rebelling against low expectations

Kelvin Doe: Teenage Engineer from Sierra Leone


Kelvin Doe (aka, DJ Focus) is a 15-year-old engineer from Sierra Leone — and only the latest motivated and competent teenager to be labeled a prodigy, just because he’s doing something with his life. That’s too bad, for Kelvin and for us.

The bad thing about the term “prodigy” is that it immediately places Kelvin in a category by himself — a category all of us “ordinary” young people could never hope to occupy. It makes him a celebrity to entertain us, rather than an example to inspire us. Yet any young person in the world can be a Kelvin Doe if they so choose.

Fortunately, that’s a message that Kelvin and his friend David are able to communicate in the above video — even as the filmmakers label Kelvin a prodigy. David says, “I want there to be many more Kelvins. I did not want it to be a one-off thing. It’s a movement. It’s: How do we create thousands of young people who are inspired by making stuff and solving the problems in their neighborhood?

How To Be Like Kelvin Doe in Two Steps

1) Pursue your delights.

Behind every so-called “prodigy” is a prodigious delight in their particular field. Kelvin is delighted in electronics. Eva Vertes and Jack Andraka are delighted in science. These delights lead them to spend every moment they can spare pursuing their hobbies, until eventually, they truly excel.

According to the 2006 Teen Trends study conducted by the Harrison Group, teens (ages 13 to 18) spend 72 hours a week interacting with electronic media (cell phones, the Internet, television, music and video games).

Imagine if you took all that time and devoted it to something important — like learning how to build an FM transmitter for your village. If you spent ten hours a day on your favorite hobby (e.g. sports, music, science, carpentry, writing, etc.), don’t you think you could get pretty good at it? Don’t you think you could accomplish something significant? Of course you could.

Your delights are probably different than Kelvin’s — but what it takes to develop those delights is the same for everyone. It takes time and dedication to excel in anything. You can be like Kelvin if you shun distractions and pursue your delights.

2) Look for opportunities to serve those you love.

Kelvin wasn’t looking to become famous — he just wanted to serve his community. His obvious love for his country, his village, and his family was what motivated him.

Ultimately, Kelvin is just an ordinary young person who loves his family. He is typical 15-year-old who sees problems and challenges around him as opportunities to serve his community. He is a normal teenager who doesn’t think being a teenager keeps him from making a contribution.

You may not share Kelvin’s knack for electronics, but you should share his focus on loving others. Whatever you gifts, whatever your interests, you can be like Kelvin if you choose to use your talents to serve those around you.

Join the discussion by answering the following questions:

  • What delights you? What do you enjoy doing most?
  • What is keeping you from devoting more time to your delight?
  • What are ways you could use your delight to serve others?
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About the author

Brett Harris

is co-founder of and co-author of Do Hard Things, along with his twin brother, Alex. He is married to his best friend, Ana, who blogs at He is the founder of the Young Writers Workshop — an ongoing coaching program for serious writers.


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  • Thanks so much for posting this. I like how you showed how Kelvin’s achievements aren’t something unattainable for the rest of us.

  • » What delights you? What do you enjoy doing most?

    Music & Studying Government/Constitution

    » What is keeping you from devoting more time to your delight?

    Usually other commitments. Our family trys to limit the media time as much as possible.

    » What are ways you could use your delight to serve others?

    I found many ways to serve others with my music. I’ve started giving violin lessons and I’ve recently joined my church’s worship team. Occasionally I play for weddings and funerals. These are amazing opportunities to serve others… and I love doing it!

    Government is a little harder. So far God has given me very few opportunities to serve others with this delight.
    Any thoughts or advice?

  • I love playing around and researching herbs and their healing properties, but I don’t move forward with any ways to bless others or improve things because I feel that I am so amateur. I guess I have a mindset that even if I worked really hard it would only be a drop in a bucket. I also have trouble finding immediate needs that I can work towards meeting with my love of herbs. That’s one bad thing about living in a wealthy country – I almost think it stifles much of the enterprising spirit that might have been because we have everything we could possibly want. Any ideas or comments?

  • Leah- have you heard of Teenpact? It’s a great organization that gives teens the opportunity to learn about government and then serve their peers by spreading that knowledge. It is a homeschool thing, but you might be able tofind You might like to check it out. 🙂 Pursuing speech and debate if you’re still in school might be a good way to help you understand policy and how to sharpen and defend your political beliefs. Look for local campaigns to volunteer for- even if you can only spend a few hours making phone calls, things like this will help you pursue your goal. 🙂

  • What delights you? What do you enjoy doing most?

    I love to read, write, sing, and be around other people.

    What is keeping you from devoting more time to your delight?

    Distractions. I realize that their is so many distractions during my week, that I don’t spend enough time elsewhere.

    What are ways you could use your delight to serve others?

    I always love to write, so that could help!

    Thanks for the wonderful post! I really like your work and always look forward to more posts!

  • Thank you very much for posting this~ Good to see.

    Hmmm, as to what I enjoy most….

    Creating things. Drawing. Philosophy/Theology. Writing at times… though at other times I loathe it. Writing and I have a love/hate relationship. Studying people. I find them fascinating, how people think and feel and react and so forth.

    What keeps me from devoting more time to these delights?

    Distractions play a big part. Depression also has its hand in keeping me from being very productive, unfortunately.

    What are ways I could use my delights to serve others?

    Art has all sorts of uses. I’ve already done some work with posters and so forth for the local library. Art combined with writing and my study of people could make an influential story. Writing combined with philosophy/theology could help me help other people better understand the Gospel and/or challenge bad worldviews.

    I’ve never commented here before, but I’ve been following the Rebelution for a while now, and I’m really excited to see it up and running again~!

  • What do I love doing – what are my delights?
    Reading, being with people and kids, playing the piano, getting crafty, writing, organising, studying the Bible. That last one can sound cliche, but I really do love it. I think at the moment I am still experimenting, still working out what my real delights and passions are, and what are just interests.

    What is keeping me from doing those things?
    Laziness, particularly in music. I haven’t been motivated, but at the end of the day, I do want to keep learning piano.
    Social medias like facebook can also sap me of time that I want to spend doing other things.

    What are ways I can use my delights to serve others?
    Hm. The one that stands out at the moment is playing the piano at Church, but I don’t feel ready to do that – I want to learn to play piano with chords before getting involved in the worship team again.
    I know I already am serving in other ways – I’m helping my family organise the house, I am involved as a minute secretary in town – things like that, but I need to intentionally serve the people and community around me, and not just do ‘just enough’ to get by.

    Reading this article, especially in the beginning, actually inspired me to do what is really hard for me – math, and learning to drive. I was reminded of the story you told about Teddy Roosevelt (I think?) in Do Hard Things or Start Here. He was weak and sickly, and wasn’t expected to live for very long, but his Dad exhorted him to exercise and really apply himself to physical health. He spent hours a day doing what was hardest for him. This isn’t to undermine what you are saying now at all; I think I needed a reminder in both areas, working hard in my strengths and in my weaknesses.

    And as a side note, I think what you’ve written today is what you have been trying to say every time you posted stories of ‘big hard things’. I always left reminded to pursue in excellence the things that God has put on my heart. However, thanks for spelling it out for me today and getting specific, because it gives me something to go think about and work on.

  • What do I love? Writing/blogging, and singing and playing the piano.

    What keeps me from doing these things? Laziness! lol, that is a major factor 🙂

    What ways could you use your delights to serve others? I play piano and sing on my worship team, and I love it! Being able to use my gifts to serve others and God is wonderful, and I really hope to do more with it someday.

    Thanks for posting this, it really means a lot to me! God bless!

  • Wow! Way to go Kelvin!

    » What delights you? What do you enjoy doing most? I like art and music and writing the most.
    » What is keeping you from devoting more time to your delight? Um, other stuff thats more important…
    » What are ways you could use your delight to serve others?
    I play in church, and I could write stuff that is good.

    Wow, that sounds silly, but that’s me! Hi, everyone…..

  • Way to go Kelvin! A person with the heart to help others while fulfilling his own dreams is a true inspiration to all of us Rebelutionaries. So after reading this post, out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of “prodigy”. The definition I found (thanks to Google) was this: “A person, esp. a young one, endowed with exceptional abilities.”

    This definition, (not the cultural application of the term, mind you) really applies to anyone. Each of us – not just a select few – are endowed with exceptional abilities given to us by Jesus Christ (James 1:17, 1 Corinthians 12, etc.). So everyone, no matter who you are, is a “prodigy” of something! The problem with the term prodigy, however, is that it is a recipe for complacency. Accepting the label of prodigy is accepting that you’ve reached an impressionable point of success and there’s no need to climb any higher. You can stop right now and people would still look up to you.

    I face this sometimes in my own life. I’ve played piano for eight years now and have become what people might think of a “prodigy” myself – I’ve even been called that at times. I’ve been blessed with many talents, but it’s a constant battle against myself to acknowledge Who’s really in control, and Who can give and take away according to His magnificent will. As far as how I can use gifts that God has given me, I find the hardest to use is music. Sure, I’ve found ways to serve others using writing and acting, but being trained for so long at the piano, it’s easy for me to simply try to show off. Even though it’s uncomfortable for me, I hope to step out of my comfort zone soon and (through God’s power) begin to use the piano as a blessing to those who are sick, lonely, or in need of encouragement.

    Sorry again for such a long comment. (Perhaps that’s one of my gifts too…) 🙂

  • I love fixing stuff and engineering like Kevin. I also enjoy sports. I am not able to engineer further because I am ADD and my parents were both prodigies at math and science, so they say I should pursue something easier. I joined a sports camp where I teach kids living in the projects how to play soccer. My main question to you guys is, How do I use my gift/ interest in engineering for God at my age? (I’m a Freshman living in Louisiana) I read you guys’ book, but not to my surprise, there was nothing in there specifically for engineering, haha. Do you have any tips or suggestions?

    Through Christ,


  • Thank you for posting this- You made it seem very possible to do something like what Kevin did!
    What do I love?
    Reading, writing, literature, music, flute playing, and studying law. I also love being around little kids!

    What keeps me from doing those things? Often laziness, which is terrible, but also just lack of time. I have so many other commitments that its hard to find time!

    What are ways you could serve others?
    I think I really need to start reading better, deeper books that equip me to be ready for questions about harder things when asked. I think I need to continue to write essays and speeches when asked about more meaningful things. I dont know how I can serve tohers with my love for law… And I have found a way to serve others through music (joining my worship band), and my love for kids (running my church’s Sunday school)!
    God Bless!

  • Charlie, here’s a thought. First of all, I don’t want to try and undermine anything your parents say, but I don’t personally think you need to pursue something else if your gifts/ interests are engineering. My older brother is ADD, but right now he’s an engineering major at the U of MN and this summer he’ll be doing an internship. he’s only three years out of Highschool at this point. So here’s an idea for you, though you may not (I’m not saying you can’t, just might not) be in a place to do something big with engineering, but you could apply the “Do Hard Things” concept despite the challenges you may face. Never let something like ADD keep you from doing the things you love, rise above it instead. 🙂

  • I love music, especially playing the piano. Usually other commitments keep me from practicing, but I’m sure sometimes it’s just laziness. 😉 One way I’ve found I can serve with it is by teaching lessons for people from my church. Does anyone have any other suggestions?
    By the way, Ariel, I don’t much about herbs but it could be a blessing to your family and church if you were to learn some herbal remedies for when people got sick. You could also make herbal products and sell them and use the money for something important. I know lots of Farmer’s Markets have people that sell things made with herbs. Just a couple ideas!

  • You should do something about the 11 year-old who named the mars rover, curiosity. I’m eleven, does that mean I have to wait 2 years before I can do hard things? That doesn’t seem right to me. Just an idea…

  • Wow. That kid was a genius. I can’t believe he was able to make that radio with just stuff he found in a dustbin or the dumpster. Really inspired me. Thanks for putting this up guys!

By Brett Harris
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →