Stand out

“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

Dorothy is unapologetically ambitious. She walks into a room and you know for sure, she has not come to play games. Her aura reeks of confidence and when she speaks, it is simply confirmed. Dorothy will stop at nothing to get what she wants, professionally. If it means stepping on a few toes, so be it. While she may not be the friendliest or most loyal person, you can count on her hard work and willingness to go the extra mile for a project to prosper. Can you think of any ‘Dorothy’ in your life?

I have worked with my fair share of Dorothy’s and if I had not spent so much time concentrating on what they were doing ‘wrong,’ perhaps I would have learnt a thing or two about what they were doing right. I know better now. There is a reason why Dorothy will get another raise while you gossip about her Jimmy choos or try to hate on her four wheel drive, find that reason. While we are not all capable of being ‘ruthless,’ I believe we can all leverage certain qualities that we already have. If you notice that those are lacking, find something that makes you more valuable than the next guy.

Dorothy is constantly finding ways to save the company money. Tell me which boss wouldn’t love that? If you leave the tap running, make all your personal calls using the company line and download the biggest files that ever existed because “these people make so much money, let me punish them,” then perhaps you need to rethink waking up every morning to go this job.

Dorothy initiated end of month dinners where the bosses get to mingle with their employees at the ‘same level.’ Originally, she was given a small budget to work with. She accepted and went ahead anyway. Today, the budget is three times what she started with and teamwork has visibly improved. While her female co-workers are hating on her, (because some women absolutely love to see another woman succeed) she is steadily rising in the ranks and has convinced her boss to sponsor her MBA. Can you get a caterer who charges less than your current provider, with better quality food? Are your workmates complaining about being unable to afford the gym? Can you pitch the idea of bringing a trainer to the workplace instead on Fridays, perhaps? Maybe you can even get the afternoon hours slashed on Friday. Do you know a gifted financial analyst who can break down issues for the average person to comprehend? Can you get him to train your colleagues? These ideas might be generic and a tad simplistic but you know better what your company needs. What can you do to help them get it? If you do only what you are told to do, your salary shall come and every month will look like the next. However, if you stand out, there are chances you will become indispensable. Alternatively, if you choose to move, you will be guaranteed a good recommendation and open doors if you ‘change your mind.’

I am not the most confident person out there but I have taught myself to take small steps towards ‘faking it right.’ I can’t say I have mastered the art but I do notice progress every now and then. Pastor Njoro had this habit of mentioning 40-40 out of the blue during a sermon. That was okay but occasionally he would look around and ask “Esther, are you around, can you stand up?” At that point my legs would fail me. I vividly remember the 4 year celebrations when he asked me to stand up to be celebrated and I got up for two seconds and sat back down. “Who told you I have finished? You need to learn to own this. Stand up while I continue” Goodness! I needed the ground to just swallow me, not me and my belongings, just me, forever. I never did get used to it. He would meet someone and ask “Have you heard of 4040?” Person X: No Him: What? Esther, come and tell your story. It is at that point that my mind would go blank and my lips magically inherit invisible super glue. I had to keep reminding myself to own my trade because no one would buy into it if I was not confident enough to speak up. I still cringe when I am put on the spot and I can’t say I have nailed every aspect of the process but I am trying, so can you.

“It’s your difference that sets you apart not your similarity, stand out!”

These days I am in a room full of mostly strangers and they ask for volunteers, suddenly, I notice my hand going up and I am like ‘What is this?’ ‘Who are you?’ Progress 🙂

For the past couple of weeks, I have had to write recommendations for members of my team (may they get these positions, Amen) and I had to edit and re-edit to stop making them sound too perfect. I was almost that student who wants extra paper in an exam where others can’t fill up one foolscap! Give me the same assignment to write a personal statement or so and I shall be running to one of my confidants to advise on what I should write. I know I am not the only one (Hi you) but I also know it gets better with time.

It is time for us to get out of our comfort zone and reach out to get what we want. Go hard! No matter how honest, intelligent and generally awesome you are, nobody is going to find you in your sleep and whisper ‘Hey, this opportunity is just for you, we await your presence oh mighty one.’

Always a reference point for me this one! Google image.

Always a reference point for me this one!
Google image.

However, if you do challenge yourself to lean in, get noticed for all the right reasons, ask a follow up question, network, network and network, some people may just search for you amidst your beauty sleep.

Go get ‘em!

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On green grass..

 

I met Doreen at a birthday party recently. We had not spoken in a long time so I chose to walk with her when she decided to leave. She had updated me on the progress she was making over time and I was impressed. Not only was she rising up to senior management at her day job, she was also running a successful side business. Doreen and her brother were in the process of building their mom a house, a development I had only learnt of that night.

When we got to her car, I expressed my admiration for her as an ‘independent woman.’ I told her I could only imagine how difficult it was for her to get to where she was even if I wasn’t privy to the back story.

The turn this conversation took left me flabbergasted, to say the least. “How can you pretend that you applaud my work yet you are the one who is successful? I see you in the papers at work, on facebook when I log onto my computer and then again on t.v when I get home.”
It took me about 10 seconds to pick my jaw up from the ground and another 30 to compose myself. She had blurted out this unexpected response without so much as minimal acknowledgment of the compliment(s) she had received.

In that moment, I wanted to say a quick good night and return to the party. At the same time, I needed to explain a few things about life to this woman. I chose the latter.

I shall use two of the relevant dictionary definitions for success that I found; “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”
“The attainment of fame, wealth or social status.”
I believe each of us consciously or sub consciously has an idea of what success means to them.

I urge you to take a minute to think  about what your definition of success is.

Now, if that is done;imagine a world in which there was no society to ‘tell you’ what to do, peers to ‘compete’ with or people to impress. If you had to only make yourself ‘happy,’ would that still be your definition or would you alter it a bit?

As I write this, I am reminded of Mrs. Bucket(pronounced Bouquet) and her antics in the sitcom “Keeping up appearances.” While it was funny, it is sad that many of us spend our lives like this woman who did everything to ooze class and wealth despite the reality of her less than royal lifestyle.

bucket 1

 

bucket 2

As if our spines were not already fickle enough, the emergence of social media has made it that much more difficult for (especially) young people to water their grass diligently. You need not look too far to find the ‘greener grass’ that shall keep you up at night if you so choose. Photo of a new car on Instagram followed by a long mushy post complete with the picture of a huge diamond ring on perfectly manicured nails when you cross over to Facebook. You think you have had enough so you run to whatsapp  for the silly jokes. Alas, everyone in your group chat is congratulating your friend upon her first class Master’s degree, in engineering no less. Will you ever catch a break?

The answer is no. For as long as you don’t learn to appreciate what you have and be happy for others, yours shall be a long life of dissatisfaction.

At the end of the day, we are all human beings, undergoing human experiences.

Joan got married to a ‘successful’ man whom her father approved of and their marriage lasted all of 2 years. She is a divorced single mother at 26.Mark and Becky have been in a relationship for 10 years. It is now a long standing joke that they should not get married lest they ‘mess it up.’

Julius works for a multinational company, great salary, big car with a chauffeur, allowances you can only dream of; but he tells me he has never felt so useless in his life. Basically his job is being done by him and 5 others. Joe, on the other hand has a start up that essentially provides rent, food, transport and the occasional drink. He boasts that he has found meaning in his life but if in 3 years things stay the same, he’ll flee.

Lisa’s son, Max is a product of a one night stand. After a life of having everything handed to her on a silver platter, he was her first real reality check. Her parents disowned her and she has no contact with her son’s father. Nonetheless, she quickly learnt to ‘hustle’ and discovered talents she did not even know she had. She is now an interior designer and almost-full-time mom who manages her own time and schedule. This little boy was once described as a mistake but he gave her a new lease on life. In fact, he saved her.

The list goes on and on. I am sure you and many people you know are living a life completely different from the one they or their parents had for them. That’s just how it is.

Imagine your life and its complexities, from the day you were born. Now, what makes you think that person who is ‘better than you’ has no challenges? They do, you may just never see them; just like not everyone who ‘knows’ you has heard the story of how you went hungry and slept on the floor when you hit rock bottom.

I think it is healthy to look over the fence once in a while and say hello to the neighbour, even help him carry his groceries. As long as when you get home, your conversation isn’t “I wonder whom Jack had to rob to build such a house” but rather “Honey, we are blessed to have such a good life and we should keep working hard to make it even better for the kids,”

X

On call

 

Scenario

9pm on a Friday night

Julie: What are you doing tonight?

Me: Nothing much. Listening to music till I sleep off

Her: Great, I am in the mood to go out. Let’s do something fun

Me: Maybe another time (Read, I am already in my PJs and it would take an emergency to get me out of the house)

Her: I can even pick you up

Me: Please don’t make this hard.

Her: Okay, I guess I can find someone else.
Me: Hope so. Have fun for two.
If this conversation happened on Monday that week to plan for Friday, chances are I would have joined Julie. I have come to admit that I am not in the top 1 billion spontaneous people on this planet. The good News is, I am consciously trying. However, If God forbid, something happened to Julie  that very night and I got a call, I would not hesitate to throw on a jumper and leave the house. Such is the system that I am accustomed too.

This Saturday as we had a 4040 annual review meeting, my colleague got a call. Deutsche Welle (DW) was holding a workshop and they had a last minute request for me to attend. It was starting the next day (Sunday) for 5 days. I had a wedding to attend that Sunday and several commitments the next week. My answer was was a stern no without even thinking about it.

Fortunately or unfortunately, some members of my team were present as I made this decision. They started to give me all the reasons why I needed to attend. I called the organiser to explain why I could not attend and she too countered the ‘excuses.’ I said I would sleep on it.

That evening when I got home, I found the mother awake and explained my conundrum. Surprisingly, she encouraged me to pack my bags.

When I contacted the organisers about travelling on Monday, they were more than willing.

Long story long, as I type this, I am in the very beautiful Garuga for the next few days. Training by day, working by (every) break and taking in the scenery+air constantly.

My mother loves everything green and this would be the perfect place to carry her and force her to relax. When I sent my friend a photo last night she asked “Did you carry your mom secretly in your handbag?” I laughed because those were my exact thoughts.

What am I trying to say? Yes, despite having all the responsibilities in the world, sometimes you just have to let go.

Here I am learning and working and I could not have picked a better location. (Also, I would not be able to afford full board accommodation for myself, not yet that is)

Truth is, I have had to sneak out and make calls during sessions, put in extra hours here and there but I think it is worth it. Also, nature really agrees with my entire system. The moment I got here, half my problems vanished 🙂

I am telling you in time for next year, perhaps. If like me, you have not visited this Lake resort before (till now), start saving. Bring your spouse, friends or family for a day or weekend and just appreciate the beauty that is Uganda.

Oh,it would be great for team buildings too.

The service has been impeccable too. We had lunch by the lake, literally. Imagine all this goodness with…..*fill in the blanks*

garuga 2

They have rooms and family cottages ranging from $70-120. Considering the activities and beauty, I think it is totally worth it. Also, what good is money if you cannot spend and enjoy the fruits when you are alive?

Did I mention how I must have added 2kgs already? The food, oooh the food! It is sumptuous as it is plenty. Speaking of food, let me run and get my cup of tea. Apparently dinner tonight is mongolian.

Related, there is chai in the bedrooms for any time of the night when you feel the urge, yes plus a kettle. An establishment after my own heart I tell you.

Garuga 1

More soon!

Xoxo

 

Sacrifice

Am I the only one who thinks of the Elton John hit.. *breaks into song* “..but it’s not Sacrifice…..when I read that word? No? Okay. Moving on.

It’s drizzling as I type this. Most of my errands today involved a boda boda. In some cases, it is actually one that will take me from point A, to B and then C, while the rider waits for me to make some drop offs. As if that is not enough, I woke up with a cold in the middle of the night. The universe surely has something to say to me. I am smiling to myself because you can make plans for an entire year and in the end, half or less will work out the way you envisioned they would. Does that mean you stop planning? Definitely not!
When I noticed this week had a public holiday. I was overjoyed. Unlike most people, it was not because of the rest that these days tend to come with. It was the fact that I could get my team together for longer hours instead of the usual Thursday evening meetings. This time, we would leave while the sun was still out, or so I hoped.
When I mooted the idea, a few people suggested Wednesday night instead, so that they could rest on Thursday. Others just remained silent, probably thinking “Catch me leaving my bed.” I can certainly relate.Everyone needs a break.  ‘Jane’ assured me she could not come because she had to rest and insisted that we change the date. I encouraged her to take the rest but assured her the deliberations would still  go on as planned. She could  still get the updates.
I thought about our chat for a long time after that. 4040 has been one sacrifice after another for the past 3 and a half years. Some weekends and holidays are cramped with strategy meetings while the rest of the week sees most of the team receiving pressure from their 8-5 jobs,families and life in general. It just never stops. At 4040, you will get a thank you and “I am proud of you” now and then, and it is expected to be enough. Every so often, we shall have a retreat or a thanksgiving day but I guess one would argue that does not put food on the table. Something inside of you needs to speak to you, to make you believe/ understand why you do what you do.
People have walked into our doors and left, others have walked in and stayed, some have one foot in and another out depending on the situation, many more are yet to come. It is a quite a mix. It all comes down to what and how much of that you are willing to sacrifice.
At the end of the day, each individual has to decide why they do what they do. Whether it is for the passion, fun, fame, fortune, camaraderie, survival or simply as a pastime before your next fix, you and only you can determine that ‘one thing.’

Yesterday my friend and I were discussing a post we loved on ‘Humans of New York in which this gentleman worked at a restaurant as a maitre d’ (manager)  for 13 years. One day he was hospitalised for pneumonia and while he lay in hospital, he realised he didn’t want to return to his job. His ‘aha moment’ came when he watched a motivational speaker on t.v that said “Think back to what made you happy when you were young. That’s what you should be doing.” He remembered that he loved dogs and it would be great to become a dog walker. Long story short, he made a uniform soon as he got better, got his friends to wear it and they handed out business cards. He is  is now thoroughly enjoying his life.

HONY

In his words “I’ve been walking dogs for 14 years now. I’m the Pied Piper of dogs. I can walk five dogs in one hand, and five dogs in the other hand, and I can tell you which one needs to poop.”
Do you see how it really is about the little things?
During our meeting yesterday, we planned for a literacy project that we are launching at a Primary school in Kibuli today. We have a skit prepared for the little children from the story @The boy who cried wolf.”
As we acted, we had so many great laughs, including from some unserious sheep (Yes, sheep, because the story has sheep!) who were laughing instead of bleating and dying when attacked by the wolf. Meanwhile the wolf was roaring instead of howling. Smh <Remind me to hire people who went to acting school next time>
In that moment, I knew that we would be okay. See, it does not benefit you to have 100 people in your life who are there because they need something from you or because they have to be there. The ones who truly count are the 5 who are with you, because they want to be.

I shall be updating you on what the 132  (P.1 and P.2) pupils of St, John Baptist Primary School think of our acting plus our plan to make them fantastic readers/writers.
In the meantime, let me gulp my lemon-ginger-honey-garlic concoction and hit the road.

P.S: I can’t for the life of me remember why I wrote this but I feel better.
Have a fabulous weekend!

Against all odds

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” 

 

A confident 30 something corporate lady walked into the board room at an investment firm. She was one of four short listed candidates for a top job.

She was asked several questions among which was the popular, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” She didn’t hesitate. She explained that she could not see that far and would rather discuss the ‘now’ because it is more realistic. She went ahead to add that her past five years had been filled with impulsive decisions that made her who she was today and she would rather not play the game as it should be but rather re-invent the wheel. Her job experience was impressive and her eloquence matched it. The panelists exchanged looks and promised to call her back as they parted ways.

She was the last interviewee and upon her departure, two out of the three panelists scoffed and sneered. In short, she was not traditional enough. Only one defended her ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Yesterday as I was filling an application I got into a similar mental dilemma. I was asked for my 5 year career plan and I quickly filled all the dreams I have for 40-40. I re-read the question and realised it was personal. That meant my replies needed to begin with ‘I’ instead.  As if that wasn’t enough, the next question was “What is your long term career plan?” I am sorry, 5 years was not enough? I closed the page and moved on to other things hoping I would later be inspired.

It is about 8 months since I got out of gainful employment and it seems there is no limit to what can possibly be learnt about people and life in general. I have had to ‘cram’ responses to questions like ‘What next?’ because to them what I am doing is temporary and I should soon snap out of it.

On Saturday a close relative said to me, “ Why don’t you go back to school and do something with your life, you are not Mother Theresa, you know? ” Hehe,  the comeback for that one took a little longer than usual. However, yesterday poor Mother T (rest her soul) ‘came back’ for me. A concerned well wisher asked me what I wanted to do to grow career wise. We discussed options before he remarked, “I understand if your purpose in life is to be Mother Theresa and inspire people. I shall not hold it against you.”

He must have wondered why I burst out laughing after. It was just a weird coincidence that she had come up one more time. Is it strange that I am discomforted by this ‘association’? I haven’t even sacrificed 0.000000001% of what she did for the poorest of the poor. This is not even up for discussion (shakes head), let’s move along.

Why do we have to label everything? Why can’t someone just be who they are?

You are single or married, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, a believer of God or an atheist. When are you just you, a human being?

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

Joy, is 36, unmarried and more independent than anyone I know. She has had a series of bad relationships, the most recent being the most peculiar seeing as guy X ran away with several household items because he was apparently broke. She has more money than she can spend so this not so wise gentleman might as well have swallowed his ego and asked. No? Theft works better? Yes? Okay.

Before that she went from one guy to another simply to ‘fit in’ wit the married lot but she has decided to take a well deserved break.

She has reached the peak of her career, takes annual vacations and has pretty much anything money can buy. Is it her fault that she isn’t ‘settled’ yet? What is settling any way?

Society does not want to know her past. This person called society is more concerned about the ring-less finger and her poor ovaries. How shall she manage? Bambi..

Eve, on the other hand, played by the book. We graduated from University at about the same time. Months later she got married to her High School sweetheart and has two adorable children. This is how it should be done, right? She is settled and ‘knows what she wants,’ yes? So how come her and Mark only appear at church and parties together but don’t share a room in their own house? Why does she want to get a divorce but is afraid she will not get custody of her children? Is it her fault? Did she not do what she was ‘supposed’ to do?

Joy and Evelyn represent a world of women and men stuck in situations that are not new or surreal. It is just life being life and male, female, millionaire or pauper, we all have a story and it is even more beautiful if it is uniquely yours!

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” 

You, dear reader, know countless stories of people that are living a life that is not theirs, heck you might be too. The decisions you make are entirely yours to deal with. God knows all the mistakes I am constantly making are copyrighted. I shall not let anyone take the blame let alone consciously blame them!

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

The business executive who might not get the job because her responses weren’t conventional enough sleeps a lot better than the rest of us who walk with our heads up high because we are conforming to society’s idea of who we are or must be.

I can’t emphasise enough the value of being true to oneself.

If you find people struggling to label you, to explain where you belong or even ‘force’ you to belong somewhere because it will make them feel better, make them understand you or worse still make you just like them, that will be a good time to slowly walk away.

The road to the top is lonely and also narrow, you decide what or who gets to take it with you.

“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” 

be you