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Neverwhere 2.0: The Human Condition

When I look back now, it almost feels like the year I’ve had could very well have been a scripted show. Not some blockbuster flick, mind you, but more like some story with a rather random, mildly pointless, sickly sweet plot. Like Donald Glover’s Atlanta – without the rather effusive Paperboy soundtracks. The theme song for my 2016 was predominantly Jon Bellion’s music. You may roll your eyes now.

The Beginning – He is The Same

2016 didn’t really start in January for me. The series of events that formed the plot of the entire year began on August 31, 2015. I had come into Lagos the day before to have a meet-up with the CEO of the company I would eventually work at. I’d recently left my previous job in Port Harcourt, as the raging oil crises at the time laid waste to my department and virtually a third of the company I worked at. I decided it was time to pivot and had 3 of the top companies in Nigeria’s burgeoning Tech industry in my sights. My friend, AY, being already there greatly influenced the company I eventually focused on and came to. The August 31 meeting happened and I was asked to start the next day. Being a typical nomad, I never went back for my stuff in PH, save for the backpack and the suit rack I came to Lagos with.

I’d never had to work under so much pressure in my life – which is weird, because only the Christmas before that, I was attaching sand-control sensors to a live gas wellhead with a pressure of 2700 psi. This was a different kind of pressure though: the blistering pace at which things ran (and changed), the KPIs and deadlines that lunged at you at neck-breaking speed, it was all new to me. I was at my wits end a lot and, quite frankly, I don’t know how I survived the first few weeks. Many didn’t.

I wanted to quit a thousand times those first few weeks. It literally felt like I was on the House, MD set – working with a team of uber-smart young people who all wound up here because they wanted to come work for a man who loomed larger than life, so to speak, and be part of something greater than themselves. It was tedious, exhilarating stuff and I stayed because I wanted to prove a point to myself. Also, because it was fun, for the most part.

In January, people generally have the popular sequel to the season of introspection that engulfs them in December: resolutions. The same is true of companies. In January, my team sat through meetings everyday for the entire month, chromecasting data and spreadsheets, planning, deciding on and hacking away at the Trello Board activities that mattered and where critical for Q1 and Q2. Also, I was finally able to move into my apartment in Yaba – after having stayed at my friend’s since September 2015.

I began to head my own team in March and got to experience the satiety that came from accomplishing stuff I wasn’t sure I’d be able to achieve before being assigned the role. Growth.

This year wasn’t all about work, even though that was the biggest chunk of it. I had the good fortune of making and reinforcing new bonds with some people I’m glad are in my life now. I’m always preoccupied with the many things life is tossing at you in Lagos and the few people and things that help take my mind off of everything came in handy this year.

“I Wonder Why I Miss Everyone But I Still Don’t Call”

I didn’t keep in touch much with so many people this year because I was almost always too preoccupied with work. And, after a while, the I’m-so-sorry-I-forgot-to-return-your-call excuse began to sound so contrived it made things even worse. It felt like I was alone in this maze trying to figure life out on my own, estranged from nearly everyone. I literally had to schedule phone calls to my parents on my calendar after a spell of forgetting to reach out. They never got tired of calling though. I remember a period I’d call just to hear my 2 year old niece speak on the phone. She never said much but those calls helped me through some really difficult moments this year. She turned 3 this week, by the way.

“Paper Planes”

I briefly fell in love (I know, I know) this year and she loved me back but it wasn’t meant to be. Everything crumbled right as we tried to get off the ground – and it sucked really bad because it was no one’s fault. I think the hook on Jon Bellion’s Paper Planes is a more fitting description of our story:

We started to fall right out the sky

Without a warning call. Nahh-hoo…

We started to fall, no parachute so we had no time to call, for mayday mayday..

We bought two tickets down to paradise

One last flight trying to make it right

But that’s when the rain came

That’s when the pain came

We were never ever gonna make it far

We bought two tickets down to paradise

One last flight trying to make it right

But love came like a hurricane and we were just a paper plane

I know we tried to fly away, but we were just a

Paper plane

Sheesh, look at all this mush! Oh well…

“Hand of God”

One thing I’m grateful for is my faith and how I managed to keep it throughout 2016. This year was insufferable, for the most part, and it was difficult to pray on the many occasions that I should have.

September was the peak! Life came at me so hard on so many fronts it was near unbearable. At some point, my mild insomnia kicked into overdrive and I went days without clocking in any sleep – nights spent lying listlessly in bed, unable to rest easy. I had to take sleeping pills on two such spells this year. I saw an apt quote once that described these moments: “sleep is no use when it’s your soul that is tired.”

I found myself whispering prayers and “talking” to God like I would to a therapist on such periods – no fervency nor “earnestness”, as it were. I was on autopilot. But even those half-hearted prayers proved enough sometimes.

I’m so grateful for church and the privilege to have served in the choir (still do). That did me a world of good this year, acting as an anchor for my soul and helping to rein my mind in every now and again.

“Ungrateful Eyes”

In August, after a super long general meeting that really should have been an email, a year of accumulated burnout began to take its toll on everyone at the company who had arrived right before or about the time I came. Some of the best folks started to walk and it wasn’t the same from then on. The culture had evolved so much that walking was a more agreeable option than the alternative. I will always look back at this year and be thankful for the chance to have been around and work with the set of people I worked with. And for the amazing things we pulled off and those KPIs we crushed.

“Maybe IDK”

2016 is ending just as the previous year ended: with me on the cusp of a new adventure. It’s been a packed year with so many things that, on their own, really don’t matter much. But I grew this year in so many ways. I learned so many new things that helped me do my job, juggled a podcast and a radio show – among other things. I read more books this year than the last but not nearly as much as I’d have liked. I’m on a group chat with 3 of my friends that’s basically a book club with associated life chatter on the side.

I learned to be a tad less impatient with people (Femi would invoke the C-word here). I was also fortunate to be of help to a couple of people and to receive help when I needed it. Yeah, I have a few regrets about some things that never happened (like how I’m still not rich yet and don’t own a beach house) or that I could have done better, but I can sit back and look at 2016 and say to myself: not a bad year, mate.

In 2017, we go again.

Thanks for reading.

PS: This is the second post in the Neverwhere series – a collection of writings chronicling my work-life experience as a young man living and working in Lagos. Read Neverwhere 1 here.

Oblivion

One of the common questions we throw at candidates at our interview sessions at the office is the rather smug “do you consider yourself smarter than the average person?” tripe. The result is hardly surprising every time. Most of the candidates respond in the affirmative after a brisk introspection. And, more often than not, they are not wrong – our process is already optimized to ensure that the best candidates make it to the room. It is the ones who take a longer time to respond that hold my interest. For, in that prolonged pause before they reassure themselves, I too, find myself on the spot, trying to answer that same question.

I have lived in my current apartment for a year now and my spatial judgement of the area hasn’t expanded significantly since I moved out here. The first three trips to my apartment before I moved in, it seemed like I was visiting the area for the first time. I was petrified I might take a wrong turn and miss the street. For months after I moved in, I only stuck to the same route from the office to my house. I never explored any other detours out of my street, even though there’s at least five of them. I have tried one of them out since that time.

There’s a guy – at least, I assume it’s a guy, I can’t say for sure – in the apartment beside the stairwell to my floor who is something of an instrumentalist. He plays at least 2 musical instruments – I have heard sounds belting off of a saxophone and a piano at different times. He’s almost always practicing. Or maybe it just coincides with the times I am home – my schedule is pretty regimental. Over the months that I have been here, I have managed to put a face to about 7 of the people who stay in my building. The possible number of neighbours I have in that 3-storey building is at least twice that number. And I don’t know which one of them is the musician. Now that I think of it, I only got to know one of them is an engineer from people yelling “engineer” at some man on the ground floor every now and again. He fixed my generator too, according to my flatmate. I think about how so little I really know about the people around me or the environment I live in and the things that go on there. But the people here know me – as the guy who largely keeps to himself, leaving in the mornings and returning late in the evenings. But I am mostly oblivious and not too eager to do anything about that realization.

I have no idea what my flatmate’s car looks like. I know he has a car and he parks it in the compound sometimes when he returns from work. He leaves for work at least an hour before I do and I may never see him drive out or in with the schedule we both keep. The man in the flat above ours gave me a ride once when it rained and I had to go to work. He carried me beyond the flood so I woudn’t have to step in the water. I had probably stumbled across him or his son not more than 3 times before that day. I  and my flatmate speak often (if we can call it that) at home when we’re both around on weekends, especially in the kitchen on days we each feel like making our own food instead of ordering take outs. But I don’t really know him – at least, beyond the surface level stuff. I am the one who is least inclined to strike up a conversation, to be honest. In my rather busy street, I only occasionally speak to the lady who sells me confectioneries, the noodles guy and, recently, the barber who has cut my hair twice now. Short, polite, meaningless conversations to ease our transactions.

When I was in university, ladies got bored from me not having a clue when I was being greenlighted. The subtle nuances were always lost on me. Lol, it hasn’t greatly changed now, to be honest – I am always second-guessing the signals or I’m oblivious altogether. Sometimes I require a floodlight to get a hint, I’m afraid. At work or some other set up I’m involved with, when I get to hear of people who are rumoured to be seeing each other, I kick myself at the realization that the hint was there all along and I missed it because I wasn’t looking.

I’m usually not looking at these things – and there lies my problem. I am largely oblivious of my immediate surroundings and I could maybe hold a decent conversation on politics, foreign policy, physics, math, media, psychology, technology and all those things that one can grasp from reading books and observing people. But it seems I am oblivious on purpose, because I tend to make connections pretty quickly when I absolutely have to. I always joke about how my aloofness tends to immediately fade out when it really matters.

The average person is not necessarily aloof. Ignorant, maybe, but everyone is ignorant about some things. Thoughts like these run through my mind in those few moments the person sitting on the spot is contemplating whether they consider themselves to be smarter than the average person. When they finally say yes, I quietly think, yeah, me too. I think.

 

 

Calling Home:

My parents are probably the only reason I find phone calls useful. Everyone else can IM me on whatever platform we’re both connected on – unless there’s an emergency or we haven’t spoken in forever and absolutely have to talk.

On the off chance that I have to call someone – and it is not an emergency – I secretly hope that the phone rings out without an answer. So I can send a text and say I tried to reach out. Easy, ball has left my court. Over the years, making a phone call has become like an unpopular chore one has to occasionally deal with. I find I’ll much rather text a long winded essay when interacting with someone than have the conversation over the phone. Texting is easy. Talking that isn’t face-to-face is… well, it’s not hard; just exhausting.

Texting, on the other hand, really only works if the other person is smart and/or interesting enough to be worth the time. There’s nothing more torturous than trying to carry on a conversation with someone who can’t be bothered to type like they had some basic education without coming off as a condescending ass grammar nerd. Sometimes, it’s even more painful when they don’t get the hint even when you’re one. Ugh. End of chat. Be gone.

People who think K or kk is an acceptable response should be sterilized. In any keypad, the letters O and K couldn’t be placed nearer each other than they currently are. How do so many people not realize and respect the sexiness that comes with conversing in good grammar? Carrying on texting like you’re retarded is so pervasive that people who make the effort to converse like they have some education are the ones who seem retarded. Madness. While I may enjoy a person’s company or find them interesting, I find myself judging and correcting their grammar in my head when we communicate. Can’t be helped, sorry.

Calling home is easy. My parents don’t use the internet and they don’t have to talk for very long on the phone – even though I don’t mind if it comes to that. Calling home, especially if my nieces are around to chime in is therapeutic for me, sort of. In the often pulsating voyage that sums up my day-to-day life out here, occasionally talking with folks back home is very soothing.

Next on that ladder is the person I am enamoured with at the time. Sadly, even I tend to cower and follow the script when I’m in love with someone. It’s almost like they’re and my family are in a constant jostle on my speed dial. They win every time – if only in frequency, though. Even with them, after a while, I tend to ease back into texting more often than placing a call.

 

Here and Back Again: ChattrBoxNg and The Big Story 

The last 3 months have been a roller coaster on all fronts. Last night, I and my team recorded the 12th episode of the ChattrBox podcast and it dawned on me that we’d logged 3 months on this thing already. Incredible. 

Now, some backstory. 

It all began on some Friday night, late in May,  when my friend Henry Igwe – Copywriter and Editor at Naij.com – showed up at my house in Yaba. He was in the area to meet up with some folk to record some other podcast he was working on at the time. Recording didn’t happen. Logistics nwhatnot. It was too late to head back home so he came over to my place. We talked about work and stuff and memories and trajectories from Uniben. When he tried to sell me the idea of us starting a podcast together, I kinda shrugged it off. Like, I was too busy with work at the moment and I’d not-too-recently started managing a new team. There were KPIs to be met. Too busy, maybe later, I said. We left it at that. But Henry is a marketer and, by the next weekend, I was heading to a studio in Lekki to record a podcast whose name we hadn’t even decided on yet. We figured out the name just minutes before recording began. The Chatterbox Podcast, by Henry, Solomon and Cyclone. (Cyclone is a singer and an actress. She was in uniben too) 

Fast forward to the first weekend in August. We had put about 8 episodes out already on SoundCloud and were getting some good feedback. Then we went on Ebony Life TV as guests on The Crunch. Henry was basically working his media connects and marketing the podcast with the single aim of getting us to do it in the big leagues: on radio. Ebony Life TV was the first crack at the good stuff. 

We moved on from that and progressively got better with the pod. Better traction too. Owen, friend and classmate of mine,  joined us the next weekend and became a regular on the  pod as Cyclone got progressively more preoccupied to continue with us. By mid August, radio came calling. Henry’s connects had come through and we answered the call to do a “clean” version of our podcast on radio. You know, for the NBC nwhatnot. Can’t have Henry cursing on radio and getting us corporate flak. Lol. 

Getting on radio was massive. LagosTalks 91.3fm is the sister station to Naija102, Beats and Classic fm. We got a 1 hour, prime time slot for the show on Saturdays. Couldn’t get much better than that. And the feedback has been great. Now, we do the radio show and still record the  podcast every weekend. Whew.

I still do my 9 to 5, working at Nigeria’s best and foremost Travel-Tech start up and that is a massive experience all on its own. Now, media is part of the mix as well. Was speaking with Stanley Azuakola (Editor/Founder of The Scoop and good friend – and classmate of mine) a few weeks ago and we joked about how I always manage to end up being on radio and/or TV, no matter where I go. Three years and three cities after, same trend. There’s no escaping this stuff.

On The Big Story, we do a quick run down and analyse the biggest stories that make the headlines every week. Same thing for the podcast, except it’s not particularly radio prim and proper nwhatnot.

Lagos is intense. There’s hardly ever any free time but we do what we must and scale the hurdles every day. We are young now anyway. Might as well expend the energy well now before our time in the sun is up. I’m eager to see how this all pans out though. Should be good.

The fifth episode of The Big Story airs today at 11am, Nigerian Time. Tune in to LagosTalks 91.3fm to catch it. Or stream it online. You can also catch up on previous (and subsequent) episodes of the ChattrBoxNg Podcast on our SoundCloud page.

Follow me on Twitter for real time updates on what I’m working on. 

Firers and Heartbreakers: The Nature of Pain

My first real heartbreak came a few days to the defence of my final year thesis in college. One last call that drove the final nail to a coffin which housed an already comatose relationship which I was hell-bent on keeping alive.

She ended it and ripped a hole in the space time continuum. My heart was fine. No, I’m kidding. It went numb but my mind quickly went into overdrive and I worked on my thesis and aced the defence. OK, I got a B. Things could have been much worse. The aching resumed right after and took about 12 weeks to completely go away. Experience has hardened or deadened that feeling over the years though.

I have always been curious about the nature of internalized pain and how it affects both those who bear it and those who inflict it – whether directly or otherwise. (The person who ends a relationship aches too, to some degree. Unless they weren’t really vested in it, to begin with.) I have watched people wither away and be withdrawn from everything for a while as a result of a heart break. And then the pains wears off and things normalize.

Fifteen months ago, I got fired from a job I had worked at for 10 months before. The global price of crude had tanked and market forces forced the company to downsize. When it came down to it, my department got the axe.

When HR handed us our letters that day, I felt nothing. No grief or sadness. No pain. I had mastered heart breaks from experience. Or so I like to think. I and my friend, who also got a letter, went out and celebrated at some new fancy restaurant that had opened down the street a couple of weeks before. (We both have since moved on to better things.)

The ache that comes from firing is weirdly like the one from a heartbreak (they’re both, essentially, a termination of a relationship). At least from the perspective of the person pulling the plug. It is not easy to deal someone a crushing blow without taking some sting yourself.

I had to fire a member of my team recently and I, too, ripped a hole in the space time continuum. It was my first “official” firing and the phone call left a sick taste in my mouth afterwards. It was literally heartbreaking to pull off (I imagine he felt worse and that ruined it further for me). I swore I was never doing that again, but I know the odds are against me. I can only hope it is a long, long way into the future before the chance presents itself.

Ending an emotional relationship is a tad easier than ending a professional one, in a sense. When you don’t call, text, reach out or respond to the other person for an extended period, they start to get the hint. Keep that up properly and you both might be lucky enough to not have to go through the torture of a formal, tedious call to wrap things up.

On the other hand, there’s really no buildup process for firing someone. They won’t suddenly get a hint if they get no emails or Slack messages from you for an extended period of time – it usually bodes well for an employee when this happens. If you don’t send them invites to collaborate on a spreadsheet, it means nothing to anyone – just less work to bother about. There’s no avoiding the formal call or face-to-face chat and secretly hoping they get the point and walk away. The confrontation will happen. Whatever the circumstances, it will never be easy to do and, unless you’re some cold-hearted robot, you’ll diminish a little from the experience.

Naturally, the people on the other end of the spectrum bear a bigger weight of the pain than those who pull the plug. They also often take longer to recover. But those who inflict the pain will have to live with it too for a while.

One way to avoid having to go through this pain – whether from having to fire someone or having to break up with someone – is  to do all the hard work at the start. Hire better. Choose better. Going with your gut may sound like a good advice when choosing or even hiring someone, but it mostly is just gooey advice. The signs are always there if you look hard enough. Do the needful and stave of the pain for as long as you can.