In 2018, after years of praying, deferred semesters, and a few exchanges of brown envelopes, a cousin of mine finally landed a job in our distinguished defence forces.
His dad was in the army, 2 of his big brothers are in the army, and his small brother just got accepted into the police academy. It seemed inevitable that he’d end up serving the govt in one form or another.
On the other hand, after years of praying, countless semesters, and no brown envelopes to push things forward, I gave up on my dream of joining the permanent and pensionable elite. I went down the private sector path and then found myself in the gig economy after Covid-19 came knocking.
On the surface, my cousin is doing well. He’s already on baby number 2 and enjoys all the privileges that come with working for the government.
On the other hand, the gig economy doesn’t exactly give you free dental and health coverage for your loved ones. However, the money is just as good and then there’s the freedom it creates to focus on projects that spark the creative genius in you.
I remember running into my cousin (let's call him Peter), over the 2021 Christmas holidays. It was the first time this had happened ever since he enlisted.
He had this blank expression that almost scared me. His eyes looked like they had seen the devil in person, and I was soon to learn that they had.
After exchanging pleasantries and catching up, we got straight into the real stuff. It turns out that he spent the entirety of 2020 in Somalia.
What followed was a description of some pretty unsavoury stuff. The kind of stuff you’d only see in a graphic and grotesque war movie or documentary.
“I saw death in the flesh,” he whispered feebly.
I could tell that this particular topic was not good for his head so I swiftly switched to the more PG Rated outlook of the army.
Yes and No, was his cryptic answer. I took a swig at his bottle of beer and went on to explain.
That was how I learned how the army saved his life both socially and financially. He didn’t enlist out of a burning desire to serve as a military man. Far from it, before getting picked he could barely hold a job for more than 3 months due to his love for the bottle.
He was great at making a month’s salary disappear the moment it hit his account. It got so bad that the family stepped in and decided that the military stood the best chance of instilling some much-needed discipline, and it did.
He has since built a house and invested in a successful car wash business upcountry.
He told me that aside from discipline, working for the government means his finances are sorted in every sense of the word. They have access to their own medics, they have their own chamas which they use to empower themselves financially, plus he is permanently pensionable.
Like every other government job, the perks are hard to match. From paid holidays to child and dependents care to life insurance, you name it and they have it.
This could explain why there are still a good number of Kenyans chasing government jobs by any means possible.
For Peter, it not only helped him get his life in order but also straightened out his personal finance in record time.
He still insists that despite the perks, some of the things he has seen and experiences he has gone through make him question whether it was worth it every once in a while.
I reminded him of where he was prior to enlisting and he acknowledges the fact that he has grown in leaps and bounds.
I filled him in on what I’ve been up to, from a stint in the private sector, to becoming a permanent fixture in the gig economy.
He says he likes my adventurous spirit, I tell him it’s not so much an adventurous spirit as it is the need to find myself, my place in the world, and enough money to live my best life.
Many assume that gigging as a writer, deejay, photographer or social media influencer means a lot of work, and irregular pay. This is true in some cases, but if you go into it from a professional perspective, it’s different.
It will take some time and tough lessons from clients who need to be begged or even threatened to pay for services already rendered, but with the right mindset, you learn.
As long as you are offering something of value, there will always be job opportunities and good money.
I have a good friend of mine who has made a name for herself in the social media space. So much so that big brands are now paying for her tweets which go for anywhere between Ksh5,000 to Ksh10,000 depending on the client.
She does promo (promoted) tweets at least 5 times a day and she has been doing it for a couple of years now, do the math.
I have a deejay friend who also decided to make it his sole earner. He has grown his brand to the professional point where he gets to charge by the hour. Depending on the client, this can go as low as Ksh20,000 and as high as Ksh50,000.
He is always hopping across various clubs every weekend, at times hitting two clubs in a single night and still billing per hour, do the math.
My chance encounter with Peter had me thinking. Is there a way to get the best in both worlds? Can a government employee find a way to enjoy the freedom that comes with gigging?
Can a gig economist like myself enjoy the perks that come with highly sought government jobs?
I do believe that both are possible. For what is freedom but the ability to choose? In the case of Peter, he is clearly enjoying the best of both worlds as his streamlined finances helped him start his business.
The boost he gets from the carwash means his salary is not spent on basic household needs. This has seen him channel his money into the chamas and Saccos I mentioned earlier. Most of which are directed towards investment projects such as real estate.
This means that his personal wealth is on an upward trajectory while still enjoying the perks that come with being in the army.
For gig economists, things aren’t so straight forward and through my mistakes, I have learned that you have to be very intentional about how you go about your business.
The freedom we like to brag about in the world of gigs is a double-edged sword. Yes, you can wake up on a Wednesday morning and fly to Malindi on a whim, something our friends in government jobs cannot do, but can you afford it?
Have you built enough income-generating streams to ‘make money while you sleep’? The flexibility of the self-employed in terms of time and how they use cannot be matched by those working for the government.
However, the predictability and assurances offered by the government in terms of money cannot be matched by gig economists either.
I have since realized that the discipline instilled in Peter and his colleagues is no different from the one you need when it comes to managing your finances, if anything, it is a mandatory component for success in any form.
Every benefit that is available to government employees is also available to you as a business owner or gig economist, depending on how much you bring at the end of the month.
All you need is to look up anything you’d want. From health cover for you and your loved ones to life insurance to companies that allow you to lipa kidogo kidogo for holidays sometime in the future, to affordable homeownership deals, to favourable car loan deals.
It’s important to realize that you should only be competing with yourself. Your brother or sister, who is currently in a plum government job that includes a car and a driver is thriving, but that is their lane.
All you need to live the life that you want or desire is already within you. You just need to make small intentional steps each day towards reaching your goals and be brave enough to make mistakes along the way.
I think I’ll wrap this up before I start coming off as preachy.
My point is that when it comes to government jobs vs self-employed, both can work for your greater good if approached with the right mindset.
Both paths could lead to fortune under the right mindset and not landing that government job and getting that dental coverage is not the end of the world. Work with what you have.
I’ll live you with one of my favourite quotes which basically sums up my entire story. It points towards the need to take advantage of opportunities that come our way, or delay and risk losing it all.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune,” Brutus to Cassius in William Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'.