Category Archives: Other random thoughts

Mother’s Day 2018 Reflections

Books are one of my first loves. I partly attribute my terrible eyesight to many nights spent under the covers with a torch reading a book because it was just unputdownable. Of late I’ve been reading different genres of books, away from the fictional novels that I used to devour on the regular. When I look at the novels I loved so much, I notice that I have a ton of James Patterson‘s books. That man’s writing changed my life!

I remember how Mr Oluoch and Mr Kiai helped feed my addiction by getting me a library card to the Strathmore library. Oh my days! I’d never seen so many books in one place in my life. There I met Wilbur Smith with his African adventures, got to hang out with the Hardy Boys, Famous Five, Secret Seven and Nancy Drew as they solved mystery after mystery. I was one of the gang. I’d pick my selection of three books for the week and check them out with Umeme (I think that was what they called him), the really nice librarian who scared me though because he had a piece of his index finger missing.

A sample of my books

If I bequeath nothing else to my daughter, let her have my passion for reading and love books. Books are a gateway into another world, an escape from reality if only for 20 minutes. To build one’s imagination, creativity, language, expression – books!

Lessons

Someone once told me that you will forever be in a situation until you learn the lesson in it. I look back at my life and try to reflect whether I have learnt all my lessons, as there is nothing as frustrating as feeling as though you are stuck in a senseless rut. As I ponder, I remember some of my trying moments in life and wonder how I even managed to get out alive. Situations in which you wish you could curl up and die. Betrayals and lies that run so deep you feel like you could never possibly recover from that blow.

The process seems to be the same. The shock, anger, and pain. The screaming and fighting. The disbelief and absolute denial that someone you love could ever hurt you in such a manner. Then the tears come. You weep like your heart would break. The apologies and self-absolution. “Oh my God” and “It wasn’t me”.

The tears finally run dry, and there you are. Spent, but no closer to the truth. Your brain begins its feeble attempt at rationalizing the whole issue. Your heart cowers every time the mind speaks, afraid of getting hurt again. It’s at this point you look in front of you and realize that you are at a junction. To your left lies the truth. Investigations, so to speak. Harsh words exchanged. The truth must out, so help me God. “Silence, dear heart of mine! You are too biased to be involved.” I find out the truth. But what do I do with it?

The other road, the one to my right, looks less trodden. Why? I ask myself. It is the road of blind faith; the road that lets go with no question. It is the path that demands of you absolute faith – sometimes more than that the mind can have. It speaks to the heart, and the heart listens. The mind rejects all notions that the road suggests; it is, after all, contrary to what it believes. The heart responds gladly, for it believes in the goodness of mankind. And after contemplating, after fighting the battle between mind and heart, I am walking down the road. Some look at me and think I am foolish or naive for making this choice, but the road less traveled gives me peace.

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To join a startup or not?

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I’ve been asked severally what my thoughts are on working for/with a startup. In the course of my (relatively) short professional career, I have worked more for startups than the so-called established institutions. Both types of institutions provide their merits: startups offer an environment where innovation is key for success in every aspect of the operation, partly due to limited resources. You have an opportunity for making substantial impact, and greater appreciation all round. The work environment tends to be more relaxed. The learning curve is steep. Flexibility. Stock options. The list goes on. Established institutions work better and more smoothly due to structures having been put in place. The pay tends to be better. There is more job security. Time to productivity is usually less rigid compared to a startup. There are more perks offered.

That being said, if you are considering a job in a startup, I believe the following are some pertinent questions to ask before making the leap:

  1. Start with why: According to Simon Sinek, Your Why is the purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do What you do.  If your reasons do not align with the opportunity, it is likely that you will not be happy. Check your motivation also against your personal values. Your core values will determine whether joining a startup, or a particular startup, would be a great move.
  2. Who are the founders and what is their story? Learning more about the founder(s) of a startup can go a long way in cluing you on the motivation behind the company. Check for past work history, successes and failures, education background, awards won, check out their web presence, follow them on social media, learn more about the history of the startup itself and any other strategy you may employ to learn more about the startup. All these will be very helpful when you need to make a decision on whether to take the leap or not.
  3. Where is the money coming from and how long can it sustain the business? What business model is in play? Are they donor-funded? If there is funding in place, what type is it? How much runway does the organization have before it runs out of money? What is the plan for that? What is the current monthly revenue?
  4. Do they offer stock options and what is their vesting schedule? Many startups are using stock options as a way to attract, retain and motivate employees. Many individuals have become millionaires through stock options in companies like Facebook, Google, and Whatsapp. The concept of stock options is that it is attractive, not just for the perceived monetary value, but also for the sense of ownership it gives an employee. Of course for this to make sense, you must believe that the company will succeed.
  5. What is my role in this startup? Due to the nature of startups being an all-hands-on-deck kind of place, your exact role can blur with time. It is very important to establish what you are expected to deliver on early enough. A startup, as I mentioned earlier, is a place that allows for great impact and great appreciation. The downside of this is that you not delivering on your mandate (whether you even know your mandate or not) is glaring.

At the end of the day, no amount of due diligence will guarantee a startup’s success or failure. I believe a startup is an incredible place to learn, grow and diversify your experiences in ways that an established company may not allow, and present you with opportunities down the line.

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Of grey areas and straddling of fences…

Being different has always been the curse of the bold. Galileo Galilei was ordered to stand trial on suspicion of heresy in 1633 when he defended heliocentrism, a theory that places the sun at the center of the universe. The Church forced him to recant on penalty of death rather than change antiquated notions.

In the world over, many communities believed and practiced FGM, given the importance given to virginity and an intact hymen. Waris Dirie was nearly crucified (metaphorically speaking) by her people (and others of the same beliefs) for running away, and eventually becoming UN’s Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She still lives under the shadow of threats from fanatics who consider FGM a holy rite of passage.

There are many examples of bold people suffering because of speaking out littering the paths of history. Conformity has been glorified from time immemorial. Even in traditional Kenya there are proverbs and sayings that promote conventionalism as a way of being. Contemporary Kenya has perfected the art of toeing the line to the point where having an opinion or stating a clear stand seems irrational. After all, if everyone is doing it or saying it it must be right, right?

Grey area (n): an area, situation, etc., lacking clearly defined characteristics.

Grey areas have become a cesspool of everything “sensitive, delicate or socially offensive”. This is the place where we throw in anything that makes us feel anything from mildly uncomfortable to deeply offended. Abortion, gay rights, the ever-widening poverty gap between the rich and the poor, our failing education system; you name it and you cringe, it’s in there.

One could say that by not taking a stand, one is taking a stand. After all, I choose not to align myself with either camp because both have valid points (or none at all). But the danger here is that there will always be only one voice being heard: the voice of the majority which is not always right. And when the majority quieten down, there will be the deafening sound of silence from you and I who choose not to speak up or do something.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Edmund Burke