One of the most difficult challenges any individual confronts is doing things that they do not love. I have always felt blessed in that area… I love effortlessly. I love my wife, my daughter, my extended family in my own way- and I am comfortable with how I relate with all the people that matter in my life. It was only recently when I asked myself why do I do what I do. In other words, why am I working for TrustAfrica. It started off as a minor irritation- why I do lose sleep and am growing grey hair about this institution.
I tried the list thing- you know the one that says 10 good things and another 10 bad things and you try to rationalize- I did not go past 3 good things- that got me worried because my list of bad things was exceeding 10 and it included constantly being away from home, feeling unappreciated, always under pressure, difficult relations. I spoke to colleagues of mine who have done well at executive coaching but that also did not change much- I still found failing to pin point ‘…the thing that gets me fired-up in the morning’. I must also explain that at the beginning (years ago) I was so convinced that I was at the right place at the right time doing the right thing (you know serving the continent, fighting for justice and all that jazz). This was the dream job … an answer to many prayers, clarity of destiny, the blessing I have been seeking for. But you may ask- then what went wrong? So much I can tell you.
First, I simply tried to do too much by myself. When I started I was just so super-charged (have you seen the energizer battery commercial-yep that was me) backed up by my power-point presentation on how we can turn around the institution and also literally change the world! I still think the ideas were good but not necessarily new. Over time more pressing but unplanned for matters filled my plate. I didn’t get to do what I should have accomplished at the beginning, especially recruiting the team into the vision and that cannot be done over a power-point presentation. I have also recently learnt that I come across as smug, brash and over-confident and through that I lose supporters especially amongst peers- instead of consensus building apparently I can actually at times cause dissension. Coming across very passionate over an issue can also be seen as a personal agenda.
Second, life happens- and I was just not prepared for it. Within the first year of my tenure four colleagues resigned literally one after the other- creating a perfect crisis especially for those assigned with the responsibility of oversight. The resignations in themselves are symbolic and dramatic but once the dust has settled one then needs to deal with the challenges of resolving capacity gaps and lost institutional memory. The amount of time that one takes, trying to assure stability is very significant and it cuts into the planned for activities and also something happens to your own momentum-thus begins the process of disconnecting from purpose.
Third, expectations- the world is not waiting for you to get started or sort out your own mess- you are literally jumping onto a moving vehicle-have you seen the conductors of matatus? Historical issues can re-appear and you are bound to spend more time acquainting yourself with them given that they are new to you. Meanwhile real new issues come up, donors make their opinions about you and before you know it you have a reputation- either you are never available or you don’t answer emails. Life. Staff expectations also shift- they remember the good old days and you are the author of the bad present for several reasons- you have just not kept the momentum or you have tried to introduce new things too fast either way you are the fall guy.
Fourth-your rolodex is just too thin. Networks or just friends in the right places are like gold in this space. Don’t take that for granted. Our sector is literally about who you know. Opportunities or even problems are first discussed in the informal spaces before becoming official. If you are not in these networks, you are always the last to know and the last to respond. You can actually make some wrong turns and will only be told later that you should have asked so and so. I remember a bad recruitment decision that I had done and was only told that if I had asked so and so before hiring I would not have gone through with the hiring- the unofficial channels still matter. Also if it was not for these we would not have secured some of the resources we have managed to mobilize in the past year.
Fifth-I am not superman and I was bound to get a burnout at some point-the signs were already there- but I chose to ignore them and focus on ‘the task at hand’ trying to do too many things at the same time. I will not list the number documents and papers (for journals and magazines) book chapters and of course my personal blogspots that I have written in the past twenty months- but it’s a massive tome of work. Besides these I have contributed to official documents such as our annual reports, planning for retreats, writing the strategy documents etc and of course countless power point presentations. There are also three important stakeholders that one deals with on a daily basis, (i) staff, (ii) board and (iii) donors- all of them at some point want their pound of flesh and if not carefully balanced you are in trouble. For example, last year I traveled for approximately 16 hours arrived early morning and failed to secure a hotel room because check in time is at 2:00pm but used the time to rush to attend a meeting starting at 10:00am- then the following morning flew back to base and you think I can’t get a burnout- who am I…even God ordered that on the Sabbath we should rest.
Sixth-think about others first…when I took the job I made a terrible assumption that my family will also just migrate with me to Dakar. This is the 21st century- women are just as empowered and gone are the days when they would follow hubby everywhere he goes-besides my somewhat gender awareness-I just did not pay attention to what this would really mean for us as a family. Maybe I thought we were unique and the distance would not affect us or it was just the excitement or maybe deep down I am just a creature of patriarchy-who knows? In 2015 I spent less than 45 days at home with family-even the strongest can crumble. Recently, I noticed that my family has developed norms of coping/forging ahead even in my presence. Very sad to realize that they can go on as normal without you.
The idea is not to complain about what I have come across but just to illustrate the fact that having a vision and plan on their own are not enough- one has to understand that at every turn you are dealing with people, you have your own limitations (including ego) which may trip you and also life is just dynamic. In part B I discuss how I am engaging with the issues raised above as part of a deliberate exercise of falling in love with job/what I do again.