Before I became a writer, I worked with a global professional services firm in the Assurance line of service. (Ha, I just lifted that straight from my defunct CV.) In one word, I was an auditor. And to some degree, an accountant. Auditor and accountant now a writer. Fancy that.
Whenever I think back to those days in Upper Hill, what stands out the most for me was the personal drive of the people I worked with. My grade mates and my managers and my partners were what our corporate culture called ‘the best and the brightest’. It’s a phrase I first heard during orientation, on 1 September 2008. The chick from Human Capital kicking off the orientation said, “You are the best and the brightest the Kenyan universities had to offer in 2008.”
We heard this on that first day, then every day of training until we checked into the office for the real work a month later. Best and the brightest. Best and the brightest. On repeat. Best and the brightest. A litany pregnant on their lips. Tell me you won’t believe this world is yours for the taking after embracing this mantra. Best and the brightest.
And indeed, they were. These guys were driven by a thirst and hunger heretofore seldom seen to me. A thirst for personal and corporate success. A hunger to be better than their previous selves, better than everyone and everything else they were measured against. They played to win. And took no prisoners. That gritty will to be number one was so intoxicating, so callous that it reeked from a mile away.
No one wanted to fall behind. No one wanted to be the guy left bleeding in the battlefield; too weak and too wounded to get himself to a safe place. No one wanted a helping hand. Metaphorically. No one wanted to be judged as foolish or a failure.
Failure amongst these guys – amongst us – was extraordinarily tragic. Failure was emotional: missing a promotion was as tragic as losing your mum (sorry for that morbid illustration). A failed audit as tragic as going blind. A poor performance rating, as being incontinent. Withering feedback made you consider getting a traditional circumcision. (Heehe. OK, I don’t know how that last part ties in.)
So you can imagine what it was like for me to admit this wasn’t working for me, neither me for it, and to jump ship to become a writer. It sounds so…romantic, eh? You imagine I am ballsy for making this transition in pursuit of my happiness. Please. The mendacity of it. Truth is, writing was a deserved break, a break to patch and stitch my open wounds. I found my safe house in writing.
As a freelance writer, I have to run a string of side-hustles to maintain my lifestyle to at least some level as it was before. Side-hustles that aren’t related to my writing in any way. What I have realized from these gigs is that the chaps I am partnering with aren’t the ‘best and the brightest’. They aren’t A-players. Book smarts doesn’t earn them their street cred. Being able to balance books isn’t mileage.
Chaps out here think different. They work different. They respond and react different. Failure is neither emotional nor a measure of business success. Hell, it doesn’t even feature. What drives them to run their business and what drives me to partner with them aren’t the same – we don’t share vision or agendas. Our goals don’t overlap. We don’t hold hands in prayer asking the Lord to guide us to the pot of gold we are both after. I am not as hungry or as thirsty to business as they are. Neither are they me.
And because of this, there were days I went to bed cussing why the hell these guys walked out their front doors without putting their thinking caps on. It defeated me. I swear I could have shot somebody.
But I was naive to their M.O. I didn’t understand how things out here really work.
Look, just because you and your guy Maish met to sign a year’s contract at Gibson’s Coffee House on a loose Thursday evening doesn’t mean your cut will promptly check in every 30th of the month. Contracts count for shit. Maish’s word holds as much water as his place in the pecking order. Its cash flows and liquidity which determine if the bills will trickle into your empty pockets. Maish needs you to understand that, Blondie. Quit the emotions.
The romanticism of my pursuit fired out pretty quick.