Today I turn 30. And yesterday was officially my last day at work. It feels almost like a sin to be this happy after quitting a job that most people are willing to do almost anything like giving bribes to get into. It is a government job. It is both permanent and pensionable. And as everybody will be quick to remind me, it is the most secure job one can ever get-although, after working for both the private and government sectors, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing like a secure job. That is a fallacy we have all been fed and unfortunately, we don’t question it enough. Instead, we have eaten it up and internalized it as a truth. What instead I have realized is; all jobs, both government and private will always expect you to adapt into their system. To change your plans to accommodate the system. Adjust your lifestyle to fit into the system. There are very few organizations that are willing to change with the way the world is changing. Mostly, the system is constant. As an individual, you have to make the choice of adapting to the system or not? One has to remember that both adapting and not adapting has its own consequences. Do you want to change who you are because of a system? Are you okay with the version you will be come after changing to accommodate the system? And someone like me will constantly ask, why can’t the system change to adapt to its new employees? Because the truth is, the way our grandparents worked is completely different from the way our parents work and more different from the way millennials view work and even more different from the way Generation Z view work. I have watched colleagues being frustrated by the system being they refuse to bow to its demands. And when the system realizes, you will never bow to it, it gets rid of you. The years you have served it, don’t matter. I have felt the pain of colleagues fired unceremoniously. I think, if you love your job, it is easier to adapt to the system. You make compromises. You are willing to tolerate its inadequacies because the job gives you fulfillment. Or more precisely, the job satisfaction overcompensates for the system inadequacies. Can the two co-exist in harmony-job satisfaction and system frailty? Or will they perpetually strive to pull each other apart? What if you hate both the job and the system? How then do you navigate such a world for 30 more years? How do you willingly give such an organization 30 more years of your lifetime?
And when you finally muster the courage to get out of a system like this, you are uncertain of sharing your joy with anyone really. To rejoice of quitting sounds like a mockery, absurdity, insulting to the men and women who used their every connection to get you the job. There is also guilt and so much loneliness. Yet that is the way you feel; happy, relived, peaceful, free. This is the point where my therapist reminds me that both of those feelings by different parties are valid and they are present. Me being happy that I finally left a job I have been meaning to leave for the past 4 years and someone else in my village willing to do anything to get the same job that I just quit. I am reminded to be grateful for this system and this job because it awakened some aspects of me that have been dormant. The version of me that speaks up against unfairness in workplaces caught me by surprise and yet I find myself proud of it the most.
The irony of quitting my job just before the elections when the inflation rate is an all time high is not lost on me. Heck, we ourselves are unable to plant at the farm due to unavailability of fuel. Thoughts of how every single food stuff will be expensive kept me awake at night and from writing that resignation letter. I endlessly thought of the unstable fuel prices. I entertained the thoughts of quitting after the August elections; besides, it could only be four months of me persevering with the system I had already given four years. And I think a smarter person could quit after the elections when the economy has stabilized. But I am not smarter, I am only smart. Yet, the thought of spending four more months in the system made me sick. There was an option of staying put for those four months till after the elections by ensuring I do the bare minimum. The bare minimum that ensures my salary checks in my account at the end of every month and my boss remains blind to my non-existent productivity. I could clock in 25 mins late, file twenty files, man the reception for two hours and wait for my shift to end, clock out and go my way. When one works for a system like this, it is so easy to get away with this kind of working style. Psychologists call this coasting.
The downside with coasting is that it isn’t a lasting solution. Particularly if one is a hardworking individual who gets fulfillment by putting in the effort and doing the real work. Doing the bare minimum can soon turn into restlessness, anxiousness, resentment, depression. The brain that is used to being constantly challenged and stimulated goes into dormancy. You could decide to engage in other interests like reading when you are doing nothing. But this will only work if maybe you are working from home or you have your own office where nobody pops in and out to check up on your work progress. My workplace had a surveillance system, so one has to appear to be doing the work even if no work is being done. It leaves little room for reading or going for an evening jog or writing or watching. The alternative is to open several files and pile them in front of you and seem to be filing. For one file you arrange all the prescriptions for 30 minutes a task that normally takes 3 minutes maximum. Trust me when I tell you, this working style is a thousand times worse than quitting. I couldn’t reduce myself to that kind of employee. I have set specific standards on how much I should deliver at work on any given week whether I am on surveillance or not. Whether my hard work is acknowledged or not. Whether the boss is around or not. Whether my colleagues have the psyche on that day or not. Whether I like my job or not. If there is work to be done, I will do it. At the end of the day, I want to go home knowing I did my best at work on that week. I delivered. I am equally aware of the days I go to work and feel like doing nothing. The dreaded languishing days. Days when every cell in my body is resisting work. My body and mind and hands fail me. Every task seems thrice as hard. On such days, I know what my body needs is a break and I happily oblige it. What I wasn’t willing to do was intentionally put myself on such unfulfilling position for four months. The position where I begged the languishing to consume me yet the body was willing to work.
Another major downside of coasting is that; you end up overburdening your colleagues. If you haven’t been doing your work for a whole month yet you are reporting to work, then it automatically means someone else is picking up your slack. This working environment is a breeding ground for resentment and contempt. And it is toxic. Soon, you will notice how colleagues avoid working the same shift as you. You may end up influencing others who already resented their work to follow your path. And as I have said, it will take time before the boss notices you are slacking off especially if there are other people doing the same slacking. And by that time, you will have caused harm to your colleagues who have been nothing but kind and generous and supportive towards you. I had the self-awareness to acknowledge that, that was the last thing I wanted for myself. Coasting at the expense of my colleagues’ hard work. There can never be the right time to quit.
In January, I read the novel Bright side by Kim Holden that came highly recommended by my friend Karen. I should say it is the one book I have been recommending nonstop. This is also me subtly saying, go and read the darn book. At some point the main character Kate, asks her friend, “Keller, dude, you only get one life to live. Imagine for a moment that you were free of all the expectations in your life. What would you do? How would you live your life with no one watching? What would your future look?”
I read Bright Side when I had already started taking active steps in preparation for my quit although, I was filled with so many doubts on the right time to quit. I was on my two months leave and I had already started farming. In a way Kate was asking me these exact questions, “Moraa, chic, you only get one life to live. Imagine for a moment that you were free of all the expectations in your life. What would you do? How would you live your life with no one watching? What would your future look?”
I took my journal and wrote; I would quit my job, move back to Nairobi, pursue both farming and writing fulltime, be in control of my working hours and create more free time to pursue my many interests. Particularly reading. And I could see myself living this kind of lifestyle till I die. I am in the path of pursuing a happy lifestyle.
When I say I have a number of interests and passions I want to actively pursue and engage in. I mean; I love cooking for my family at least four times a week. I love researching new recipes and trying them out. I love reading both books and articles. A daily single dose of reading feels me with unmeasurable joy. I want to be actively engaged in the two book clubs I am a member. I love listening to podcasts. And by podcasts, I mean experts talking about their area of expertise with so much passion and intelligence. I love swimming and running and learning new cardio routines via YouTube. I love farming and I want to pursue it fulltime. I enjoy writing and my dream is to write at least one book during my lifetime. I want to teach my son how to swim and ride a bike. I want to enjoy evening walks with him around the neighbourhood. I like watching my series. I love designing spaces and coming up with DIYs of saving money while transforming rooms. I want to spend time with my friends and family and do impromptu visits to their work places and surprise them with lunch. I know how too much my wants seem. Yet this is the life I want. To write daily, to read daily, to listen to podcasts daily, to farm daily, to go for evening walks with my son daily. Some of my wants will need a monthly or weekly dose but those that need a daily dose, I want to do them because I have created a lifestyle that gives me time to do them. It is not weakness to want too much.
Of course, I am scared. It could be naivety not to be. I am leaving a stable job to go into agribusiness and writing. Depending on where you sit or stand and decide to judge my decision from; a little bit of failure and stupidity and disaster is written all over it. Yet I find myself thinking if I don’t try this, I will always wonder what could have become of me. If I don’t take this path, I wonder how my mental well-being will be five years from now. What lifestyle diseases will I pick as result of waking up every day and resenting my work? How many people will I have hurt in the process? What kind of example am I setting up for my son if I am scared to explore my other life options?
There are colleagues who called me aside and requested me to reconsider my decisions. They told me how I will regret my decisions. They reminded me how bad it is out there when one doesn’t have a job. They advised me to give it more thought as if I haven’t been thinking about this decision for the past four years. I was called young and irrational and naïve. They asked, “where are you going? What do you plan to do? Is it a better pay?”
I was rarely asked, “why are you quitting?” Yet it is the one question that mattered the most- to me at least.
I know they meant well with their unsatisfactory questions. I saw the anguish written all over their faces. The pity I didn’t ask for directed at me. But I was aware, how-albeit unknowingly- to a big extent they were projecting their own fears onto me. Because, for them, their government job is their lifeline. They can either retire or get fired.
Margaret Atwood writes in one of my favourite essays, “what the young people want is to see them off on their voyage, which is -after all- a voyage they have to make on their own. Maybe it will be a dangerous voyage, maybe you’d be able to handle the danger better than they will, but you can’t do it for them. You have got to stay behind waving encouraging, anxiously, a little plaintively; Farewell. Fare well! But they do want the goodwill. They want the blessing.” This is my voyage. These are my mistakes to make. And if I dare say, this is my time to be broke. Because when I calculated my net worth and entertained the thought of liquidating everything I own, then I can only maintain my current lifestyle for a maximum of three years before I declare myself bankrupt. And that is keeping everything constant. No expensive surprises like terminal illness. It is funny how my six working years can only guarantee me three years or less of little worrying about money? Yet here I am, hopeful, believing, trusting that in the next three years, my writing and farming will be giving me enough returns to live comfortably-and I understand how comfortably is relative. And most importantly, I look forward to waking up every day to do something I love. I am an outlier that seeks to pursue her passion for a full-time career at an old age. Not very old but old enough.
There are those who have asked, “what if, after two years you realize you hate farming or writing? What do you do then? Because that is a possibility. What if, whatever you are experiencing now is what has been commonly referred to as career burn out and all you need is a long break from work?’
My answer is always, “I start again.”
How can I ever hate books and writing? That makes no sense in my world. Reading and writing are both divine and eternal to me.
It was in November when I started contemplating about my career transition. I was careful not to say it out loud. Mainly due to the resistance and discouragement I was sure to encounter; but also, because saying it out loud to someone -anyone really- means it stops being in your head and it becomes real. And the fear of actually doing, going forward with my plans was very real. The first people I told were my siblings; Dee, Janti, Kasmall siz and Kabro. Then I told my friends Okeyo and Eyevee. I know I don’t say it enough so let me say it again, thank you for your unending belief in me. Thank you for your constant encouragement. Dee, thank you for allowing me and Ridge to move in to your house and wanting to invest your money in my business. Janti, thank you for stepping in when I needed cash and taking Ridge to the hospital when I was busy at work or the farm. Kasmall siz, thank you for sending those memes that validate my dreams. Kabro, thank you for going to the farm and taking care of the business and workers when I was held up at work. Okeyo, thank you for listening to my rants about work problems and your prayers-especially your prayers. Eyevee, business partner, thank you for literally investing your money and time in my dreams. I promise to make you lots of profits. I like telling people you only need one person to believe in you and your dreams yet I find myself with an army of six. You continue to colour my journey and world with love, support, trust and endearing belief. I am because you are.
As I turn 30, I am grateful for the clarity of mind and body to bravely put myself out to the world and pursue that which makes my heart sing.