Power of “I Can”

Frustrated, discouraged, discontented and disheartened.

Those adjectives capture how I felt about my life twenty years ago in 1997. Here is how I had come to this point. I had graduated from the University of Nairobi in August of 1992 (I know, I am old!). Soon thereafter, I interviewed with the Public Service Commission (PSC). To my surprise, I was posted to the then ministry of research and technology. There was a newly created office, Kenya Industrial Property Office, which was mandated with administration of several industrial properties, including trademarks and patents. I was hired as an Examination Officer. Great! Now I had a job! Let’s get on with it and climb that career ladder, right? Except there was no ladder.

Civil service careers were (still are, I guess) managed under schemes of service. A scheme of service provides career structure and standards for career advancement. I do not know if that is the case anymore, but one was eligible for promotion after a number of years of service. The problem with the newly created office was that it did not have a scheme of service. Our job titles were ‘new’ and did not fall under existing schemes of service. Our bosses promised that this could be fixed by developing a new scheme. We were naïve enough to believe that that was going to happen. It never happened. People started to look for jobs in the private sector and quite a number resigned. Continue reading “Power of “I Can””

13 Side Hustles To Do in Kenya (With Little or No Startup Costs)

After posting the piece on 5 Things To Do If You Get Fired (you can find the post here), it got me thinking a bit more about my closing thought on taking up a side hustle. I challenged myself to come up with a list of ideas for side hustles and/or small businesses that (a) are likely to succeed and (b) have low start-up capital (c) do not call for complex business planning.

Successful entrepreneurs agree that for a business to succeed, there has to be a need. The business must be a response to a need. If no one needs it (it being the service or product), the business is dead from the word go.

I wanted ideas with better success rate than the rabbit or quail farming. (Whatever happened to the quail farming craze, by the way?). I asked the question “what are people in need of and how can that need be met?”

What is the one thing that most people are in need of? Time. If you can come up with an idea that saves or frees someone’s time, you are probably looking at a great side hustle. Add to that reliability, honesty and integrity and are bound to find someone who is willing to pay you for your services.   Continue reading “13 Side Hustles To Do in Kenya (With Little or No Startup Costs)”

How My Acting Career Died…Prematurely

Few people would admit that they were their school’s chief clown-cum-comedian. After all, these were the students who made the Noise Makers’ List every single day and who carried the infamous title of Trouble Makers. But I was one.  That student who went for prep  early to entertain or who stood in front of the class in between lessons to tell a silly joke. I got in trouble several times when a teacher would make an unexpected entry and whole class would bust out in laughter.

In Form One and Two,  we read the late Barbara Kimenye’s book series on Moses. For those not familiar with the series, the setting is a boys’ boarding school in Uganda known as Mukumbi Institute for Sons of African Gentlemen. Moses, the main character, is one of the students in the school. In spite of the head teacher being a disciplinarian, the boys were always involved in all kind of mischief  including sneaking out of school to trade and imbibe in Waragi,   an illicit local brew. One of the books titled Moses and the Ghost featured a school worker who, for some crazy reason, decided to scare the boys at night by walking around draped in white sheets and carrying a garden hoe. And for a while, all the students believed that the school was haunted by a ghost and agitated to have it closed down. Continue reading “How My Acting Career Died…Prematurely”

5 Things to Do If You Get Fired

I am old enough to remember the days of career civil servants when people worked in the same government office until retirement. Private corporations too had employees working for the same company their entire working life. When the employee finally retired, she/he was presented with the perfect retirement gift: a Black Mamba bicycle, a rocking chair, a pair of gumboots or a wheelbarrow; gifts that would come in handy once the employee relocated to upcountry as was the norm.

That was then. Today, restructuring, redundancies and layoffs are commonplace. One day you employed, the next day you get to the office or workplace to find you don’t have a job.

You have been laid off. They have fired you. They have let you go. They have restructured and declared your position redundant. In short, unga imemwagika.

Now, what?

Take a deep breath. Then breathe out slowly.

It may feel like it, but this is not the end of the world. It is already tomorrow in Australia or some other part of the world. The worst that could happen has happened. As someone once said, once you hit the rock bottom the worst that can happen rise up. Not to make light an otherwise serious situation, but it is important to remain calm. That will allow you to process what has happened and to start planning for your next steps.

  1. Letter of recommendation and referee – If the company was restructuring, it is not a reflection of your ability. You should not beat yourself about it. Sure, it is human to ask ‘why me’, but the truth is, it was going to be someone. Before you leave, ask if the company can give you a letter of recommendation. Request you immediate boss or supervisor if you could use them as a referee. Unless there is some real bad blood, most organizations and bosses are more than willing to recommend you. Of course, if you got the boot because your boss was a TJ (Total Jerk), you do not want them as a referee. Still, there may be other people in the organization, who may be willing to give you a reference.
  2. Do Not Burn Your Bridges – As far as possible, leave peacefully and in good terms with everyone. It will minimize your stress if you are not having to carry a grudge or to settle scores. Plus there is no telling where your paths with former colleagues will cross in future. As the Swahili saying goes, usitukane wakunga na uzazi ungalipo. Continue reading “5 Things to Do If You Get Fired”

Not Guilty!

I was watching a cooking show where they were preparing some crabs. I am not a great fan of crabs, though I do eat them if I happen by them. But the show got me wondering – why is it that I have never had anyone standing up for the lives of these creatures? I have seen crabs in the grocery stores where they are displayed alive crowded in glass containers. Then when they are cooking them, the poor creatures get thrown in boiling water while they are still alive! Where is the outrage? Where are the protestors with placards? Where are the hashtags? #crablivesmatters #Istandwithcrabs

A decade ago, I was working for a research institute in Nairobi, which had farm animals in a large farm. We reported to work one morning to the news that a few cows in the farm had died in rather mysterious circumstances. Somehow, in the dead of the night, the cows had ended up in a swampy marshy part of the farm and got stuck in the mud. The bizarre part of the story was that something (or someone) had tried to eat the cows alive! Their backs had been chewed on. Four cows died in the night, a combination of struggle to free themselves after getting stuck in the swamp, bleeding, fear of being eaten alive, and perhaps even cold. Continue reading “Not Guilty!”

Limiting Beliefs

My all-time favourite illustration of a limiting belief and its consequences is a Bible story. Moses and the Israelites are camped out in the desert. He is laying out strategies for Canaan takeover. He needs information from someone on the ground, so he picks twelve men and sends them on a covert mission.

The spies were given simple and precise instructions: “Look the land over, see what it is like. Assess the people, whether they are strong or weak. Few or many. Observe the land, whether it is pleasant or harsh. Describe the towns where they live-are they open camps or fortified with walls? And the soil, whether it is fertile or barren. Are there forests? And try to bring back a sample of the produce that grows there.”

For forty days, these 12 men had the same experiences. They saw the same exact things – a productive, fertile and rich land, fortified cities, and physically imposing inhabitants.

Ten saw giants; two saw abundance! Continue reading “Limiting Beliefs”


“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” Eleanor Roosevelt

Peponi School, Ruiru is about 1.6 km from the Nairobi-Thika road. The road that accesses the school runs perpendicular to Thika road for about 800m then curves to the right at 90 degrees for another 800m. (I think I have just made my high school math teacher very proud – I finally found a suitable place to use that word – perpendicular!) My guess is that takes less than five minutes to get to school from the main road by car.

Several years ago, my friend Mercy and I visited Peponi School in search of jobs. We had recently graduated from the University of Nairobi. Encouraged by Mercy’s Dad who knew the school proprietors, we boarded a Mat and alighted at Clay Works in the heat of January unforgiving afternoon sun. I was a BotZoo major and I hoped for a biology teaching position. I had taught for a few months before joining the university, so I had some basic teaching experience under my wraps. Mercy was a BA, Sociology major and hoped for an art related position. We knew next to nothing about Peponi School, other than the fact that it was a high-end school that enrolled kids of rich Kenyans and expats. We did not know if they had vacant teaching positions or any other position for that matter, but there was no harm in asking.

I was dressed in a hand-me-down skirt suit from my elder sister and a pair of black Gemini heels, which had since lost the heel caps to expose the metal nails. I carried the obligatory brown envelope with my testimonials. Continue reading “Self-intimidation”

4 Things To Do While Job Searching

So let us say you are doing all you can to find that job. You are hitting the road on a regular basis. You are boldly knocking on doors and marketing yourself. What else can you do to get ahead of the other 48 potential applicants and land an interview, and increase your chances of getting the job?

1. Acquire Useful Transferable Skills. Every job under the sun requires skills that fall in three categories – technical skills, transferable or functional skills (soft skills) and personal attitudes. To succeed, you will need to have all three.

Technical skills are knowledge-based. Think of specific information and/or techniques necessary to perform job tasks. They are acquired through education, training and/or on-the-job experience. Hopefully, you have already checked that box.

Continue reading “4 Things To Do While Job Searching”

Jobless & Searching: Strategies for Landing Your First Job

The last post on Career: 5 Things to Ensure You Get Stuck! unearthed a related topic. Getting stuck presupposes that you have a job in the first place. But if you are a job seeker, how do you get to that first job?

My knee jerk response is Google it! You will find tons of tips on the internet on how to get a job. However, I figure it is more beneficial to share from my personal experience. As John would say, “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim…” So here goes…

The year is 2003.

My youngest brother, James Ndegwa, and younger sister, Charity Ndegwa had, as Kenyans like to say, cleared college. Freshly baked holders of diploma from Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology, KIST. They joined thousands of other young Kenyan men and women churned from the colleges and universities each year to become part of the job seeking fraternity. That period between ‘clearing’ college or uni and landing a job is a trying one. One never has a straightforward response to the question everyone you come across will ask: What do you do? You are not in college. You are not working. The answer usually starts with ‘I have just cleared college/uni…” Continue reading “Jobless & Searching: Strategies for Landing Your First Job”

Career: 5 Things to Ensure You Get Stuck!

Being stuck in career sucks! It is demoralizing. We spend a good part of our lives working. The last thing anyone wants is to spend eight or more hours a day feeling like a prisoner! To be sure, there will always be things that we will not love about our jobs. But these 5 things will ensure you are stuck for a long time!

  1. Doing BAD Job: It is hard to give a job your all when you do not like it or when you do not like the person you work for. But doing a bad job is not a solution. It will only hurt you in the end. To overcome the temptation, change your mindset and start looking at your job as your own business. What you get out of your business depends on what you invest. Doing a good job not only increases your chances of promotion, but also helps in acquiring demonstrable skills and outputs that you can leverage in your next job.
  2.  Never Learning Beyond Your Job Responsibilities: The day you quit learning is the day you quit growing. Promotion based on how long you have been in a position is a thing of the past. You have to constantly improve yourself. Learn new skills. Endeavor to know more about your company or area of business beyond what is required of you.
  3. Having Great Skills and Bad Attitude: You have heard it said that success is 20% skills and 80% character; and that your attitude determines your altitude. Take that to heart because it is true. Continue reading “Career: 5 Things to Ensure You Get Stuck!”