Every new year begins with many people making resolutions to achieve and accomplish set goals. There are targets set, milestones to be reached and promises to be kept. Like many others, when 1 January 2016 came around, I mentally had my resolutions. There was no need to write them down because they had featured on my list for the past four to three years that they were permanently chiseled into my mind. They were a constant reminder of how another year drifted by with none of the goals realised. For the past four years when 31 December came around I would be struck with disappointment at how miserably I had failed at achieving the goals I had set and promised to do better the following year. 2016 was different; however, I began it with one short statement, “What If….”
I sat on my laptop, typed a few sentences and posted it on Facebook under the banner ‘Cheers to the Year of the Risk Taker.” Even though it looked like an encouragement to my family and friends to dare and dream, it was more a call to convince myself to take the plunge into the unknown. It was a cry to take a journey knowing the destination but moving with a broken compass. The challenge was not in taking the step; I have done some risky stuff in my lifetime. It was the fear of what would happen if I did not take it. I could not bear the thought of regret. Regretting what my life would have turned out to be if I was bolder, braver, unafraid and reckless. I did not want to look back 10 years later and resent the younger me. I had reached my watershed and there was one thing I just had to know. Having spent a five-year working career most of which was in financial audit, I decided to find out one truth. If I spent the 8+ hours I gave to my employer on starting my own business and doing something that I loved, would I succeed?
I had pretty much made up my decision during the finalisation of my master’s degree in September 2015 that I would not look for a job when I returned to Zambia. I just did not know whether I would actually go through with my plans when I did return. Therefore, I did the most logical thing I knew, I did not apply for any single job and I haven’t done so for the past 15 months. I did not want the temptation of having to look at the salary figures that would be offered to me. I had stubbornly decided that I would finally put to bed the “What Ifs” in my life and I had the next 12 months to do so. The one question I get asked is how I managed to survive these 12 months without a job? The answer is simple, I saved up. Remember I had been planning to do this for the past four years. So I saved enough to survive for a year without a job.
I set out on a journey like I mentioned earlier with a broken compass, hope and a prayer that I would arrive at my destination. Every single day I woke up and braced myself for the hurdles, rejections, and successes ahead. If someone had told me in January that I would achieve half the things that I have done in 2016, I would have kindly asked them to look for a different person because not me. Even though I consider myself loaded with optimism, it does have its limits and I know where the boundaries are. Trust me a whole lot of what I did was seizing the opportunities that presented themselves and created opportunities where none existed. I had numerous board meetings with me, myself and I. Questioned every step but continued to move either way. Perhaps a little optimism is all we need, to borrow a phrase from Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, “When you really want something, the world conspires to make a dream come true.” And so it did, and so it did.
It all began towards the end of January with the release of my book HIRED- Find the Job, Keep the Job & Quit the Job. This was followed by being awarded second prize for the Chinese Embassy/ZWWA National Short Story Competition in April. Then I got selected to be part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and became one of 1,000 Africans selected out of over 42,000 who applied. I had the opportunity to spend seven weeks in the United States of America. During my time in the USA I was also participating in the Nyamuka Zambia Business Plan Competition. This culminated in me getting the third prize which came with a handsome cash prize of K175, 000 in October. Then in November something that was on my resolution list for years was finally ticked off, a company which I co-own Butali House was born. I have read 24 books in 2016 more books than I have ever read in a single year. I have attended and participated in more activities which previously I would not have been able to because of work commitments. I was part of the TEDxLusaka organising team, blogged at the AfDB Annual General Meeting, organised events for the Chevening Alumni Association, I began the P.W. Nawa Jobs Report and perhaps most importantly I began to volunteer at church once again and joined a small group.
In 2016, I have met some incredible people who have inspired, motivated, blessed and changed my perspective on life. I began this year with a focus of starting a business so that I could be rich, and perhaps be on the cover of Forbes magazine. Through my interactions with amazing people, the feedback I have gotten from people who have read my book or deeper reflection on what really matters by focus is now shifting from the riches to the impact I can make in people’s lives. If I have the capacity within me to help someone, make a difference in someone’s life, then why shouldn’t I?
I have had both support and questions from family and friends throughout this year based on the decision I have made. Many have told me straight in my face, “You are wasting time, go and get a job.” But when I ask them why, the response is, “Just get a job.” Many people even gave me a timeline when this foray of mine would come to an end. Some said February, others said March, and some said when I got broke. Trust me each word was a dent in my armour of optimism. One thing that I have come to confirm, is that I do not care much about what people think of the decisions I make. I have learnt to take advice and discard most of it as soon as it is given. The precious gems of advice, I have kept. This advice has been from people who have not questioned why I am doing what I am doing but rather how can I go further with their help.
Other friends who are working have shared their desires to quit their jobs and some have asked how they can do it. I almost tell them all the same thing, “Do not quit.” There is no blue print for the best time to quit your job or when to try out something different and new. Your “What If” has to be strong enough that it cannot, and it refuses to be ignored. It hounds you every day and night that you get no rest. Then when you come to peace with the fact that you could possibly be making the biggest mistake of your life and you are ready to face everything that comes with that decision, maybe then you are ready to quit.
My circumstances and good fortune will not fall the same way for everyone. I have learnt many lessons in this year, none is more important than to be ready for opportunities that present themselves. I should not deny myself an opportunity because I feel unqualified, inadequate or afraid; I should at least give others the opportunity to reject me. I did not embark on this journey to prove something to anyone; I wanted to answer one question in my life. “What if…?” If I choose to find a job today or tomorrow, I will not ever have to wonder what would happen if chose to take 12 months to do what I love. All I will have to do is look at 2016, and tell myself that is what can happen. When 2016, finally comes to an end, I will raise a glass and toast, “Cheers to the year of the risk taker, shall we do this again next year?”