My 20s were an incredible phase of my life. I came to Nairobi a few days after entering the second floor. I had a relatively easy life studying because, in my second year on campus, I started earning some income as a freelance writer.
It wasn't much, but I always had some disposable income for good food, drinks, a few road trips here and there - and my own place in a middle-class estate along Thika Road, a bedsitter, yer, but what more can a campus student in Nairobi ask for?
I got my first job before I completed my final exams - Ksh20,000 a month when most of my contemporaries were doing those free internships that extend for close to a year. I had been earning more as a freelancer, but I managed because I wanted to build a career that would sustain me in the long term.
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Perhaps because of the ease with which things had aligned (while in my late 20s) I never thought much about what I wanted to do in my 30s. I knew I needed to make more money, afford a few vanities (a blue vintage Mercedes Benz W124 topped the list), and hopefully settle down and raise a family in my late 30s.
Professionally, I continued to work hard, and I perfected the skill that pushed me to a six-figure salary while still in my 20s.
However, there was little personal development in other aspects of my life. For a long while, I lived in the same Ksh10,000 per month bedsitter I had lived in as a student - so I could maximize “savings” on my One sth k monthly salary - as a Kenyan would put it.
However, my Sacco savings remained meagre, and my expenditure was sporadic. A few friends - however, benefited greatly because I was ever-liquid and generous in the harambee for the round of drinks.
Just before I hit 30, I met someone who challenged me to organise my finances. I became more intentional about saving and reducing unnecessary expenditures. I also started a few businesses on the side. Moreover, I started to think about what I would want in my 30s, with more clarity. I still wanted the 1994 Merc, but I also wanted to buy a piece of land and build a house before I exited the youth bracket.
Despite the relative success at work and the fact that I enjoyed it, I realised that the environment was not what I wanted for myself - in the long term.
When the money is okay, you rarely stop to think about other aspects of a toxic workplace. I started to introspect and realised that the poor work environment greatly contributed to my state of inertia in my personal life.
To cut the long story, I quit my job a few months after my 30th birthday. It was a stressful experience at first, but now as I look back, it was a great learning lesson, and I want to share some survival tips here.
One of the biggest shocks of leaving a high-pressure job is the boredom that follows. Of course, the first week or so will be pure bliss - it almost feels like a much-deserved holiday or early retirement. However, after that, you start to feel you have too much time on your hands, and instead of feeling relaxed, you become lonely and anxious.
I had heard of similar stories from retirees, but I had no idea how I could relate to such an experience at such a young age. In my case, my position was not only high-pressure, but it gave me some personal influence. People always consult you at work and privately - especially on Whatsapp. Friends looking for you on weekends for social activities.
For some reason, most Kenyans associate being jobless with being broke. Even before your finances run dry, some friends will suddenly become too busy to pick up your calls. Other times, you start a catch-up chat, and the friend is randomly complaining about how broke they are - fearing you might be asking for money.
It is critical to find new meaning and create a social and mental structure that will protect you from the anxiety that comes from this experience. You start to relate to the global concern about mental health, and it opens your eyes to other people’s experiences.
Financially, one of the immediate implications of losing a job is losing the consistent and predictable flow of income.
You could still be making money, and I did make a few coins here and there - but the inconsistency would always mess with my budget. I had also started a few businesses, which, unfortunately - were hit by turmoil at the same time I was adjusting to living without a stable income.
If I were to go back a few years back, I would do more to diversify my income. It does not matter whether a certain task or business brings in Ksh2,000 profit - so long as you can do something profitable, keep doing it when your finances are okay.
The same goes for whatever survival gigs you take. One of the sad realities of our lives is that we live in an era of incredible dishonesty. I tried a few freelancing jobs after my short-lived retirement.
I had to work for unfamiliar clients, and one of the immediate concerns became the high levels of dishonesty. Nearly 3 out of 5 of the new clients I took in - washed me a good one - in Kenyan lingo - that is to be conned!
I have had conversations with people who became jobless at various stages of their life. For people in their twenties, one of the major advantages is that many go through joblessness at a stage of low financial responsibilities.
However, from the 30s downwards - there are a lot more responsibilities. Most people often hoard their savings whenever joblessness hits at this stage.
Unfortunately, some watch as their huge savings quickly fall apart - like a house of cards. By the time they realise the money is running out and there is no foreseeable income in the near future - there is no cash that can be used as capital for a new venture.
From experience, you should, of course, reduce your expenditure if you find yourself jobless. But use everything else you got - time, money, knowledge - to source for extra income.
Do not stop to wonder when the next job is coming - hit the ground running, but I need not remind you to be prudent because the get-rich scams might start to sound lucrative in these moments of desperation.
Friendships are increasingly fragile and that is one of the biggest lessons from my unemployment journey. I had a small circle of what I considered my primary friendships.
However, they were the first ones to join the isolation bandwagon. It takes you a few months to adjust to why your “closest” friends are no longer available. It can be frustrating, but the one thing that helped me is that I had some certain diversity in friendships.
Perhaps because of familiarity (the famous proverb says something about familiarity breeding contempt), tier one may fade away from the vagaries of poverty - real and imagined.
I had other sets of friendships - people who had faith in my skills as a professional - old classmates and workmates from the years of yore. Some we barely spoke but would go out of their way to mention my name in whatever room of opportunities they sat.
You remember the 3 out of 5 strangers who “washed” me, well, the other two were incredibly honest, and we created a professional friendship. Complete strangers became my sources of livelihood and extended to great friendships.
I still keep the old friendships, and they have had their use in this journey of liberation, but I now know the need for diversifying friendships and knowing each friend’s place in your life.
Friendships can be a lot like a lion; if it escapes from the park and charges at you, it could maul you to death as you try to show it love. But you got to use a tranquillizer; then you can hug, pet, and hold it close before releasing back to the wild.
One of the things you have in plenty when you are jobless is time. Make good use of this time to relax, socialize, think, read widely, strategize - gain new knowledge and skills.
I have spent most of the past 10 years on desks - and I barely had any form of physical activity. However, when I felt like the anxiety was clouding my judgement and mental health, I took up jogging.
I lost weight and felt healthier- and each run rejuvenated me with a new lease of sanity. I have taught myself a number of new skills, which I intend to develop and maintain in the long term.
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A man will often have multiple social lives by the time he is 30. Not all your friends and family will or should know what you are going through, and attempts to keep up appearances can throw you off balance.
I got invited to a harambee a few months after joining the unemployment bracket. I had to humbly decline it even though I knew the person who had extended the invitation would not understand.
I decided to use the hibernate till you germinate philosophy. I would recommend this approach, where you keep a low profile to focus on your well-being - financially, emotionally, psychologically, and even physically until you are ready to thrive.
I watched a documentary film, The Story of God, hosted by Morgan Freeman. It explores why people believe in God and their understanding of the meaning of life - Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and other religions in between.
Freeman, after touring over 20 religious grounds spanning different continents, concludes that - ”In some places I found answers, and others led to more questions. The constant through it all is that we're all looking to be part of something bigger than us.”
I am not drawn to any specific religion, and I have sometimes been sceptical of religion - preferring spirituality instead. But this journey in the U world made me appreciate the place of religion in organising my life.
It is not that I have become overly religious - but I have seen the benefits of believing in something bigger than myself - religion, charity, and family have given me some level of social order that has kept me floating above the newfound tribulations.