There are two kinds of children in this world. The first — mischievous and stubborn children– rarely do as they are told. They keep their parents awake at night, worrying and causing them unbearable anguish.
Then there are children like the sort of child I was – passive, timid children who bear all the admirable traits, always doing what is expected of them and never questioning anything.
Such children only live to please, doing everything for the happiness of their parents and existing merely for the praise society bestows upon them. And they go through life, fearful, rigid, dead inside, not feeling anything and living not for their fulfillment but for the approval of others. Until they are left on their own, with no one to cheer them on, then they suddenly find themselves lost, oblivious to their real identity.
It wasn’t long ago that I shockingly realized I had been the second type of child, only at the start of last year. Just as the year started I landed my first job, well, a three-month internship at an insurance firm in Nairobi. The internship was likely to culminate in a more permanent position, or so they kept telling me. Perhaps I should’ve been excited, but I was not, just as I had been nonchalant about my graduation a month earlier. That was the first time I had ever been upset by something I should’ve typically been happy about.
But I hadn’t been excited about my life for a long time, at least not for the four years preceding 2017. I just hadn’t realized it yet, or perhaps I was too scared to admit it.
Despite being an ‘A’ student most of my life, I struggled through university—missing lectures, rarely studying, never completing assignments on time, performing disappointingly in exams and almost failing my final year. Worst of all, I didn’t really care, which was unlike the ambitious and hardworking person I had been most of my life.
Somehow, I passed the fourth year and made it to the graduation list. Then I got the internship and with it, an ungracious welcome into the real world, followed by an unexpected unraveling of who I really was. I came undone.
While in university, I had undertaken a couple of internships during my holidays, but neither of them was ever serious, not like this particular internship, which was more like the real job.
The experience was surprisingly ungratifying. I would get up at 5 a.m., sometimes earlier, endure an almost two-hour commute to work, sit at my desk and incessantly punch numbers into my computer like a robot until lunch break, then leave a few minutes past 5 p.m., getting home around 8 p.m. most nights, too tired to even have dinner.
This was exactly how I had imagined my life growing up – graduating from university and getting a job at a fancy firm, wearing beautiful suits and flattering office dresses and heels (not that I actually got to wear them) —yet when it happened I suddenly felt empty and unfulfilled. I stayed at the internship for three weeks, when I couldn’t take it anymore. I was always anxious, always on edge. So I left. There had to be more to life than doing the same mundane thing every single day.
My problems go back much further, though. Back in primary school I was a geek who loved to read, still do. The only difference is that now I have more interests aside from just reading. I mostly did what my parents and teachers asked and expected of me, except for that one time I was 11 and overwhelmed with boarding school, so I snuck out. Many times, I was a ‘good girl’. Somewhere between the applause of my teachers and the constant approval of my parents I lost myself, always predicting what was expected of me and shaping my actions around those expectations, never being open to the alternative.
Leaving the internship three weeks in, before even getting my first pay, is still one of the bravest decisions I have ever made. Sometimes when I look back I do not believe I found the courage to walk away. But I’m glad I got out the first chance I got.
All of a sudden I felt peace, gained a sense of clarity I hadn’t felt in a long time, made peace with my mistakes and passiveness and for the first time, felt I really knew who I was and what I wanted.
I wish I could say it was easier after I quit, but it wasn’t. Here I was, new to Nairobi and jobless. Every morning I would get up, find my email empty and scour through a series of job sites, apply for tens of jobs and hope for a response the next day. But nothing changed for weeks.
I applied for hundreds of jobs; I lost track. But I was never called for an interview and rarely even got responses. For those few times I did get a response, they often looked something like, “We are sorry but we are not looking for someone with your set of skills”, which basically meant “You aren’t good enough for us” or “We have kept details of your application and will contact you in case new positions emerge, which, instead of comforting me, plunged me into hopelessness.
And then, almost a month later, I was still unemployed with no leads, and I felt as if I had hit rock bottom. Constant rejection brings with it disappointment, then regret and despair, until finally, it feels like your life is over.
Eventually, a month and a few weeks later, I finally got called for an interview for a job I had applied for several months ago, and for something I actually wanted.
It took me months to finally tell my parents that I had actually changed my career, but they were not happy, which I expected. They are more supportive now, but it’s hard to tell how they really feel about my decision. Maybe they are still disappointed.
I love what I do now; working as a journalist and writer, but it is still difficult. I still get up early, return home late, work on Sunday’s, and earn less than what I would’ve been earning if I stayed at my old job. But the job gives me comfort and satisfaction because it’s what I love, and it doesn’t feel like work most of the time. Although, to be fair, once or twice a week you might catch me saying how much I loathe my job, even though most of the time I don’t mean it.
But it is more than just merely changing my career. For the first time in my life I feel brave enough to really live, discover new things, question, find out who I am, what I like, what I dislike.
In many ways, I’m a child again, learning everything anew, only this time, without fear nor need for approval. I am reborn.