About this time last year I left my government job for a life of possible obscurity. I believe they paid me very well in addition to the other perks I was pleasantly entitled to. I got a talk time allowance, seating allowances plus the opportunity to get loans, travel within and outside the county and most importantly work with a great group.
To add context, I come from a modest background were most of these benefits are but a pipe dream. In fact, I always thought I would end up a rapper sharing the stage with Ruff Kaida at one of those clubs with names that end with a point. Alas, I somehow went to the University of Zambia and not too long after completion found this job.
I always had an imposter syndrome in the workplace. Deep down I knew there was something off about me answering to people, ordering them around and wearing a tie. Oh, lovely ties. You never know what self-imposed asphyxiation is until you don one of those suckers. Anyway, for three years I looked the part, referred to people as either sir or Madam and I warped into a proper employee regularly quoting work hard play hard mantras. The weekend was my realm. Thanks to the availability of surplus cash I developed a taste for really bad fast food, social events which promised R&G photographs and a palette for any type of alcohol except Best, fuck Best right?
I thought I made it; select members of my family were on my medical scheme, girls from my past life as a friend zone expert began to take notice, and now when I was in a Shawarma line people called me boss as if they wished to be in my loafers.
However, a malaise within me was brewing. I encountered an existential crisis of epic proportions. The short story is that I viewed my life as a bad porno where the movie ends with no scenes beyond jerking off. In my mind, working for a pay check, marriage, building a house and other bullet points of a typical life were the worst thing to do. I became convinced that being a rat in the race would never be the same as soon as I saw my rodent behind as I reflected. Further, difficulty in the land of romance prompted me to often Google ‘how to be a real man’. As silly as it sounds this search led me to the artofmanliness.com which led me to Ryan Holiday who then introduced me to Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism in general as well as Tim Ferriss. I devoured lifestyle design information and sought more at each turn all the while increasing my appetite to learn.
So yes, the white people made me quit.
But that isn’t the only reason. I like to think of my decision to quit as a re-acquaintance with my balls. You know the kind of balls all genders have somewhere deep down. The kind of balls you don’t find bungee jumping or on a two month long leave. For me quitting was as symbolic as it was necessary. It was me free falling into the abyss with no safety net or security. It was nothing like the regulated, carefully thought through escapades most people concoct. I was going to start with nothing…just a considerable gratuity my company gives people who decide to leave. But that’s not the point damn it!
The point is; quitting saved my life. Taking control and setting my own agenda has been very rewarding. Of course in retrospect I should have waited till I set some things up but in retrospect again I wouldn’t have realised this if I didn’t. On days that I am worried or anxious I know fear has come in to town. The only thing is that fear is dressed as rationality or logic or common sense. A smart person once said ‘humans overestimate what they can do in 1 hour and underestimate what they can accomplish in a year’. I think it must be Elon Musk. As Nicholas N Taleb argues, human beings are prone to the narrative fallacy. We all tell ourselves stories which on most occasions are wrong and prone to confirmation biases and other neuroses. What this means is that; school-job- marriage-death might not be the exact order of your life. Putting all your ducks in a row might prove futile. We all understand this when someone close to us dies.
Anyway, platitudes aside here is what I have learnt in the land of voluntary unemployment.
1. K 2,000 is the magic number
After spending a good amount of time watching series, learning how to toast bread in a pan and finally finding out what my favourite colour is (its red) I started looking for something creative to do. I applied for a job as a copywriter at a well renowned ‘creative’ agency. I was informed that they would offer me K 2,000 with commissions and other ‘amazing’ perks. At this time, I wasn’t concerned with the benefits of the job because clearly I had seen benefits. On the contrary, I was excited to work in a place with ‘like-minded’ individuals and do something other than excel reports. I had a fantastic experience, I could wear jeans and say fuck, a lot. But something was off here too. I know I seem fickle, but I would have worked for free at this place but for some of the things I noticed. So I left, told them to keep their K 2,000. It seemed the honourable thing to do.
With research, I have come to learn that most ‘creative’ companies in Zambia offer this as a standard pay. It must have something to do with labour laws and I get it. The problem I have is the environment most of these establishments offer. People look at bankers as drones, but there’s nothing like a cog that wears jeans and says fuck a lot. At least make the chaps happy, it’s sad to meet frustrated graphic designers and depressed copywriters.
2. It’s all about the People
If you decide to quit your job minus a plan like I did, make sure you find a group of people in the industry you would like to join. I would recommend Bongohive as a hub for this human resource. The possibilities of meeting interesting people are endless from then on. This regular dose of human interaction will replace the consistency your work place offered. I have spent long periods alone. Trust me, shits depressing.
(a) Twitter will poison you. Though a great place to meet ‘like-minded’ people spending too much time online might dampen your spirits as many people optimise themselves to be dicks. Meet these chaps in person and you will encounter a dissonance that might make you feint. Additionally, you might be tempted to keep up with the Joneses or the Mwale’s when they post a picture of themselves playing with snow in Dubai. Modest interaction is key here.
(b) Twitter will bless you. In an attention driven economy, certain people will enlist you for projects based on very little in person interaction. My guardian angel in this arena has been Samba Yonga who has connected me to Jonas Bendiksen through Gareth Bentley thanks to Benny Blow. Or how I was connected to Kachepa Mtumbi through Mwiza Nyasa who is friends to Mazuba kapambwe when she saw a post about a job. The possibilities are endless. I have made real money thanks to twitter, paid my rent and bought enough beans and rice to last me a year.
3. There’s no need for permission
Coming from a bureaucratic environment, procedure is king. I always checked in with my boss on what needed to be done and what the limits were in a particular project. Outchea, you do that and you’re gone. Though the PTSD from such a life is yet to wear off completely, this is one of the reasons I joined the ranks of the creative samurai. The freedom is palpable.
With this mentality I started a Podcast which is currently on a hiatus as well as other projects I thought I needed permission for.
The amazing thing is that I have not fully exerted myself and the response to such efforts is already impressive. Permission will kill you. I have on most occasions sought approval from people whenever I have thought up something novel. In a way this is system one of my brain (as Daniel Kahnemann calls it) fighting to be efficient. The truth is great things are not achieved by a committee. I am learning this all the time.
There is an undercurrent of romanticism to my worldview. It seems I have rose coloured glasses on while I chew on candyfloss. The truth is, I believe life must be on your own terms and all I am saying is if you decided to quit your good government job, you probably wouldn’t die. When things go south for me I might move to my grandmothers farm and harvest Kale. Or I can work as a labourer to keep my laptop power on. Of course I won’t have the same social clout as before but I probably won’t die. On the other hand, things might be different. Samba might call me with a project to alter my life and I might not have the same social clout as a result, too. Who knows? I might finally assume my throne as the male Lulu Hangaala, there’s really no telling. All I know for a fact is that either way, I won’t die before my body gives in.