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During the month of February, as I followed up on a potential sales lead, I bumped into a former classmate whom I had not seen for a number of months. We had a lot to catchup on and we therefore agreed to talk on phone and arrange a lunch or coffee date with a view to looking for areas of potential business partnerships. When we met, we recalled out college days where as part-time students, we juggled between work and studies. Each of us recalled times when we felt like giving up on studies in favor of the jobs especially due to stretch targets and punishing work schedules. Thereafter, our conversation drifted into our career trajectories since graduation. Interestingly, each of us ventured into business thereafter, went into a period of struggle, got back into employment for a short period, then resigned to pursue his passion with greater determination.

My classmate was a public servant working as a middle level manager in a semi-autonomous government agency. The change in regime after the 2013 general election brought with it a change of guard at his workplace. The new Chief Executive and Board Members brought new ideas as well as a belief that the managers they found at the agency were incapable of implementing with the new ideas.  No explanation about this belief was given but it was clear from day one that they intended to conduct a radical surgery. Once the surgery was complete, my classmate ended up in a role with limited responsibilities and no room for growth. In his own words, he was demotivated and considered resignation but held on for another 3 years for the sake of his daily bread. He quit to join a non-governmental organization but resigned 2 years later to pursue business interests.

Two week after this meeting, I talked on phone with another former classmate left salaried employment about three years ago to venture into business. She was a senior manager in a parastatal and resigned after disagreeing with her seniors regarding what she considered unethical financial practices. She had held on to the job for long for the same reasons that my other classmate had but decided that enough was enough once she realized that the environment was getting toxic by the day. She ventured into business and after a period of struggle, she is now earning more than 3 times her last gross salary. She is also happy because she has the freedom to go on leave as many time in a year as she wants without jeopardizing her source of income.

While talking with my lady classmate, our conversation further drifted into why people hold on to unfulfilling jobs. She narrated how she observed colleagues in the workplace who were demotivated by many factors including low pay, hostile working environments and slow or no professional growth amongst many factors. The most interesting thing was that these people were unwilling to leave their employers even for new jobs. She had this example of a Business Degree Holder who was also a fully qualified Certified Public Accountant (CPA – K) who had worked as a cashier for over 10 years but declined an Accountant’s job offer in a Stock Exchange quoted company due to fear of “job insecurity” in the private sector.

My two classmates and the cashier reminded me of a story I read about a family that has fully reliant on one cow for their economic welfare. The family lived in a poverty stricken neighborhood where, through barter trade, they would sell milk in return for cereal and other foodstuffs. The cow was therefore precious both to this family and the neighbors. Since the area was arid, the cow was also emaciated due to lack of pasture. One day, a traveler was patrolling the area and accidentally pushed the cow down a cliff. The cow died and the traveler was almost lynched by the family and the neighbors. They could not understand how he could drive the family into extreme poverty by eliminating their only source of income as well as eliminated the only source of milk in the neighborhood.

When the period of “mourning” about the cow was over, the head of the family that owned the cow decided to travel outside his village looking for a new cow. During his travel, he interacted with people from neighboring towns and village, got menial jobs and returned after two weeks with foodstuffs to his village. Once other men noticed their neighbor’s change of fortune, they followed him on his subsequent trip. The village was gradually transformed and within 2 years had numerous cows and goats. Thereafter, the number of people travelling to the village to buy livestock increased and all of a sudden, there was a livestock market, a shopping center, a school and other social amenities.

Would the transformation of the village have happened if the emaciated cow had not been pushed down a cliff?  May be not but I suspect that even if the transformation did happen, it could have taken a much longer period. Do we also hold on to an emaciated cow probably because we do not know of any other source of income? Do we also fail to realize that deliberate or unintentional frustration by a certain employer could be the “push down the cliff” that could open our eyes to better opportunities? Do we also realize that our pursuit of better opportunities could also open up the eyes of a whole community?

Dr. Weru Mwangi is the CEO & Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in training & consultancy in Finance, Governance, Strategy, Risk Management and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@umslgroup.com  



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