Success is not your friend

It’s been over six months since I wrote anything here, and it’s been a pretty interesting six months. By interesting, I mean I was never bored … because I spent all my time pulling hair off my head. It’s a good thing I have so much of it, or I’d look a lot like Donald Trump.

The reason I’ve been so quiet is I fell into a slump. I had a bad depression, and when I started to recover, my business was failing. I didn’t get any new clients and I sabotaged the ones that I had. I was too depressed to work, so I canceled two clients. A third client used my work without paying for it, which was the last straw. I focused so much on what I’d lost that I lost what I had. It was sh*t scary. My business no longer seemed viable, so after a lot of soul searching and crying, I decided to kill my pride and get a job. It was the second-saddest decision I’ve ever had to make.

As I type, I’ve spent the last three months in a series of interviews with an advertising firm. I had four meetings and even met the MD, so I was pretty sure things were in the bag. I met met some of the staff and even saw the exact spot where my desk would be. I was getting a Mac laptop from the deal and everything! I built my castles in the air, started negotiations to move into a new flat, met with a broker at AAR, talked to some banks about a mortgage, and moved my baby girl to a new school. It was crazy, but I was feeling positive.

On Monday this week, I finally got the call. The job wasn’t going to come through. I spent the next 24 hours veering between torture and panic. I have just under 20 days to raise 50K and get a new job, and I don’t quite know where to start. It’s not the coolest place to be.

But as I dust out my CV and do some job trawling, a strange thing is happening. I’m being pushed back towards my dream gig. See, I had focused so much on the shiny new job that I’d forgotten what I already have. I’ve been freelancing for just over a year, and I have a list of satisfied clients. Every one of them praised my work, and when I sit back and think about it, nothing makes me happier than writing. It makes me wonder why I’m so quick to run away from it.

My logical side says I have a baby to look after and bills to pay. Lots of people that I know are moving back into employment, and others are getting disillusioned with the hustle. They were proud of me for dropping my ‘biashara mentality’ and hitting the tarmac. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was dying a little inside.

There are a million different ways to look at it, but here are the lessons that I’ve taken from this mess.

1. Success is not you friend

When I started freelancing, I did great. I was so scared that I didn’t bid for over a month, but when I finally did, I landed a gig within five minutes of bidding on GAF. I got four jobs the first time I did a bid on Elance. I felt like that was the norm. So when I went a month without a new job on Elance, I lost faith. I bid less and less, which meant my success rate dropped. In the end, I went four months without new work, so I gave up on Elance.

Luckily, my brother referred me to a job on oDesk, and it looked so good that I put all my efforts in it and ignored Elance completely. One month later, I had done 10,000/= worth of work for  client on oDesk. I also did 10,000/= worth of work for a client in Rwanda that I got through my work here on Like Chapaa. They both skipped with the money, and without the safety nets and accountability of Elance, I was screwed and depressed.

I decided I had failed as a freelancer and went job hunting. On the tarmac, my first phone call led to an interview, and that was followed by four more interviews and an average of two follow-up calls every week. Then that fell through. I was left feeling that if I could go this far in the interview process and fail, then there was no point trying at all.

My dad gave me a theory a few weeks ago. He said we had our first failures too late in life, so we hadn’t developed coping skills. I think he might be right. In both cases, if I had started with some minor failures, I might have been steeled enough to not give up. Success spoils you. It thins your skin. To be really good at what you do, you have to fall, fall again, then fall again and again and again. Falling down teaches you what you need to get up.

2. Sometimes, the answer isn’t what you think it is

When I left my job in Tanzania, I thought I was fed up with employment, and that I needed to work for myself. Technically, freelancing isn’t entrepreneurship. But it isn’t quite the rat race either, so it seemed like a decent idea. I freelanced for a year, and then I gave up and decided I need to go get a job. After one failed try, I felt terribly confused. I felt like I couldn’t do anything right.

When I finally got out of my head, got some good advice, and started to look at things critically, I decided it isn’t a black or white thing. It isn’t an either/or. I can work on my freelance and look for a job. Neither is exclusive. This wisdom seemed ridiculous to me. After all, I suck at multitasking, and we all know what happened to the hyena at the crossroads. Tarmacking is a full time job, and hustling is three. Plus, I have a baby to look after. I can’t possibly do it all – there’s just one me!

But here’s the thing. Suppose I don’t try to do it all. Suppose I try to give each bit 80%. I can be an 80% mum by getting my Little One to polish her own shoes, pack her own break, and clean up when she’s done playing. I can be an 80% tarmacker by doing one interview or application a day instead of spending the whole day working my CV. I can be an 80% hustler by spending 6 hours  day on freelance tasks. That way I don’t really have to multitask, and have my eggs in different baskets. When it comes to a point where I have to choose – like if I land a really good job – then I’ll deal with it.

3. Pat yourself on the back

You have to take time out to congratulate yourself. Last week, I saw a tweet by Harry Karanja aka @startupkenya that I really liked. It said:

If you wake up every morning, to hustle, day in day out without at least once grossly rewarding yourself, yours is a sad existence.

Yesterday, I was sitting around moping. Half the year is gone and I feel like I haven’t done anything. My project for the year was to get a 9 to 5, and six months later, I still don’t have one. But then my friend and mentor gave me this quote:

‘She who plants weeds cannot expect to harvest flowers.’

If I focus on all the stuff I haven’t done, there’s no way I’ll end up feeling fulfilled. If I was to look at it objectively, I would see that I’ve actually done a lot this year. I’ve made peace with myself emotionally. I’ve moved my baby to a better school which is much closer to home, so she can sleep more and is less grumpy. I’ve made connections that have opened lots of doors and continue to do so. I’ve discovered skills and abilities I didn’t know I had. I’ve dealt with Zuku and Safaricom Customer Care without killing anyone. They’re actually getting quite good by the way. I’ve become better friends with my mother. So while I may not have the job card that I wanted, in some ways, I’ve done a lot more.

4. Self enterprise is not fun

We all have this idea that when we quit our jobs and work for ourselves, it’s going to be an endless party. So when we end up feeling stressed and miserable, we feel we must be doing something wrong. We feel like we’ve made a mistake and wonder if it’s too late to go crawling back to the boss. At least, that’s how I felt late last year. Here’s an excerpt form an article I read last week It lists 100 Rules For Being An Entrepreneur.

Rule No. 1: It’s not fun.

I’m not going to explain why it’s not fun. These are rules. Not theories. I don’t need to prove them. But there’s a strong chance you can hate yourself throughout the process of being an entrepreneur. Keep sharp objects and pills away during your worst moments. If you are an entrepreneur and agree with me, please note this in the comments below.

Here’s another excerpt from an article I found yesterday, courtesy of Twitter. It’s from Epic Living, and it tells you when you should give up on your self-starting dream … and when you shouldn’t.

Picture this, you’re moving through life wondering where you fit in.  You’ve played many roles.  You’ve tried finding happiness in what everyone says you should be happy with.  But, alas, you’re still looking.  Every day you’re looking.

This is tough and lonely work.

If we’re honest, we’d admit that the purpose/mission has at one time or another whispered to us.  Trouble is we’re not a very honest culture.  The art of lying to oneself is very much the norm.  And so it goes, the whisper.  The proverbial, “this is what makes me come alive” or “I belong in this space.”  Do you listen or try to ignore?  So now you know.  It’s calling you and maybe you’re one of the few that listens.  Your first step out into the great unknown is a dip (thank you Seth Godin).  Maybe it’s skepticism, maybe it’s envy or maybe it’s flat out fear on your part.  Before long you begin to wonder what you’ve done and is it too late to turn back.  Turning back always has your number on speed-dial.

There is a reason Cortez burned the ships in the harbour.

Let me be clear, sometimes you should give up.  I think we know when that is.  The time to give up is not when you’re being refined by the crucible of exhaustion and doubt.  And believe me, that’s when many do give up.  I’ve always believed that no one can truly play a part in changing the world until they have felt pain and loss.  By the way, that’s what everyone else has experienced.  And is experiencing in some way.  The audience is looking for someone who is unwavering in integrity and has a passion to solve the problems.

At this point, I’ve decided to distribute my eggs. I’m looking for new baskets, and I’m also putting some in the fridge, in the shelf, on the cupboard … and I’m even putting a few in the frying pan. Sometime soon, I may have to decide on one location for my basket, but in the meantime, I’m keeping my options open.

5. Dreams whisper, but they whisper loud

Quitting my job to follow my dream was probably the dumbest thing I ever did. But in many ways, it was also the smartest. I was happier last year than I’ve been in a while, and it was all going great until sh*t hit. When things got heavy, I assumed I was lost. But just because you fail doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path. It could just mean you were near a puddle and some overlapper splashed you. Maybe you bought the wrong shoes for the journey, or you were plying Rhino Charge in a Vitz. Maybe you simply got distracted by a chicken trying to cross your road.

As I trawl the net looking for jobs to take me away from my dream, I keep finding neon signs that yell ‘Go Back’. I’m veering away from freelancing, but all indicators are pushing me home. So as much as I’m pounding the tarmac, I’m also taking a fresh look at my ‘side gig’. I’m keeping an open mind, looking for ways to develop, thickening my skin for rejection, and gathering champagne for success. I think that’s the biggest thing my failure has taught me, and it’s a pretty useful lesson. So don’t be so desperate to succeed. Sometimes, you learn more from falling to the ground than you do from staying on your feet.

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

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  1. You are a very talented writer!
    Life is tough. [period] No matter what you do.
    Just accept the fact that life is tough.
    Even better try to like the struggle, for that is what life is all about.
    Those who do not have to struggle sometimes end up being drug addicts, etc. [Look at the lives of famous people.]

  2. 🙂 Great article

  3. Ahaa, I thought you were describing me, that was me. I have had it all but I still keep on smiling, and conquering challenges as they come, there is no other way, it has to be done. Rich article

  4. Gracious Jesus! You just described my situation a while ago except that i don’t have parents and a baby. My goodness! The six months period,looking for a job in an NGO, believing 100 % i will get it and eventually not getting it,planing to move to a better hood etc. What a coincidence?Today iam back to my writing job and iam sticking to it for now until iam promoted to senior level which iam told should ease things up.Eventually when i started writing for this company, i didn’t know there was low seasons. Come May, i visit the website and there is no relevant job i can take or all the available jobs were taken and considering i was new and at junior level i got really frustrated. Most of the jobs were only visible to seniors.Now iam wiser.Thanks to my others side hustles and faith in a supreme being,having no parents to give me the much needed boost, i know it could have gotten worse.Thanks so much for this great article. At least iam assured iam on the right track just a small bump.
    ION congrats on the new website design,at first my eyes glowed and i thought i was on the wrong site.The foot logo gave me the assurance though.

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