“I want a man,” Muthoni said jokingly as we entered the car.
I laughed, Muthoni always says the most random things.
“No I am serious Rose, I am not joking, this whole story of chasing a career down a road to nowhere. Imagine I am done!” She wasn’t smiling this time, she was so deflated.
As we pulled out of the parking lot her emotions were palpable. I had been there several years ago. My best friend and I just summed it up as “Goodbye Miss Independent. Hello Mrs Dependent!”
We would say it in different ways, but then laugh and go through whatever bad bust we were going through and continue the pursuit of our dreams.
I understand the frustration. It’s the reality of the world we live in, for most marriage is no longer a life goal. It’s not an achievement, something you aspire to. We still haven’t reached the liberated point of it doesn’t define you. It’s not just Africa it’s a global problem with women defined by marital status, but I digress.
For many women, we want to do more than just bear children, we want to build companies and accomplish fetes across our various disciplines. Some are achieving that married with children. Some of us just have no interest in marriage and / or children at all. It’s a personal preference.
But when the “I need a man” conversation comes up I always know its frustration with someone’s career path. Because it’s the default, when all else fails. Get married at least you feel like you achieved something. I know that sounds awful. But it is a reality.
“What’s really going on Muthoni?” I prodded further and she poured her heart out, she is in the tail end of her 20’s having worked in an organization for 6 years and her growth hit a plateau 2 years earlier. She kept at it hoping things would change, introduced some new ideas to the company, some were adopted others weren’t. No appreciation, no pay raise. Nothing. Work is hum drum; painfully routine with no challenge.
There are many Muthonis out there. Women and men who have graduated from the naiveté and blind optimism of a university graduate to getting in to the grind and realities of business in Kenya. And after a few years of experience, and growth they hit a plateau.
Some unlike Muthoni leave and work elsewhere, but within 3 to 5 years hit another plateau. Some then leave to start a business. That’s when the real rubber meets the road. You go through the growing pains of registration, figuring out taxes, packaging your offering for the market then you try to lock down clients. For the lucky ones they lock down a few paying gigs with Safaricom which then realizes they are too small to handle the mammoth’s workload or the enterprise’s offering is too much of a market novelty to be sustainable.
Then it’s time to repackage your business offering, right in time for an election year which paralyses business. You never quite get back on track 2 years later. Then the car you currently drive looks like a business opportunity. You call your old cabbie who gives you the 411 on Bolt, Uber and Little Cab and maybe you can get some extra cash. It becomes full on survival, business isn’t meeting the bills, now this liability will be forced into an asset.
Three year into business in your mid-thirties you start to ask yourself whether you will ever really get the house you want to live in legitimately. Because an apartment for cheap is 5 million shillings with shoddy work, cracks on the walls, and ugly cheap Chinese finishing and leaky ceiling boards with blots and its all the way in Machakos or Kajiado county. And you can get a mortgage at 105 % financing. Is it really worth it?
You spend more time taunting yourself with what your parents had achieved by their mid-thirties. They had promising careers, a car and maybe 4 to 6 children or more who they started to educate. What the hell do you have to show other than the fact that you have a compelling MPESA statement, maybe on the CRB list which you are unfazed by and 10 plus years of work experience? Experience which people value but shy away from because, “they can’t afford you.”
You have gone full circle from, “you don’t have enough experience” to “we can’t afford you.” When will you eat, and when will this damn business make it to Young Rich? When can I flaunt the millions I am making? Is this only plausible if I have a client that is a multinational or Safaricom, EABL or an International NGO? Are those my only options for clients who pay you your worth?
Because let’s be real here, the Kenyan market is a market of volumes, unless you create a hype monster like a socialite, your business ebbs more than it flows. You can make annual, quarterly and monthly income projections, but unless you offer 25,000 shillings plus VAT service to multiple SMEs who always struggle to afford your services. You are stuck. Or is tenderpreneurship a career? Is it merit driven is it viable and sustainable? Insert cackle here.
I am not saying don’t dream big, I tend to feel dreaming big and legitimate merit driven, value for your worth only makes sense as you expand beyond the Kenyan borders. Then the debate begins, do I just move for work or do I emigrate, do I pre-plan or wing it and see as things go?
Being in your 30s in the 2019 is a whole new ball game if you really want to build something consistently. Maybe you are going about it all wrong, maybe you targeted the wrong people, or just had a crappy business, maybe you should always be employed and keep shifting every 3 to 5 years? Or maybe, just maybe, Kenya is like an incubator. As a country we train, provide experience and send everyone out in to the world to be the best version of themselves?
Is Kenya great for my career and / or my business? Or is it time to leave and really make something of myself legitimately where I can earn my worth?