From divorce to job loss, a significant life change will entail you re-designing your mind and life if you want to continue successfully. Rachel Wambui talks to four women who have done so successfully.
“I stopped doing what the family wanted me to do”
When 44-year-old Stella Oloo’s father died, something inside her world shifted. He had been the head of the family and the family business and as the youngest daughter, Stella had always felt that her voice was overshadowed. “At his funeral I felt that the Universe was telling me it was time to step up,” she explains. “I needed to let go of co-dependency and find the courage to say ‘I
am here and you can’t dismiss me anymore’.
It took her a long time to find this courage. “People like when you don’t answer back. But I started speaking up, saying no, getting more involved in issues that affect me and my children, and making decisions that were good for me without allowing others to negotiate me out of them. I surprised myself!”
To do so, Stella stepped out of the family business and ventured into organic farming. “This was liberating because it was my idea, not dictated by my family. I now know how it feels to be independent. I don’t think this could have happened when my dad was here because that would involve explaining. Now that he is not here, the older ones try to step into that space, which causes conflict. In any situation where you are challenging old concepts, you are going to get hit back.”
Throughout this process, she has had to go inside herself to seek who she wants to become. “A mentor told me list all the women I admire and the qualities in them that I want to emulate. So now I have something to work towards as opposed to leaving it to chance”
“I am open to being part of a team”
We all know about the shift that occurs when a relationship ends in marriage – but is it the same when that relationship is just starting out?
33-year-old Felista Naserian and her husband have been together for two years. They are newly married and fresh off their honeymoon. “I came into this marriage already knowing who I am. Who I am internally does not change. I don’t need to reinvent that. But externally, there are things that have changed.”
For starters, Felista has felt the need to overhaul her appearance. “On my wedding day I felt very beautiful. I wanted to extend that feeling to everyday life. I got rid of all the pieces in my wardrobe that make me feel frumpy. I am wearing more dresses. I am even wearing a body shaper! I went out and bought a set of sexy nightdresses and a whole range of skin care products. Even my hair-do is different.”
While she doesn’t feel the need to change her name to reflect her husband’s, Felista says there was something about the wedding ceremony that made her feel different, “like I belong to someone now and the whole world knows. I feel more… whole.”
The other difference that Felista has noticed is in her quest for spirituality. Does this have something to do with wanting to be ‘wife material’? She says ‘no’, it is something to do with wisdom. “I saw it with my mum,” she explains. “She knew stuff. She always had answers. She was able to navigate things easier. Men listen to their wives; I therefore need to be wiser than him. Part of that comes from being spiritual.
“I also noticed that I am the steering wheel. For example, if I wake up early and get everyone ready, then we’ll go to church. If I say I am tired and I don’t feel like going, we will not go. I have had to embrace this responsibility to keep things moving forward. It can get overwhelming, especially when I want to do what I want.”
The team dynamic has extended to her career and finances. “I started an online brand that is doing exceptionally well. In the beginning I wanted this to be my own thing, to do all the work myself. Then my husband expressed interest in investing in it and growing it together. I found that I was open to it because we are a unit. There is also a comforting thing, a sense of equality, about co-owning property and being open about the state of our finances. The selfishness is going away.”
To the suggestion that this sounds like a loss of self-identity, Felista says, “As much as we are a team, we are still individuals. Away from him, I am an artist, a creator. I am not one of those women who define themselves as ‘a wife to a loving husband and a mom to X number of children’. The wife and mother are duties that I have defined for myself. Perhaps I am fitting it to societal roles without realising it but that’s a consequence of what I have chosen to do myself.”
“I stopped worrying about worldly success”
Milestone birthdays – 25, 30, 40, 50 – have a way of making one want to turn one’s life around. When Nina Hinga turned 40, she found herself in this space. “I have never minded getting older,” says Nina, now 41, “but when I turned 40 my life was not working at all. I didn’t have a job or income. I had just pulled my daughter out of school because I couldn’t pay her school fees. I did not feel like a success at all. Turning 40 got me thinking ‘Okay, what am I going to do about it?’”
Nina’s rebrand strategy involved becoming someone who ‘suits up and shows up’. “I realised this was not going to be an instant fix. I had to show up for the hard work with a commitment that I hadn’t had before. I got in really active pursuit of what I wanted. I went out and found a job.”
Something in her personality flipped as well. “Perhaps being 40 gave me the freedom to drop the worldly success markers that I had been judging myself against – to be married, have 2.5 kids, the house with a picket fence, etc.”
Nina had gone through a divorce at ag 31. “To the outside world, I had been on the socially approved path, seemingly happily married. We had just bought a house. But I walked away from that. For the next nine years, my life was crazy. So by the time I turned 39, I just wanted the world to let me do what works for me.”
A year later, Nina says she is in a happier place. “It’s funny because a lot of those societal expectations – like a great job, being a mother, paying school fees, having a car again – are falling into place – not because I was trying to live a socially approved life but because I am living a life that works for me.”
“I went from employee to entrepreneur”
After weeks of anxiety about her fate in the company, the day finally came when Jane Mueni, a communications’ consultant, received her redundancy letter. “After the shock and grief of getting laid-off wore off, the temptation was to look for another job immediately in order to pay my bills,” she says, “but earlier that year I had come across a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, which exhorted people to choose the path of curiosity over the path of fear (safety/security). The path of curiosity told me to pause and think about what exactly I wanted to do in the next phase.”
But this path came with fear. “It meant I was to be fully in charge. But my gut told me that my best years were ahead of me. Perhaps this was the push I needed to get out of the comfort zone and the false sense of job security.”
Before she launched into the new path, she took a holiday to, as she put it, let go of the immediate past work life and to think about what she wanted to be remembered for. “I did gigs to keep me afloat during this period of reflection. I also enrolled for some personal development courses that I had always wanted to do, but never got the time.”
Even before she was retrenched, the future of her industry amid changing times had always been in question. “We kept been told that the future was digital. I tried to read up on jobs of the future and what they required, but I couldn’t create enough time to get into it in depth because I had a job. Now that I was in charge, I could actually figure out what I needed to update and come up with plans to do it.”
Jane maintains that after the job change, she still pulled in many hours of work on various projects. “I have one major project I am working on. It was a side hustle before, but it couldn’t reach its potential as a side hustle. Now, doing the projections, the potential for growth is immense and now that I have all the time to focus on this, the future looks exciting.”
She owes her sober transition from employee to entrepreneur to having good working relationships and networks, keeping her finances in order while she was employed and believing in her professional skills.
“Having a reputation for excellence among your peers helps in finding something in case of an emergency. Having a financial cushion gives you time to think soberly about the next phase of life and make deliberate decisions, rather than decisions based on fear. Finally, I didn’t allow anyone to stigmatise me because of getting laid-off. It is my role in that company, not me, that was declared redundant. Being retrenched has no bearing on my self-worth or abilities.”