What to Do When You Hit Rock-Bottom

Sooner or later, everyone hits rock-bottom. Here’s what to do when “can do” can no longer do. Doubt all your doubts and step in with “incouragement.”

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“Itirayi ni gbogbo nkan.”
— — Wole Soyinka

The above statement in Yoruba language translates to;

“The trying is all.”
— — Wole Soyinka

In his memoir, You Must Set Forth At Dawn, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka attributed the above aphorism to his mother. According to him, his mother, whom he described as Wild Christian used to confront every “gamut of incompatible situations” with the crisp adage quoted above.

Professor Wole Soyinka explained that every time he was faced with any daunting and seemingly intractable challenge, those words always float up from within to spur him on. His exploits, both in Nigeria’s political landscape and the world of academia and literature, are lasting testaments to the veracity and practicality of that four words quip.

I bought two copies of the book at different times over a decade ago. I read each copy through, once. The second copy is occupying its well-deserved space in my bookcase. What makes the epigram so beautiful is its Yorubanized language form of the English word “trying”. So, the Yoruba form of the English phrase “The trying is all,” becomes, “Itirayi ni gbogbo nkan.” 

Native speakers and writers of Yoruba language will immediately recognize and appreciate the crystal-simple beauty of the Yoruba rendition, especially with the transformation of the English word — “trying” to “itirayi”. (Notice the similarity in the sounding of the words.)
The Yoruba language sentence, “Itirayi ni gbogbo nkan” meaning, “the trying is all” is among many others, the most enduring and practical life lesson that has stuck with me from the book ever since I first read it.

From my pre-teen through to late-teen years, my paternal grandmother brought me up. Grandma used to encourage and spur her grandchildren on with a similar proverb though not as succinct as Professor Soyinka’ distilled wit. Like the professor’s sagacious mum, my grandmother’s wit has followed me in my adult life.

Back then, the meaning of the old woman’s words was not so clear to me. On each of several such frequent encounters, I used to mutter to myself, “Mama, you’ve come with another one of those your unending not-so-easy-to-decipher sayings.” I cannot compress it in a fashion similar to Professor Soyinka’s wit above (and I will not attempt to do so). My grandma’s pithy advice, from my native Ososo dialect to the English language roughly translates to the following statement.

“My son, when you stretch yourself, even if you cannot touch the ceiling, you may likely touch the shelf (mounted on the wall).” Pause for a moment. Did you catch the wit?

I was reflecting on Soyinka’s enduring aphoristic wit when the above refrain from my late grandmother came to my mind. It comes to my mind almost all the time. Though long gone, her words of hope and encouragement always ring in my ears whenever I’m faced with the mundane or most daunting of life’s challenges. Faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, I just tell myself, “Remember granny’s words — Just stretch yourself. You may end up winning at the end. Put in more effort. Try harder. Don’t give up.”

Remember granny’s words — Just stretch yourself. You may end up winning at the end. Put in more effort. Try harder. Don’t give up. Click To Tweet

Someone reading this article may ask, “Where then is your “self-confidence? What happened to your “Can-do” spirit?’ My answer is, ‘In the school of life’s “hard knocks”, over and again, the time comes when “Can do” can no longer do. At such times, the only thing that will see you through to the victorious side is sheer persistence, endurance, doggedness, daring to try to stretch yourself further. Stretch.’

So, I commend the same to you. Dare to try. Dare to put in the effort. Even if you cannot reach your highest aspirations, you will definitely not remain at ground zero. You will rise.

Of course, there are always many sources of encouragement and motivation, both internal and external. But, do you know that when the external encouragement is not within reach, the internal form of it, what my pastor called “incouragement” is always within your grasp?

“You’ve heard it before, Just try. Put in more efforts.” You really never can tell the heights to which you will one day rise by simply daring, trying, stretching, and putting in all your efforts, today. Believe me, you will be pleasantly amazed by the vista awaiting you as you dare, stretch and incourage yourself.

Still, doubting me? See. When men aim for the stars, even though they did not reach them, they set their feet on the moon. Even right now, the Mars robotic rover, Opportunity is roving on the planet Mars. All because men tried. Now, over to you… “

Don’t forget this, doubt your self-doubts. Just stretch yourself. A bit more.

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt”
— William Shakespeare

Because, sooner or later, everyone hits rock-bottom. Here’s what to do when “can do” can no longer do. Doubt all your doubts and step in with “incouragement.”

©Soyinka, Wole. 2006. You Must Set Forth at Dawn— Memoirs. Bookcraft, Ibadan

I originally published this story on Medium as When “Can-Do” Can No Longer Do