Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Last week and into this weekend Kampala was rocked with the merrymaking of Makerere University graduates. 

The celebrations are in order given the time, sacrifice and effort that has been expended over the previous two decades. This is the culmination of the mind bending effort it took to learn the alphabet and arithmetic tables, to mastering the ability to hold it all in medical school’s anatomy class, to finding the knack of balancing your academics with your raging hormones.

But for us the older ones we look on, smiling knowingly and biting our tongues before we can say, “You have seen nothing yet!”

Listed below in no particular order is what I wish I was told when I was leaving campus those so many years ago.

1.       The world will only pay for value

The world does not owe you a living. It will only pay for the value you can deliver. Your job for the rest of your life is to continue increasing your value. You do this by continuing to learn and from experience. Take every opportunity to learn and gain experience – sometimes even if it is from working for free. It’s not the cloths that make the man, but the man/woman who makes the clothes. Character has value. Strive to be reliable, dependable and trustworthy.

2.       Get out from under your parents wings as fast as you can

Your parents want the best for you. You must resist the urge to continue enjoying their hospitality. Move out at the earliest opportunity – even if it’s is only with your thread bare campus mattress and battered metal box (I am told those are from a pre-historic era). The sooner you leave your parents house the easier it will be to wean yourself off the DSTV premium bouquet, washing machine, free food and board.

3.       Stay fit and healthy

You are not getting any younger. To make an impression at the office or your place of work you have to stay healthy for long stretches of time. You cannot afford sick leave. Drink lots of water. Steer clear of fast food as habit. Your endurance will be tested in these early as as you set off on your career, the difference between climbing the ladder or not may just be the long hours you are able to put in – ever with a smile and never a grimace.

4.       Recognise that there is a higher purpose than yourself

Responsibility sets in. It’s no longer only about you. It’s about your partner. It’s about your family. It’s about your boss. It’s about the business you work in. It’s about your neighbourhood, your society, the nation. If you lurch your star to a higher cause than yourself you will be able to persevere longer, overcoming the speed bumps of life with a shrug and a smile.

5.       Nothing works the way it’s supposed to

Regardless of what the gurus of inspiration say nothing ever works the way it is supposed to. Plan ahead but be flexible. Be adaptable. Be ready to take a hit – many hits, change direction, revise your view of yourself and the world and keep on keeping on. 

6.       Realise that nothing of enduring significance can be created alone

The storyline of the hero who goes it alone against immense odds and comes out the other side victorious is the stuff of Hollywood and you are best advised to live it in your DVD player. Your education did not prepare you for it, but in the real world you have to work in teams to achieve anything worth talking about. This will often mean having to share the limelight, to admit your weaknesses and even rely on others more than you are comfortable.

7.       Start planning for retirement now

They say as soon as you are born, you start to die. Similarly when you start work plan your career but more importantly plan your exit. It’s not too early to start saving. Interest yourself in the skill of running a business and investing. Understand that just as it has taken you 20 years to make it thus far these skills too will take time to learn and master. Don’t be seduced by the promise of the one big deal that will sort you out for life. It never comes. Life is a series of small steps, which may grow bigger with time and experience.

And so we have come full circle. Focus on learning and gaining experience in whatever you want to achieve. You feel clever now but the world will not be fooled – not for long at least. Be on the lookout for durable sustainable progress. If a deal is too good to be true, it is.