From 2015 to 2020: 5th Anniversary of my book “Drums of Success”: How I have used it as the roadmap for my own creative journey!

Published June 11, 2020

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I can’t believe it’s already five years since I published my first non-fiction book; DRUMS OF SUCCESS: Tens Steps to Turning Your Creative Potential into Success. The book was actually published on 05 April 2015, by I have chosen to celebrate its anniversary in June when it was launched in Kigali, my hometown.

I thought I had written this book for the consumption of others, and little did I know that it was going to be the roadmap for my own creative journey.

Today, I would like to chat with you about how the book Drums of Success changed my own life.

MY DRUMS OF SUCCESS: Ten Steps of Turning My own Creative Potential into Success

Interview with Makeda Mahadeo of Rise and Shine Rwanda at the occasion of Drums of Success Book Launch Event @Innovation Village (Kacyiru), Kigali, 05 June 2015.


Step 1: Assessing My Situation

In this first step, I encourage the readers of Drums of Success to ask herself/himself the following questions:

  • Where am I?
  • Is the world worth trusting?
  • Am I allowed to be who I am?
  • To what extent am I allowed to make mistakes?
  • Do I need to change my situation?

Excerpt from the book:

“A lot of people have creative potential that has never been turned into new and creative ideas and objects, and ultimately into success. For some people, it may be because they feel like there are rules and dynamics of this world that have just made it difficult for them to come up with creative ideas and objects. They think they do not know the world’s systems and structures to navigate through to start playing on the drums of their success. For others, it is because they don’t trust the world. They feel like the world is unfair. Why should they bother pursuing their passion and success in this world that is full of wicked people? They believe people are unfair and untrustworthy and this has created some sense of unworthiness, even in them. For another group of people, from their life experiences, they concluded that they always have to adhere to what other people define as normal. They wonder whether or not it’s allowed to just be oneself. They think that creative people are always labeled to be weird and abnormal, and they do not want to be also labeled as such. Another group of people is simply those who never want to try new things with the fear of making mistakes. They want to be sure that it will never go wrong, and they wait for that assurance before they even try. And they find themselves repeating what was always done, tested, and approved.”

Each of us has reasons why even the idea of coming up with novel ideas or products scares him/her. I also had my own fears. I cannot list all of them. I knew I wanted to create something. I knew I needed to find my own voice and make it heard. But, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and the idea of me putting myself out to the world scared me.

I’m Rwandan, I lived in Rwanda for the longest of my life. Rwanda shaped the person I am. When I laugh, it’s because of what Rwanda did or didn’t do. When I weep, it’s because of what Rwanda did or didn’t do. It would have felt like denying myself if I had created for the entire world, before starting with what my people need. There is no way I could have invented other stories when I have those that haunt my mind night and day.

After publishing my first non-fiction books ‘Drums of Success’, which includes some anecdotes from my own life, I immediately decided to write a memoir. I started writing about my childhood, the genocide against the Tutsi which claimed the life of my father, the mysterious death of my two elder brothers, the life after the genocide, the sexual abuses, the depression, the love relationships, the hate, the poverty, spirituality and religion, finding love, marriage, motherhood, and every other bit of my own story. I titled that book ‘CLIPS OF MY LIFE’. It’s a small book of only 70,000 words.

I read the book and started editing. I wept reading my own story. I was so scared. I started wondering what my family members would think of that book. Would they be happy with the fact that I was revealing some family secrets? Were they ready to tell our shared stories? How about my husband? How about my children? Are they old enough to understand my struggles? What kind of the world would the book be revealing to them? Would they continue to think of me as their super mother after being revealed to all my weaknesses, my dilemmas, and puzzles? How about Rwanda? How about Rwandans? Would I be persecuted for having spilled it all? Would I be labeled a bad person? An enemy of some groups? Would I be killed? Would my friends cut ties with me? Would they pity me? Would they feel sorry for me? I had no answers to all of these questions. I decided not to go on with writing and editing ‘Clips of Life.’ Do you want to know why? Read this: Who else Owns my Own Story?

However, the exercise helped me see that I have a lot to offer to Rwanda, to my compatriots, and to the world in general. I thought of fiction. Yes, I like reading and I have read many fiction books. I thought of a character. She has the same age I had in 1994 when my country was in ashes during the Genocide against the Tutsi. Like me, she survived the genocide. She is also from a mixed family of both Tutsis and Hutus. Her father was Tutsi and her mother was Hutu. She resents Hutus for the fact that they killed her father and siblings. But, she also feels sad that some Tutsis link her to the Hutu identity. She is 15 and growing into young adults. She loves and wants to be loved. Boys notice her and she notices them too. She experiences emotional struggles. But, her story is more complicated than mine. One of the things that kept me standing is having my mother with me. My invented character doesn’t know the whereabouts of her mother. She lives with a paternal uncle. Her life is more complicated than mine and links her to some other people whose stories are also intriguing. I continued to think about my invented character. I gave her a name; KARABO. I wrote down her story, and in October 2018, my debut novel, Hearts Among Ourselves was out.

After the book was out, I felt as if I had done it! I had spoken to Rwanda and her people. I had nothing else to be afraid of. The book was enough to either connect me with my people or disconnect me with them. Rainbow stories, as I now call them, are not common in the Rwanda literature. The book has been out for almost two years. I even published, one year later, a translation in Kinyarwanda. So far, I have only received positive feedback from Rwandan readers.

Does it mean I had no reason to be scared? I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe not. But, all I know is that writing Hearts Among Ourselves set me somehow free! Writing is now my life, and I will write as if it was my human right. To put a signature on this contract with the world, in December 2018, I published this poem “I’m Afraid Of Common People’. Before then, in November 2018, I had published my first ever poem to be shared with the world, Immortelle‘, which is both a celebration of my mother’s heroism and a summary of our post-genocide experiences.

Have I been able to analyze my situation and answer the questions about who I am, where I am, and whether or not I’m allowed to be myself? I guess I have and that’s the reason why I continue to write without any fear of receiving disapproval or rejection. I have no fear of making mistakes. I embrace change, I accept criticism but reject negativity. Am I there yet? No, I’m on the journey, and I am simply glad, I keep on moving forward. To understand what I mean, you may read this Anti-Self: Five Proofs You Hate Yourself. I have decided I will not be one of my haters. I know where I am; in a world that is not always just and fair, but I have decided nobody else has the authority to prevent me from expressing who I am.

Step 2: Discovering My Mental Capabilities

In this step, I encourage the readers of Drums of Success to:

  • Understand the difference between fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence;
  • Understand the difference between divergent thinking and convergent thinking, and start training themselves to be divergent thinkers.
  • Discover their mental abilities and start using them to create something.

Excerpt from the book:

There is no doubt that any creative process uses some brain functions. We all understand that we go through some cognitive processes when we analyze our surroundings, think abstractly or logically on different uses and linkages, and generate new ideas on how new or existing problems can be solved with new ways of doing things or new objects. But the question is what mental capabilities are linked to creativity? What thresholds of these mental capabilities are needed for full creative potential How shall I know that I have these mental capabilities? How can I develop these mental capabilities?

To be honest with you, I may say that I did not really have to discover my mental abilities. As advised to the readers of Drums of Success, all I did was to go back to what I used to do when I was young.

Reading has been an important part of my childhood memories. My neighborhood was one of the few, if not the only one, that had a public library in Kigali. At Club Rafiki, that’s where we used to go to read books. Sometimes we would also go to the Rwanda-French Cultural Center, compared to the French Institutes in other countries. My father encouraged reading and I was one of those children who always wanted to prove to Papa I was a good student.

When I was a child, I remember trying to write songs, which I failed to sing, till in my young adulthood when I wrote a song and shared it with other singers. I was in a students’ national camp INGANDO, and a member of the Christian choir that used to sing whenever we had gatherings. We were allowed to sing other people’s songs without caring much about the copyright. I introduced the song to the choir members and taught them how to sing it, but decided not to reveal to them that I was actually the author of that song. I thought if I had told them the truth, they would have scrutinized the song to tell me it did not meet the standards.

I have always been a performer of words, a storyteller, a dancer. I sing words, I tell words, I dance words. Anything to do with words and rhythms of words has always been not only part of my interest but also what I have been either praised for or criticized about. In secondary school, before my life was changed by the genocide against the Tutsi, I was a comedian and a member of the Drama team. I was a folkloric dancer since I was six until when I was a young adult. Even today, when I’m emotional I write, I recite poetry, I sing or I dance.

The criticisms I have received about my use fo words are; “Happy you write long texts,” or “You make long speeches,” and where I heart that, I try to use fewer words. Writing has given me both the freedom and the ability to use words effectively.

One thing I liked so much but that I had never tried was prose and poetry. I had never written a story the same way I do today. I had never written a poem. I have always been a fan of Maya Angelou as a poet and Toni Morrison as a novelist, and I can say they actually made me decide I could do it.

Toni Morrison gave me permission to write stories when she said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” and when she said, “Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” Discovering Toni Morrison and reading her books that are full of language, has been very liberating for me. I don’t aspire to be the great novelist she was in terms of her mastery of the language, but like her, I don’t write about Rwandans, I will write to Rwandans, I write to Africans, I write to world citizens. I don’t invent what to write to them. Everything is within me, some bits of my story, what I see in my surroundings, what marked my childhood, my teenagehood, my yesterday and my today.

I have Maya Angelou’s poetry in my home library. One thing I love about her poems is that even I, who is not a native speaker of English, understand them. Her poems are stories. They are not just philosophical. They have meaning. They paint life. When I’m down, I recite ‘Still I rise‘ or ‘A phenomenal woman‘. When I remember myself, my story, my family, Rwanda, and her history, I recite, “We wear the mask,”. When I am scared, I recite ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.’ Again, I don’t aspire to be a copy of the great Maya Angelou. She fetched from her own story and the history of her country, and I have my own story and the history of my country. I’m inspired by her vibes, the way she portrayed self-love and love for others, the outer and inner beauty she portrayed. I want to be May Angelou’s student.

After publishing two books in English, and a Kinyarwanda translation of one of them, more than ten poems in both English and Kinyarwanda, although I know I have a lot to learn in order to perfection my prose and poetry, I’m sure I have a voice that needs to be listened to. Yes, I can, and I will! I have all that it takes to do it.

Step 3: Understanding My Personality

In life, we are often given an unsolicited psychological diagnosis, and many people tell us we can’t do this or that because we behave in a certain way. Sometimes we internalize it and fail to understand our own personality traits and they make us the best we can be.

In this step, I encourage the readers of Drums of Success to understand their personality traits and how they support their creative potential.

Below are the questions I encourage the readers of Drums of Success find answers for:

  • Are you inventive and curious or consistent and cautious?
  • Are you efficient and organized or easy-going and careless?
  • Are you outgoing and energetic or solitary and reserved?
  • Are you friendly and cooperative or skeptical detached?
  • Are you sensitive and nervous or secure and confident?

Excerpts from the book:

On Openness to Experience: “For creative people curiosity is just like play. They just enjoy trying new experiences. They are curious to know how things can work differently and the adventure of finding out is just fun to them. I have had an opportunity to talk to some musicians in my country of Rwanda about the circumstances that led to some of their songs. It was interesting to hear that sometimes they see a lady passing by and they imagine where she is going and what shall happen when she gets there. They play with their imagination and before you know it, they start
singing the story of that lady.”

On Conscientiousness: “Research has not found considerable significant correlations between this trait and creativity. It is, however, believed that people who are more conscientious tend to be more successful in life. We understand that while the first trait we discussed of ‘openness to experience’ leads to imagination and generation of new ideas, engaging in the process to turn these ideas into new and useful products may require a certain level of conscientiousness.”

On Extroversion and Introversion: “There is a misconception that creative people are always extroverts. This is not true. Creative people can be either extroverted or introverted or in some cases ambivert i.e. at the middle point of extroversion and introversion. The only difference between extroverts and introverts, as far as creativity is concerned, is how they choose to express their creativity. Extroverts enjoy human interaction and they like to attract attention to them. They are rewarded by gratification from outside. Introverts, on the other hand, are motivated by interacting with their own mental life. They enjoy solitary activities.”

On Agreeableness: “We all have fear of the unknown, and creativity means coming up with new ideas and objects. With the fear of the unknown, a lot of people will disapprove of your creative ideas. The level of connection you need, the level of trust you have in their judgment, the level of sensitivity you have to other people’s opinions shall definitely affect the evaluation of your ideas and your decision to pursue their implementation. If you have very high levels of agreeableness, you will drop your creative ideas as long as they are not approved by other people. If you are less agreeable, you will not listen to the people that will want to contribute not necessarily to the originality of your ideas, but to their usefulness.”

On neuroticism: “Creative people do not score highly on neuroticism. They are emotionally stable and self-confident. However, they are not ignorant of the challenges and difficulties that we all encounter in this life, and this pushes them to come up with new ideas on how they can make things better.”

I’m not sure I may be able to discuss my personality, but I can tell you that I indeed thought about my personality, and every single day I’m reminded of some traits of it.

For example, I know I’m open to experiences, and this is good for creativity. However, I always have to remind myself that as much as I can do many things, I need to focus on only a few. My openness to experience gives me enough curiosity to discover new ideas and new ways of doing things. As a storyteller, I am curious to know what other people think, what they have gone through, how they interpret happenings in our society, and this feeds into my poems and the short stories I write. However, I know I need to be cautious. Sometimes I want to react and it backfires on me. Sometimes I lose focus. Sometimes I get hurt. I have taken some decisions to avoid some places and some people in order for me to stay focused on what I want my contributions to be.

When it comes to conscientiousness, I know I don’t score so high on it, because I tend to be more easy-going than efficient. I like to take things easy. I sometimes procrastinate. This is not good. To mitigate it, I have given myself a structure. For example, I know I have to make a video every Saturday for the #AndikiraAhazaza #WriteToTheFuture sessions with aspiring writers, and I have to make a video every month for #Rwanda Tuganire show. I have a deadline to meet every Saturday and when it’s 15th of the month, I already know I have to make a video. It’s not only about the videos I have to make. I’m working on another book, I write poems, short stories, and essays. I have given myself a target of at least two thousand words per day. If not the book, it’s a poem or a short story. For poems, I like to use the notes on my phone. I write on the go, whenever I have inspiration for another stanza. On top of writing, I have another full-time job and a family with young kids that need me. To be successful everywhere, I need to be super organized. It’s not so much about how much I do, it’s about having time for everything, however little it might me.

I have never had to ask myself whether I am extroverted or introverted. All my friends would immediately tell me I’m extroverted. I like to express my ideas, and I don’t care who is in the room or how many people are there. I enjoy interacting with people. When I was younger, you could never find me alone in a room. I was never solitary. However, In 1994, after the Genocide against the Tutsi, solitude became my best friend. I was 15 years old, and I can’t say I did not understand what had happened to my family and my country. But, I didn’t really know where I lived and who I lived with. I had a lot to say but no words to say it. The only people who were there to listen were my deceased father and brothers. I used to lock myself into a room to talk to them. I wrote them letters which I immediately tore. I asked them questions. I remember that I could be with other people, and say bye to them only to go and talk to my ghosts. Then, a few years later I also discovered prayers. It did not stop me from talking to Papa and my brothers, but they had to share that precious time with God. I guess, that’s the reason why even today if you see me at a party, you will think I’m always surrounded by people. Don’t be surprised if the next time you invite me, I say no. My friends hate that about me. You never know when I want to be with people, or when I simply want to be alone. So, I’m extroverted, but I also enjoy solitary time. In my solitary time, I think, I feel and write. When I’m with others, I observe, I talk and enjoy!

One thing I didn’t know would be a challenge is about ‘agreeableness’ as a personality trait. I didn’t understand so much the extent to which some people may want me to think and act like them in order for me to be accepted. Yes, I knew they would criticize my work, and tell me how substandard it could be. But, I didn’t know they would want to push me to say what I don’t want to say or act the way I haven’t chosen to act. In October 2018, I unfriended some friends on Facebook, not because they are unkind people, but because they wanted me to use the same words they use, curse whoever they cursed, and praise whoever they praised. In February 2020, I unfriended some other friends, most of whom I had made after my book, “Hearts Among Ourselves” was out. Again, these were not unkind people. They simply had expectations that I could not meet. When they somehow attacked me on Facebook, I thought I had called it to myself. I was like, “Why do they expect me to say what they want me to say?” When you’re a creative, people interpret your work in different ways. When you like to express yourself, people expect you to say something about almost everything, but when you say it your way, they are sometimes disappointed. Another reality is that some people have their own agendas, and when you are a creative, they want you to produce for them the tools they need to achieve their own goals. They don’t necessarily say that to you. Maybe they don’t even know that’s what they are asking for. They simply feel you’re not helping their cause. I know I’m still just at the beginning of discovering this reality, but it gives me an idea of what more successful creatives go through. I don’t need anybody’s approval. I don’t write to please anybody. I simply want to make my voice heard. Some people will learn from what I write, and others shall learn from the fact I write what I write despite their disapproval.

Last but not least, I know neuroticism correlates negatively with creativity, but I have some levels of neuroticism and that’s for me a two-edged sword. My sensitivity is actually one of the drives of my creativity. I’m very sensitive to what happens in my surroundings. Sometimes, I see trouble where others don’t see it. I’m sensitive to the words people choose to use when talking to me or to others, how people treat me or others, and how human beings interact with others in general. When I write, it’s because I observe all of these and I feel somehow pained, hurt, or challenged. However, even though it contributes somehow to my writing, sometimes I get hurt easily. As much as I like interacting with people, I don’t take lightly bad words, sarcasm, and anything that I may interpret as motivated by hate or inconsideration. So, that’s the reason why I sometimes decide to withdraw from some places, some groups, or cut contacts with some people. One thing I have learned is that as a creative, I have to protect my space, or what I may call my factory. I want to create and give to the world. I don’t want to be recycling what the world has thrown to me. For example, I don’t want my writing to be influenced by the insults and hate speech that we often see on social media. I want to decide when to see it and when to just focus on the good things in life. I want to listen to good music, talk to best friends, and just be happy. I don’t want to be hurt. One more thing I have learned is that to be able to create, I need to keep my level of worry only to what I need to create solutions, instead of the worry that feeds my pessimism and leads me to giving up.

Step 4: Knowing My Motivation Factors

In this step, I encourage the readers of Drums of Success to think about what motivates them to do what they do. I talk about three important motivation factors:

  • Passionate interest;
  • Personal drive;
  • Need satisfaction.

Excerpt from the book

Motivation can simply be defined as the reason for behaving or acting in a particular way. This may be to pursue something of our interests or a drive to do something that is meaningful and important to us or a need that we have to satisfy. Sometimes we are conscious of the motives that lead to our behaviors and actions, and some other times we are unconscious of these motives. Some motives may be innately generated—what is known as intrinsic motivation. Other motives may be conditioned, or what is known as extrinsic motivation. It’s very important to know why we do what we do in order to be able to influence how we do it. I will classify motivation factors into three types: passionate interest, personal drive, and need satisfaction. You will understand that in some cases it is difficult to put a clear cut between the three because in most cases one leads to the other.”

Like any other reader of Drums of Success, I had to think about my motivation factors. In fact, I think about them all the time. Whenever I want to do something, I ask myself these questions: Am I doing it because I like it? Am I do it because I want to serve a purpose? Or, am I doing it to satisfy a need? Sometimes, ‘Yes’ is a response to only one of these questions, but very often, I say ‘yes’ to more than one of these questions, if not all the three.

This is not only about why I generally write, but it’s also about each of the pieces I create, my poems, my short stories, my essays and the books. It’s also about the video series.

I write because I enjoy languages and their music. I like the way it keeps me busy. It’s like a sport for my brain. It’s the music I dance in silence without having to be on the dancefloor. – passionate interest).

As a person who was orphaned by hatred, ethnicism, and violence, I write because I need to have a conversation with Rwandans in particular and world citizens in general about love, peace, and respect for diversity, with the hope that my children and grandchildren won’t have the same bad experiences I lived – personal drive.

Writing is like therapy to me. It’s my way of breathing out the inner pain and hurt I feel whenever I think about myself, my family, and my beloved country Rwanda. It helps me psychologically and emotionally – Need satisfaction.

I have written poems for my family members, and when I shared these poems, written and in videos, with the world, I felt peace in my heart that I could not explain.

The poem I dedicated to my father, I titled it Kaniziyo, and instead of focusing on how he was killed, I talked about how he had lived his life as if it was never going to end. My daughters helped me memorize it when I was preparing to make its video. I loved to respond to their questions about some verses of the poem. That’s the time I understood that the only important thing my daughters knew about their grandfather was that he was killed during the genocide against the Tutsi. I blamed myself for the fact that I had focused so much on my father’s death and failed to celebrate the 50 years of his life on earth.

When I decided to write a poem for my brothers, the task was more complicated. I was about to break the silence about their mysterious death. Those deaths that we did not talk about in the Rwandan society, sometimes because we don’t know what to say, or because we fear to be judged by members of the society. Unlike my father, I don’t know how my brothers died, who killed them, when they were killed, and where they were killed. All I know is that when they left the house, they were joining the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA). They never came back. Where they killed by the same Hutu extremists who killed our father? Did they lose their lives at the battle on the side of RPA soldiers? What happened to them? Nobody knows. I mean, nobody in my family. Maybe some other people outside my family know what happened to them. Because of all these uncertainties and the politics, it had become as if talking about the death of my brothers meant asking troubling questions to Rwanda and her people. But, I felt as if I had not been a good sister to them. I felt as if I pretended to forget those I loved so dearly simply because I wanted to survive. I felt selfish. I felt as if I betrayed their legacy and memory. I had to tell them I cared. I had said it many times before to them, in my dreams or nightmares, in many unpublished letters I wrote to them, in conversations with them as my darling ghosts. But, this time around, the world needed to know I cared for my brothers. I wrote a poem I titled, Flowers For Your Grave – A Poem For My Brothers.” This poem served a purpose; honoring the memory of my brothers and say to whoever needed to know that their lives mattered. It also satisfied a need: It liberated me! It set me free! Now, I know it’s no longer about how they died and who killed them. It’s about them, the love I have for them, and the memories I cherish.

It’s not only the poem for my brothers that set me free. I also wrote a poem about the sexual abuse I experienced when I was a teenager. I titled it A Poem Without A Name. I wrote a poem about my late mother and thanked her for having selfishly taken good care of us after the death of our father and our brothers. The process of writing that poem helped me realize how much Mama suffered in silence because she did not want to bother us. The world deceived her, but she decided not to be broken. She was there because we needed her. When she died of diabetes in 2011, I looked at her and said to myself, “Immortelle est morte,” Which means the immortal is now dead. When I dedicated to her the poem I titled “Immortelle“, I managed to realize that she lives on in me, in all of us her children, and in her grandchildren.

I may not be able to talk about why I wrote each of my books, poems, short stories, and essays. I have already told you how I came up with the idea to write my novel ‘Hearts Among Ourselves.” I’m working on another book that focuses, at another level, on diversity in the Rwandan context. I have many other unpublished poems, some about my own life, and others based on fictional stories. I have two video series; Rwanda, Tuganire in which I discuss love, peace, and respect for diversity with my compatriots, and Andikira Ahazaza, Write To The Future, in which I discuss writing with other Rwandan aspiring authors.

There is a reason why I do everything I do, and I believe I remain true to my motives. However, the question is not so much about knowing one’s motivation factors, but knowing what you don’t have the motivation for. I believe more in intrinsic motivation than extrinsic motivation. As a writer, it has to come from within, and not from outside. The challenge is that when we give ourselves to the world, some influencers want to motivate us (extrinsically) to serve their own agendas. It’s important for me, and for any creative to ask herself/himself always this question: What is in it for me? I don’t mean the material benefits. I mean, does it serve the same purpose I want to serve? do I feel good doing it? What personal need (more psychological than physical), am I satisfying? In addition to those who drag us into their own agendas, there are also those who misinterpret our motives. Consistency, persistence, and resilience are tools to deal with these people. One day, they shall realize that it was all about us (me) and what we wanted to do for ourselves (myself), those we (I) love, and the legacy we (I) want to leave to the world.

Author A. Happy on Rwanda National TV speaking to the journalist Cleophas Barore about her book Drums of Success – in Kinyarwanda (2015)


Step 5: Defining My Life Purpose and Setting My Goals

In this step, I encourage the readers of Drums of Success to:

  • Define their life purpose;
  • Set their long-term and short-term goals;
  • Work to achieve their goals, and toward the fulfillment of the their life purpose.

Excerpt from the book

“In life, we all have a purpose to accomplish, and some of us have a strong desire to achieve that purpose. Some of us have been kicking the ball for so many years, but all we do is moving from the east corner of the playground to the west corner, from the south corner of the playground to the north. We enjoy the game and we have managed to keep the ball with us for the longest periods of time. When the ball is taken from us, we know how to get it back. Some of us have received yellow cards, but fortunately, we have not yet received red cards. We have been running for so long and we are afraid that the referee may rule that the game is over before we score a goal.”

“A goal is defined as the end toward which effort is directed. If you want to win, whatever efforts you make every minute of your life should be directed towards a certain goal. You do not, however, need to have one goal in life. That’s where a goal differs from a purpose. Many goals may be linked to one purpose. These are the exact measurable steps you will make towards accomplishing your purpose.”

I have already discussed my motives. But what is my life purpose? What do I want to achieve before I die, or even after my death? I mean after my death, because the seeds I plant today may bear fruits to be harvested so many years after I shall have left this world. That’s the meaning of a life purpose, and where it differs from goals. I’m not in a hurry to see the fruits of what I’m doing today. I’m actually only in hurry to plant as many good seeds as possible before I die.

My friends and family members often ask me why I write what I write, taking into consideration the risks associated with what I write about. A friend of mine once told me, “Your first book was about creativity, and that’s a global topic. Why are you now writing about Rwanda? You should look international and write more about global topics, instead of writing on local issues.” Maybe my friend was right. He knows I don’t like to operate in a box. He knows I like to expand my horizons, and think of myself more as a world citizen. But, what my friends ignored is that by “local issues’, he meant that I should not write about the genocide against the Tutsi that claimed the life of my father, the war my brothers and cousins fought in as young soldiers, the hatred that made me doubt my own worth, the ethnicism that encouraged those who dehumanized me because of the identities they associated with me, the violence that continues till today to shatter the lives of many Rwandans. My friend wanted me to ignore the colors of my own world, and focus on another world that I would have probably had to invent; or some kind of a fantasy.

A quote that is attributed to Robert Baden-Powell states; “Leave the world better than how you found it.” This is what should be the purpose of everybody. But, do we see the same world? Does our world have the same colors? Is my world similar to yours? I don’t think so. Each of us has her/his own mirrors because of our different experiences with the world.

The world I grew up in is that of hatred, ethnicism, racism, divisions, violence, wars, and genocides. That’s how I fount it. If I want to leave it a little better than how I found it as suggested by Robert Baden-Powell, I should contribute to exposing and combating all those things that polluted and continue to pollute my world. I should contribute to the creation of the world I dream, which shall have the colors of love, peace, and celebration of our beautiful diversity. Where else should I start from, if not from the organ of the world that bled its pain onto me? I mean Rwanda whose blood I saw, whose tears I saw, and whose wounds I see every day.

When I started the show, I titled Rwanda, Tuganire, I defined the themes of my conversations with Rwanda as:

  • Love and Kindness;
  • Peace and Serenity;
  • Uniqueness and Diversity.

This might sound like some empty slogans. Yes. In my family, I like to tell my daughters that the purpose of life is to ‘love and serve’ and that helps our conversations whenever I want to teach them about good behaviors.

But the life purpose I talk about in Drums of Success should be more intentional than that. That’s the reason we need goals; both long-term and short-term. I may not enumerate my goals here. Or, maybe I may say, I change them always. But, I should rather say that after defining my life purpose (Contributing to the fight against hatred, ethnicism, and violence), I had to decide what my contribution shall be, and the goals I will have to be achieving.

Having a life purpose and goals should keep each creative not only focused but also undistracted by the happenings in the world that may be serving other purposes, which may sometimes be going in the opposite direction.

For example, since I write about peace, some people might label me a political writer and think that I either write for those in power or against those in power. No. Many people wrote about peace and against violence so many years before those in power today were even born, and many people shall continue to write about peace so many years after those who want to be in power tomorrow shall have left this world. What I want to do for this world has nothing to do with who is in power today or who shall be in power tomorrow.

My concern is whether or not the members of the society have adopted a culture of peace, embraced the uniqueness of each of us and celebrated our diversity, and broke the cycle of hatred; irrespective of the views and the policies of whoever is in power. I don’t write to politicians, I write to the members of the society, and know that politicians are also produced by that same society.

If the society believes in the use of violence, the politicians shall use violence to silence voices they don’t want to hear. If the society divides itself into competing ethnic, or racial groups, the politicians shall always act as if they are representing a group that is in competition with the other. If the society does not decide to break the cycle of hatred, the politicians shall always be evaluated based on how they provide opportunities for vengeance as a semblance of justice.

As a writer, my goal is to influence the thoughts and actions of my readers and turn them into actors of peace. I mean actors, not activists. When a reader writes to me to tell me that any of my poems, short stories, essays or books, changed her she/he viewed her/himself, and the world, and led her/him to being more intentional in loving and serving, I celebrate success, however insignificant it might be.

As much I was hurt by history, I don’t want to be a prisoner of it. I use historical stories as lessons that should guide what we do today. I’m one of those who think that most of the mistakes of the past cannot be corrected now. All we can do is to learn from them and move forward as a nation, Rwanda, or as the world. This often confuses some of my compatriots, who sometimes question why I don’t engage in some fights or write about some topics. Nothing shall bring back my father, my brothers, and all the precious people I lost. But, there is something we might do today so that no other child may be orphaned by hatred and violence, today or tomorrow.

Step 6: Drawing My Strategies

In this step, I encourage readers of Drums of success to:

  • Define their unique personal message, which should be consistent in all their communications;
  • Establish tools for personal branding and self-promotion;
  • Develop and expand their people networks;
  • Take rational decisions about money and finances.

Excerpt from the book

When defining your strategy, you shall need to be guided by your life purpose statement and reformulate it in terms of what you stand for. You will need to define your message to the world. This shall not only help you stay focused, but shall also guide you in staying connected with those people that have similar interests and are also working to achieve similar purposes, or are simply some of those that may be affected in one way or another by your message and actions. This message shall lead to the different decisions you will make. You will ensure that the way you behave and act communicates this message. It will guide in your choice of relationships and people networks you will engage in and develop. It will guide you on the money decisions you shall make.

Once again, it’s maybe difficult to discuss my strategy, because I actually haven’t yet managed to confirm what works and what doesn’t. All I know is that since the day I decided to be a writer who shares what I write with the world, it’s been challenging to apply what I wrote in this chapter of Drums of Success.

Yes, I have already defined my unique personal message, and I want it to be consistent in all my communications. But, the fact that I’m a member and a product of a divided society makes it so hard for me to talk about love and peace, without running the risk of being blamed for condemning those whom some people think should not be condemned, or blessing those whom some people think should be cursed. With my own emotional needs and wounds, I sometimes come out as if I’m writing from a place of hurt or fear, instead of a place of love and confidence. Maybe, the best thing to do sometimes is to keep quiet, but does it mean I would be restraining my own freedom of expression and hence turning my expression into something mechanical? I want to be able to show love to both those who are perceived as angels by some Rwandans and those who are perceived as devils by some Rwandans. I’m still figuring out how I will be able to do that without being associated with either the angels or the devils. In fact, nobody is either an angel or a devil. We all have the faculty to do good, and we all have the faculty to do evil.

Another time when I failed to stick to my unique personal message is when I tried to meet people’s expectations of me, or when I had to react to their opinions about me. Whenever I tried to meet other people’s expectations, I lost my own focus and started acting to please others, even when their expectations did not match my own goals. When I reacted to people’s opinions of me, I shifted the focus from the message I want to communicate, to myself as a person. Was that because I’m a weak person? No. It was simply because I’m human. We all have the need for belonging, and we all want to be appreciated by others. But, it has taught me that I wasn’t totally right when I wrote the following excerpt of ‘Drums of Success’:

Excerpt from the book: “Remember that all the people you meet also have some messages they want to get across. Your aim should not be to tell them what you want to tell them, because they are too preoccupied with their own situations and can’t empathetically listen to you. Your aim should be to connect with these people. It’s by showing them you care and by empathetically listening to them that they will want to stay connected with you. Listen and learn from their experiences; understand their needs, go with the flow until you reach a point when you can offer solutions to their problems.”

I was indeed right about the fact that most people have their own messages they want to get across, and that they are too preoccupied with their own business to listen to me. However, as much as I understand I need to connect with these people, I have also learned that sometimes it’s probably better to disconnect with some people, and just love them from afar. As the Mexican singer, Luis Miguel said, I too, have learned to maintain my sanity by keeping a distance.

Another challenge has been personal branding and self-promotion. In fact, I hate calling it that way. It shouldn’t be about me. It should be about my message and my contributions to making this world a better place for all of us. However, as a writer, I know very well that what I do is different from, for example, producing soaps and invest in advertising and distribution. My work is more about interacting with people, conveying a message, and creating experiences. It all starts from me, my image, the trust people have in my motives, do they want to listen to me? Do they understand me? Do they have questions?

In addition to a website and a blog, I also use social media as channels through which I communicate my message, and platforms on which I interact with my readers. It’s not that easy to be on social media. In the beginning, especially after my debut novel was out, I seemed to be too available and accessible on social media, and that came with consequences. I’m learning more about using social media than being used by it. That’s maybe a strong statement! I mean, I should use social media to learn from others, communicate my message, and interact with people. The opinions of social media users, as much as they may teach me something about the world, they should not make me distracted and lose focus on my own life purpose, goals, and unique message.

Last but not least, money and finances as part of my strategy. So far, my work as a writer is still funded by my full-time job in an international organization. As much as I would be happy to sell more book copies, be awarded prizes, get paid for my poetry; I do not want a situation where I will have to tailor my stories to what the world enjoys reading. I don’t want to write controversies simply to attract attention, even if I will not shy away from writing on controversial topics if I find them meaningful and linked to my message of love, peace, and celebration of diversity. Maybe when I shall be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Drums of Success, we shall talk more about money and finances. What I can tell creatives is that it’s better to find another source of income before you start getting enough from your creations. When you create solely for money, you run the risk of being used by those who have other agendas.

Step 7: Embarking On My Creative Production

In this step, I discussed with the readers of Drums of Success the process of creative production:

  • Inspiration and idea generation;
  • Visualization and Illustration;
  • Production and Packaging;
  • Release and Distribution.

Excerpt from the book:

“Ideas cannot be touched, heard, seen, smelled, or tasted. For ideas to be touched they have to be translated into a palpable object. For ideas to be heard they have to be translated into audible objects, e.g. spoken words. For ideas to be seen they have to be translated into seeable objects, e.g. written words. For ideas to be smelled they have to be translated into scented objects. For ideas to be tasted they have to be translated into flavorsome objects. I would like to indeed underline the fact that to turn your creative potential into success; you will need to understand the following principles of creative production:

  • It’s cooking and you are the cook: The first aim of the cook is to get a quality meal for her/his guest. S/he will make sure s/he does not miss any detail that would change the taste, color, or the aroma of her meal. You need to be there.
  • Time is the most important resource: Find that quality time to work on your project. Do not give it the residual time. Don’t rush; it may hinder quality. Don’t prolong the time; you need to deliver when it’s still relevant.
  • Quality is key: Yes, you have those great ideas but remember you are not going to keep them to yourself. They shall be evaluated by the market. Give the best you can give.
  • It’s an investment, so treat it as such: I know you have already invested time and effort, but if there is any dollar you have to get out of your pocket. Do not hesitate. You are giving to yourself and to the world.
  • Quantity reaches out: Quality gets you the best clients; quantity gets you many clients. Do not forget that.”

Like any other creative, I also go through the same process to generate ideas and create my pieces, either as books, short stories, poems and essays.

Where do I get inspiration from? I have already discussed where I got the inspiration to write Hearts Among Ourselves. It started from my own personal story, which was expanded to include other elements and stories beyond my story. The book I’m writing today is also inspired by bits of my story, and mostly by the stories of young Rwandans of today. It focuses more on the diversity of our beauties.

In addition to the poems about myself and my family, I have also written poems based on fictional stories. For example, the poem, “I Did Not Kill My Cousins,” was inspired by what I read on social media when people call others bad names simply because of their facial features and/or the identities of their parents. The poem “Do You Remember Them?” was inspired by the fact that whenever the period to commemorate the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi starts, some Rwandans, instead of paying tribute to the victims and/or comforting the survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi, they decide to bring into the discussions all other stories related to the 1990-1994 civil war and its aftermath. I wanted to put myself in the shoes of a survivor who wonders if her/his compatriots remember the family members s/he lost during the genocide against the Tutsi or if all they care about is telling their own stories.

It’s not only my books and poems that are inspired by the stories of Rwandans. I actually call the short stories I write, rainbow stories. Unlike other stories that are told by Rwandans, each of my stories portrays the intersection of the stories of Rwandans associated with Hutu and Tutsi identities. If it’s not a story about family members with different identities, it’s a story of best friends with different identities. Most of my stories do not have angels and devils; they have humans with puzzled minds and broken hearts. For example, when I wrote the story titled, “Could Love Have Survived In Rwanda?” I had in mind the Tutsi women who were married to Hutus who ended up joining the club of Hutu extremists/racists. I wondered what they now think about love and marriage, and the kind of advice they give to their children. When I wrote the story titled, “Sons Of Antagonists,” I had in mind the current generation of Rwandans who go to the same schools, sometimes in universities outside Rwanda. Can they be friends despite the fact that their fathers were and are probably still war enemies? I also thought about events that preceded the genocide against the Tutsi, and what former friends could tell each other if they had a chance. An epistolary short story titled “Dear Friend Gasasira,” written by a Hutu to his deceased Tutsi friend who was killed during the genocide serves that purpose. I have a lot in my surroundings to get inspiration from. There are a lot of stories of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and I don’t think I will ever tell all the stories I want to tell.

After the inspiration, I always have to engage in the idea generation. This is not so much about what I want to say, it’s more about generating the ideas on how to craft what I want to say. Should I use a story? Should I write a poem? An essay? Or it should maybe be told in a book?

When I decide, for example, that it’s better told in a short story, then I have to visualize it. I think about the characters of my story, the setting, the structure of that story, etc. It’s like first, I had an idea to build a house, then I had to think about what kind of a house I shall build, then I have now to sit down and work as an architect and come up with the house plans.

After visualizing the story, then the writing starts. Shall I write it in a week? two? three? How many hours per day? What time of the day (most probably in the evening, after working hours)? Writing is different from typing. Each word has to be placed in the right place as it’s done in brick-laying. It’s either prose or poetry, and both require a certain degree of fineness. After the writing, then comes the packaging. Do I just post it on my blog? Should I make audio? Should I make a video? Then, the distribution via social media. So far my poems and short stories are distributed for free.

The process for book writing, editing, and publication is much more complicated and detailed. It takes me about one year to write a book and another year for editing and publication. However, it might take longer, depending on the story. For example, the story I’m working on now involves areas of expertise I’m not so familiar with and characters with realities that are totally different from my own realities. As much as I have the structure, and know what the important plots are, I spend a lot on reading how certain things work, learning the behaviors of my characters, and the language they use. When I will finish writing, then I will start editing. If I decide to work with a literary agent to try to get a deal with a traditional publisher, it will be another story. The distribution channels are also different because my books are not distributed for free.

Anyway, the whole point of this step is that creatives, irrespective of whatever they create, songs, paintings, screenplays, novels, non-fiction books, poems etc. need some time to put on their aprons and work. Their work is not only what we see on social media or on TV.

Interview with the journalist Eugene Anangwe at Contact FM. Author A. Happy Umwagarwa talks about her book ‘Drums of Success: Ten Steps to Turning Your Creative Potential Into Success.


Step 8: Fighting With Creative killers

In this step, I encourage the readers of Drums of Success to be aware of the following creativity killers and know how to deal with them:

  • The Guru;
  • The Perfectionist;
  • The Sponsor;
  • The Lover;
  • Self.

Excerpt from the book:

I have never met any single person whose decision to pursue success from nothing else but his/her creative potential was approved by all the people in his/her surroundings. Most of the time it’s just that one voice that tells us “go for it, girl!” or “go for it, boy.” A number of people shall tell you that you do not have what it takes to do it. Others shall remind you of the mistakes you made in the past and caution you about ending up making the same mistakes. Others shall want you to do it their way and not your way. Others simply think it’s risky and they would advise you to go the easier way. And the most influential person you will need to say no to is that little voice inside you that is pulling information from the part of you that has not been the best and tries to shut up the voice that is getting information from the positive part of you. The little voice tells you that you know you will not make it.

Like any creative, I have had to learn how to deal with creativity killers.

My debut novel ‘Hearts Among Ourselves‘ went through a series of scrutiny; first by a few selected compatriots, then by my editors, and more importantly by a number of literary critics or reviewers of international renown. After publication, it was time for readers to give me their own feedback.

When I finished writing it, I knew it was important to think about how the story was going to be received by Rwandans with different backgrounds and opinions. I identified up to six people whom I approached tactfully to request them to read the manuscript and provide me with feedback, and if possible a paragraph of their review I would make public in the book or my website. Three of them accepted to read the book and provided me with the feedback, and the other two did not find time to read the book. Among the three who had accepted to read the book, one gave me his feedback but did not want to put it in writing, and the two others gave me their feedback and a paragraph for the public. In choosing those Rwandans, I decided not to go for my family members or best friends. Three of those people I had never talked to them before, although their names are known in our society, one knows my family and actually the story of my family, but because of our age difference, he is not a person I mingle with very often, and the other compatriot was a person I had once interacted with but in a different setting and for other reasons. None of them was a close friend of mine. Each of them did not know who else I had asked to read my book. Surprisingly or interestingly, despite their different backgrounds, there were no differences in the positive feedback they gave me. Except for the person who knew my family (I guess it influenced his judgment) who told me he was uncomfortable with the fact that I had included in the story some characters in positions of power. He believed some people might link my fictional characters to real and known people in the Rwandan army or government. The same person also thought I was taking a big risk to write that story.

Like any other book, in addition to self-editing, Hearts Among Ourselves was also edited by a professional editor, and I remember the day I received the first editorial report. I was thinking about a situation where the editor would tell me that the story did not make sense, the plots were not well constructed; the characters were confusing, and any major issue that would have required me to start over the whole process of writing. But, that wasn’t the case. She had liked my story. After reading her positive comments about the major elements of the novel, I was happy to make a few improvements she had suggested.

Before and after the book was published, it was submitted for review by literary critics of international renown. Whenever I received an email with a review, I wondered whether I should open it or not. This is where my book was indeed criticized. In the process, I learned a lot. Some comments were indeed about the literary elements that could have been better, others were about preferences. For example, in one review, somebody said that although it was an interesting story, it was somehow slow-paced. Another reviewer said she did not like the fact that the story included some romance. Others talked about the language and my choice of words. I received a lot of constructive criticism. Although most of it was positive, especially about the elements of the story itself, the characters, and how they connect with the readers, it always felt uncomfortable to read a negative comment.

What I have learned so far is that it’s okay to work with the gurus, and sometimes with the perfectionists, as long as we are not looking for someone to validate our work as perfect. Maybe when I get to some other levels, my work shall be more scrutinized by more gurus, and I hope I will have developed the skin thick enough to learn from their advice, without being shaken by the fact that they may not validate my ways, my style and the stories I write.

I wonder what I will have done if the gurus of literacy had told me writing is not my thing. I wonder what I will have done if my editor or the reviewers had told me that’s not how a novel should be written. Would I have learned from their constructive criticism, and start over my writing with the determination not to give up? Would I have ignored their feedback and gone on with the publication of my novel without taking the chance to make some improvements? Would I have given up and concluded maybe I don’t have what it takes to write? This is where the creativity of some people gets killed. We should listen to the gurus and the perfectionists, take important pieces of advice from them to improve our work, but leave out whatever is meant to make us be like them, and/or whatever may push us to give up.

Another creativity killer I discuss in Drums of Success is the sponsor. Here I’m not only referring to those who finance our projects. The sponsors include publishers (for writers) or producers and/ music investors (for songwriters, musicians, and singers). They include everybody whose decision might advance us or stop us. The sponsors also include those who may allow us to use some resources, such as money, of course, time, and every other thing. For example, my husband could act as a sponsor for my writing endeavors because the money I spent are part of our family resources, and the time I spend on writing is normally supposed to be spent on taking care of my family. Imagine a situation where he would say, “You should stop writing or else…” What would I do?

Back to publishers, as sponsors, I remember sending query letters to different literary agents and publishers; most of them did not respond, and a few responded saying they could not take my book. It felt discouraging because I believed for a fiction book, I needed a traditional publisher. I wasn’t discouraged. Maybe I was because I did not pursue that route. I decided to use the same self-publishing company. Do you know what, the company is now closing its doors, and I am once again in the process of looking for a publisher who can re-publish my books? Why is it so complicated to get a traditional publisher? Why do literary agents not read all proposed manuscripts, because I’m sure some of them might like what I write? We live in a world of capitalism. It’s all about money. A person with a big name may get published even when what s/he has written does not make a lot of sense. A story that does not add much value to the world, but which may attract the attention of many people have more chances of being published than stories with more meaning but less controversy. If I had counted on traditional publishers, I would probably never have published a book.

Another creative killer I talk about is the ‘Lover’. Here I wasn’t necessarily talking about a boyfriend/girlfriend or a husband/wife. I was talking about all those people who care for us; our lovers or spouses, of course, our parents, our siblings, our children, our best friends. Most of the precious people in my life, especially my husband and my siblings, know me too well to doubt my intentions. They even probably think I have what it takes to do what I want to do. But, they are scared of the dangers involved. They thinking I’m taking big risks. I listen to them. I hear them. I know they love me and the biggest mistake I would make is to ignore those who love me. However, when they talk to me, I can’t help it but notice their insecurities and fears, then I wonder what they would say if they were speaking to me from the place of love and confidence instead of the place of hurt and fear. Maybe, they would say, “Go for it, girl,” but they cannot because they are afraid they might lose me. One thing that bothers me a lot is the fact that in a society characterized by hatred and violence, consequences of the decisions we make as individuals reach our relatives and friends. I would feel so bad if anything happened to any of those I love because of a word I have spoken or written. All I can say to the members of the Thought Police is that I’m the only one responsible for my thoughts and words, and if it’s a sin to be a free thinker, ready I’m to be punished for it. But, please, note that my loved ones have nothing to do with it.

The last creativity killer I talked about is ‘Self’. Every day, I remind myself that when I will give up, I will be the only one to be blamed for that. Nothing under the sun should stop me. Even death won’t stop me, because I believe in the eternity of existence. Yes, I may change my strategies. I may produce other types of creative work. But never shall GIVE up on my life purpose which is about promoting love, peace, and celebration of diversity.

Step 9: Celebrating My Success

In this step, I encourage readers of Drums of Success to celebrate their success in the following three pillars:

  • Self-realization;
  • Social connectedness; and
  • Social responsibility.

I also discuss with them how to celebrate success in such a way that they don’t lose focus from the bigger purpose they want to fulfill.

Excerpt from the book

“Sometimes when we hear people saying that their life is a failure, we fail to understand them. How can they say their life is a failure when they are among the richest people we know? How can they say their life is a failure when they have incredibly achieved academic success? How can they say their life is a failure when they are in good health? How can they say their life is a failure when they are alive? How dare they say their life is a failure? Do you know why? Because they never accomplished their life purpose and are seeing themselves leaving their world the same way they found it, or in some cases, worse than the way it was when they joined. We have heard a big number of these people committing suicide. We have heard a big number of these people getting depressed. We have heard a big number of these becoming different sorts of addicts. You have already defined your life purpose and have set goals to achieve in life. There are three elements that I call 3-S pillars of success that we have talked about briefly that I would like you to keep in mind when evaluating how successful you are.”

Have I started celebrating my success? Yes! Every day I celebrate my success. Whenever I achieve a short-term goal, I celebrate success. Whenever I achieve a long term goal, I celebrate success. In fact, I celebrate life and all its milestones and blessings. Creatives need to celebrate their success if they don’t want to give up. In fact, all those who are serving a big life purpose should celebrate their success. What to I do to celebrate my success? Maybe I sing, dance and take a glass of wine. Maybe, I call a friend and tell her that I have received a positive book review, I have put out a new poem, I have completed another chapter of my new book, I have talked to a supportive person. Maybe I take time off my writing to simply sit in a quiet place and reflect on my life and all my blessings.

People define success in different ways. If I say to some people that I consider myself successful, they will ask me how many copies of my books I have so far sold, and how many millions of dollars I have so far made. Yeah, that’s indeed success; financial success. I have not yet sold enough copies to sustain my writing so that I won’t need to take from my salary to finance my writing projects. I have only published three books, and one is just a translation. As a writer, I cannot say I have achieved some sort of financial success. However, I’m glad my finances (from other sources) are enough to support my writing projects.

Then, what other kind of success should creatives celebrate if not financial success? They should go back to their life purpose and the goals they set in step 5 and celebrate the achievement of those or the milestones they make toward the fulfillment of their purpose.

To make it simple, I advise creatives to constantly evaluate these three pillars of success: Self-realization, social connectedness and social responsibility.

How do I so far evaluate my success on those three pillars?

On self-realization: Writing has helped me realize the unique and full person I’m. It uncovered my unique beauty and boosted my confidence. I may not find words to explain this. All I may do is probably sharing, once again, with you this blog post I titled; Anti-self: Five Proofs you Hate Yourself. In this article, among others, one of the proofs of self-hate is the fear to express one’s own ideas and tell one’s unique stories. I’m glad I have overcome this. I’m glad I know my worth and do no longer seek the approval of others. I actually remind them I’m there and alive, and all they need to do is to recognize that fact. How did writing contribute to this? Each time I tell my story, each time I express my ideas, I feel as if I’m uncovering my unique beauty for everybody to see! This is part of self-realization I each of us has to achieve and celebrate. Every day, I discover and cherish the person I’m physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, and that’s worth celebrating.

On social connectedness: Although I sometimes struggle with the expectations some people have of me as a writer; I celebrate the fact that writing has connected me to some beautiful souls, especially in the Rwandan society. Those who write to me privately to tell me how my poems, short stories, or books have changed their lives. The young Rwandans who aspire to be writers and who inspired me to start the videos series on writing. Apart from the readers, writing has also linked me to some like-minded people whom I would probably have not had the chance to meet if I had not made my ideas accessible to everybody. In addition to these people, I want to think that those close to me who probably assumed they knew me well have connected more with my soul. All these have given me the ability to understand the feelings, thoughts, and words of others in a way that I had never understood before. I value relationships more because I have reconciled with myself and the love I have for my people, those who are passed, and those who are still alive.

On social responsibility: I’m no longer counted among those who wait for someone to do something. I know I’m not doing much, and I cannot be at all battles at the same time. But, I’m glad I made a decision on how to contribute to making this world a better place, and I’m doing what I can. Each time I write about hatred and violence and take the opportunity to promote love and peace, I feel bigger than all fears. I feel as if death has lost its power on me because my ideas and stories shall continue to serve the world even after my physical death. Each minute or hour I spend on writing or making the videos, I consider it as the money some philanthropists or others spend on building schools and hospitals. When my father was killed in 1994, I thought it was all over. I thought I was going to drop out of school. I lived in poverty and know what it means to be hungry. Today, I’m counted, not among the rich, but among the fortunate. I have received a lot of blessings, and I’m glad writing has given me the opportunity to pay back and fulfill my social responsibility.

Step 10: Putting My Signature On The Future

Excerpt from the book:

On the signature of excellence: “Those who are able to put a signature of excellence on the future are normally those who thought big and questioned how we did things, and in their minds, they think that the fact that something is good does not necessarily mean it’s excellent. They looked at what is out there as milestones towards excellence and they continue to search for it. They believe that those who lived before us came up with innovations and inventions that changed the world to the industrialized world we now live in. They know that current generations did not only industrialize more of the world, but they also digitalized it. What else can you and I do now to continue that quest for excellence? To be honest, I do not know. All I know is that we shall not put a signature of excellence on the future if we do not achieve excellence. We may have our names remembered for just having been famous, but not for the reasons of excellence.”

On the signature of inspiration: “When I will grow older, I will love to hear my daughters answering one of the common questions: “Who inspired you?” and then they shall say, “Our mother was a great source of inspiration for us.” I will be so happy and shall feel like it would be time to kiss them bye and rest in peace. I believe that any parent feels the same way I do when it comes to putting a signature of inspiration on the future. This is very interesting, and I will surely every day behave in a way that shall inspire my children. Don’t you think that it is actually expected? Yes, it is. In fact, it sounds abnormal when you hear someone saying that he/she never received any sort of inspiration from his/her parents. Putting this signature on the future requires more than putting a signature of excellence. It is about influencing other people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. It’s one thing to be recognized for having pursued excellence and changed some things from being good to being great and excellent. It’s another thing to inspire other people to take the same course of action. To inspire another person, he/she should see you as a role model and a lot of parameters are taken into account. The person who inspires others does not only focus on his ability to create new things in an excellent way; he makes sure that whatever he does, even in other areas of his/her life, inspire people to change.

On the signature of purpose: We have heard of the stories of the people who pursued a greater purpose than what the world could immediately comprehend. Most of these were jailed or killed before they could even accomplish their purpose. Others are still alive, but they had to wait to see their actions being credited to be extraordinary, years after they decided to defend a cause and accomplish a purpose that was bigger than them. During those times everyone could wonder why they were investing efforts and energy in risking their lives. However, today whenever their names are mentioned, they are no longer labeled as rebels or prisoners, but heroes. Do you know why they were labeled as rebels? Some of them never did take guns and kill innocents. Those are not the ones I am talking about. These people, most of them, were young and they just asked themselves the “why” question. They questioned why things were going the way they were. Why were African Americans marginalized? Why was colonization accepted as normal? Why black South Africans did not have the same rights as their fellow white South Africans? Why some Rwandans did not have the right to live in their own country? These do not need to be only political revolutionists or human rights activists. We know those that are known as martyrs because they believed in the truth that can save the world and pursued that truth. These include any person who has decided to change the course of the world dynamics as long as the person believed it takes the world to make a better future.

I guess I have not much to write about this step.

All I know is that even though I may not be written in history books, or be known by people outside my circle of friends, I believe before I leave the world, I will have said enough at least for my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to learn from my stories and how I overcame the challenges I faced in this world. Nobody shall ever convince my daughters and their descendants that their unique beauty is not valued or that their voice does not count. Inspired by my story, my daughters and their descendants shall know their worth, won’t seek approval of others, and will instead commend recognition of who they are as unique and full individuals. Shall somebody be inspired by my story and how I lived my life to make decisions that lead to the realization of the full and unique person s/he is? Then, I will have put my signature of inspiration in the future.

I also believe that in an effort to create based on my unique stories, abilities, and styles; maybe future Rwandan authors and poets shall learn one or two things from me. As I continue to learn and share my knowledge with the world, as I continue to improve on what I do, even though I don’t aspire for perfection, I may reach to a certain level of excellence that shall inspire future novelists, storytellers, and poets to do better than how I did. Shall I ever inspire somebody to aspire for excellence? Then I shall have put my signature of excellence on the future.

Last but not least, my biggest dream is Rwanda in which nobody experienced the loss of a parent, a sibling, a child, a relative, or a friend, killed by another compatriot either at a battlefield or in times of peace. I dream of a Rwanda where nobody shall ever again feel marginalized, dehumanized, or persecuted because of whatever identity they associate to the person s/he is. I dream of Rwanda that had broken the cycle of hatred; where being a refugee or a rebel is a thing of the past. I dream of a Rwanda where the uniqueness and the worth of each Rwandan, irrespective of whatever identity they associate her/him with, shall be valued and celebrated. Do my books, poems, stories, essays and videos contribute to that? Shall my dreams ever become a reality even after I will have left this world? Then I shall have put my signature of purpose on the future.

For now, I’m still struggling, and on the journey… I keep hope!

Author A. Happy Umwagarwa, on Family TV, speaking to the journalist Emma Claudine about her book Drums of Success – in Kinyarwanda (2015)


I’m glad I wrote Drums of Success: Ten Steps To Turning Your Creative Potential Into Success. When I wrote it, I had no idea, it was going to be my own roadmap. Today, I learn a lot from my own ideas.

If you want to read the full book, I have good news for you! As we celebrate the book’s 5th anniversary; I have decided to give out free copies of Drums of Success to those who want to put their creative potential into success.

Click here to Claim Your Free Copy of Drums of Success.

Thank you

My name is Umwagarwa

To watch Drums of Success book launch event in June 2015, you may click on the video below:

Book Launch Event at Innovation Village (Kacyiru), Kigali, in June 2015.

To keep in touch with me, you may subscribe to my YouTube channel and follow me on the social media platforms:

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The shadows of my life in Kinyarwanda