It was the 13th of October, 1990.
Azumah will pummel Juan La Porte to victory before a delirious crowd at midnight, and I would fall in love that afternoon, in the backstreets of Asylum Down.
I was 16 and he was 20. He will become the love of my life and superman to our two sons.
With all its cliff hanger moments, ours has been a great love story. But I am not in Harlequin or Mills & Boon mode, so “unhare” your ears. There will be no titillating anecdotes, no episodes of racing hearts, no locking of eyes across the room and no parched throats.
But I will still tell you another great love story – the story of my love affair with myself. A story about self-love, ingrained in me by my mother. That self-love will be the fibres of my superwoman suit to face the world but will also be my kryptonite.
It’s the 4th of July, 2001.
Everyone is, or appears to be excited. We have just concluded a major transaction with our international counterparts, Winston & Strawn. There is a celebration cocktail at 7p.m. I hate these cocktails. I literally need to go out of my body to make it through the night.
Bright neon lights illuminate the sky line. Murmurs, whispers, laughter and chatter of excited conversation reverberate through the night. Soul music gently arouses our senses.
Noses flare involuntarily to the aroma of good food. Shadowy figures wielding small sharpened wooden spears i.e. khebab sticks, strewn across the walls of the canopies.
I am in a black mini–skirt with a red jacket, hoisted on 4 inch black high-heeled shoes, huddled with the members of the transaction team, trading stories. Then, one after the other, my sentinels desert me for greener pastures.
There I am- black, white and red wall flower! There is no garden for me to blend in.
Now, I am gripping my prop – my glass of wine. Suddenly, the lights are blinding, the music is loud and the chatter is raucous. I am waiting to be rescued by any knight whether in armour or not, shining or not. But today, even Don Quixote doesn’t appear.
This “damsel in distress” will have to save herself! I tell myself it’s okay to be a lone ranger sipping on my wine and just taking in the scenery and the music! “You don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to”, the voice in my head says assuringly, be yourself!”
The thought of walking up to a stranger to start a conversation fills me with dread. Beads of perspiration race to my forehead at the very thought.
Stand alone? Vanish? Or go and conquer some territory?
Disappearing seems to me a more appealing option. I am just about to ready, set and go, when I see David coming towards me. I heave a huge sigh of relief from the very depths of my diaphragm. Finally, someone to my rescue. “I hope you are being the great hostess”, he says and then disappears into the night. My plan has been foiled. I can’t run.
I must stick it out. I have to find someone who also needs rescuing, barge in on someone else’s conversation or just be the third wheel of any couple who will have me.
Then, I identify my “candidate”, a distinguished looking grey-haired man in a three piece suit and mirror-polished shoes. Now, I am walking in lock-step towards him, strumming my opening lines in my head.
Even in my mind, my words come out with a stutter. As I get closer, I sense an aloofness, he doesn’t appear to need rescuing. I am not sure whether to make a beeline for the drinks table.
But I am too close to beat a retreat. I make my final steps on the grassy tight rope. He sees my hesitation and says with the widest smile, “I hate these cocktails too you know”.
I would have the most illuminating conversation with a total stranger. As the evening will progress, the voice in my head is loud and clear. “You can’t lose yourself in your comfort zone all the time”. In season, you need to get out of your cocoon, flap your wings and show its colours”. This thought will take me through many more cocktails, presentations and uncomfortable moments.
I so love Oscar Wilde’s famous quote “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”. It’s a reminder for us to celebrate our finger prints, our irises and our outer ears – to embrace our uniqueness.
To appreciate and love who you are is a liberating gift. You well up with contentment. You see others simply as people with qualities and abilities that you may not possess, not people who are better than you. It gives you the freedom to exude your own signature confidence and not what the world prescribes.
But you should not be so in love with yourself that you slump into a place of “This is who I am and I can’t do anything about it!” A sort of tight embrace with yourself that leaves you breathless – unable to exhale those sides of you that prevent you from showing off your best self – a perspective, an attitude, a thinking pattern, a belief that is our place of solace.
Venturing into a new love affair with yourself, requires racing hearts, sweaty palms, churning stomachs and the unpredictability of a “happy ever after” ending. This can be daunting.
But no growth ever comes without doing something different or doing things differently.
So today, think of the things you would do if you weren’t you. May be you would be less anxious, less intimated, less shy, or you would surprise the hell out of everybody by being kinder with your words.
Maybe you would accept that speaking opportunity that you turned down, may be you would walk up and say hello to that person you so admire, may be you would allow yourself to shine instead of blending in with the tapestry. Just maybe.
I still don’t relish the thought of walking up to a stranger and maybe I never will. I know now that doing what my nature finds disconcerting is also what presents me with the greatest opportunity for growth.
That rising to the occasion is a show of strength and maturity and not a betrayal of who I am.
You may never win the war against the versions of yourself that have the potential to hold you back. But what you can do, is to continue to be in love with yourself so much that you do not go AWOL on yourself, anytime there is an invasion of your comfort zone.
Like true love, self-love “does not only encompass the things that make you feel good, it also holds you to a standard of accountability”- Monica Johnson.
Isabel Boaten is the Managing Partner of AB & David Ghana- the founding member of the Pan African law firm, AB & David Africa. Under her leadership, AB & David became the first law firm in Africa to secure Lexcel – an accreditation awarded to law firms that meet the highest management and client care standards, prescribed by the Law Society of England & Wales.
Isabel is also a lecturer in Law Practice Management at the Ghana School of Law. Isabel’s passion to see people achieve their career potential and gain professional fulfillment birthed her blog “Isabel’s Journey of Discovery”.