In 2013, I was the guest speaker for a personal development programme in my church. A participant asked me during the Q and A session: “you have a degree in Political Science but you work in sales, don’t you feel like a round peg in a square hole?”
Interestingly, I remember that question because many times it had come up at similar events; maybe not in the same words each time and often not directed at me in a question, but many have wondered and questioned how I have functioned in my roles, given my background and education.
I didn’t intend for it to be this way when I started off, the truth is, I was already 2 years into my career path when I began to get a good sense of what I should build into a career. Originally, I was just living by my mantra – whatever your hands find to do, do it well. So, it started as a quest to survive in the working world by being the best employee I could possibly be, wherever. But in the end, everything I did fit well into my big picture.
I remember very clearly a conversation I had with the Managing Director of the first company I worked with when my national service period ended (national service is a, one-year minimum, mandatory post-tertiary internship in Ghana). He asked what I wanted to do (with my life) and asked that very difficult question of “where do you see yourself in the next 5 years”. I didn’t have a clear answer at the time. I believe I said something to the effect that,
“I didn’t know really…but like I’m good at…” I thought up a seemingly smart answer and said something…which as soon as I left his office I knew was pure rubbish.
Well, aside not really knowing what I wanted to do with my life at the time, I simply just wanted a job. It wasn’t that deep. You know, I had left university with one mission – work hard with my national service opportunity and secure a job wherever I did it. It was a simple formula. The background to this survival formula was because I was on my own. I was no longer being supported financially at home…I was given a great foundation and just like the postcard my mum sent me for my final exam put it, it was my responsibility to “build on that foundation” I had been given from the very beginning of my life. I recall receiving my last allowance, from my mum, in the month I wrote my finals. My father had passed on. A year later, I had taken my first bank loan to rent a place of my own.
And so very early in my working life, 40% of my earnings was deducted monthly as loan repayment. I managed on the remaining 60% for my livelihood. So, I didn’t have time or money for frivolities. I was not in the least bit interested in conversations about the latest hair pieces or fashion trends. I was typically the type who got to work early most days because I understood the nature of our public transport system and had to beat those long queues. I arrived at work early because it had to take me 3 bus changes, to reach my office and even an extra 5-minute delay at home would mean a late arrival at work. So, I often left home most mornings by 5:30 am…to arrive before 7 am. If it was a rainy day, I would have my office shoes in a bag, umbrella in hand, ‘charley wote’ (flip flops) on and off to work I would go. I rarely called in sick. Sick? Noooo not when I was trying to get hired. So yes, I really put in a lot of work to get retained. Remember, I needed a job.
Before my national service started, I had interned with an NGO for 5 months and tried everything I could to be allowed to spend my national service period there. However, it wasn’t meant to be and that made me quite sad. I loved my work there and I was excited with management of projects and causes to serve the community. In the end, getting to do my national service in an airline was a great blessing as well and I wasn’t going to let it go without giving it my best shot. I believe I did because, post-national service, that resulted into my 8-year working experience in the airline industry.
Over the last decade, I’ve worked in a few roles across two main industries – the airline industry from 2006 to 2015 and media (management) from 2016 till date. These have been my roles:
- Front desk executive
- Reservations and ticketing executive
- Call centre agent
- Sales Executive
- Reservations and Ticketing Manager
- Sales and Operations Manager
- General Manager – Sales
- Head of Station – of a radio station
- General Manager of 4 radio stations
- Currently, General Manager – Commercial for a media group made up of a TV station, 4 radio stations and a digital company.
I stopped thinking survival along the way. I started thinking purpose. I started thinking about value and instead of thinking ‘job’ I started thinking career and building a reputation.
As I approached the age of 25, I began to think more and plan more. The list I had written when I turned 19, was now more in focus. I had made a list of things I wanted to do by age 25. Admittedly, I was late on some of them including the one that said, “get married” – which came a year later – Oh and yes, it was on my list of things to do.
By stating that my journey has been one of grace, serendipity, and hard work. This is what I mean:
Grace – because I have been enabled supernaturally to function in capacities that I would naturally have been unable to. I wouldn’t refer to that as a “square peg in a round hole”. I was graced to grasp knowledge, systems, and procedures very alien to my original training. This has shown me that it could not have been just me. I am your typical ‘words’ person. I am not a natural ‘numbers’ person, but again, I have mastered a knack for business and can think commercial and money very quickly. That, for me, is grace.
Serendipity – because I think about the opportunities I have had and I believe a lot of it has simply been me being at the right place, at the right time. I wasn’t always the best candidate at every point in my career and in some cases, I was simply the one available and willing to try – so the opportunity was given and I was willing to seize it.
Hard work – because I have always believed that working hard is essential for success. Very early in my career, I developed the habit of only leaving when my job was done. So, it didn’t matter if I was meant to close by 5 pm; if I had pending items on my “to-do-list” for the day, I will finish them before leaving. And if I didn’t finish, I’ll make it a point to arrive early the next day to get a good head start. I have also had to combine further studies with work over the last 7 years – becoming a chartered marketer and studying for an MPhil in Marketing. During these 7 years as well, I have had the blessing of being a mother to two wonderful children. So yes, hard work is a critical success factor in my story. Aside just long hours, I learnt to work ‘smart’ by focusing on tasks that are core to my work, cutting out distractions, always planning, using lists to keep me focused and being able to say no, tactfully.
My work is my craft. Whatever I have been entrusted with, 101% of the time I give it my very best shot. And like we say in Ghana, I take each task like the desire to win the “world cup” to wit – very seriously. Though I must confess, sometimes a bit too serious – all the same, I’m learning to appreciate the lighter side of work and happiness.
Oh, and when I left the airline industry to take up an opportunity in media, the round peg question was asked again. The most interesting one is “she doesn’t have any experience in media”… So, how did the round peg manage the square hole? – Grace, Serendipity, and Hard work – Do stay with me on this journey to discover more.