Some time last year I managed to interview Timothy Mazai, Stanford University scholar from Zimbabwe. Stanford is one of the best and most prestigious universities in the world with its alumni including Apple’s Steve Jobs, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Google’s Larry Page, Whatsapp’s Brian Acton (Timothy has met him before) etc. Timothy’s story is something we think will inspire you to make your own dreams and commit to achieving them.
Chance The Rapper: THE PEOPLE’S CHAMP SHOULD BE EVERYTHING THE PEOPLE CAN BE.
Signs and Science.
Timothy grew up with a loving and prayerful single mother. His mother was his earliest source of inspiration. Timothy surmised that her remarkable support stemmed partly from her experience about toddler him having lice in his hair in spite of her impeccable hygiene. The superstition is that this was an omen that he was bound to do great things. This gained more credence over time as a few other people would tell Timothy that he was bound to do great things in life.
Nevertheless, to say that Timothy’s story was solely hinged on these prophesicies would be more misleading than helpful. Actually, at best, these moments, were just laces to a thick reality of real life principles that have formed Timothy’s life.
When The Dreams Started.
Timothy thinks that his starting point was a conversation he had with his teacher, friend and mentor, Ellington. Ellington told Timothy a story about a former student, George, who had been admitted to a university in USA . Relating to the story in a weird way that neither of them ‘came from money’, Timothy was alerted to a ‘seemingly stupid fantasy’ that maybe the same stars that had become George’s life were within his reach. He said that he had grappled with faith from that moment but it got harder to maintain it in time. After all, George was an exception to a rule that was far less rosy. The rule is that most people do not make it to dizzy heights, especially in people from the high density surbabs.
Timothy consciously took up the daunting challenge, anyway! He would not complete his education in Zimbabwe. He insisted on studying abroad to his friends so that he could embolden himself on this by leveraging his fear of embarrassment and loss of personal credibility should he not meet his dream. In an aside, I feel I should clarify something. It may feel spidery that someone would aspire to study abroad or that we would encourage such but the justification is that most people cannot afford to study in Zimbabwe and it is generally easier to get an international scholarship than a bursary at a local university.
The next challenge for Timothy was becoming an eligible candidate. For the most part this meant hard work, although he insisted, later on in the interview, that working smart goes a longer way to accomplishing goals than working hard. This realisation is cardinal belief in his convoluted belief system.
Anyway, sometimes the going would get tough and there were some people who seemed to have a greater chance at realising his dream than himself. When explaining this to me, Timothy made the first mention of something he was to repeat so many times in the interview. He said,
| WHEN YOU WANT SOMETHING BADLY, IT CHANGES THE ORDINARY WAY OF THINGS.|
I realised, albeit in hindsight, that Timothy was priming me for the tipping point in his story. He was alerted to a scholarship opportunity, thanks to his mother’s instrumental leg work. He said he got home one day and his mother pointed him to some paperwork for a scholarship opportunity to study in the UK.
Assessment Exams, Adjustments & Faith.
The paperwork took him to Bulawayo where he sat for a few tests that seemed to him as if set by an enemy. Fortuitously, the assessment was in two parts. Instead of whining and licking his wounds, Timothy wenty on to prepare for the second part.
In the second part of the screening which was interview, Timothy did very well. He also added how he humorously introduced himself as “timid Timothy” and how this made him stand out. In his words, and with a nostalgic chuckle, he paraphrased that saying I mentioned earlier and said, WHEN SOMETHING IS YOURS, THE STARS WILL ALWAYS ALIGN.
After about three months, Timothy’s mom, called him to tell him that the results were out and also to extend her congratulations because he had made it. Everyone was overjoyed. He remembers his grandma hugging him and saying a prayer afterwards. Timothy had been granted a full scholarship to study at Pestalozzi School in UK.
Nevertheless, he continued to attend his classes at his High School biding time to take off to his new life.
Dreams Tend To Invite More.
Immediately afterwards, in the interview, Timothy emphasized that the people one surrounds himself with factor into one’s trajectory in life. He had mentioned Tafadzwa, a cousin of his, a few times during the interview but it was at this point that he took his time to focus on him.
Tafadzwa was same age as Timothy and was more of a friend than a cousin. He had dreams of his own for which he was doing a good job realising. He was very supportive of Timothy and was a big believer in principles such as faith and hard work.
Whilst studying in UK, Timothy met even more people who challenged him to dream bigger than he had in the past. He explained how he intended to WORK UNTIL YOUR IDOLS BECOME YOUR RIVALS. Expressing his appreciation for the idea of competition and how he thinks competition is the natural order of things, even though success is only for a few, Timothy said he picked up lessons for growth from his peers. During his time studying at Pestalozzi, a thirst for bigger and better grew even more; his will power increased and his tolerance to commitment improved substantially.
Furthermore, he made mention of how supportive his Chemistry teacher at Pestalozzi was and how she had faith in his work. Timothy had picked up habits of sleeping less and going an extra mile in doing productive work. A six point in a subject, an equivalent of an A in most grading systems became a cause for concern. His dream favored a seven grade point ( A+ equivalent) in every subject which later became a new normal.
Initially, he was considering applying to Brighton University and this was a huge thing for him, not to mention overly ambitious. He remembered that he had stood on the same ground with a Zimbabwean who was studying there earlier on during the interviews for the UK scholarship.
Before long, Timothy heard about Stanford and, in his own words, IT FELT LIKE THE FEELING OF FIRST LOVE, before proceeding to colour the moment with memories of feeling butterflies in his stomach.
WHEN SOMETHING IS YOURS, THE STARS WILL ALWAYS ALIGN.
A Little More About Stanford.
The admission process at Stanford is so stringent that it is not unusual for an American parent to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for expert mentorship for his aspiring child.
Timothy And Thoughts About Stanford.
Before the enthusiasm would wane off, Timothy wrote on his mirror, I’M GOING TO STANFORD! This he would look at every morning and remind himself of this daunting objective of his. To this, he added that he had made it habitual to say things to himself and then hold himself accountable.
His sleeves were rolled up almost every time. He cut back on his sleep time. He became very meticulous about getting exceptional recommendations amongst other prerequisites long before the dawn of the application process. He had become obsessed about Stanford; studying its history, alumni and the companies they founded, admission officers and their philosophical biases etc.
Furthermore, as luck would have it, he got an opportunity to usher one of the Stanford admissions officers who was visiting Pestalozzi. When he was telling me this, he again reminded me about how stars align when you set your mind to something. He went on to explain how he knew the art of intelligent questioning, contextual responsibility within a decent conduct. All these and a few more principles were very handy at that time. He clarified how he was very careful not to sound or act too desperate and still come off as impressive as possible.
Amongst the moments he seized, he humorously told the admissions that he would see her in California. In case you missed it, he meant to express his faith that he was to get admitted to Stanford. This was a bold declaration of faith on his part and, perhaps, another reason to leverage his success.
He laced his conduct with an impersonal email of gratitude to the Stanford’s visiting admissions officer after she had left and highlighted how this was most probably interpreted as decent leadership conduct and not overzealous selfishness. Occasionally, he would send emails asking some intelligent questions(intelligent is the word to pick up from here) about the admission process to which the admissions officer would reply promptly.
The application process commenced. He filed an application with Duke university which warranted him a phone interview which, unfortunately, had not gone well. Interestingly, he went on to tell me how his friend, also Zimbabwean, had qualified and repeatedly emphasized about exactly how he felt: He was happy that his friend had made it and still mourned his loss as if the two were detached. Well, the two were detached.
With the interview for Stanford, Timothy grandstanded what was supposed to be a ninety minutes interview to about twice the time. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he was very thorough and articulate. He did his part well, but as is the case with Stanford, the outcome was anybody’s guess.
Three days after Duke communicated that they had shortlisted him, Stanford University came through and told him that he was in. If Duke had admitted him, he would have had to file in an undertaking which would have thwarted the chance to study at Stanford. Yeah, those stars again! Anyway, I remember that, at this point, he leaned out a little, curved out a smile and quipped, TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW I‘D STILL CHOOSE STANFORD!
Timothy was quick to lean in again and tell me that BIG DREAMS ARE SCARY. Perhaps he said this to prepare me for what he was going to say next. With his eyes painfully contracted, he said,
BEFORE THIRTY, I INTEND TO GO TO ZIMBABWE TO START MY POLITICAL CAREER. I WANT TO BECOME THE PRESIDENT.
I was still swallowed up in amazement when he added something that I found tantamount. He said, his wish to become president has nothing to do with what he has become. He supported this by saying that, to muster political relevance, his first step was studying Ndebele language which was already in motion.
Furthermore, Timothy mentioned about how Steve Job’s way of seeing life inspired his own worldview and how some celebrities, whom he has met, such as Casper Nyovest, somehow rubbed on him some of their principles and vital lessons.
He swung from this and qualified his story saying he had failed at some things in the past and that it is the small efforts that one starts that make one’s destiny and determine one’s trajectory. Moreover, he said he never gave up during hard times and, usually, he never soothed his temporary setbacks with drinking or smoking habits, but used all that negative energy to fuel his will power.
Lastly, he said, FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT, and sustained this with yet another line, IF YOU WANNA BE A KING, START ACTING LIKE ONE.
We finished the interview around 5am on his clock and he expressed that he wanted to take a power nap. I could not help but think how much he deserved one. After all, he had made it farther off from where he started than anyone I know.