It is about two years since I told my not so surprised boss I was leaving my job to chase a dream. He was very supportive, and to date, I think he is one of the most incredible people I have worked with.
This month is always one of great self-reflection for me. At first it was because it was my birth month, but now, it is also a reminder of the fact that I am really an adult. Really!
Here are a few bits and pieces of this experience.
Mixing business with pleasure
I never had a choice really. I did not know where 4040 was going and as such, I started with the low handing fruits, my friends. Along the way, others joined and also became family. It is fun. It is difficult. It is exasperating. It is love. I would actually not advise anyone to go into business with their friends. It is not for the faint hearted. In my case, however, I am not sure ‘robots’ looking forward to their next pay cheque would have driven the organisation to where it is today. Ours is a unique blend. We have won some and lost some. Along the way, there is a glue that has kept us (mostly) together. I can hardly find the words to describe that glue. We are often our own greatest strength and weakness. It is an oxymoron really but we own it.
I try to learn from as many organisations and people about different things. Management, organisational structures, charity, business and the like. I am yet to find anyone doing ‘exactly’ what we do. This means we are often inventing a wheel. It can be quite challenging but perhaps a decade or two from now, there will be mini organisations learning from our struggle. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Bagala alina, gende okole (Loosely translated to mean, people like those who have, go and work)
I met Linda last year through a mutual friend who thought it would be great if we worked together. She was disinterested and it showed on her face. Nonetheless, I later sent her a message about future correspondence and possible partnerships. She did not respond. Last month Linda called me for an ‘urgent meeting.’ I was a bit shocked but my gut told me she wanted something. I agreed to meet her. She started by asking several questions about the organisation and I kept thinking “When will she tell me why she actually called me here.” Though shielded, it finally came out. She had seen a picture of us receiving an award from the first lady. I was finally worth something! It turned out she needed help with an upcoming project and thought I’s be the right person to consult. Yes, this is the point where you become the bigger person, even if it kills you.
About a year before I started 4040, a friend from school came up with a business plan. It was a great idea but from the onset, it showed that it would take a while to pick up. When it did, however, it would soar. I honestly supported him simply because he was my friend. He had a graphics person, a numbers person, I would be part of the PR. It was pretty solid. We met every week and contributed an amount to the company’s fund. His closest friends often missed these meetings and had a general aura of laxity but I believed in him, along with a mutual friend. I believe he and I did one pitch before the company dissolved without so much as an explanation. I guess it wasn’t its time. He is doing quite well for himself now. Sometimes, I sit and wonder if I would be this dedicated to something someone else began. I remember that experience and realise that I gave it my all even when I had no idea where it was going. How dare I give up on this baby then? It came with its own lessons.
I am a hopeless optimist, often to a fault. This means that I give several chances to people and situations because I envision a happy ending. Needless to say, life does not always operate like that.
As a result, I have had to learn to let go, even if it may not come naturally. I have watched the people closest to me betray my trust and the most distant of strangers hold my hand when it counted. If like me, you have let some people stay in your life longer than you should only for them to steal your happiness, don’t beat yourself up about it. I shall tell you from experience that it takes time to ‘change’ but once you do, it comes with great benefits. In the meantime, treat every loss as an experience worth learning from. It really is.
A promise is just that, a promise.
Have you ever lent someone money? They tell you they shall pay on Wednesday so you mentally plan for all the things you have to do on that day. In fact, you probably also promise another person you will pay their hospital bill on D-day because you are sure. Wednesday reaches and the debtor is nowhere to be seen. If you are lucky, they shall pick up the phone and feed you with a story. You are disappointed but you have to disappoint someone else. It is a mess.
In our line of work, people will make pledges, often out of pity, guilt, pretentiousness and a host of other sentiments I fail to explain. Back in the day, (adult speak yo) thee pledges counted as a reality for me. I’d start making plans based on those numbers. Shock! Horror! Coming to the realisation that most of them were simply promise that may never be fulfilled. I was ‘bitten’ enough. I try to treat everything as a miracle and leave a nice, spacious red margin for disappointment. This does not mean you become 100% numb of course….but it helps.
Speaking of differences..
My friends and I attended an event recently. We were excited to support this group of youths since we are all in the ‘struggle’ together. We arrived early and got ourselves a nice corner to make noise in comfort. Imagine our shock when one of the organisers came to ask us to move. Turns out the nice corner was for sponsors. The problem was there was no ‘reserved’ sign or anything so we couldn’t have known. We grudgingly carried our drinks to another table. Just as the ranting began, something occurred to me. Simply because we do not have VIP seats at our events, we had forgotten that it is the norm for most events. We made the best of the night anyway.
I am constantly praying that we remain humble in our ways. Several experiences remind me ever so powerfully, how easy it is to forget.
I look at this photograph from time to time. It reminds me of everything I felt from the very core of my soul. It represents several feelings engulfed into one moment. I wept with reckless abandon, oblivious of the cameras. This journey is not about the photo ops or the perfect make up, it is not about how many people recognise you on the street or which media house covers the story. It is about the work and the people it impacts. Everything else is a plus. Unfortunately, the side shows can get to one’s head, so much they forget what it is really about.
I do not consider myself a natural leader, more like an accidental one. There are people who have it engrained in their DNA, you know? I am not one of them. People have these ambitions all their lives, I didn’t. Here I am though. I don’t always do it right. Half the time, I am thinking with my heart instead of my brain. The other half finds me clueless trying to figure things out. I am surrounded by amazing people though. We are learning and sailing. As long as we continue, it can only get better.
You are only human
If you are in a position of leadership, planned or accidental, remind yourself that you are not God. You can make mistakes. You are allowed to cry. You will inadvertently yell at a colleague. It happens. Forgive yourself then do that which you were called to do.
Protecting your brand
Do your best to protect your brand, but understand that somethings are not in your control.
Early this year a tabloid picked up a story on social media that involved 4040. They called me for a comment on a Sunday. I declined. The next day, it was on their front page and I had a paragraph on page 2. Knowing the story was going to run kept me at night. I stressed my poor mother to the extent she bought the paper by 7a.m the next day. The reporter had not even attended the event. I know people say that any sort of publicity is good but tabloids irk me. They make sales out of people’s misery and sadly, the readers continue to ensure they are profitable. I would love for our work to speak for itself. No publicity is actually better than those media houses that make it their life’s purpose to peddle lies. Argh. Moving on…
Rome was not built in a day
Four years ago, 4040 was not anywhere in my 5 year plan. According to my version of dreams, I am supposed to have started a family. If you think about it, I already did, just not the kind I had in mind 🙂 When you meet people, they have several questions, numbers, sustainability, the future. Gosh, it is all there! They are valid questions too. I don’t think there is anyone who contemplates all these issues more than I do, almost daily. There are moments when I am worried about all this and more but I remind myself that this is not about me. It is a grander picture and sometimes you need to be still. Nothing I have accomplished has been on my own accord, none of our milestones were a result of an extraordinary mind in a single day. It has been a process and will continue to be. Always allow yourself to breathe, to grow, to just be.
I keep thinking I have heard it all, and then something new comes up. I convince myself words can’t bring me down but the truth is, some will. You just need to decide who or what is worth your pain. Some of this criticism is helpful. A good chunk is simply disgraceful.A clear conscience is incomparable, listen to it.
I have learnt plenty over this period and something tells me, it isn’t even 20%. I am ever so grateful for the wonderful people who have made this journey worthwhile. More importantly, I am awed by the fact that God chose me to be his vessel and then blessed this dream in unimaginable ways.
P.S: Join us for our inaugural event, Hoops for grace this Saturday from 9 a.m. Entrance is only 5,000 and there is fun for kids and adults alike. Let’s complete this dormitory! See you 🙂