Category

Career and Finance

Ladies in Helmets: Interview with Founder & IWD #BalanceForBetter Karura Picnic

This past weekend, I had the privilege of leading a discussion on Balance for Better at the Workplace to celebrate the International Women’s Day that was on 9th March 2019.

Ladies in Helmets, a STEM oriented organization whose main aim is to create a platform for young women in the male dominated fields to network and grow together, ran by the 3 ladies above, Winnie, Sue and Stella, organized a picnic for both men and women at Karura on the Saturday, 10th March 2019.

Why I Will Not Work for Free as a Creative Freelancer

And neither should you.

Listen up.

For the #BalanceForBetter International Women’s Day, I would like to share an important business revelation I had with all the creative and freelancers out there who are running their business and wondering why they feel cheated when they get remunerated or how to charge for their services.

How to Prepare for Harsh Personal Economic Times

 

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“Rehearse them in your mind – exile, torture, war, shipwreck: all the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.”- Seneca

No one, myself included, hopes to be broke or be assailed by tough economic times. If anything, one of the global goals of our modern world is to eradicate poverty. Unfortunately, unless you were born into a super-rich family, or you are  Bill Gates daughter, harsh economic times will assail you at one time or another. Therefore, instead of letting such a moment find you unawares and your savings unattended, like Stoics, it is best to prepare long before the moment comes. So that when the moment comes, you are not getting into debt left right and centre trying to survive.

So how do you prepare?

4 Advantages of Working in the Private Sector

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Working in the construction industry in Kenya, (East Africa region) is quite turbulent. There are months where the cash flow is excellent, and the works get done according to the programme and the workflow is exhilarating. Then there are months where things take a nosedive- masses of casual labourers are sent home, banks refuse to give credit, there are speculations of mismanagement of funds, and things come to a quick halt. Job security is highly dependent on the cash flow, and without it, there is no business.

Life Lessons from Caroline Mutuko’s Life Class Series

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Lessons you can’t learn from a class or read in a book.

These are some of the lessons that she learnt in her twenties that she shares on her youtube channel on a series called the Life Class, that have been valuable to her throughout her career. I like these lessons so much, so much so that every couple of months since she posted them, I come back to them and watch/listen so that they can stay fresh in my mind.

Trust Your Gut
Your gut has already figured out what your head has not figured out yet. The more you listen to your gut, the stronger it becomes; it is like a muscle.

Do Not Trust Success
Success is like youth, it is fleeting and fades away so quickly. Do not bask in your own glory. Success means different things to different people, and your definition will influence the way you will make certain decisions. For example, if success means to achieve a certain type of lifestyle, then you will get in debt trying to keep up with the expected standard. Define what success means to you, and stick to it, and do not hold onto other people’s praises and criticism unless they have earned it.

Love is Not Complicated
When you are young, love should make you glow – not just romantic relations, but even friendships and family relations. Do not remain fixated with a toxic relationship when you could otherwise be happier elsewhere or without it.

Think 15/10 Minutes Ahead
A lesson from Phil Matthews. Though the advice is for radio presenters so that they take their audience seriously and to deliver airtime that has value by preparing ahead, it still applies even at the workplace.  She suggests always think about the effect of what you are doing, prepare for meetings, for interviews,  etc. In short, prepare, prepare, – when you speak, have a proper point that you want to drive home. Do not just blabber about saying nothing. Prepare for work the night before, prepare for the interview as early as you can, prepare for meetings – always be ready as you can be. This improves your productivity and efficiency.

There is No Such as Thing as a Free Lunch
She learnt this from her former boss, Linda Halt at the age of 23. When you pay for your luxuries, lunches, meals during meetings, you have the liberty to turn down any compromising situations that could have otherwise risen. When you pay she says, you get bragging and bitching rights. You can brag about whatever luxury you enjoy since you actually could afford it, and you can bitch about it if the service offered was not of high quality. Most times, free means somebody will come calling, to get what they wanted when they were offering the free lunch. Do not trade the collateral of who you are on a meal or a luxury.

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Do It Now
In your twenties, changing career paths, moving to a new city, leaving relationships etc are very viable options in our 20s is especially easy since you still do not have family responsibilities, committed circumstances, career growth etc tying you down. This is especially useful if you learn how to fail fast, and embrace the mindset of seeing failure as a gift that enables you to do things better, differently and well the next time you make an attempt.

Elevation Requires Separation
Life is not like high school where friends hurdled together and mirrored each other. Life requires you to leave the herd without losing contact with them. The people you surround yourself with no doubt influence the direction of life that you will take. Since life is about seasons, what got you here will not get you there. Eventually, you have to learn to love people from a distance especially those whose life direction is quite direct from yours.

Sometimes You Need to Move Horizontally to Move Vertically
Powerful class from Gerald Mahinda – when she was transitioning from Capital to Kiss100, she looked at her prospects at Capital vs what she was being offered at Kiss100, and she consulted Gerald Mahinda. He asked her if she could get the same opportunity to move ahead in her career at Capital compared to the offer she had received. Back then, the lead/ prime time show radio presenter for Capital was crafted to be a white male over thirty. And at that time she was female, black and under 30, and so she moved. This career move enabled her to craft a career that allowed her to have her prime-time show,  the Big Breakfast. I really like this lesson, as it influences how I make decisions when I do not know where to go, and I think, what is the opportunity cost of letting go of one and embracing another.

Time and Energy, Do Not Waste It
Caroline says that when she was a programme controller at Kiss100, she would see interns leave the building at 5 as if the building was on fire. Instead, she recommends when you have no responsibilities such as family, you should take on extra work, and enrol in programs that you could help you advance your career. Then, when you are in your 30s and 40s you will have built up your career path to not work as hard as you should in your twenties.

Extra Bites: Check out her youtube playlist on the above lessons.

Thanks for reading!

All You Need to Know About Your Money (I)

We all know the pillars that accompany money talk when we ask about how to grow our money – spend less and save more, or start saving if you haven’t, find an alternative source of income and invest. So why are we still broke? Why are we still living from hand to mouth month after month? Why are we grappling with poverty? This is an interesting question for me seeing as our parents’ generation worked their lives off, and while some have something to show for it, most do not. So what is missing – what is this thing that our parents did, that we are also doing that is preventing us from progressing towards financial independence and gain?

I do not claim to have the answer, but from my assessment – the missing ingredient is financial literacy and self-discipline. This does not mean that the sacrifices our parents made or we are making to sustain life were bad financial decisions, but some of them could have been handled better.
Take for instance, say you have been working for 2 or 3 years now since you graduated, how much do you have in your savings that could sustain you for a couple of months if day you lost your job? Do you have an emergency fund? Do you have an insurance cover? Have you started considering a side hustle? Do you debts that you need to clear off, say HELB, and how are you clearing it away? What is your target of being HELB – loan free? Or do you have other debts that could have been avoided – say you borrowed money because you did not want your friends to know that you are broke so that you can attend yet another restaurant opening or baby shower or trip out of town? If the answers to these questions are tending toward the negative, it is time for you to buckle up your financial seat belt and start safe driving, because where you are headed is toward financial ruin and you need to remedy that.
As with all ailments, financial ill health starts small. And the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner and the faster it can be healed. Having bad finances is like growing a tumor, the earlier it is taken out, the earlier you can heal, and your wallet can start smiling again.
So what are the basics before we plunge into the pillars of save more, spend less, and invest?
Personally I feel that the points below are well suited to lay a foundation for better financial independence/ gain. 
First. Know Your Money
Take a sheet of paper and write down your debts, your income earners and an estimate (more on this later) of how much you spend each month. See of you are living below or above your means. If below, you are in the green. If above, you are in the red and that is something that needs to be remedied.
The importance of this step is that we often make money calculations in our head and just assume that all things will eventually fall into place, but that is not the case. An incidence that made this point clear occurred last year. I was at home, and my mother asked me to help her create an expenditure account for a family function that has occurred as she was the treasurer. She had Mpesa messages of how the money came in and went out, and so we made the expenditure sheet. In the end, there was an over-spend of 7k, and it was from her pocket. The most interesting this is that she had initially been aware that she had probably put in some extra amount from her pocket, but had not been aware that it was that much. 7k is not little money (unless you are Chris Kirubi, and am sure he is careful about his money). Since that day, I decided that I will be writing down my expenses weekly so that I can know where what goes. Sometimes, I fail in discipline and do not this, and so I am not aware when I overspend. I have to say, keeping up those weekly expenses helped me open my eyes to see where my back hole of spending is. So it is very important to make this step.
Second. Make a Budget, and Keep Track of It
The first step is important, but not just by itself. Use it as a springboard from which you make a budget on how you will be spending monthly. This will let you know how much is allocated for debt repayment, for savings, for expenditure, for buying that piece of furniture, clothing or pair of shoes or curtains that you want to acquire and how much for having a good time.
The importance of a budget is to be like a guideline on how to spend. For sure, sometimes emergencies come up etcetera. But you cannot have emergencies from month to month otherwise you will never grow. The guideline helps you to say no to yourself so that you can stick to your financial goals.
Third. Have Financial Goals.
When we do not have goals, any dream we have of financial independence or how to spend our money is just that, a dream. A goal is usually specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time specific. Instead of saying you want to save a lot more this year (a vague dream), say you want to save KES 100000 this year, and if you break it down to 12 months that will be KES 8334 a month (assuming you started in January) or 10000KES if you are to start next month or you want to reach the target in 10 months instead of 12.
Also, having a financial goal will help motivate you. Because you know this money will be for travelling, or for paying for your education net year or for your retirement plan. 
Fourth. Educate yourself.
There is a lot that schools teach us, but they barely teach us how to use the money we make and how to grow it. So it is up to you to teach yourself this. Read books that will enhance your financial literacy, read how the business giants/moguls have done it, read anything you can lay your hands on that has to do with financial literacy. Lifestyle magazine usually have a section towards the end that cover finances (I do not why it is almost at the back. The good thing about education is that it compounds over time, and the more you know, the better it is for you. Read, read, and read. If you cannot find the books, there is the internet that is an open source library, if you know where to look.
These are my top 4 basics on how to begin the journey to financial freedom, and the good thing is, is that I have directly benefited from doing them, and that’s why I am sharing. What other basics could you add to these that have helped you gain financial rein over your finances?

On Becoming A (Female) Civil Engineer – My Story

 

I will be honest and admit that I do anticipate, and have come to like the shock that I see registering on people’s faces when they realize that a petite and young woman like me is a civil engineer by profession. It almost always comes as a surprise as the engineering world is predominantly a male dominated field. Like last Friday, on the way home after a long day of work, crammed in a Probox with other counterparts ( the damn thing was overloaded because we work in a hardship area – there are practically no Nissan matatus or buses, the roads are terrible and the Toyota Probox means of transport is a sorry state that needs to be addressed) when the driver asked me – who among these ones is an engineer, and I told him – they are, and I also am. And he had to look at me twice to confirm I was not joking, and then he proceeded to ask some questions about a road under construction and I answered him patiently, and the two villagers seated next to me were just gawking at me; impressed and in shock. So yes, being a female engineer is still a thing to be gawked at and I relish every minute of it even though there are more of us now that there were in previous decades.

So how did it come to be that a lady interested in literature and the arts is waist deep in a technical field? I could lie and say that I knew I wanted be an engineer since I was 5 but that would be far from the truth. When teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I mostly said a doctor, and that is what I would have applied to study had it not been that my father, who pushed me to excel, who believed in me, who danced and danced with the music system at full volume in late March when he and my mother threw me  a small party for getting an A of 81 points, perished in a road accident one Sunday afternoon, a month before the selection period. The trauma of seeing him stitched back after an autopsy at the morgue, a cold room with shelves and shelves of steel holding the chill of death, made me rethink how much I wanted to accompany and stay with people when their bodies are ailing and failing them, when they are one step close to the grave, when even I cannot stand the sight of blood and needles and dis-ease. The trauma stayed with me so much so that when I walked into University of Nairobi in October 2010, my mind was already set under the consultation and guidance of my newly widowed mother that I would try this thing called civil engineering, and that she would support me through it all. We figured an additional year from to the normal 4 university years is such a small time sacrifice for a sure career.

The other loose idea that I had, that I swept under the rug during the selection period and that would later become a nag, was that since I had started being interested in literature in high school, and by the time my mother came to help me carry my things home – mattress, suitcase and all other high school paraphernalia – was that maybe I could study literature for my undergraduate. That did not come to pass. Instead, we made a wild gamble that has paid off in ways we could never have imagined.

What we also did not imagine when we were filled with excitement when I received my letter of admission to Jkuat was what the next years in campus held in store for me. I had always been a present student – I did my school work and adhered to school rules with ease. However, the unexpected exposure (on my end) to different mindsets, cultures, religions and ways of life did a number on me. Up until then my education was primarily Catholic – born in a Catholic home, always went to a Catholic Church (still do), had Catholic friends, went to Catholic schools. That kind of exposure was useful for me, and also harmful. Harmful in that combined with the grief I was carrying around like a shadow, combined with questions of existential meaning ( at that point I was riddled with the Question- why live, if after all you will die?), and trying to find a footing in my young adult life – still girl, not yet woman – it became a potent combination that spiraled me into an identity crisis. It is from this period of my life that my 10 piece poem series “Hours” sprung up. The interesting thing is that on the outside, I appeared to be doing well, while on the inside, I was barely holding up.

I dwelt so much on the meaning of my life, on the fact that I felt I was betraying my innate literature oriented abilities by studying engineering while there were others to whom engineering came naturally. (An engineering class is full of competing number-one kids and top-five-in-class kids by the way, and no matter how much you led the pack in primary and high-school, there are some who flawlessly outperform you academically with minimal effort).  By the time I hit 21, my identity crisis was full blown and I was having such intense and continuous bouts of depression that I could not bring myself to attend all classes, and I missed them sporadically. I remember once I could not leave the bed no matter how I tried. Another time we had a Soil Mechanics CAT the next day, and no matter how much I read, nothing was registering. I read and reread a page severally, and by the time I got to the bottom, I had forgotten all I had read before. It was as frustrating as it was bewildering. I had a colossal (very private) meltdown, and that evening, I called my mother and said – I am quitting this thing. And she listened to me, and encouraged me to stay put, to keep on, to rest if I must, but to go on.

Go on and keep on I did. And I am glad I did. It was also about that time that I met friends who stayed with me, as I was, and accepted me for who I am and who really were very instrumental in helping me regain my sense of self, my happiness, my reason for being. For someone who had not known colossal failure before, whose s
ense of self was quite largely pegged on performance, I was happy to see that I could be loved by others without being the excellent one. (This is a perspective that has stayed with me, so much so, that I am first and foremost myself before I am anything else. So that if I was to lose my career, or my other interests, I would still be me and content, with the mere fact that my “I”, my person still has an intrinsic and infinite value no matter what.)

I was also happy for the poetry community that other comrades like Sanya (Mechatronix Engineering), Annette (Financial Engineering), The Okelo (Electrical Engineering) and Irauka (Financial Engineering) and I and others had created to quell our creative side while in a technical school. We were successful in our own small project that we had the chance to meet people like Dorphan Mutuma, Dante, Ngartia etc. And as it turns out, I did not lose my creative side after all. I still write, and the compounded experience of getting into life and living hands on has added flavor to my life and to my writing.

In late 2016, I graduated… By then I was happier, more gratuitous for the chances life has given me, for the friendships that sustained me, more empathetic and understanding to others because of the existential pain I had endured and the failure I had experienced and bounced back from, that prior to uni had been a foreign concept. Graduation felt less about the papers and more about coming to.

As I look back, I am very grateful for the 6 months period between my 4th year and 5th year that I worked for an NGO that deals with vocational training. Prior to that, it had not occurred to me with full gravity that there are some for whom KCPE or KCSE was the end of their education. I was aware of the fact, but not acutely concerned. Working for that NGO, seeing how youth my age or younger were struggling to get placements in vocational institutes (that deal with mechanics training, electricians, plumbers, welders, cooks, hairdressers) and struggling to get work for meager pay made me appreciate the chances I have gotten in life. Even the mere fact that I can comprehend calculus calculations while there are some to whom LCM and GCD is a problem at that stage of their life ignited my appreciation for life, for my course at uni so much so that when I resumed school for my fifth year, I was so eager to learn and to collaborate with other students. I will forever be grateful for the that period of my life.

In late 2016, I graduated with the class that I joined in fifth year, the one that came after us because that’s how life is. You plan, but life shows you another path. But by then I was happier, more gratuitous for the chances life has given me, for the friendships that sustained me, more empathetic and understanding to others because of the existential pain I had endured and the failure I had experienced and bounced back from that prior to uni had been a foreign concept. Graduation felt less about the papers and more about coming to.

With my Mum on Graduation Day at JKUAT, Juja, November 2016

 

It is now more than an year since I cleared uni and graduated, and I must admit, that these months have been full of challenges. I even shared some of the lessons I learnt 7 months after I cleared. My first job, which I got the week prior to Graduation in the construction of a Gated Community in Lower Runda ended abruptly after 8 months for almost everyone in the company when the company went under. And those Business lessons from High School about the lack of work security in the private sector finally sank in. I am currently on my second one in Nakuru County for the controversial Itare Dam Project. I have had to move thrice since graduation, I have had to become penny wise as now I sort out all my bills, and have come to terms that the engineering life is nomadic and one has to be psychologically adept to relocation. I am now living in a small town that I had never even dreamt of visiting.
Now that I am on the corporate side of the career, a young graduate working her way up, I would like to tell you that engineering as a career has been fulfilling to me. I cannot imagine what other career I would fit my character so well. I love the technical field visits, it is interesting to see a project start as an idea and improve people’s lives – and since my current job has less fieldwork and more paper work, I am constantly learning on what makes or breaks companies in the construction sector.

 

I am still very young in my career, and I have a lot to learn and unlearn. However, I am sharing my story to inspire anyone who could be stuck in a rut in uni, going through the motions, doubtful of the career choice they took, bewildered at the magnitude and intensity of their existential/identity crisis. Maybe like me someone is in engineering school, wondering whether they will get to the finish line. Trust me, it gets better, and you will get through it because you are stronger than you think. I am living proof of that. Hang in there, and fight for sunnier days. Brighter days are coming.
I am writing this to tell my peers stuck in a department doing a job they do not like what Alfredo Scarfone, former manager of HP Italia, told us when he came to Kenya a few years ago and gave me and some friends a career talk.  He said every job you take is like a pearl you add to your necklace, and the more pearls you have on your necklace, the more beautiful it is when you wear it and any skill or technical know how you gain is useful for your career in the long run.
I know of many of my peers who have not gotten jobs up to now while some got jobs even before we finished the coursework. Some are being paid handsomely, while others not so much. And what I am picking from this tree called life is that everybody’s life is uniquely different.
I would like to finish by saying that the engineering career is not as glamourous as people imagine it to be – it takes hard work to go through uni and to graduate, and even more work to climb up the corporate ladder. The start is not so smooth, and the pay could be better, but as someone who has gotten an easy start compared to many others who are in the unemployment circle, and who has fallen in love with a career that she took a wild swing at, I would say keep on. You are doing great.

 

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Graduation Photo by CLIFF ONDERI,
Work Photos by JAMES MUTHONI
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To contact me, send email to simplymoraa@gmail.com
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Update: People are sending me private msgs telling me how much they needed to hear something like this. So, if you are courageous and can relate to this post, you can comment below, to let someone else know/see that they are not alone. Thank you.

7 lessons 7 months post-uni

lessons after uni

// time is of essence – spend it wisely
working mon-sat barely leaves me time to do much else. it requires mental fortitude to spend the little time I have left in a meaningful and productive way.  my main impetus is my fear of becoming one of those people whose lives are just the corporate so i decided to actually write (+ blog) and pursue my passions no matter how tired i am. this explains why i have taken up blogging seriously

tip: make a time log of how you spend your time, and match that up against your goals/aspirations, and from there you will know how to spend your time

// keeping in touch with friends and family has to be intentional
post uni social circles reduce like 90%. most of your peers are trying to settle into a job, are looking for a job, or just minding their life business just as you are, and no, your friends are not forgetting you, they are trying to figure out things as well. i am grateful to have a close knit of about four friends that I can call and talk to. though i realized to meet new people I need to get out of my comfort zone and hang out more

tip: if there is someone whom you know who attends cool events, hit them up and ask them to take you along with them next time there is an event

// yeah, it’s cliché but it’s true comparison is the thief of joy
in the social media age, comparisons blow things out of proportions. scrolling through your feeds, sometimes it feels like the whole world is just doing better than you are but it’s not true.  i’ll conclude this with a fav quote of mine: do not compare your behind the scenes with the highlight reel of others

tip: good things take time. trust your journey

// planning for & budgeting your finances is of paramount importance
it seems like the universe is just waiting for you to start getting your paycheck so that all sorts of bills and needs come to the fore. and if you do not plan, you can barely know where your notes and coins go. trust me, i know – from experience. the only way out is living well below your means and secondary sustainable sources of income

tip: download weekly and monthly budget sheets from the internet or keep a diary of your daily, weekly and monthly expenses and determine where your money goes, what you can eliminate, what you want to spend on

// never stop learning
really, i mean it. i studied 5 years for my career, but among my workmates who have been in the industry for a number of years or decades, with my 5 months experience, i am green to the bone. and not only that i am learning so much about life – about friendship, about love, about being. and this learning means that i have to  unlearn some of the things i have learned through the years. it is also quite possible to learn a skill or two by yourself from youtube tutorials e.g.  photography, coding, design etc

tip: make goals for what you want to learn and focus on that. use you-tube to the max. never stop reading

// take it easy
you will have a roadmap -from work to love to the kind of life that you want to lead – but life takes its own direction. trust me, i know.  i am living at a place i never planned i would because of the job i have, i have met so many people,  formed new relationships, discovered things about myself, and not only that. life has thrown some curveballs my way, and  i am learning that sometimes the best you can do is take it a day at a time, and just let life flow, and discover it as you  go along.  and ask for help if you need help. i am not  a cry baby and have almost always been independent but sometimes all i want is a good cry and to go home to my Mum. and there’s nothing wrong with that

tip: take is easy. no one has life figured out – the best thing you can do is have a flexible mind. be gentle with yourself

// God is still number one
this one makes me smile. because when i joined university in 2011, i thought that finally i could do whatever i want, and for a while it was almost like that. but He has always pursued my heart, my love and He has always won me over no matter how many times i do my own things. and now that i moved to a place that i barely knew anyone, he is there more than ever and everywhere i turn, it’s Him asking for my love, and i realized that above all else, no matter what i do, He is the one my heart desires