Millennials. A lot has been said about this demographic. They have been described in flattering terms such as tech savvy, creative and bold. But they have also been branded fickle, elusive and entitled.
This lot is also debt-ridden through student loans. Yet, ironically, millennials are more concerned with the here and now, spending money than they don’t even have, sometimes on frivolous items.
Many studies have been done about Generation Y. The interest in this segment of the population just does not seem to end.
On the other hand, Millennials demand to be heard, and to be treated as equals at places of work. They do not fear to dream and their dreams are of astonishing proportions. But what happens when such grand illusions are checked and life hits back?
Four recent graduates tell us how, faced with the hard-hitting realities of life, their flight of fancy collapsed, the adjustments they had to make to survive and the lessons they took home. You just might trace yourself in their stories.
TIMOTHY NYANDUSI, 31
Entrepreneur And Politician
Like any ambitious media graduate, Timothy dreamt of working for an international broadcaster. His eyes were firmly trained on the BBC, oblivious of multiple hurdles that lay ahead, in an industry that he says is characterised by a ‘talent overflow’.
So what exactly did he envision for himself upon his graduation in 2012?
He narrates: “I thought I would graduate, have multinationals scrambling for my skills and land a lucrative job. From there on, I would start ticking the right boxes in my life: first car, a big house in a ‘proper’ neighbourhood, a beautiful wife and a happy family. That was my idea of life after university.”
The Multimedia University graduate would soon come face to face with the fierce competition in the market for the scanty job opportunities available. It also hit him that the level of skills and experience that employers were looking for were way above what he had in his bag.
Smacked right in the face by this harsh reality, he had to reconfigure his bearing and change tact. Motivated by the ongoing talks on entrepreneurship in the country, Timothy thought self-employment would offer him a soft landing. He was deceived.
“Those like me who have tried business will tell you that this is not an easy road to travel. There are just so many challenges, from policy to hardly functional markets to credit access and lack of relevant support for growth. Business start-ups are a dreadful terrain to navigate,” Timothy notes.
Nevertheless, he has his own supplies business, Ark Saiga Company Limited, which he started in 2015. For someone nursing vibrant political ambitions in a society that does not think he is cut for political leadership yet, things have not been easier for him.
“The cartel-like system of politics in this country makes it even harder for young politicians who lack financial muscle. The mentality that one mush have money to run for political office is to blame for even how the electorate votes. Put simply, it is a dog-eat-dog society,” he argues.
He takes particular displeasure at the networks he made in the political and business spheres as a student, saying they have come to naught.
“I thought I was being strategic by making such acquaintances, and that these people would hold my hand when I left school. It is disappointing that the majority of them became scarce as soon as I got out to the job market,” he recounts.
Timothy’s friends have not remained the same.
He says: “I now have a very lean list of friends, mostly people in the political leadership space with whom we have mutual interests. These include Hon Babu Owino, Hon Sylvanus Osoro and Hon Anthony Kibagendi.”
In spite of the frustrations, Timothy prides himself on the mentorship programme he runs for high school and university male students.
“There is a growing concern that men are not rising to take their places in the society. This is why, through mentorship and empowerment, I am determined to build a generation of men who understand and dutifully play their roles to bring important change in the society,” he explains.
Ultimately, Timothy hopes to offer himself for political office, but for now, his prime objective is to expand his business.
“I am strongly persuaded that entrepreneurship is a great avenue to improve my financial wellbeing. Most importantly, I hope to impact the society by providing opportunities for others,” he adds, and concludes: “I have moved from being merely a dreamer to an active player in politics. I wish to be on the right side of history at all times.”
FAITH ELIZABETH, 25
Finish school, graduate then land a job at her dream production company was Elizabeth’s dream of her life after university. It was as clear as it was straightforward, or so she thought.
After sending numerous CVs, each more elaborate and ‘appealing’ than the previous one, somehow she could not get a job.
“Once I had begun working, I hoped to make enough money to meet my bills effortlessly, travel the world, enjoy life and still have more to invest,” she recalls.
But as soon as she graduated from Daystar University in 2017, she realised just how difficult it was to simply get by. This realisation also came with a dramatic shift in her goals.
“Most of my expenses today are on assets as opposed to liabilities. I am determined to lead a purpose-filled life rather than a showy lifestyle that I can barely sustain,” she notes with emphasis.
Elizabeth is a social person, and as such, she is disappointed that it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with her college friends.
“We do not talk much these days. Everyone has suddenly become busy at work, trying to meet targets and build their life. I have learnt that maintaining friendships requires a very deliberate effort,” she says.
She adds: “We genuinely long to meet and get up to speed with each other’s lives. I still love my friends, but right now, we can’t be as close as we used to be in college where we attended the same classes and virtually did everything together.”
Her biggest struggle after graduating was separating her needs from her wants against the backdrop of limited finances. A habitual procrastinator in college, the breathtaking pace of life after school taught her to deal with different situations as soon as they arose.
Her unmet expectation in life is that she has not been as creative as she had imagined she would be, which she regrets.
“While I may be gainfully employed now, I have lost touch with my creative side in-between working at different places. Most of the things I do now have been done countless times by other creatives before me, which is quite dissatisfying,” she says.
In her fancies, Elizabeth had also hoped to influence the culture at the organisation she worked for. Yet when the opportunity came, she was quick to realise just how difficult it was even to make suggestions to her employer.
“My engagement at the internship level allowed me to understand the ins and outs of the organisation. I had less latitude to influence the way things were done at the company. But I still hope to be able to contribute to the change of culture at the organisation in future,” she says.
She may not have been happy-go-lucky as a student, but Elizabeth would often jump right into decisions without giving careful thought to them, and even blame others for her mistakes.
“I have learned to trust in God more. I no longer view life through one lens. I have also become conscious of every decision that I make, and to appreciate all people who support me in my life, which was hardly the case as a student,” she says.
Progressively, Elizabeth has been able to reconcile with the fact that it is not always easy to land one’s dream job soon after graduating.
“I am grateful for my current opportunity. I believe I am exactly where I need to be at the moment. Things will eventually fall where they are destined to be,” she forecasts.
SHARON WEKESA, 24
The reality of the Kenyan job market was as hostile as it was swift to dawn on Wekesa.
“I had hoped to have figured out my financial life at 25. Fast forward to 2018, and a few months short of my 25th birthday, the best deal I have had since graduating is an entry-level job with just enough pay to get by,” says Wekesa, a gender and development graduate from Kenyatta University.
Life after school has been less and less about making merry and more and more about responsibilities, which has also meant more accountability for Wekesa, “with no one but myself to blame when I mess things up.”
“As a university student, I would shop on impulse, mostly to conform to my circle of friends. Today, I am very strict with my expenses: every coin that I make counts. It has to go either into reasonable expenditure or my savings,” she says.
Additionally, her social circle has been transformed almost entirely, losing friends and gaining others in the process.
This tide of change has not spared her romantic life either.
“I am still dating my college boyfriend, but the dynamics of our relationship have greatly changed. As professionals, we now have different priorities in life. As a result, we spend less time together compared with how things were as students” she says, adding that patience and communication have been key to their sticking together.
“This has also been helped by our collective understanding that we are no longer in the university but in the real world with new and different realities,” she observes.
Have circumstances compelled her to scale down her ambitions? Not at all, she says.
“There are instances though, when things have been very sticky, with disappointments coming from left, right and centre. Searching for a job is a tough job, especially when you send your CV nearly everywhere without responses. During such times, I have had to stop, re-energise and pick up myself and proceed. I have never nursed the idea of abandoning my quest to succeed in life,” she says with reflection.
On family relations, Wekesa says she is closer to her family now, and occasionally calls her mother “for advice when things get overwhelming."
The unforgiving reality of life has influenced her choices in life, and particularly her decision to explore self-employment owing to the brutally competitive job market. Wekesa is the director of Kenya Finest Tours and Safaris.
“The secret is to stand tall for yourself and to never give up. Draw inspiration from your own accomplishments and never compare yourself with others,” she advises.
“I endeavour to learn at every available opportunity, to explore beyond my comfort zone and to make my voice heard. As such, I have continued to grow as a person and as a professional. It has also boosted my self-confidence, consequently opening doors to new opportunities,” she says.
To that effect, Wekesa recently enrolled for a mediation course, an opportunity she says has given her more platforms to make a difference as a young woman.
Through her not-so-pleasant experience, Wekesa has acknowledged the importance of humble beginnings “and working your way up the career ladder."
She may neither be working at her dream profession nor earning the delightful perks she fancied as a student, but Wekesa’s consolation is solid enough.
“I love what I am doing now. Having just started out, I have many years of my work life ahead of me to build the career that I desire. It is exciting to try out different fields and to learn different skills outside my specialty. These experiences will groom me into a more marketable professional,” she reasons.
JAMES KINYUA, 28
Inspired by journalism mavens such as Richard Quest and Anderson Cooper, and locally Nimrod Taabu and John Allan Namu, Kinyua’s ambition was to become a prominent travel journalist.
After all, he was fresh with skills (having graduated from Moi University in 2015) and burning with passion to spin the wheel of his work life. His first biggest hurdle was to find a dependable job with ‘worthy compensation’.
“If you do not know your way around the city or if you don’t have money to bribe your way out of joblessness, things can get very sticky for you,” notes Kinyua, who worked at a small creative company in Nairobi after leaving college.
“My role involved curating content for the company’s digital spaces, for a monthly pay of Sh10,000,” he narrates.
House rent. Bus fare. Meals. Clothing. Kinyua had to split his meagre salary for this endless list of wants and more. Even with the most delicate balancing act, the pay was too little to cater for even half of his budget, he says.
“It got very frustrating forcing me to resign from the job after six months. Nairobi is not friendly to inadequately employed graduates. But this is the brutal reality that graduates face,” he observes.
Thankfully, Kinyua ran into old friends from high school who were self-employed and had a ‘decent lifestyle’.
“They were creating and uploading videos on YouTube, running social media ad campaigns for clients and writing academic articles on online platforms. During the high season, they would rake in as much as Sh200,000 a month,” he recounts.
Kinyua was intrigued, then fascinated. He evaluated his life. Then made the most effortless decision. He joined his friends’ big money train.
He goes on; “I had stacked up debts through mobile loans to stay afloat. And here was a tempting opportunity to make good money, from the comfort of my house. I did not think twice.”
Like Wekesa, Kinyua is a self-employed millennial who dabbles in digital marketing and day trading, an engagement that is leagues away from what he studied (media and communication). But that is the least of his concerns.
He admits that self-employment has its unique set of setbacks, and dealing with uncooperative clients is one of them.
“Sometimes you have to camp at someone’s office to demand pay for work done. Other times you have to wait for months before your pay is processed, which is inconveniencing,” he laments.
But is he gratified now? Emphatically so, he says.
“I am happier doing this. I am my own boss so I get to live my life on my own terms. I have developed a personal work ethic and work plan which allows me to take occasional breaks from work, therefore enjoying a near perfect work-life-balance.”
Moving forward, Kinyua envisions expanding his business portfolio by initiating partnerships, setting up an office in the near future and passing his creative skills to other young people.
His advice to jobseeker millennials- you do not need that fancy office job after all.
“Use the skills you have gathered or acquire new ones to create opportunities for yourself and others. Eventually, we will be able to create billion-shilling business empires rather than relying on employment,” he says.