Slow It Down

This past year has been incredibly intense. My brain is bursting to the seams with things I’ve learnt, people I’ve met and places I’ve been to.

I’ve been wondering what to do with all of it. And I don’t want to move on to the next stage of my life without figuring out where it’s all going.

Learning and doing new things has always been the best way to keep engaged and productive. But there’s something to be said about regularly putting things on hold and looking back at where you’ve been.

There’s a difference between stopping to take time off and stopping to actively examine what you’re doing. I’m trying to do the latter. I’ve been asking myself, is this really what I want to be doing right now? Is this the best way to be doing it? What else could I be doing? Why is this working? What is not working? What do I do with all I’ve learnt?

I feel a responsibility to do something with the opportunities and exposure I have had. I don’t think they were just for me to sit on and use for myself. They need to be dispersed widely and channeled productively.

I think it’s always better to have little on your plate that you do well than having a multitude of mediocre activity. Even when things are going well, it’s easy for others’ expectations to set the direction of your work. It’s very possible to be doing well, but on other peoples’ terms. That’s not quite as fulfilling as doing well on what you actually set out to do.

I don’t want to feel like life is controlling me. I want to set the pace and expectations of my own life. So I’ve decided for the next few months, that I want to stop and reflect. I’m not trying to do new things right now. I want to review, re-evaluate and re-direct. I want to work on making what’s in my hands better. 

When I told a friend of mine a few months ago about my plan to reflect, he asked me a very important question- how will you reflect? I hadn’t thought about it. I’m aware that reflection isn’t just sitting down and doing nothing. There’s a method to it. It’s about determining what it is about your life you’re trying to make better and setting objectives for what you’re trying to achieve by the end of the reflective period. It could also include talking to friends, family and anyone else you feel could give you important feedback on how to be better. 

It won’t be easy but here we go!

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

Thank You, June

Life moves quickly. So swiftly, that it’s easy to miss the things, people and events that make life worthwhile. I’ve decided to create a new section of my blog, to share, appreciate and reflect on each month.

I’m grateful for:

A visit – There’s something so fulfilling about being in the company of people who reflect you and where you aspire to be. I make no apologies for the fact that I have a carefully curated circle of friends. They create an environment in which I can be myself and share openly. So I was so happy to have friend(s) visiting at both the start and end of the month. One is a new friend while the other is an old friend. My new friend, in actions and without saying, reminded me what it means to be in touch with yourself. Introspection and authenticity is so rare in people so if you find it, hold on to it- well, as much as you can anyway. My old friend and I asked ourselves what we would do if we weren’t afraid- and then proceeded to make objectives for the summer based on them. I’ll feedback on them here in September!

 

A throwback– A few months ago I mentioned that I was planning on deleting my old blog. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it is reading things I’ve written in the past. There’s so much I disagree with and so much I feel I could have expressed better. But it’s also so refreshing to re-visit certain times in my life and empathise with myself. Just from going through my old blog, I’ve resolved to try and be a bit more open on this blog. I want my emotion to be felt. You can check out my old blog here, as long as you promise not to laugh. Shout out to my girl Benja for ensuring I didn’t delete it! Love you.

 

A goodbye– My term as Diversity Officer of the University of Manchester Students’ Union, and by default, my time living in Manchester, have ended. I’m sad to leave what have been four of the most thrilling years of my life but also know and feel that it is truly time to move on. You can check out more reflections here.

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An opportunity– I attended the Aspire Trailblazing Women’s conference in London towards the end of the month. Aside from the wonderful opportunity to speak on a panel at the event, I also volunteered for the conference and experienced the immense effort and planning it takes to put together such a valuable forum. After the conference, I spent a day in London just enjoying the city vibes – there’s something so inspiring about being in London. I love it!

 

Thank you, June.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

An Ode To My Second Home

I left for university at 17.

I got on a plane and travelled 10 hours on a flight to a city I had never been to. My parents were pretty brave for letting me travel all the way by myself! I remember when I arrived, I found out my family were contacting the university to report that I was missing- it had barely been 2 days.

Independence was a new thing for me. Throughout high school, my parents chose not to expose me to partying and alcohol. Now I was going to university on another continent. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with the freedom, now that I could make decisions and only have myself to be accountable to. I felt somehow, my parents needed to know my every move. I owed it to them. In my first week, I called to ask them if I could go to one of the freshers’ nights out. Seriously!

Coming to study abroad gave me the opportunity to see who I was in an environment that was not familiar. My values have stayed with me and I’ve also grown and found ones that resonate with me.

I’m so thankful for having the opportunity to come abroad to study. My journey to and through university has not been easy. It’s taught me that struggle is not an exception to life but rather an integral aspect of life. I’ve faced difficult situations and been at the lowest lows. There’s a verse in the bible that adequately captures my experience in Manchester

Joshua 1:3-9 “I will give you every place you set your foot, as I promised Moses… As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

You can never be alone when you have faith. I owe my entire journey to God- for protecting me, guiding me, loving me, lifting me, pushing me and strengthening me.

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(photo by Melisa Malala)

THANK YOU, Manchester- I will never forget you.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

T x Aspire Women’s Conference

Last week, after sharing the challenges I’ve had previously with public speaking, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on risk, reward and decision-making to a 400+ strong audience of incredible women.

When I was invited to speak, I said yes even though I had no idea what I would possibly say. I mean, what could this 21 year old, Kenyan, Students’ Union representative tell a group of highly accomplished women about risk?! I’m the type of person who will accept to do something even when I feel inadequate at the time. I take the challenge because I know it’s an opportunity to learn something new and grow.

I reflected on my own experiences and realised that there was something to share with fellow women, even where our paths were completely different.

I was worried that I would speak and ramble too much. So I found a way to ensure I delivered everything I wanted to say- I wrote my points down, exactly as I wanted to say them. That’s what worked for me. When I got scared, I had to remind myself- I have something unique to offer this audience.

Here is what I shared:

My name is Tessy and I’m so excited to be here with you all today!

Risk is scary. Risk elevates you to the next level of your life. Risk is what enables you to reach your full potential. Risk may even become a defining moment in your life, as it has been for me.

Last year I took a risk and put myself forward to be elected as the Diversity Officer of my Students’ Union. The position is on the highest board of the Students’ Union. It involves representation of students, high levels of financial and project responsibility and an opportunity to work with the university and learn skills like negotiation, activism and teamwork. For a 21 year old like me, the opportunity presented was invaluable.

As I made the decision on whether I should do it, I asked myself.. What do I have to lose? And the first thing that came to mind was ‘What if I put myself forward and I don’t win, people will laugh at me and think, who did she think she was thinking she could be voted in?!‘.. And as I was reflecting on that, I remembered a quote by Theodore Roosevelt which says that “It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out where others stumble or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.. the credit belongs to the person actually in the arena.” The credit belongs to the person actually in the arena. The people on the sidelines, laughing, mocking or ridiculing you as you step in to the arena to take a risk, don’t matter. It’s really none of your business what other people think of you.

And with that it became apparent to me that taking this risk meant I could only win- if I lost the election, I would have gained the experience and skills from running a campaign- persuading people to vote for me, marketing my brand and maintaining visibility across campus, speaking in public etc; if I won the election, I would obviously have the position.

I won the election. But that experience was beyond just winning the position. In fact, when people ask me what my greatest achievement in life is- I say it’s when I put myself forward for election. Not winning- putting myself forward was the win.

And that’s because it taught me everything I now know about taking risk. Taking risk is putting yourself out there. And putting yourself out there is making a conscious decision to take your life a step forward. That’s what risk is- taking your life forward.

That one moment of taking risk has opened the floodgates of risk-taking in my life. It’s made me fearless. Never a failure or loss- always a lesson learnt.

I want you to remember a few things from my story:

1. People like to be ready before they take risks but if you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never move because you can never be truly ready. As has been said before, feel the fear, do it anyway.

2. Change the frame of reference- risk doesn’t enable you to reach reward. Risk is reward. When you start to see the benefits afforded to you when you put yourself forward, you’ll start to see that risk can only take you forward.

3. Comfort zones are the enemies of progress. I came to the UK as an international student 4 years ago to study Law. I could easily and comfortably have done my degree and not been concerned with developing other skills. After all, that’s the minimum my parents expected of me. But it’s important as you sit in your offices and classes, that you broaden your horizon and think about what you could do to take your life forward.

4. I don’t think you can talk about risk without speaking about courage. They feed into each other. Courage enables risk. Love and support enables courage. So surround yourself with the people who make you feel capable. And most importantly, believe that you are worthy, so that even if you miss out on what you’re trying to achieve, you have the wisdom to know that it doesn’t define you and can swiftly move on.

5. Taking risk fulfills you. It makes you feel alive because your life is not stagnant, you’re making moves and constantly growing.

Always remember- opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor. This is the message I’m trying to send out to young people in Kenya through an organisation I founded called The Arena which has the vision of empowering young people to realise their potential early in life.

I wish you all the best, and may you open the floodgates of risk-taking in your life.

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I had such a great time! Run towards your fears- they will diminish right before your eyes.

I look forward to more speaking engagements!

T

© Tessy Maritim

New (Corporate) Slaves

I wrote about this a while ago. But I read an article recently that has reignited my feeling towards this issue, so here we go again- why are we so obsessed with overworking?

Corporations want to make us all slaves to the glorious corporate world. We tow the line- hook, line and sinker. Make no mistake- I’ve fallen victim to it before, and still do sometimes.

The generation(s) before us have cultivated a way of life that pushes the boundaries of what is humanly possible. And they want to ensure that we continue this trend of overworking. Sleeping at desks, working weekends and copious amounts of coffee have become key attributes of work life.

But I want to know- to what end? What are we slaving away for? Explain practically to me what we’re trying to achieve here. Is going to work supposed to be excruciatingly painful? I think not.

We need to stop the obsession with depleting ourselves as a badge of honour. For many of us, we are not working hard unless we are being seen by others to work hard. I see this as more prevalent amongst young people in Africa. There seems to be no other metric for life except for how much we can overwork ourselves. It’s almost a competition.

Redefining hard work means learning to value work that is carried out comfortably, reasonably and efficiently. We should be striving for meaningful, enjoyable work that challenges us in a qualitative way. This idea that we should twist and bend ourselves to fit the corporate mould with the hopes that we too can one day acquire wealth and power is elusive.

Can we have a corporate revolution? Can the generation before us who are now at the helm of these sought-after corporations redefine what it means to work at these firms?

I think this revolution also starts with us in our early and mid 20s- what are we teaching our younger siblings just joining university? Are we engraining in them the idea that slaving away at the library all year is what will get them that first degree? Are we encouraging them to learn about the world, teaching them to cultivate healthy habits and normalising self-care? If not, we must.

Parents have to understand too. There’s a fear that children that are not obsessively working, can’t be successful. But what we need to show them is that this enslavement doesn’t make us independent. It makes us dependent- dependent on careers, money, cars and success to validate the lives we live.

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation; and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

Overworking will not be my badge of honour- nimekataa!

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

 

Thank You, May

Life moves quickly. So swiftly, that it’s easy to miss the things, people and events that make life worthwhile. I’ve decided to create a new section of my blog, to share, appreciate and reflect on each month.

A scholarship – In 3 months, I will be embarking on a new chapter of my life! I’m saying goodbye to Manchester and heading up north to the beautiful Edinburgh, for a Masters programme I am ecstatic about- Africa and International Development. Most excitingly, I got a (partial) scholarship to study my programme! Looking back, I didn’t think I had a chance of securing the scholarship. But I’ve learnt over time, fortune favours the bold. Always try.

 

A trip away– In early May, my colleagues and I went away to a friends’ farm for some much needed R&R. It was a magical three days- we played with pigs, ate by the beach and danced in the kitchen until 3am. I work with the best people. To think that in less than a month, we will all be separating and heading on our own journeys, weighs heavy on my heart. They have all, in their own ways, taught me, shared with me and supported me. I’m eternally grateful for the experience I’ve had. P.s. Every time I visit a farm, I’m reminded how much I want one of my own.

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(this picture is missing two of my colleagues)

A competition– The Arena won second place in a competition called Venture Further at my University! We received a £2500 cash prize towards our idea, ‘My Nairobi’. You can watch the video below for details on what it entails. Also check out a previous post about how I ended up entering the competition.

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A conference– My month wrapped up in glorious fashion at the Oxford Africa Conference! A few friends and myself went down for the conference put together by the Africa Society and Africa Business Network at Oxford University on ‘A Continent on the Move’. I learnt about how migration is impacting Africa, changing trends in the education sector, the growing role of civil society, rule of law in Africa and energy across Africa. I couldn’t have spent my weekend in a more productive and inspiring space.

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I’m grateful. Thank you, May.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

A God Bigger Than Christianity

I’ve been going to church for as long as I can remember. Religion has always been a key aspect of my life; but it wasn’t until six years ago that I found God. Before then, going to church had been more of a chore. I didn’t have much of an understanding or appreciation for the role of God in my life.

My relationship with God has evolved over the past few years. When I left Kenya for university, I wondered whether my faith in God would change. I had been so sheltered by my (lovely) overprotective parents that I wondered whether I would go wild once I joined campus. Would my faith stand the university test?

After 4 years living abroad in a secular, liberal country, I’ve managed to maintain a strong relationship with God, but have become quite critical of Christianity. I guess, as you grow older there’s a natural curiosity that creeps in.

Being Christian, or religious for that matter, doesn’t automatically connect you to God. We fail to recognize that. I found God in Christianity, but that’s not the case for everyone. Faith, to me, is a personal connection with God. In fact, I think we can experience God and spirituality in many ways, even outside religion.

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I feel often that there’s a numbers game at play in religion. And the idea that people need to ‘turn their ways’ makes me quite uncomfortable. Can Christianity accept that other ideologies may be just as valid? Or does spreading the gospel come with the implicit denouncing of other beliefs?

I reflect on the fact that there are not enough women in Christian leadership. Where there are women, they tend to take up a submissive role. It worries me that the patriarchy is so entrenched in Christianity. I often wonder whether this is how God intended it be or whether, as with many other things, it is a human construct.

As I’ve become critical of Christianity, it’s occurred to me that many, myself included, selectively apply the bible. Aspects of the bible that fit nicely with how we live, take precedence over others that may be more difficult to practice in today’s society. It just makes me wonder how much scope there is for religion to be tailored to an ever-changing society and if so, where does it start and end? Because surely, if society influences how the bible is interpreted, doesn’t it cease to be Christianity? Bible interpretation is political. Interpretation of scripture will always be at the behest of the reader and so naturally will always be skewed.

From my experience of God in my life, it seems to me He is bigger than Christianity. Much, much bigger.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

 

Kenya, I can’t wait to be back

If the conference I attended this past weekend is anything to go by, Kenya is an African powerhouse. The President of Ghana referenced Kenya as the potential Silicon Valley of Africa and many others paid tribute to the groundbreaking innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity taking place in Kenya.

And why wouldn’t they? With people like Sam Gichuru at Nailab, Peggy Mativo of PACE and Boniface Mwangi at PAWA254, Kenya has a lot to be proud of.

Coming from abroad, it’s easy to feel like an overseas education will give you the best answers to overcoming key issues in the country and continent. You go back home with the diaspora saviour complex, but the reality is that people in Kenya and the wider African continent are already creating solutions to these problems.

We have global exposure and experience but should never assume that this is necessarily better than local insight and experience.

Leaving Kenya has been the greatest gift. It’s enabled me to broaden my mindset and envision my role in African growth and development. For some, this involves being abroad. For me, it is undoubtedly living and working on the continent. I want to tour Africa. I want to learn more about our East African neighbours, discover West Africa and traverse Southern Africa.

At the conference, I attended panel discussions on education systems, civil society, social entrepreneurship, migration and energy. There is so much great work happening, I almost feel like I am missing out by being abroad.

I can’t wait to be back- permanently.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

 

Is the idea really yours?

Remember when you were in Year 6, and someone tried to copy the picture you were drawing? If you were cheeky like me, you’d be doing your best to slyly cover your paper so that your classmate couldn’t keep glancing over at your work.

Much like that scenario, as an adult, I’ve found myself being very protective over my ideas. I want what is mine to remain mine. However, this possessiveness is highly problematic.

Firstly, I challenge the notion that there is such a thing as your idea. There’s really nothing new in this world. Ideas- they’ve all been done somewhere. There’s a verse in the bible that says “What has been done will be again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The difference is in the method- people find new ways of doing old things. Events, places and even people inspire ideas.

Secondly, competition is great. Anyone trying to do similar work to yours will always challenge you to find what is unique about what you do. We’re all unique in the way we do things and so naturally, execution of ideas will often be different.

Finally, touching on purpose which I spoke about in my last post, what’s yours will always be yours. No one can take that away from you. I strongly believe that if something or someone is supposed to be part of your destiny, it will be. That doesn’t mean we become sitting ducks. Purpose requires us to step into a realm that allows it to operate. If you want to be an author someday, are you writing somewhere now to practice? If you aspire to be a stellar athlete, do you practice your sport consistently?

I’m not sure my Intellectual Law professor would be particularly proud of this post. That being said, the law is there for when you think you and your ideas need protection. Please use it if necessary.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

Puzzle Pieces of Purpose

Someone asked Mark Zuckerberg a question and his response struck a chord with me.

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Zuckerberg has undoubtedly found his purpose in life- he wants to connect the world. His means? Facebook Inc. Facebook does not exist in a vacuum. It exists to fulfill a much larger purpose.

Many of us have jobs and many of us are doing degrees. But many don’t understand that they should be used as tools towards a vision. Jobs and degrees in themselves don’t offer much. But they become meaningful when they are pieces of a bigger puzzle.

A purpose requires you to go much further than simply working a 9-5 job. When you’re not at the office, you’re reading to enhance your knowledge, having conversations about ideas or even dreaming about it. Your whole life revolves around your vision- in a healthy way.

I’ve seen it here at my Students’ Union. Many students spend their time outside university hours in planning meetings, organizing, campaigning and working tirelessly for causes they believe in. They have powerful convictions and channel relentless energy towards them. They have taught me what it means to be dedicated.

Your life purpose will require you to find all the puzzle pieces that enable you to paint the bigger picture. These pieces many be jobs, degrees, hobbies, activities, people, conversations- the list is endless. Keep a hawk eye for opportunities that fall in line with your vision.

I have an idea about what my purpose is. It involves young people, Africa, communities, activism, politics and education. Any job, degree, hobby, activity, person or conversation that is related to any of the aforementioned, I openly embrace because they contribute, one way or the other, towards the bigger vision.

I want everything I engage in to honour the purpose that God has given my life. There’s not a second to waste.

 

T

© Tessy Maritim

(p.s. When I’m not writing on this blog, I’m on my facebook page which I update regularly- would love to see you there 🙂 )