Breaking Shackles Of Employment

Written by Mark Maish

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Mark in studio /courtesy

Three days ago, I was standing on the edge of a cliff next to a waterfall.  Moments before a lady and two guys in the expedition group jumped off the cliff without the slightest hesitation. It was now my turn to make the jump. A crowd of more than 50 hikers was watching from the sides in anticipation. Uneasy, silence followed.  Every single flash of the camera pushed my racing heart a notch higher.

I took a step back. Just as I was about to jump the tour guide stopped me.

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“Yes…How deep is it?”

“This is the deepest pool around here. There are lots protruding rocks, sharp roots and sticky mud, please don’t jump in if you are not a great swimmer.”

“Last year, I saw two people die right here. One of them jumped in just like you are about to at 10 am. We retrieved his body at 3 pm,” the guide continued.

The only other time I felt this scared was the very first time I quit a job.

A week to my graduation, I was invited to a meeting at Nation Center. A senior manager had stumbled upon this blog and was impressed by its content. After a lengthy discussion, he asked me to create a one-hour show on Nation FM that would delve in careers mainly targeting campus students. The deal was that if I proved my worth, I would be absorbed into the biggest media house in East and Central Africa.

The offer came at a time I was recovering from the loss of my 2nd business. See The broke billionaire. I desperately needed to prove my worth to myself and to the world. I took the offer and signed a crappy 3 months contract.

September 2015, saw hundreds of highly talented Nation Media Group employees laid off rather unceremoniously. The radio station’s ratings took a hit. Since the one-hour show was a success. I was tasked to produce the Nation Drive, a daily 4-hour primetime show.

Under the tutelage of the legendary radio host Chris Okinda, I got to learn so much about radio production. When the last quarter of the year results were released, Nation FM market share had double with Nation Drive being the most popular show. I was excited that the sacrifice, late nights and new strategy I single-handedly developed finally bore fruits.

The results also revealed that the radio station had few listeners between 18 and 25. The idea of Vocal Nation, a radio reality campus show meant to draw listenership from this age bracket was born. I was asked to take charge of Vocal Nation.

For a couple of weeks, I worked to 3 am every night and through weekends to come up with a solid concept, structure of the show and content. I wrote proposals to potential sponsors for the show, set up meetings with vice-chancellors of universities across Kenya and coordinated various activities leading to the successful launch of Vocal Nation.

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Mar, second from left, with colleagues at Nation Center/courtesy

Meanwhile, I had a full-time job in another media company from 8am-5pm, producing the Nation Drive 4-8pm and now Vocal Nation from 8-11pm. The earliest I would get home is 12:30 am, Monday to Friday.

On 7th January 2016, I met my immediate supervisor and boss seeking to improve the terms of my contract. I was a frustrated and overworked young man trying to curve a niche in the media industry. I outlined all the work I was putting in and the milestones I had achieved so far. However, the two made it very clear that they were doing me a favor. They went ahead and suggested that I quit if I didn’t see it that way.

My first instinct was to walk out and never go back after all I’m multi-talented. Nonetheless, I choose to think about it once my anger had subsided. That is when I realized that if I left at that very moment my absence wouldn’t be felt.

I quickly formulated an exit strategy and went back to the studio the following day with a big smile on my face. I moved out of the shadows, took on more responsibilities and became a co-host on Vocal Nation. At first, all I would do is laugh out loudly at the jokes to announce my presence.

I took a personal initiative to learn from several experienced TV & radio presenters. In a few weeks, I was so good you would imagine I had been doing it for decades.

For the next five months, I worked tirelessly with the participants, Dj Bigmyk and Nana, to transform Vocal Nation from being just a show into a movement.  With a few changes, Vocal Nation became a massive hit enjoying listenership right from teens to 50-something-year-olds. This was mainly because unlike most radio shows in Kenya, we held mature discussions that touched on real issues.

We hosted influential personalities, celebrities, and renowned entrepreneurs. The love shown to us was intense. Studio lines and social media would go crazy minutes before the show began.

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Mark and colleagues with popular Kenyan music band Sauti Sol/courtesy

I was never paid a single coin for the 10 months I worked at Nation FM. My friends and family thought I was insane.

Why would you put in so much work to a company that clearly does not value you or even pay for all work-related trips from your own pocket?

Well, I did it because I wanted to acquire corporate discipline, improve my managerial skills and grow my network. Having made a name for myself, groomed someone to take over and achieved everything I wanted, it was time for me to call it quits.

Breaking the shackles of employment was harder than I thought. I was not ready to let go of the access and perks that came with working at such a company. I was afraid that if I left Nation FM my brand would take a huge blow and completely disappear.

What if I fail? I’m I making the right choice? What if I left only for the show I sacrificed a lot for withered off?  Numerous what if’s plagued me.

Exactly a week to my 25th birthday, I was hit by a car while crossing a street to the office. Sleep deprivation had taken a toll on my body to the point I crossed that road with my eyes closed.  Luckily, I survived with minor injuries. The scales fell from my eyes. This was two months before the radio station was ultimately shut down. I resigned a week later.

Quitting employment for whatever reason is like jumping from the top of a waterfall into a croc-infested pool full of protruding rocks, sharp roots, and mud.  The crocodiles, rocks, and roots represent risks and challenges that come with change. The guide is that person in your life who incessantly tries to convince you that is the wrong move and even quotes cases of people who tried and failed miserably.

The crowds on the sidelines are your colleagues, friends, family and relatives. When you succeed, they will sing your praises claiming to have known all along that you were destined for great things. If you fail they will laugh behind your back and use your story to warn others attempting do the same.

I have interacted with lots of employees who have amazing talents and great business plans. Whenever I ask why they were not out there actualizing their ideas, most claim to be waiting for the right moment. Others cite family obligations and the need to pay bills as the reason holding them back from pursuing their passions.

It took getting hit by a car for me to leave that toxic workplace. Thinking of it now, it was the best decision I ever made since my brand has grown twice bigger and is able to generate enough income to finance my new startup.

It is sad how shackles of employment suppress many of our dreams because we are afraid of losing the few benefits that come with our jobs. We are scared of challenging the status quo. We are mortified by the thought of venturing out of our the comfort zone. Sometimes that steady paycheck is the only thing standing between you and greatness.

I know a good number of people who are running a small business on the side that has the potential of growing into a profitable empire. Unfortunately, they deliberately limit its growth so they can keep their day job. Unless forced by circumstances, they may never get to make hard choices that really allow them to achieve their full potential.

Needless to say, I dived off that cliff into the icy pool of water below at least six times. Just like with everything in life, the first time was scary as hell but it got easier with every succesive dive.  Hidden on a bend right across the pool was the most magnificent scene I have ever laid my eyes on.

It is now your turn to make up your mind. Are you going to jump into the treacherous pool, swim across to the enchanting view or let the tour guide, shackles of employment and fear of the unknown discourage you from becoming what you are truly meant to be?

*Find Mark HERE

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