Disclaimer: I wrote this article not just taking a hard look at the society I live in, but also at myself. I have to practice what I preach, but I have to start somewhere. (And to my foreign readers, biashara is a Kiswahili word for business.)
I bet you have your own business. It does not matter what it is, but you have one. I bet the only reason why you have it is because when the sun sets every day, you want to see how much this business has made you.
There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of money. I’m not going to lie and profess that money is not important, because it is. The issue with my people is that money somehow became the end of our purpose, and becomes one of the most important reasons we were born in the first place.
I walked up to a colleague of mine one obscure weekday and sat next to him at his desk. We exchanged greetings and chit-chatted a bit.
“What is your purpose in this lifetime?” I asked him directly.
“What?” He responded, as though I spoke Martian to him.
“What is your purpose in this lifetime? What do you ultimately want to be remembered for? What legacy do you want to leave?” I expounded
He sat back in his chair and began to stroke his goatee, contemplating what I asked him for a few seconds.
“I don’t know” he replied, matter-of-factly. “But I do know that I want to make money. When I’ve made the money I want, and me and my family are comfortable, then I’ll figure out what else I want to do with my life.”
Naturally, outside of his main job, he has a few other business ventures he pursues. Now anyone in their right mind would say “Good for him! He is doing what he is supposed to be doing!” and I agree. I applaud anyone who is working towards attaining a better life.
My only problem is hardly any of us wants to pursue something that is greater than ourselves. Something that is truly meaningful and is worth jumping out of bed for every morning!
Call me idealistic, with my head in the sky, maybe even arrogant, but when I listen to people’s ambitions and goals, they do not really inspire me. Everyone either wants to become a farmer, own a store, run an M-Pesa outlet, get into real-estate or become a broker of some sorts, etc, etc.
Very few of us want to go further than what we see around us. All we want to do is mimic what the next person is doing because of how lucrative it has been for them.
I hardly ever hear anyone tell me that they are truly passionate and excited about what they are choosing to go after, and that they are seeking to break real ground in their quests, discovery, learn, grow, and be innovative in the process. It’s scary how rare that kind of conversation is! We just want to start a business for the sole purpose that it will turn a profit.
I am afraid of how stunted we have become. It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Parents still want to take their children through “marketable” courses online to find jobs that will ultimately bring very little meaning to this individual other than the salary he or she receives at the end of every month.
We live in a country where one is punished for being courageous, for going against the grain, for trying something that is new. The path is incredibly lonely and unforgiving, but it must be pursued in any case. Nothing brilliant ever came from the same old, tired, beaten-up blueprint!
What scares me most is that we do not recognize our own ability to be creative and innovative. The 8-4-4 education system almost completely erases a child’s ability to use either of those as their strengths, and eventually spits out young adults who are honestly not ready for the 21st century.
How many companies in Kenya cannot hire fresh graduates because they are not trainable?? That is astounding to me! So why are these children going to school in the first place if they do not even possess the skills for an entry level job? Why do we discourage our children from pursuing what they truly love to do? Because what they are doing “is not marketable?” And forcing them to earn a degree that will keep them jobless for the next 5 – 10 years IS?
It seems that we simply want to be given the same blueprint as the generation before us, and work with it, and never questioning its viability. Nobody wants to break this blueprint apart, look at it critically and from there create their own.
Once upon a time, I used to know someone who ran a stall in Ngara that sold clothes. I would stop by there now and again to see what new stock he had and buy a few things from him. We got to talking one day and he told me that if he got a steady job that paid him well, he would leave his stall in a heartbeat.
I was heartbroken when he said that.
We have decided that money is the be all and end all of everything. We have refused to examine ourselves and look at something greater, something bigger. Something that wakes us up every morning excited, scared, but determined to go for it.
We don’t want to work at our craft and pursue excellence.
Many of us are simply doing what we do for profit, status and recognition and greater comforts.
As a result, we have created a mediocre society – one that is complacent and is more than happy to have and raise average families, work in average jobs, have average experiences and receive average to below average products and services. This is the life we have created in Kenya.
Many of you may say, “What do you want us to do? This Is Kenya!”
I absolutely hate that term, TIK (This Is Kenya). You can tell me that this is the reality of things but that is absolute nonsense to me. It is simply an excuse that too many of us have allowed into our belief systems. To me, every time someone says that, what they really mean is: “I know that the situation is wrong/unfair, but I refuse to muster any ability to think beyond the circumstance that I see or face, and I have no intention of doing anything about it, especially because nobody else has, so why should I be the first one to? Therefore I am more than happy to complain about it like the rest of the people around me.”
I would like to focus on us as individuals, because the lives we live are where our power truly lies. It serves us no good to do something for the sake of doing it or because it will bring us more money. What truly matters is the greater reason, the greater purpose of what we are doing.
Somewhere along the line, we stopped engaging in the idea of mastering skills. It is no wonder now that our society is filled with people who do things at a 45 to 50% level and nothing more. We want to see the money first. We do not want to provide world class goods or services in our industry, and the consequence of this is that many of us will remain local in our thinking.
Are you starting a business because you want to pay for your children’s school fees, or are you doing it because you want your children to grow up to be empowered and independent, and to be the masters of their lives and their own destiny by following the example you have set for them? Are you pursuing a Masters degree because you want to earn a better salary or because you aspire to reach the highest level in the career you are in, to break barriers, become a true pioneer and leader in your field and inspire others in the process? Do you want to get into an industry to become a millionaire or because your greatest desire is to set such unprecedented achievements that you will have changed the face of that industry forever?
This is what I believe we are all here for. We are here to pursue excellence in who we are becoming and what we are doing every day. We will never compete on a global stage if we are not impeccable at what we do.
Lupita Nyong’o won an Oscar in March of 2014. Can you imagine how much dedication, work and belief in herself it must have taken to reach that level? How about you and me? Do you not think you are capable of competing on a global scale with your own gifts, talents, skills and capabilities?
I believe that a Kenyan company can be recognized globally as the greatest company to work for. I believe that we can produce the greatest brand the world has ever seen. I believe that we can produce more artists like Lupita, world class achievers from right here at home. I believe this because I have never known individuals more brilliant than the children of this great nation.
Our children are so bright; they can light up a room with their assertions and their fresh understanding and pure interpretation of the world.
21st Century parents, you have the hardest, but most inspiring job: do not raise your children to be narrow minded, cynical adults who only think that turning a profit is the biggest reason for their existence. Let us begin to teach them that they can become anything they set their hearts and minds to. Let us not destroy ours as well as their hopes and dreams to do and be more. Let us instead strive everyday to better ourselves as individuals and eventually, leave a legacy that our children and loved ones will remember, admire and want to aspire to.