

All the happenings of my life led up to one moment that you will soon discover. This kairos moment embodies the quote by the renowned writer Edmond Mbiaka: “Living happily is a matter of choosing to fulfill the positive demands of your inner-self over your societal expectations.”

Just before my 12th birthday, my father came back into our lives after ignoring our persistent calls and missing countless birthdays. In my young mind, his return symbolized a glimpse of hope but an even greater personal challenge followed.

His return back into my life meant I had to be worth staying for. I had to be the perfect last born child. My mother would say in twi, our local Ghanaian language, “Me Kaakyire, awiase p3 nipa a adi nkunim.” Which translates to: “My last born child, the world loves a winner.” Surely whenever my report card came back and it fell short of expectations, that same stern voice would resound.

I came to understand that gaining love from this society was indeed based on me being a winner. Father only came to visit whenever I got a distinction. I never really bothered about standing out in anything aside from academics because my personal goal was to sustain society’s admiration by attaining A’s.

One time my best friend said to me, “You’re too comfortable where you are. There is nothing more to these good grades to add unto yourself. That rather makes you average”. I was flabbergasted. I was making the grades and keeping society’s love at the same time, so why was I still not enough? Why was I still not the winner mummy warned me to be?

However, like a bull at the sight of red, I had only one mission, and I would fight to death to achieve it. After all, who wouldn’t want to feel loved and, most importantly, by the magnificent society?

Winning on my terms

At age 14 I met my biggest challenge yet. The final test of my worth. I had to, and I mean had to, gain admission into one of the most competitive International Baccalaureate (IB) schools in Ghana : SOS-HGIC College. Therefore, when I was finally accepted, I could confirm within myself that I truly was not a disgrace. I finally got the hang of winning.

My year of doing the IB Middle Years Program was pure bliss. I improved every semester, but I still did not make it to the principal’s role. I spent sleepless nights, unknown to anyone, making large cups of coffee a ritual. I had my glory moment. I achieved 7s in chains! Like a drug, I was ready to take in the words of pride from all those around me, but all I got was a concise text message: “Great work, next semester push harder!”

Suddenly, I felt a disconnection that I had never felt before. I realized that there was more to life than limiting my worth to grades, although they are important. I realized I wasted so much potential trying to be enough for family and teachers, when I needed to be enough for myself, too.

This eureka moment came. I pushed myself to be an all-around winner. I participated in school events like spoken word for my school’s Orator of the Year competition, shot-put and javelin, and I was an executive member of esteemed clubs like Mogul Community. Ironically, I chased after the big bad wolf I was always running away from. I was chosen by my school leadership team as a Prep and Library prefect. It sounded so unreal in my ears. I was someone nine-year-old Maame would look up to.

All this I have said is just to say that turmoil will come. Thunder storms are imminent. Twisted feet are going to be a part of your future. But you have to keep going. Eventually, the tsunami will fade into oblivion, and you will move even with the oceans behind your eyes. You will journey into territories you never imagined. You will cross oceans you never thought you could cross, finding yourself planted on the soil of promise and opportunity. You will soar over skyscrapers you never knew existed. You will blossom.

Take my experience as the ultimate example. From it, I have painstakingly learnt valuable life lessons that have contributed to my desire to be a better global citizen at large. In this journey of learning how to be a winner, I have redefined who I should be. I now know that you can be a winner in so many diverse ways. Being an impactful winner, one who leaves her footprints in the sands of time, is what the world truly needs and should celebrate. A winner who does not throw their hands in the air at every inconvenience. A winner who sees a problem and, with teamwork, finds solutions. That’s the winner the world needs.

You might be wondering, do I describe myself as a winner? Well, winning to me is not the ultimate goal. I am determined to leave the world better than I found it.

Three questions to consider:

  1. In the author’s early years, what was she told being a “winner” meant?
  2. How did the author’s conception of “winning” evolve as she grew up?
  3. What do you aspire to in life, and would it amount to “winning” in the eyes of your parents?

A citizen of Ghana, Maame Afua Kome-Mensah is in her last year of high school at SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Tema, Ghana. An avid reader and writer, she is interested in literature and also in neuroscience, which inspired her to launch a teenage anxiety awareness campaign.

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