Saturday, April 24, 2010

10 Life Lessons from Ghana - Lesson 2

The second lesson I learned is this:

Work and Fun Are Not Mutually Exclusive So Find Work You love

In fact, I learned that if I'm not having fun, I should quit.

Am I nuts? Do I know how hard it is to find a job in Ghana? I'm looking for fun at work? And if it's not fun I should quit? What is this girl smoking? Aren't these things you hear in America? Do fun jobs even exist in Ghana?

Well, when I moved to Ghana, I had never really worked before. I was naive as it gets. I didn't set out to look for a fun job. But I was very excited about my job and I believed in it. But you know how it is, sometimes you can get excited about something but then you do it and it sucks. And you realise maybe it was the prestige attached to it or the money that made it seem attractive but that in reality, you hate it.

Thankfully my first job wasn't like this. I was really pumped and my boss was amazing. He allowed me to do what I wanted to do. He didn't micromanage me. No one was watching the clock to see when I came in to work or when I left. No timesheets to fill. And yet I'd go in and I'd work till 9 or 10 pm. And sometimes at 7 pm, my boss would come in and say something like...young lady, won't you close?

It was challenging and different. I hadn't done any of what I was doing before. I had absolutely no experience. But I was going to find out how to do it if there was a way. And I was going to do it the best way it could be done. I don't care what anyone says. Enthusiasm trumps experience anyday. This is why it's important to find work you enjoy. Because you'll get the work done if you like it. And when you get it done, you learn.

I had to do some market research for my project. I went around the places posing as a college student looking for data. And got what I needed. It was fun! If I didn't like it, I'd have sat there and complained about how there's no data.

And I'd send proposals to all kinds of people...for potential partnerships. One day I found myself sitting in the office of the CEO of Korle-Bu with the management board. Like 10 of the most important doctors at the largest hospital in Ghana and me. I had a proposal for them and they were willing to listen to me. And interested still at the end of the conversation, they wanted to take the project forward. And at the end of the meeting they make a joke and asked, "aren't you intimidated by us", and i make a joke and i say "i've done this before" and they say, you did really well. You walk out of such a meeting feeling like a million bucks. And you want to create a new song called "and this is why I love my job" And you go back to your boss to tell him what you did, and he's like awesome! I would never have had this experience if I hadn't liked my job. This was not part of my job description. It was something I did on my own. If you don't like the job, you  just do the minimum you can do to survive. You don't exceed your employees expectations. And then nobody will remember you.

It was the fact that it was completely unchartered territory for me that made it so great. Everyday was different. It was a wonderful 6 months. But then I considered doing something else. Why? The project stalled and I got bored.

My review of employment terms letter said:

The past six months at xxx have been wonderful. I have loved my job. I have been impressed at how willing the xxx team has been to giving me big responsibilities but most all, I am grateful that you trusted me to execute them well. By doing this, you enabled me to discover what I’m capable of. I’ve found energy and drive here for work that I did not know I possessed. Thank you. Having tasted how productive a person can be when they’re truly interested and committed to their work however, I cannot settle for less.

Haha! I'm sure my boss was amused. This girl paaa! He was awesome though. He still calls me about once a month to check on me. Wonderful guy, Fred Asamany. Couldn't have asked for a better boss.

What's my point?

My point is that I probably wouldn't be so happy in Ghana if I didn't love my job.  But everyday, for 18 months, I've wanted to do the job I'm doing. And I've gone to work and done the best work I know how. For more hours than was expected. And once I tasted that, I wanted more. I decided if it was possible to have fun at work, that's what I should be doing for the rest of my life.

Think of the context. People say that it's hard to find stimulating work in Ghana. That people are lazy, they sleep at work and don't do jack shit at their jobs and expectations are low etc etc. I'm sure there are places where this is exactly the case but that has not been my experience.

Which means that it is possible to find what you seek. They may be few but they exist.

My current workplace is super chill. Shout out to Publicis Ghana,and my boss. There came a time when I didn't actually need to go out because hanging out with my co-workers was more fun. No one works harder than us. No one has more fun than us. There are many people at work who inspire me. You know how we sometimes buy into the idea that all good things come from abroad. You think because you've come from America, you're all that. Then you meet people who've never left. Who went to KNUST and got a solid degree. And they're brilliant at what they do. And they work harder than you. And you love it, because it reminds you that genius is possible here. I'm talking about my colleagues at work. They're smart, and hardworking, and cool. That kind of environment inspires you to achieve great things. I think of it sort of like what Google is famous for being. Except I can't possibly imagine Google workers having as much fun as we do. It's not humanly possible.

Funny I wrote a long post about work and not a single mention of money. So I'll throw in something. Make sure they pay you what you're worth.

I guess the short way of saying this is that when you think of the things you want out of life, don't leave work out of it. If the work doesn't move you, try again. Try something else. That in fact, since you're going to spend a lot of time doing it, if it's something that you like, it will bring a lot of joy into your life. And you'll be awesome at it, and you'll get bonuses, and raises, and your bosses will love you and you'll never have to worry about finding another job.

Oh, and they make such fun interviews. I light up when I talk about my work experiences. So if someone gives me an interview today, I'll be able to tell great stories they'll want to employ me. So yeah, lesson two...awesome jobs exist. Find one. And leave the job that puts you to sleep. hehe.

Watch out for lesson 3 tomorrow.


  1. You hit the nail on the head with this post! Can you imagine doing a job JUST for the money? Maybe that's why we see so many bored workers sleeping on the job or people in the service industry with no passion for serving - they didn't understand the meaning of work.

    Just as you say, work has to be firstly like one's hobby. Something you do for fun because you love it. The perk is the money you get paid for following your passion! The one's I feel sorry for are the one's who have no real passion and just follow the money.

  2. @Graham, some people like to follow a different model. They'll work for say 10 year so they make a lot of money, and then they'll stop that to go work on something they enjoy. That's the plan anyway. I'm not sure how many people are able to follow that plan.I think if you're in it for the money, then since your salary increases as you go higher up, i'm not sure if you can ever stop.

    Surely, we'll have to agree, money is important. Me, i'm just saying that you can find a job you enjoy that also pays you well. That love for the work and the pay you get for it don't have to be inversely related. I also think with even jobs that traditionally don't pay well, if that's what you enjoy and you become a master of your craft, you can be paid incredibly well for doing the same job that someone gets paid peanuts for. What determines your pay is the value you add.

    So for example if you're a Ghanaian painter and you paint like everyone else on the streets, why would I pay more for your artworks? But people like Nanoff have done sculptures and charged $20,000 for them. The guy's still living in Ghana. You can do it if you elevate your work to such a level that people are willing to pay for it.

    Same for journalism. Same for graphic designers. Same for architects.

    People will pay for quality work. When Oprah Winfrey said that it's only in America that her story is possible, she didn't get it completely right. Maybe her level of success is not possible in Ghana because we just don't have the 300 million people and not everyone has a tv etc, but we are all contributors to her success. She has so much money because it's not just people in America who watch her. So the thing is, if anyone in Ghana did what she's doing and gained enough success here, other countries might want to have that show on their tvs...eventually even Americans and Chinese people would want to watch that show. I believe this. It just hasn't happened because no Ghanaian has captured our minds, hearts, and attentions as Oprah's been able to do.

    But I doubt you can be that extra...that extra kick that moves a person from just good to extraordinary if you don't love the thing you do.

  3. @ Ms Cleland. It would be interesting to research if the alternative model you outlined works. My gut response is that if you are primarily money focussed then you can never have enough of it. How ever much you make, your life-style expands to accomodate it! The only way out is to focus on the joy of life which is not, I would argue, to be found in the quest for more material possessions.

  4. Esi, you've made some interesting points but I think your arguments suffer from "doublethink". You're doing what makes you happy but questioning other people's choices? Can you define "happiness" or even this "cool job"? I bet you can't. In the end, gain is the only consideration for human action. Yes you do any activity to get some "utility" out of it. Same with me. Ideally you'd like to do what you love and get paid for it. Most at times, these two utilities do not align so we try to optimize the scenarios we face to get close to our objects as possible as can be attained. At the risk of sounding geeky, I'd say it depends on which point of the indifference curve you lie ( For one person, making $10,000 a year and having lots of smiles on her face outweighs making $200,000 working (or should that be sleeping?) her butts off so she can live in a big house, drive the latest Lexus and take a vacation to Costa Rica or Europe every year. For another person, living on $10,000.00 and not being able to afford even a "common" MacBook is a no no. For yet another person, tolerating a boring job so he can live in the educated neighborhoods of say, Greenwhich,CT outweighs "having time for other things" but having to raise his kids among the 'neanderthals" of Ignoramusville. You see, there is no right or wrong way when it comes to what makes one happy.

    A lot depends on values and values are shaped by many factors. I'm not one to question the values of another as "utility" is within the one who feels it. I'm always glad to find happiness in what I do, but I can understand others who attempt to find happiness in other things and do not understand the choices I make.

    Happy happiness!

  5. Thomas, I am not double thinking. I suspect you just wanted to use the word "doublethink" which is okay. It happens to the best of us:) skkk!

    The point of my post, was to say, find the job that makes you happy.

    If your point is that it is okay for people to do jobs that don't make them happy so they can afford the finer things in life, then we can agree to disagree.

    Because I am saying they can find jobs they like which also pay them so well they can live in Airport residential. That love for job and money you make from it do not have to be inversely related. I'm saying people can have it all, Thomas.

  6. Yes, my point is that it can be okay for people to do less than their ideal jobs so they can afford other things that make their lives enjoyable. In fact more people do this than not so we have to disagree.

    And now you mention Airport Residential, I'm reminded of the story of perhaps the most talented person I've done business with. He's been having challenges with his boss lately and by all accounts is not loving his job anymore. He's thought of quitting but his options are few.

    How does he quit on the back of unhappy working conditions when he's got two kids at SOS whose fees the company pays for, a mortgage for his house at Airport and a company car, among many other "finer things of life' as you call them?

    These things are not trivial. He may not be happy at work but he'd clearly be more miserable by walking away from his job. And it's not as though jobs like what he has are easy to find in Ghana. As I said before, choices are influenced by values. Maybe for me, asking my daughter to drop out of SOS to go to Holy Child may not be a big deal because I don't attach more value to the SOS education/network vs my relationship with my boss. For him, it may matter more. I'm not saying either of us has got life twisted. Just saying that love for job and money do not have to be inversely related, but more often than not they are and for some, tolerating the job is the lesser evil.

  7. @Thomas: i like the way u outline ur arguments, almost as if u r solving differential equations :)

  8. Thomas has a good point and so do you, Esi. We can have both; enjoy your job and be well paid. So i am holding on to the job i have while searching for a well-paying one in the same field i enjoy. All the best to me and to everyone like me out there.

  9. Esi, I live in the UK and with the present economic climate, people are just happy to have a job, any job.

  10. I see what Esi is saying and you to Thomas. If you can, get a job that fulfills you.But it is more realistic to say that if the society attaches fufillment to one's chosen profession. It's old news in places like the US but we Ghanaians are just begining to embrace the idea, so it will take time. Our educational system stifles diversity from early on. We have so few options. And then when you make it to uni,your major is chosen for you. Chosen. Imagine that. That is what deterred me from stepping on any Ghanaian university campus. Imagine being given a major like "Metals" like my sister's friend was given in Tech.

  11. I am reading this post a few days after I wrote on a large blank sheet "What is you passion?" then wrote on a post-it, "Find your passion, Follow your passion", stuck the post-it unto the sheet and then appended the combination unto my makeshift bulletin-board.

    Great outlook Esi, thanks so much for sharing. It can't be a coincidence that most of the most successful (success not always measured in wealth, although that seems to follow as a result) people in the world often rave about how passionate they are about what they do. Still to hear about someone excitedly sounding off about the wonderful things they gain from a job they would rather not do and how 'happy' it makes them. Case in point, previous commentors?

    I have tried the money route and it does not work very well, trying to find a balance now, but I am learning that I would rather be excited about my job and making enough than miserable and making a ton.

  12. I have read with keen interest the realistic arguments from all and wouldn't want to launch into one. I'll just recount my ...very limited experience. I was trained to work for the mining sector, which would have earned me good money but I never worked in that sector because I knew, very early on that the mining environment was too stifling for me. By pure luck I got absorbed into the Entertainment sector. Every morning, i jump out of bed and rush to work thinking about what I can do differently and what new thing i can introduce. This though fuels me, day in and day out. The earliest I leave the office is 8:00pm (I confess I'm late to the office at times though). I love my job. But lately I feel stressed and depressed. Does this mean its time to leave or should I just take a break, relax, re-access and come back?

  13. @Kay9, Lyrix, Marian, Thomas, Ely, MNO, Dagbe and Graham. Read this article when you find the time. It tackles some of the issues we're discussing and makes a strong argument in favor of doing work you love:

  14. Actually, i'm back. hehe. This is an important enough topic, I think we should keep talking instead of just agreeing to disagree. hehe!

    @Thomas, you introduce a new angle to the debate. We started off talking about love for the work. From the example you gave, it seems to be that your talented friend is no longer happy with the working conditions. But does he love the work itself? Those are 2 different things. If he loves the job but hates the conditions/environment/boss then he's still doing work he loves, abi?

    Also, i think that if you're doing what you love, you'll achieve so much over time that you insulate yourself against "joblessness". So why are your friend's options few? People pay you for the value you bring to their business, is that not so? So if he's a talented value-creator, and can demonstrate it, why wouldn't every business be dying to have him?

    Also, what you love cannot be a skill. Example, i have writing skills and i enjoy writing and do some writing at my current job but that's not my passion. The passion might be something like "persuading people" or "creating things" or "infecting people with ideas". I don't know if "writing" itself can be anyone's passion. That's just a tool you use. This means that you cannot tell me that you're a good writer. And therefore are stuck at a writing job because only company x pays its writers well. If you leave, you can't find a good writing job. My question to you would be, well...what results did your writing achieve? You can't just be writing for writing sake. That's a hobby, not a job. lol! If you're a writer who knows how to persuade people, then if i'm the NPP and want to win the next election (aka bring the elephant back into the Arthur Kennedy), I might consider employing you to give us some ideas on how to make voters vote for me. That is value. And if I'm MTN, I might employ you to help me decide how to position service X so that Ghanaians are persuaded to use it. So if a writer who is a persuader comes to me to tell me she can't find a new job, i'll be very suspicious of her 'cos if you can't persuade an employer to employ you, that tells me you won't do me much good when I employ you to lead a project on combating HIV. The value you bring has to be transferable across sectors. In the same way, a writer who can entertain may find a job writing sitcoms, or even movies. My point is...I see no reason why anyone who can add value should be stuck anywhere. And i use the writers example to illustrate that especially in Ghana where opportunities in so many fields are largely unexplored, I see no reason why a person with as much talent as you say should ever be trapped.

    Your friend does not have to leave his current job before he find a different one he loves. It would be interesting to know why his options are few?

    I'm liking the exchange. It's helping me think through some of this stuff, so please keep 'em coming.

  15. @Lyrix, if you read the link i just posted, you'll see that if you're young and can live without that much money, maybe it's okay to take a job you love that doesn't pay well, with the intention of becoming so good at it that in a some years, you can demand to be paid more and employers, needing your services, will do just that. Like if you draw and are planning to become the best cartoonist in the world, then surely, u'll be making a heck of a lot of money eventually, right?

    @Dagbe, the economic crises presents another reason why people should be special. If you're like everyone else, of course you're going to have to take any job. But can you imagine Larry King not having a job? lol. He's insulated:)

    @Marian, i hear you on the educational system and having our careers chosen for us. But isn't that exactly why these are exciting times?! That finally we have the power to change course? Also, i think it's realistic to do a job that society does not attach respect to. If it makes you happy, fuck society:) One day you'll be laughing and they'll be forced to agree with you. Like i'm sure the guy who owns koko king's family was not happy when he quit his banking job to move to Ghana to sell hausa koko but when the money starts rolling in, we'll all want to know his secret:)

    @MNO, so what is your passion? Please share, we beg. Sometimes i wish i knew more of the people on this blog in real life. You seem to have such interesting life stories, it would be nice to talk sometime over coffee or something. Oh well...

    @Ely, as for you nkoa diE, i think you just need a break. What with running that office, plus rehearsals, plus shows etc, you need to take a long vacation, go somewhere you can't be reached, just have a good relaxing time, and come back refreshed to do it all over again. Been talking to Andrew. I hope to see you all soon. This June i'll be representing. Thanks for sharing your story with us. You should join the conversations more often. I miss you.


  16. I wonder how long Thomas's friend will be able to sustain his job? I suspect there may come a break point where the hate for it over-rides all else. Once you hate your job you are no longer any good at it. Teachers are the worst at trying to continue their jobs in this state of mind!

    Probably, those of us writing on this blog have choices due to our educational backgrounds. Perhaps the JSS educated Ghanaian has fewer choices.

    I feel sorry for the Ghanaians who've become the family sacrifice by going aboard, often to do repetitive menial jobs, in order to sustain the family back home. They save the little money they can for when they return home. And when they have slaved their whole lives, they return to Ghana to enjoy the last years of their lives in 'luxury'. Meanwhile feeling restless and unhappy as Ghana is not the same as the lives they have grown into abroad.

    Personaly, I subscribe to the ideas of Voluntary Simplicity and found I’m much happier as a result!

  17. Thanks Esi for the link. The article outlines exactly what i want my work life to be like; something i enjoy doing, the more challenging the better with the monetary benefits to boot (fingers crossed). This is my situation, i find myself in a career i enjoy, having a job where what i am doing is less challenging than i want (plus i have more time in my hands than i want),less responsibilities (i don't like that), less the monetary benefits (guess it is because of the less responsibilities) and in order for me to fulfill what i want in the next two years, i need to have a better paying job than this one. So as i seek, i am looking for a better paying job; if i enjoy it and it is challenging, then it is a plus, plus, plus.

  18. lol Esi, I would love to share I would.

    I've been making lists. Spontaneously. At the oddest times, I have made lists of my strengths, my weaknesses. I have tried to pros and cons what I want to do, what I am good at, what I enjoy doing. Analyzed my immediate challenges and boldly 'penned' down my fears on paper. Then I started a list of things I want to do before I'm 30.

    But then a list of entrepreneurial opportunities that can be exploited in Ghana also somehow found it's way out of the mess.

    I seem to want to do it all, from wanting to be a writer to dreams of building office and apartment buildings in Accra....but I am currently at the stage of not knowing where to start and what with. My knowledge and experience (mostly theoretical) is in Business, Finance, Management and Engineering (see what I mean about wanting to do EVERYthing?. When I say mess, spell it out in capitals).

    So I managed to wrestle a 'centralish' theme from the plethora of confusion that is my brain and I believe the recurring motivation in all of it is that "I want to reach people". Why? Because I want to help people.

    So that's the first real statement of my passion I guess, however yet broad and indistinct it seems. It'll have to do as my drawing board for now. I am passionate about helping people.

  19. Esi O, let me add my 2 pesewas worth:
    I have learnt overtime, that we are all wired differently and have come to respect those who choose the mundane. But you and me, we are different kind of breed; and actually the oddity.

    I used to work at a famous radio station ten years ago and there were guys there who were nagging about money, respect, bonuses and every other thing workers nag about. I loved my job but the very moment I got bored, i resigned without another job in sight. It took me 6 months to find the new dream job I'd been pursuing.

    My new dream job won me awards and taught me almost everything I know about brand building and design and introduced me to Advertising Photography. After 5 years though, I felt I had hit a ceiling and so I left. My next job was a short stunt but an extremely educative one. Today, I just work for myself.

    For every single one of these jobs I've left behind, there were people I met there who were not happy but are still there today, and still unhappy. I used to wonder what was wrong with them. Why can't people just get up and move?

    Then one day, I remembered something I used to do when I was a little boy. My mother used to work for a Textile Company in Tema and she had all these rude (except for one, if I remember well) Chinese bosses. Anytime, she took me to work, I will keep asking her "Why do you work for these people"? (I have nothing against the Chinese. I just can't stand Rudeness). "Why can't you just work for yourself?". It didn't matter to me that, I was one of the few kids of staff, who enjoyed full scholarship from the company. I remembered that even as a kid, I couldn't stand certain work environment and would rather walk.

    I thought I left my first job because I didn't have a family but actually, no. I left because I'm wired to leave without fearing. When I left my last job, I had a wife (who wasn't working at the time) and a little son. But with all the odds heavily weighing against me, I still left. Some people just can't leave.

  20. Wow this got really interesting. I haven't had the time to read all the subsequent comments and the paul graham article but I get the gist of them all - do what you love at a place you love to do it, eventually the money will come and all that. All I've been saying is this: while it is great advice, it neglects many things that affect work choice - background, need to provide for oneself, the education of one's kids, saving for the future, lifestyle choice etc. These things may cause one to make adjustments. I'm not saying a person should work just for the money even if she hates the job so badly and, I believe, you are not saying people should do what they love even if it makes them poor. It's about finding the sweet spot which gives you the most satisfaction. In reality this is what happens. Saying otherwise is unfortunately ignoring the evidence in favour of wishful thinking.

    And oh, I love this comment: "So why are your friend's options few? People pay you for the value you bring to their business, is that not so? So if he's a talented value-creator, and can demonstrate it, why wouldn't every business be dying to have him?". You know what, I have the tendency to think along those lines but no, Esi, superior talents do not always equal superior opportunities. Maybe there are not many roles like what he has in Ghana now, maybe the other jobs won't compensate him as much, maybe he needs time for his own business to flourish etc. As someone said, "the market can stay irrational longer than you can be solvent".It's not always that one can go six months waiting for the ideal job.

    In times past, I would have agreed entirely with this post but for some reason I see too many realities to just let go. Maybe I'm ageing too fast?

  21. Actually, I tend to side with Thomas Kyei-Boateng. There are so many things that affect job choices. It isn't all cut-and-dried: do what you love and you will be great at it, you will have joy, money will follow yadda yadda yadda. Those of us who manage to be able to make that kind of choice have been blessed beyond conception, especially in Ghana, where the luxury to make this kind of choice belongs to a very very select few.

    And actually, they are the courageous ones. To live with a job you hate so that your children can get a good head start in life (yes, sending your kids to SOS instead of Ridge Church does give them an advantage, no matter how slight), so that your family and extended family will be supported, so that your children will have stability takes far more courage than stepping out into the unknown and finding your niche just because you can.