Photo: Dr David Ndii (left) who has called on rendunt economic policies by the Uhuru Kenyatta (right) regime
By Dr Wandia Njoya via FB
Maybe it’s too late for this to matter to us who left school, but share this with your youthful teenagers.
With reference to journalism, Monbiot says that the advice to college students not to specialize is bad advice. And I’m not talking about specializing subjectwise, the way we did in A-level. Hiyo ni upuzi. I’m talking about specializing in a skill. And don’t go looking for a degree or college that will specialize you, at “event planning,” or a degree in MPesa studies. You’re being conned. I work in the industry and I can tell you for free: it’s just marketing.
You decide and carve out the specialization yourself. For example, if you’re a journalist who wants to report on energy, start reporting on energy and don’t be here, there and everywhere waiting for a time to specialize. Monbiot admits that there’s an economic cost to it and you have to live small in the first few years, but it eventually pays off.
Someone else told me on tweera that her work experience with German engineering taught her that the secret to German engineering is specialization. The engineers don’t try to hog the whole show. They specialize, and if they can’t do something, they refer the work to the one who can.
And this is my testimony and advise to young people.
Do not listen to that bad advice about subjects being useless. Learn whatever is put in front of you the best you can. You don’t have to be top, but you have to do your best. That specialization thing comes from the A-level of my generation, and I think it was a bad idea. Early specialization in high school compartmentalized us too early. We can’t process diverse knowledge at the same time. That’s why we’re hopeless bureacrats and the country is going to the dogs.
After you’ve decided what skill you want, you need to decide what kind of status you want, because that decision will determine your work for the rest of your life. There are two types of status in Kenya.
There’s the institutional status which you sell your soul for. You have to worship bullies, sometimes even sleep with them, but you rise through the ranks that way. The extent to which you rise depends on how ruthless you are, and what you can sell to the people who matter. If they want loyalty? You deliver by bullying those under you. If they want money funneled to them through corruption? You do it. But know that if you ever become a liability to them, they’ll do away with you and nobody will cry. But before then, you will have to fill the emptiness from this kind of life with booze, sex and extravagant uselessness that everybody can see through. You hang around with so many people but are never sure if any of them genuinely cares about you.
Then there’s status that comes from expertise. At the beginning it will be difficult. But as you get better, you will be recognized, and then you can stand on your own. Nobody can control you with threats of better posts or recognition, because your work speaks for itself. I think that’s what Malcolm Gladwell described using the pilot and 10,000 hours, or something like that.
But even as you specialize, your skill in learning from other subjects also improves. My expertise on education and work has made me read subjects like music history, economics, sociology, history, politics, and sometimes even medicine when I did a lecture in South Africa on government policy towards medical workers. If you had got the habit of dissing subjects because you were not going to work in those areas, that habit will stay with you. So don’t follow your parents down that road.
Also accept that this second status comes with sorrow, because the country is run by people of the first status who are threatened by us. They will insult you, discourage you, mock you and undermine you. Even this year, I have been called a fool by colleagues for caring more about getting education to work than for caring about money. It’s very hurtful to be mocked, but immediately I leave the room and find an email from someone inviting me to give a lecture or submit an article based on my expertise, that bad feeling goes. And even if I don’t get recognition, I go home and my husband tells me “you did the right thing.” And I sleep soundly. In this Kenya, sleeping well at night without being haunted by ghosts is not automatic.
I don’t moonlight. I’ve now made a personal policy not to accept invitations, especially by media and NGOs, to travel to speak on areas outside my expertise. That means my passport doesn’t have many stamps as others, but isorait.
But most of all, remember that you will be exploited, like that engineer who was packing stuff costing millions but working 18 hours a day for peanuts. Bills will be hard, if not impossible to pay. But remember that when he tweeted his story, his thread trended and he got called for his expertise on work conditions in Nairobi. Imagine if he had dissed writing skills ati because he’s an engineer. Or remember the stories of Elisha Bwatuti and Kennedy Njoroge.
Did you see the confidence with which Bwatuti called the bs of the milk industry? That’s what genuine work does. Expertise gives you a confidence that you don’t get when you are a thief with the first status. You owe nobody, you know your shit, they don’t have anything on you. You call the shots. Most of all, you treat people with respect and compassion because you have nothing to prove. Eventually people trust you, and they come through for you.
I’m not making guarantees, though. We live in a messed up country. But if there are more of us who know our stuff and stand our ground, we’ll eventually find each other and build a big enough cohort to make the exploitation end and make this country work.
So make your choice.