What do you do?" "Where do you work?" These are standard questions asked when you meet new people at highly overrated power networking events. The expected response is an impressive senior level job title at a multinational or a recognisable local blue-chip company. The traditional lawyer, doctor, architect and professor roles inspire interest in you.
Anything short of that gets you a polite smile, a card shoved in your hand and an excuse to move on to the next cluster of fellow guests. Don't expect much interest in you even if you are the sole proprietor of the successful Onyango-Bosibori-Kamau Supplies Limited. This is the typical thinking of those of us trained to fit and conform to conventional thinking within the largely accepted system.
If you've ever felt hard-pressed to come up with a powerful elevator pitch at these events, this is specially for you. Once an advertising client who came to me for help setting up his business after leaving employment let on, rather accidentally, what he felt about my level on the professional ‘power scale’: that I was a hustler. It was clear from the context of his sentence that “hustler” denoted a person out of mainstream corporate employment struggling to make ends meet by trading (haphazardly) in a myriad of goods and or service. Yet here he was looking to pick my entrepreneurial mind over coffee. A less actualised me would have taken offence at that. I instead smiled, not because the comment provided any comic relief, but because it birthed a profound realisation on just how mindless the conventional thought system can be.
I realised that this school of thought has no regard for the value that any player adds to others, organisations or a particular market segment. It reminded me of the old song that frequently played over the radio in my childhood. It went in part; "Someni vijanaa tutu tutu tutu tu... Mwisho wa kusomaa, mtapata kazi mzuuri sanaa tutu tutu tutu tu..." ("Go to school, work hard - not necessarily smart - and after that you'll get a good job, work hard once more, get promoted, work even harder...")
A great artist the gentleman may have been. The message, however, reinforced the thinking that students were work products for other people's companies produced in our esteemed education factory system. Entrepreneurship at any scale was not an option in our education system or general experience. I really couldn't take offence at the "hustler" comment. It was a comment out of ignorance.
You see, our default thought system has very little space for the possibility of creating our own employment. Typical system products are not taught that entrepreneurship is an option that is not necessarily "jua kali", or "ka-business" or "hustling."
The "good job after school" messaging is the standard system, which is unfortunately designed to set our minds to becoming workers who help build the dreams of others. It is structured to keep us in line within those jobs rarely considering our own dreams and aspirations outside of the so-called mainstream employment.
It is this structure that large deep-pocketed employers play up by creating the boxes of attractive pay scales and perks that carefully keep our thinking within them. Anything outside of that then mentally registers as a real undesirable struggle - a hustle. And we get so trapped in these boxes that by the time we realise that living in them means our deepest desires, fantasies end up in the back burners as our ultimate potential wastes away with the passage of time, it is too late.
We have by then spent our most productive years never thinking outside the boxes that our cushy employment packages offer. In evening years of our productive lives, it sadly and belatedly begins to bother us that we didn't make the time to explore the passions we once held, we didn't take the time out of our corporate jet-setting lifestyles to take care of our health and nutrition. We didn't dedicate time out of our much touted back to back meeting weekdays to cultivate the relationships that mean the most to us.
We realise rather belatedly that while our minds were deeply buried in the preset thinking boxes, others who ventured out did what we quite ignorantly thought of as hustling to realise their dreams while we remained as worker bees in other people’s colonies. We realise on the morrow of our best years that the thinking to which we have subscribed for most of our lives is so inconsequential for anyone who truly wants to LIVE.