I sat at a café at Athens International E Venizelos Airport last November, planning my answer to a question that I had been asked at two important events within a short span of time in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya. The question was “What would I tell my younger self?”. My answer is I have a lot to tell her, but where do I begin?

This question requires deep and honest reflection, identifying what I could have done differently if I was to start again, and what I am glad I did. I am glad I finally got to finish my reflection at the beginning of 2020, a new year and new decade full of promise.

So here we go on 10 reflections!

Be authentic: No one can beat you at being YOU. Developing a personal brand is an ongoing process over the years. You build your reputation by staying true to your values, beliefs and convictions unapologetically and with confidence. In other words, stay true to yourself. I have an issue with the advice of “faking it till you make it”. You can easily spend a lot of time trying to be someone else instead of using the time to learn from your mistakes and build on your strengths - the surest path to be the best version of yourself.


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Dream: about where you want to go and not where you are now. This is true for every aspiration whether you are talking about money, career, home, overcoming hindrances and so on. The stars will align at some point because life is not one straight journey. Many times, you will make two steps forward and then one step back. So as long as there is progress, you will be fine. Always remember the “Me Inc.” mentality, that you are the best CEO of YOU. If you do not have a vision for yourself, you will follow someone else in theirs.

Re-learn and re-invent: the majority of people succeed at a workplace simply because they have an attitude that says, “I will learn from my mistakes, I will re-invent myself, I will build my competency and I will ask for help”. Few succeed only because they have some special ability or talent that the rest don’t have. I have learnt that being successful in employment is not easy! “Wanting to” matters, not just “skills”.

After graduating from University, I was posted to teach to secondary school. I was NOT satisfied with the status quo. First of all, the government did not pay me for the first 4 months. Secondly, all my friends from high school seemed set. Many turned down government jobs, as they were able to go abroad for further studies or join family businesses or secure good jobs in Nairobi through their networks. I was restless. My GOAL then was simple; I needed to be financially independent and stable. I wanted the next challenge that would help me make progress. I even enrolled for an evening class in Banking and volunteered at a Youth Camp over weekends and school holidays! It did not take very long before I was approached by the Director of an international Christian Mission to join the organization and help start a school. My heart and my mind were ready to re-invent and I said YES. The lessons I learnt in setting up the school were invaluable and formed my foundation for the years ahead.

Identify stepping stones: Through my high school years, I was sure I wanted to study law. I had very good reasons to do so, from wanting to be rich to a desire to seek vengeance on a relative whom I understood had carried out a great “injustice” to my family. After high school, I could not study law (thanks to the education system we had then!). I was admitted to study for a Bachelor of Education degree. In retrospect, I would not be where I am today if I had declined. You see, the first degree was just a stepping stone for my 18-year-old self to help me define who or what I wanted to become. Where you are may not be where you want to be but make the best of it. It may just be that very thing that becomes a great stepping stone to take you to your next destination.

Take advantage of every opportunity: I work in the technology sector even though I am not an IT or digital native. By taking advantage of various opportunities, accepting to try different things, learning and re-learning, I moved from teaching, to pioneering a school, to being an accounts assistant, to training accountants in computerized accounting software, to being an office manager in a technology company, to running a technology company that I co-owned and to working for world class IT companies. Opportunities abound. Take advantage of them.

Do not fear to fail: Accept failures and obstacles as part of life’s journey because they will surely visit once in a while. It helps to have a short memory! Don’t spend too much time wallowing in pity. In the early 2000’s, as a young entrepreneur and after investing a lot of time, energy and emotion in pursuing an opportunity (that would have changed my life!), I lost it to competition. I could not get out of bed for days! It took my caring husband’s support and nudging for me to get up and face the world again! I learnt some lessons, changed my approach and two years later, I did get an opportunity that changed my life! You may fall down many times, but you won’t be a failure until you blame it on others or refuse to stand up, learn from it and try again.


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Learn to say No: In our society, it is easy to feel obligated to say yes to every request that comes your way. I have learnt over the years that it is OK to say NO, especially to innocuous and well-intentioned requests. I have learnt trying to please everyone can stretch you to your limits, bring you disappointments and rob you of your freedom.

Guard your mind and heart: This has to do with the company you keep and what you internalize. Be intentional about the company you keep. If they are time wasters you will end up being one. If they are progressive people, chances are you will become progressive. If they are pessimists and "downies”, chances are you will find yourself with the same negative disposition.

Manage your Time: When you are young, one of the things you don’t have is money. My view is that even though you may not have the notes from central bank YET, you have time, and this IS money. You don’t necessarily need money to do phenomenal things. As a young person, treat time like money, understanding that it is not limitless and therefore you must plan and use it well by reading, inventing, taking risks, volunteering, learning and gaining experience. Eventually, you will become good at what you do, and people will be willing to pay you money for your time!

King Solomon, arguably the wisest man that ever lived puts it this way in Ecclesiastes 9:11. “I have seen something else under the sun: the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

And one last thing! save and invest from your early earnings – before you know it, retirement is beckoning.


Author: Wambui Mbesa.