Thank you to Sam Ashimolowo for inspiring this piece via a question he asked me yesterday on whether a professional can be self taught using Zan Asher, CNN News Anchor as a case study. Because of his question, I googled Zain Asher and happened to stumble on her TED Talk transcript titled ‘Trust
Your Struggle’. It inspired me to tell my own story. The person in the picture is me sometime in the early 2000s. I was 26 years old at the time (oya calculate my age). I had just come back to Nigeria and enrolled myself for NYSC. But I had bigger issues to tackle, I wanted to tow a different path. I was lost. I wanted a change. This is my story. It all started with not being clear on what I wanted to study. Everyone thought I would study law but I did not because my mum was a lawyer (see reason), so I studied Economics at University because I was good at it in secondary school. I did not enjoy studying Economics at University level. I could not wait to leave University. I hated it so much that on the last day
I tore all my books. I decided that I would make it up at Masters level. For my Masters I would study something like Communications since I liked to speak and write. I would make up for an unfulfilling 3 years studying Economics. I started researching courses and had selected some courses to apply for. There would be atonement. Alas, I would be reconciled to pursue my true purpose.
One faithful day, I visited a friend. It was 1997 and Information Technology (IT) was the latest buzz. We were discussing and the friend’s brother started telling us how his girlfriend was earning \A360k in IT
Consulting. That very moment, me and my friend decided to study IT. Just like that, we both abandoned our previous quests in a flash. I started looking for Masters courses in IT. How shallow, yes, but at 21 what did I really know? So the only reason why I studied IT at Master’s level was I heard someone’s girlfriend was earning \A360k. So off I went to study IT specialising in Management Information Systems.
Soon after graduation, in fact upon graduation I landed a job in IT, 9 months later another job as a Design Engineer in Telecoms with Nokia UK.
How I landed the Nokia job is a story for another day. Nokia office was a 2 hour journey to another town. I did not even want to go for the interview.
The Recruitment Consultant convinced me to go. That is when I learned to always show up for interviews regardless of how I was feeling about the job. On getting to Nokia UK Head office, I was astounded by the huge office; the car park alone was 17 floors. At the entrance, there were a set
of turnstyle doors and inside it what appeared as a never ending foyer (reception area). I began to pray to my God. I said ‘God if you give me this job, I will never sin again!’ And God kept His side of the bargain, as for me…lol.
The job was exciting to start off with. Travelling to countries I only ever dreamed, working with a large, very successful at the time multinational and having access to all the latest Nokia Phones. When Nokia was Nokia. I remember first seeing a Samsung Phone then and wondering who is this?
Looking at their poor attempt to copy us (Nokia) and laughing. But it did not take too long for the uphoria to wear off. By year 3, I was miserable. I just felt trapped. Doing what I knew I was not supposed to be doing. When I decided I could not take it anymore I decided to quit. I saved up about 6 month’s worth of salary and then I quit. My family could not believe it. Some friends thought I was mad, but I did it. I quit.
In September 2002, I had just quit my job as a Design Engineer at Nokia UK and returned to Nigeria. I knew I did not want to be a techy anymore so for the first 3 months I was simply researching different career options. I wanted to be more me, use the people skills that I knew I had. I was soul searching, trying to rediscover myself and remind myself what I was good at. I bought a book on career changing and I studied it. I did all the exercises as though my life depended on it. There was an exercise on writing down all my transferable skills and then narrowing it down to my top 3. I disected it. I wrote about 2 pages of skills. Then painstakingly narrowed down to my top 10, 5 then 3. My top 3 skills I discovered to be Speaking, Advising and Writing. It was at that point I had some clarity on what I really wanted to do. I spent the next few weeks researching careers that would allow me use all 3 skills. I decided on Training, I did not know Consulting as a profession even existed then. I had never trained before. I decided to each myself how to be a Trainer.
I went on Amazon and bought 2 books on the subject matter of raining Consulting. One of the books I bought was called ‘Getting Started in Speaking, Training and Seminar Consulting’ by Robert Bly, I still use it. I studied the 2 books. I learned how to design and develop training content. The books highlighted that it was better to train on what you already know. As at then I had a IT background and I had been designing software for just over 3 years with Nokia UK, so all I knew was User Interface Design and prior to then I worked in IT support. I decided I would design a training on UI Design since it was all I knew at the time. So I went back to Amazon and bought 2 books on UI Design. I started designing a training course on the only thing I knew how to do. I practiced training and curriculum design. I designed the course description, objectives and outline and decided the target audience. Then I started developing the slides on powerpoint. It was going to be a very long course with lots of slides. I kept at it.
So after I was confident I could now design training content, I decided to teach myself how to present. I figured if only I was given the opportunity to train. I felt I could do it. I was not exactly a confident person, in fact quite the opposite as I had been described as quiet and shy in previous jobs. Labels which I knew deep down I was not. But one thing I was confident about was the belief in my self. It was around that time I started thinking about forming a business. I started playing around with business ideas. I had a friend who was a lawyer and we discussed and I paid her to register a business name. I think it cost me 5k or so. I named the business KENDOR ENTREPRISES’. So I created a website myself and thought I could just start a training business instead. Honestly, I don’t even know what I was thinking at that time. So I asked my brother who ran a firm if I could train his staff. He told me to go and get work experience.
He dashed my hopes. It sounded harsh at the time but he was right. Note that in all of this, I was still 26 years old with 4 years experience in IT/Telco. In as much as I felt I could do it, I had never really done it
before so why should anyone trust me with training their staff. So taking my brother’s rebuff as advice I decided to look for a job in training. I started job hunting through the papers. I got an interview with an IT firm shortly after, the MD made me an offer but I had already decided I did not want to do IT anymore. He asked me to develop some slides for an e-government conference he was speaking at in Abuja. I did it for free, sent it to him and then I turned down the job offer but offered to train his
staff instead. He liked the idea but I wasn’t sure he wanted to pursue the option but I used that as an opportunity to practise designing a training programme and content. Then I got another offer to work for an IT magazine.
I like writing but not as a full time job. I needed a career that would allow me use all 3 of my skills of Speaking, Advising and Writing. So I turned down the offer but I wrote an article for the firm on the only thing I knew at the time, User Interface Design. Everyone told me to try MTN, I was told they would grab me quickly based on my Nokia UK experience but I knew I did not want to work in that field anymore. I really wanted to train.
Around the same time, I saw a volunteer opportunity with Junior Achievement of Nigeria. It involved teaching teenagers business acumen. It was a 6 month programme, part time. I figured that since it was teaching, it was very similar to training so I would be gaining experience and not being bored at home and having a huge gap on my cv seeing 5 months had now passed. The pay was 0 (Zero). So when I hear people asking for stipend for volunteer work, sorry but I laugh. The experience at Junior Achievement
counted for one major reason. I learned that I still wanted to train but I did not want to teach kids:). I was clear what I did not want. It helped me narrow my target audience to adults.
I also still needed to perfect my training skills by teaching myself how to train. So I borrowed a projector from my brother’s office and I started practising presenting with powerpoint. I only knew software design so I practiced teaching that. Then I practiced in front of a mirror. Then I would also take the projector to my friend’s house and practice there too in the living room. I was just practising.
I continued to practise and read on the subject of Training Consulting. So one day, I went to pick up my friend from work seeing I was not working at the time. In fact by then I was really feeling like a jobless unserious person, going to friend’s offices during work hours. So my friend introduced me to his boss who asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to train. So he said, ‘Have you tried Phillips Consulting?’ I replied, ‘this is the 2nd time someone is mentioning this Phillips Consulting’. Then he said, ‘I know someone who works at Phillips Consulting, send me your CV. ‘ So I went home and I tidied up my CV and sent it to him. The very next day, I got a call from Phillips Consulting to arrange an interview. I prepared myself wella:). Did my research et al.
I was interviewed by several people and then asked to come in to make a presentation. Guess what my presentation topic was? ”The importance of user-centred design in building a sustainable Telecoms Business.’ Imagine, I was asked to present on the only thing I knew. It seemed like expo. It can only be God. I was nervous but guess what? I could not have been more prepared. I had been preparing for months maybe even years as this was now early 2004. Of course the presentation went well. I was hired into the Strategy and Change Management Team. I was in Career Heaven. I got more than I bargained for. I trained till I was tired. I worked with amazing people on projects I never dreamed of. I wrote reports till odd hours. I was Speaking, Advising and Writing all day, every day. I did everthing I
wanted to do and so much more. Looking back, it was a well orchestrated strategy. It was hard work with labour. It took time. It took investment. It is true when they say there is no such thing as luck and that success is Opportunity meets Preparation. When the opportunity presented itself, I was well prepared. Was it easy? No way but it was worth it. Struggle is struggle. Trust your struggle. So that is my story o. My own case study. Thank you again for bringing out this story. I have told it a few times in career sessions but never written
There is Part 2…On how I switched to HR Consulting…too long.
Omg, this is beautiful! I really enjoyed your career change story and I am really looking forward to reading your book.
A summary of lessons from your story for me are:
a) It is ok to want what you want and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for wanting it
b) you don’t have to do work you hate for the rest of your life
c) self-assessment is important
d) invest in the process, even when you are not seeing the results yet
e) great things take time
Thank you so much for blessing me with your story.