–It was a future I could not accept. (William Kamkwaba, Ted Talk at 2:28)
A decade ago, William Kamkwaba was just a poor simple farm boy growing up in Malawi, Africa, fully expecting that like his father, he too would become a farmer. But in 2001, Malawi experienced a devastating drought and famine that knocked William’s plans off course. With his family barely subsisting on one meal a day, William observed his father surrounded by the family’s dried-out, barren fields and realized that this “was a future I could not accept.”
And so with no money, no food, no education (William’s family couldn’t afford the school fees so he was forced to drop out), no plan – with nothing more than the force of sheer will to avoid what must have seemed inevitable, William embarked on a path that would change his destiny. In an effort to educate himself, William began spending time at the library where a book on windmills caught his eye. William realized that a windmill could provide electricity and more importantly, pump water which could protect his family from future drought. Using diagrams from old engineering books and scrap from the junkyard, William built a functional windmill for his family. Soon, neighbors started lining up to charge their cell phones and bloggers and journalists followed. The publicity lead to the above talk at TED, a book and a scholarship enabling William to resume his education.
William’s story reminds us that even in our darkest hour, we still have a choice even if we have no money, no education, no food and even no vision of what comes next. We can choose to accept what’s in front of us and subsist as best we can or like William, we can refuse to so. To paraphrase one of the characters says in the movie, the Shawshank Redemption, we can get busy living or get busy dying. But once we make the choice to change our destiny, our eyes open to the possibilities around us.
For William, refusing to accept his future lead him to building windmills. For lawyers put out by the economy or feeling trapped in the contract lawyering grind, refusing to accept the future in front of you may lead you to start a law firm or may take you down an entirely different path. But at the very least, you’ll be on your way.
Trust yourself and believe. Whatever happens don’t give up. William Kamkwaba