Posts tagged growth

Neverwhere 4.0: Brighter Lights

I haven’t bothered with New Year resolutions in recent years. In my experience, the satiety associated with ticking items off on a diary at the end of the year didn’t always translate to a substantial forward push on the dial of progress. Every January since has met me unshackled by resolutions and bearing a measured hope.

I started off 2018 riding high on incipient despair. Every part of me was sick of the daily commute from Yaba to Lekki for a job I’d began to grow weary of right before the New Year holidays. I was desperate for a change – not the kind you write down in a diary and wait to tick off, but the kind that mattered. It filled my every waking moment and seeped into my sleep often. I considered resigning as soon as I hit the 1-year mark a month later in February. Because a 1 year period (minimum) at a job tended to look better on a resumé. It was my intention to refrain from holding a regular 9-5, as I had plans to dust up my freelance suit and get in the game again.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men come to ruin without money.”

That’s not how that saying goes, but you catch my drift. Not having enough runway money saved was getting in the way of my resigning. I barely had enough to pay the bills and move around conservatively. I could barely save, never mind build a runway trove. It was frustrating as hell. I was stuck, and this was January, the winter of the financial year.

Yibambe! Yibambe!!

On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, I got tickets to an advance screening of Black Panther. It was the night that the tides started to change for good. My phone rang and it was the CEO of one of the top tech companies on the continent on the other end. He wanted to meet that night, but I couldn’t forego the chance to see Black Panther before everyone else, so I asked that we meet the next day, and he agreed.
My friend Fu’ad was at the meeting the next day. He’d got the call too. The following weeks would see us (Fu’ad and I) have meetings at restaurants. We frequented Mr. Biggs on Masha on so many nights after work to discuss ideas and work on decks for a project we were working on to demo before the company looking to hire us. We were both on the cusp of higher tides, and we were doing all the work to be ready. We eventually went on to work at different companies in the end, but there are ideas we talked through on those nights that we will have to work on someday yet.

People are watching you.

2018 let me know people have been paying attention to my work. In mid-April, I was fortunate to get recommended for the gig I work now, right at the same time I was in talks with the other company. It was pretty surreal, but 2 weeks and five interviews or so later, I signed a contract to join. Then followed a slew of fortunate events in quick succession and, two weeks after my first day, I was on a plane to NYC. Everything had changed and I wasn’t nearly ready psychologically, I think.

Through the looking glass

One requires a new set of nerves to deal with joy if all you’ve always known is mostly pain. On my first night in New York in June, as I sat up in bed trying to take it all in, it dawned on me that I still wasn’t quite in tune with everything that was going on yet. There was a flurry of obligatory congratulatory messages from friends and family piling up on my phone, and all I felt was some kind of detachment from it all. It was like I’d gone through the looking glass and become an onlooker in a simulation in which the main character was also me. I was in dream-state consciousness. It took me about 6 weeks to get well adjusted to everything.
enduring success
I think pain makes for good stories or art. I’m not some masochist or anything, but it always seemed to me that people who put out great work always seemed to be dealing with some kind of pain; like they take all that hurt and use it as a canvass to create something truly special. I hesitated on writing this review because, as I said to my friend Femi when we talked about it, I’m not sure I have enough pain to graft everything on. It is a kind of twisted way to think about things, but if you know, you know. But I know pain.

In the middle of a monthly Zoom sync with my team in August, I got a call that my dad had been rushed to the hospital. His BP had spiked and he had a stroke. I sat there thinking, “well, shit.” Something broke in me that day. He is in recovery and will require many weeks of physiotherapy yet to regain the proper use of his affected limbs.

I almost lost out on love again this year. In fact, I did temporarily. After months of waiting for a response from the LOML, right when it seemed like we might actually happen, she got on a plane and bid farewell to Nigeria in October. I went with her to the airport that night to see her off. It was one hell of a day, as I knew that this surely meant the end of the road for us. It was a crushing feeling. While we sat there in potent silence waiting for her flight, I joined a scheduled call at the office and reality poked deeper, still. The head of my team who also doubled as my new mentor (we’d just had our first session two days before) had left the company that day. My mood tanked. About 40 minutes after the call, it was time to check in. I hugged the LOML goodbye and willed myself away from the airport in one piece. I reckon If I was a man prone to substances, I might have OD’ed that night.

Miracles aren’t required to make sense

Nearly a month later, she came back. I finally got my response and with it came joy like I’d not known in a long while. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting – and not for a want of trying – I finally lucked out on love, and it was well worth the wait, I tell ya.

As I try to mentally navigate this year, I realize, for the first time, there are way more happy stories than there are painful ones. And I decided that they deserve telling too. In late 2016, I tweeted about wanting to move to a bigger apartment with enough room for a mini recording studio and a library filled with books. Well, it took about 18 months, but I finally moved into a bigger apartment in this year. I haven’t installed a studio yet, but there’s room now for it. An ad I wrote last year for Wikipedia won an excellence award last month, so, I guess, technically, I’m an award-winning writer now, right? I facilitated a masterclass and spoke at Social Media Week Lagos in February. I also successfully hired someone who’s proven to be a right fit to continue writing forLoop Weekly from forLoop Africa. Win.

God came through for me big this year. I now work a job I love, I live in a house I love, and I have the LOML who loves me enough to want to be with me. As goals and New Year resolutions go, these unwritten, unspoken dreams came true.

Oh, what’s reality lately?

This is the last day of the year. As I look back, I can see all the things I couldn’t accomplish or follow through on. I paid for and started courses I didn’t finish. I also started projects that are still in their early stages it’s difficult to make anything of them yet. As 2019 looms across the horizon, I am doing that thing I haven’t done in a while: writing down the things I’d like to tick off at the end of the year.

For starters, I’m going to learn and be proficient in one programming language in 2019. I work too often with devs to not know how to code. I’ll also be taking project management training, as it is increasingly apparent that I need it for my job. I’m getting a lot of invites to teach content lately, so I see a lot of that happening in 2019, where I will facilitate sessions on writing and content. I might write a book, an ad or a movie. Mazel tov.

I have the good fortune of being part of a rockstars team at work. In the 6 months of collaborating with them, I’ve been able to stretch myself and learn new things and a better way to do work. I’m excited about all the things we will do in 2019.

This year I am thankful for the joys of friendship and support systems that make for an easier navigation of life in this crazy city. I am grateful for my family and the constant love that they give. I am grateful for new friends made across new borders. I am thankful for peace in the storm, and for light in the darkness. And for joy.

Thank you, God.

PS: I wrote this over 3 days of looping Seasons by Hillsong. You might like it.

Catch up on Neverwhere 3.0 here (and follow the loop to the first one if you’re that psyched about my story)

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.