In one of our features recently, we shared the story of a young man who slid into depression shortly after his business flourished.
He narrated how the success he had been pursuing so resolutely not only arrived so suddenly, but also fell short of his imagined gratification.
Turns out to succeed is one thing and being prepared for the success is a different matter altogether. Accomplishment in business or one’s career precipitates many disruptions in the person’s life, with attention from the media, awards and money. It is even worse if that triumph is too abrupt.
The society has set the bar far too high for the people it considers successful, and often expects them to conduct themselves in a certain manner, usually by living large. But are these people always as accomplished as the society views them?
This week, four young professionals tell us how they have been able to walk the tight rope of money and fame, how they deal with the whirlwind of societal expectations and pressure to conform as they struggle with their own challenges as youth.
IAN NJEGE, 33
When Ian landed his first job as a copywriter at an advertising agency in 2009, his lifelong dream to work as a creative had taken shape.
After working in mainstream advertising for two years, he got an even bigger role as the deputy creative director at a local media company. This elevation came with more money. But it also marked the genesis of what would be a brutally tempestuous episode in his life.
“My new position at work gave me a lot of anxiety. I was constantly under pressure to perform. My new salary (which was three times more than my previous salary) facilitated a new lifestyle of overindulgence,” he narrates.
As soon as his friends knew that he had landed the big job, they swooped down on him in hordes and all sorts of financial problems, expecting him to tide them over.
Young and naïve as he was then, he obliged, often stretching himself to meet these burgeoning expectations. He also became known among his friends and hangers-on for throwing ridiculous parties out of town.
“One afternoon in my drunken stupor, I stopped at a local store and purchased household items including electronics that were completely unplanned for, blowing Sh200,000 in the process. At this point, it was difficult for my family to deal with the person that I had become,” he recalls.
Ian dealt with the pressure at work and the cloud of societal expectations through overconsumption. The bile of unresolved issues including abandonment by his parents during his childhood resurfaced to catalyse his thoughtlessness.
“Then depression set in. Next was a full blown addiction to alcohol and later to cocaine –to deal with hangovers. The madness culminated in the loss of my job, which shattered and wounded my ego,” he recalls with a frown.
It took the intervention of Ian’s family, who took him to rehab, twice in 2012 and 2013.
“Addiction had taken me down, but I was determined to not let it take me out. During my time in the rehab for the second time, I vowed to fight for my life. A long and painful rehabilitation process saw me come face to face with my greatest fears, my resentments and a massive list of people to whom apologies were owed,” he recalls.
Thankfully, Ian was able to recover. But life after rehab was a trying phase for him. His close friends had deserted him when his life took a tumble.
“It was difficult trying to rebuild a life from nothing with no one in my corner. It gives me chills to date whenever I remember that period of my life,” he recounts.
But after that soul-stirring experience, Ian’s life took a turn for the better.
“I have spent the last five years working on myself with utmost seriousness and commitment. I have become a more dependable member of society, a businessman and an employer. I am married with one child and more proud of myself now. Going to rehab and accepting help is solely the reason I am alive today,” he says reflectively.
The experience also came with a host of useful lessons for him, the most important one being that success does not change one, “it only gives them the leeway to express who they truly are”.
“If you are arrogant, temperamental or egotistical, money simply fuels these qualities. If you are a caring and humble person, success magnifies those attributes,” he observes, noting that after his experience, his perception of success has also been reconfigured.
“To me success is the courage to design my chosen path in life, being able to plan and execute my plans freely without coercion to attain my desires goals. But most importantly, the courage to look at myself in the mirror and appreciate myself for who I am,” he concludes.
NANCY AMUNGA, 26,
FOUNDER, DANA COMMUNICATIONS
Nancy is a graduate of media and communication from Multimedia University. Her courier business, started in 2014, has been flourishing by the year.
“We have motorbikes which we use to deliver parcels to businesses and individuals within Nairobi and its environs. We handle between 100 and 150 deliveries per day,” she says.
Nancy is, however, modest about her success, arguing that she is yet to get into the business league she is gunning for.
In 2015, Nancy was recognised among the 25 most promising young entrepreneurs in Kenya. Last month, Queen Elizabeth II honoured her with the Commonwealth Entrepreneur of the Year Award during this year’s Commonwealth Head of Government meeting in London.
“These accolades and the resulting media interviews put you out there. In consequence, this attention creates in people’s minds an assumption that you are now a millionaire. Family and friends who hardly ever engage you start reaching out with requests for monetary support,” she says.
As a result, Nancy has become stricter about what financial requests she responds to. And for someone who has been fleeced of Sh70,000 by friends, it makes sense.
“Helping out is not bad, but it ought to be done in a structured way. I am in business, and I have a bottom line. When I have the capacity to help, then I can’t hesitate to lend a hand, but when I’m not in a position to do so, I always decline the request,” she says, emphasising that she is never obliged to do something that is beyond her means.
Nancy admits that she is always the odd one out whenever she attends business meetings. Reason? She does not own a car. Local banks, she says, have been enticing her with car loan offers, advances which she always turns down.
“A car would be an unnecessary liability for me because of my schedules. Cabbing enables me to move around with ease and at a lesser cost. Besides, it cushions me from maintenance cost and daily parking fees. Instead of blowing Sh1 million in a car to conform, I would buy 10 motorbikes to expand my business,” she reasons.
Through her journey, Nancy has never feared losing friends.
“Change is what brings forth growth. Sometimes you change your mannerisms and way of thinking, which means sacrificing some friends and outgrowing certain social circles that may not share in your vision. If you keep the same friends for so long, it means you are not stuck in a given space,” she argues.
Nancy prefers keeping acquaintances to friends.
“Associates are easier to manage than friends, because intentions are clearly defined from the start, which is doing business together. The obligations are also fewer, unlike with friends,” she says, adding that in most instances success yields loneliness.
For Nancy, whose annual turnover runs into tens of millions of shillings in revenue, luxury is out of question.
“The need to change lives, create employment and provide livelihoods is what fires me up. It also gives me joy and inner satisfaction. Having come from a humble background, my overriding goal is to become financially solid,” she says.
For her, pleasure can wait.
KIMANI GITHUKU, 24
REPORTER, K24 TV
Kimani finds it absurd when people treat him differently because of his public status.
“People get shocked when we meet in the streets, in the bus while home or at a restaurant. The neighbourhood grocer openly accords me special attention. Most of these people find it unusual that a TV reporter would be at ordinary places and interact so easily with other people,” he notes, and adds,
“There are times when I have found myself in awkward situations when attention was taken unnecessarily too far.”
But it is his compact schedule at work that has driven a wedge between him and his friends. His profession, he emphasises, confines him to work for long hours, leaving little time to catch up with his friends.
“As a reporter, I am alert round the clock for any work engagements that may arise. There are times when I receive calls in the middle of the night notifying me of newsworthy occurrences. I literally live for my job, and I’m content that way.”
On different occasions, he has had to excuse himself from family gatherings, owing to the demands of his job.
“Thankfully my family understands my circumstances,” he says.
It is, however, different with his childhood friends, some who claim that he has become arrogant and that he no longer wants to associate with them.
“This is only my third year working, and I’m determined to build my journalism career. At this point, it is difficult for me to meet the infinite demands of friends who wish to engage me. Whenever possible, I get in touch with them. But I don’t always feel obliged to justify my position,” he says.
At any given time, Kimani is a member of more than 50 WhatsApp groups for different causes.
“Some are for wedding committees, church fundraisers, school fees aid and countless other causes. While all these are noble initiatives, but it is not humanly possible for me to attend to all the requests,” he notes.
Kimani is a stickler for modesty, a principle he says has enabled him to survive the storm of expectations from those around him.
“I am yet to attain financial latitude and occasionally I get broke. Some people find it hard to believe that. I was very gullible early in my career and would sometimes be left suffering without money after giving out most of it for various causes,” he recalls, and goes on,
“I have since learnt my lesson. My standpoint on expenditure is now very strict. I can’t compromise my budget to impress anyone. I have made it a practice to candidly state what I can and what I can’t afford. It is the only way to survive.”
His nature of job, he says, allows him to travel a lot across the country, meeting new people and establishing networks. It is from these networks that his stories come.
“My scope of friends has really expanded in the last few years. I have, however, maintained my old network of friends in full consciousness of the importance of strong social ties above anyone’s personal pursuits. My mobile number is the same one I acquired shortly after leaving high school. I have resisted the temptation to change it as most people do when their circumstances change,” Kimani observes.
He believes he got into journalism to highlight the plight of the poor in the society, as opposed to making a name for himself and overindulging.
“It is God who put me on this path. For my belief in Him, I haven’t had to deal with extreme cases of depression or isolation. There are, however, instances when pressure pushes me to a precipice. I, however, find solace in reading God’s word,” he notes.
WANGECHI WAWERU, 24, MUSICIAN
For rapper Wangechi, dealing with strangers is a routine. Her phone keeps buzzing with hundreds of calls and text messages, all which she must process on top of her other activities.
“I get requests from genuine people with genuine concerns. But the bulk of the messages comes from stalkers. Strangers call asking for money, others for job opportunities and for others, absurdly enough, to confess their love for me,” Wangechi quips.
It is not the nature of these requests that disturbs her, but how people she has never met get hold of her personal number.
“Responding to all this attention can be hectic. It is for such reasons that public figures allow their managers to handle business to them,” she says, adding that some people take offence when asked to deal with the manager.
Wangechi says that expectations in the music industry are part of the deal which artistes must grapple with.
“Success on the music scene is viewed as what type of expensive car you drive, the flashy lifestyle that you lead and the amount of money you can blow on a night. If you are more conservative and future-oriented like me, you end up disappointing colleagues in the industry and fans,” she says.
She argues that artistes sometimes behave outrageously as a result of the duress that bombards them from within and outside the industry.
“Some of the things that female artistes go through are very disturbing. There are people who, for instance, want you to be indecent for their own selfish reasons. In music, it is either your music is good or bad. Being skimpy does not help the quality of your music,” she notes.
For Wangechi, brand representation matters more than her personality.
“For the five years I have been in the industry, I have appreciated that people who want you to dress obscenely are the same ones who consume your pirated music in public places such as matatus and who cannot buy your original music. So, why please them at the expense of your decency?” she wonders.
According to her, it is not practical for a budding artiste to keep up with the dizzying pace of life led by more established artistes locally and internationally.
“I have issues that I am dealing with as a young artiste and a young person. Most of the things that people flaunt cost a lot of money. I don’t have that kind of money to spend on liabilities. I prefer to invest my income in assets such as real estate,” she says, adding that part of the reason she steers clear of flamboyance is the modesty she was raised in.
In spite of her celebrity status locally, Wangechi still enjoys a vibrant private life. Her secret? Maintaining a close-knit circle of friends.
“I hang out with the people I have known long enough, mostly my high school buddies, who may never have any hidden agenda. This also prevents details of my private life from permeating into the public domain. I am also able to listen to my inner voice more when there are fewer distractions,” she concludes.