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How young people can attain true success in life

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Recently I was approached by a young man who requested to learn what he could do to attain success in life. I decided to engage him. In the process I will address other young people.

So what is success?

My young friend defined success as a good education accompanied on its heels by a well-paying job.


Strikingly Lisa Haisha defines success as follows: “Unburdened by goals to acquire material items and status, (financially poor people) focus their attention toward those they love — their family and friends. What do they have to give? Themselves. And the community of happiness that results is the finest indication of a successful life.”

Generally young people believe loads of money, flashy cars and a glamorous lifestyle are the epitome of success.


Success is doing those edifying things that give meaning to your life. Success is a good deed done to many people many times.

Success does not happen as an accident. It is preceded by social formation.

Dedicated parenting nurtures children and young adults. Parents, like myself when I was younger, who say they have to dedicate ample time to make family money will usually compromise at the family front. Bribing their children with enhanced pocket money does not work. Even when such under-parented young people inherit money or family businesses they often squander or mismanage the family estate. I urge young people to candidly negotiate with their parents on quality parenting.

Social environments are the universities for learning ethical, moral and spiritual values for young people. Example of these are school, books, religious institutions, community, workplace, media, films and music. Such values build character. The primary responsibility for cultivating positive values falls on the young person.


To attain these values requires the discipline of repetitive application of, to quote Alexandre Harvard, magnanimity, humility, prudence, courage, self-control and sense of justice until they become second nature to a young person.

Many young people do not ask themselves: what is my life going to be about? They live an unplanned life. One must develop a vision for their life. A young person could dedicate themselves to raising a model family, creating a great social business or, with others, re-imagining their country’s destiny.

A vision can be broken down into goals or objectives which will incrementally be achieved in a lifetime but within a decade, a year, a month, a week or even a day.

How many young people plan what will be fitted into a day? Doing things as they come or whatever friends suggest is reckless generosity.

My young friend identified education as a driver for success. Such education is not simply book or rote learning geared towards passing examinations. Holistic education is a lifelong pursuit of knowledge acquisition that will help a young person and later the mature adult to be innovative and creative problem solvers. This is disruptive education which questions settled doctrine and old ways of doing things.


Career or life’s pursuit should be a personal choice by the young person. Although guidance is key, the final decision rests on the shoulders of the young person. I have known young adults whose careers were chosen for them by their parents or teachers. Later they abandoned such careers. Career choice is analogous to choice of a spouse. You get it wrong and you live to regret.

A successful young person is usually escorted in life by a mentor. This is an accomplished person who generously shares their experiences with a junior person and guides them. A regular session with a mentor even online can continue to build the character and potential of the mentee.

I urged the young gentleman I met to ensure he has a circle of dedicated and honest friends with whom to share his journey in life. Relationships build on love, mutuality and trust are an asset. Abusive relationships are a liability.

Peer mentorship is also an important ingredient of catalysing growth in young people.

I wish young people participated more in the alumni associations of their former educational institutions. Networks and exposure are of immense social value.


Whether one is employed or self-employed, hard work, incessant skills development and discipline will differentiate those who succeed or fail.

To succeed young people must be self-motivated, have positive ambition, exhibit self-drive and self-respect. Abuse of drugs, alcohol, sex and other addictive behaviours will disorient the perpetrator and detract them from success.

I shared with my young buddy that one should find time for volunteer community work. Giving oneself to others is a key measure of success but also me-time and leisure for unwinding are priceless.

Young people must know each human being has weaknesses. We must try to identify these. We must listen to others when they identify such weaknesses for us. This is the role of accountability partners or that trusted friend or mentor or parent who tells you as it is. Weaknesses must be corrected. They often are the flip side of success once converted into strengths.


Failure is a temporary setback. It must not numb us into lethargy, despair, disillusionment, hurting and depression. Some young people believe their world has collapsed when they experience failure or temporary set back. No Successful person has not failed many times.

After contact with failure, some young people contemplate suicide. Committing suicide is killing future success. Talking about our fears, our anxieties, our problems, and our inadequacies with trusted persons or counsellors is critical. A problem you think is a mountain today can be a laughing matter the following day.

I told my impromptu friend that those between 15-35 years are Kenya’s and Africa’s incoming generation of leaders. They must prepare themselves to take charge. It is their lot to offer sacrificial leadership so as to avert Africa’s decay and usher in Ubuntu and the true renaissance predicted by Thabo Mbeki.

The writer is the Governor of Makueni County.