My #Obamahomecoming Story and Why Foundations Matter

This past week was #Obamahomecoming all the way, and I, like many Kenyans, have my Obama story. I was out of the country all week before his arrival and wondered if that would mean my having to stay away longer. In the end, everything was handled very well.

My flight, due to arrive at the same time as Wuod Kogelo (Son of Kogelo), was delayed by an hour. Yes, only an hour. And I had 3 days’ notice that departure would be delayed by an hour, so I didn’t get to the airport and get disappointed.

Then, although the road that I use to get home was partially closed, I still arrived in decent time; in fact, it took a shorter while than usual.

On Saturday, I heard ‘Marine One’ thunder past, and teased my still sleeping family that they had missed The Beast on its way to Gigiri for the opening of the GE Summit. I was sorry to see many closed shops. It’s ironical that the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and Obama’s homecoming coincided with lost revenues for business people. That was my downside.

Then on Sunday I packed a small picnic and left the house at 6.30am with my, thankfully, well-connected husband, through whom I was invited, to attend the address at the Kasarani sports centre.

Obama’s story gets me. And to be in the 0.0125% that got invited, wow, I am still glowing.

I have to say, though, the greatest part of this story for me, was the way he managed to come across as POTUS and Wuod Kenya in the same visit.

It started with dinner with the family (and, of course, western sceptics thought ‘a family of 30?’) Duh, you don’t get it because you don’t get that he is Ja Kogelo. He said it himself – the first Kenyan American POTUS!

And then he repeated that bit about his name, and how when he first landed in Kenya, someone recognised it, and immediately gave him a sense of identity. He belonged. He was someone. Here.

His sister made the contrast between her battered old VW 30 years ago and The Beast today, 2015. Such a simple metaphor for how ‘today is not tomorrow’, and, yes, Obama said it; “your past is not your future”.

He talked about dreams, and how each one of us can create our own, “right now, right here”. Looking at him, can you doubt that? I believe that he has worked his butt off to get to live his dream.

And I don’t doubt that, along the way, he has recognised and appreciated the people who nurtured, inspired and supported him. He shows gratitude.

To any person reading this, especially if you are young, I say, just in case you missed it, Obama went through bad times, had episodes of self-doubt, ignored detractors, and sought and listened to good advice.  He put in the hours. He faced his fears head on and didn’t dwell on what he didn’t have, or what was weird about him (imagine the teasing at school, funny name, big ears, no Daddy). He rolled up his sleeves and did something.

Mostly, though, would like you to take this away: he built strong foundations. He understood that in the end, it all comes out, and, for many years back then, worked to create content that would look good on his CV. That’s why he so confidently put in an application for POTUS, and got the job. Twice.

And, oh, he read his job description very carefully before he signed up.

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The Butchers Stone

BalanceThe butcher would place a stone equivalent to the weight of the meat you wanted to buy on the scale. Then he cut off a chunk of meat and put it on the plate. It was usually almost right, and with one little addition he perfected it. Sometimes he got it right in one go. Sometimes he added a little too much and the scale tilted in favour of the meat. Once in a while he needed to add two or three little pieces before he got it right. Always, however,  he gave you the weight that you asked for, the weight you paid for.

I like this image of a scale, and the actions of the butcher as he tries to get the balance right. After a long time in the business her has a knack for it, and knows just how much to cut off to get close to the desired weight. He only needs to tweak a little to get the balance right.

Much of our lives are like that. We know the what needs doing, and with a little adjusting here and there we can and do get it right.  It can become problematic if we are not flexible to make the required adjustments as we go along. If we expect ourselves to get it right first time all the time, we place a lot of stress on ourselves. If we are unwilling to make changes in order to get it right we fail more than we succeed.

The circumstances we find ourselves in determine the size of that first chunk that goes onto the weighing scale. Some situations call for bigger inputs   to start with. If you cut back on that effort you have to cut up more little pieces in order make the required ‘weight’. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you get the balance right. The point is, the better you get at sizing up the effort required upfront, the less shuffling and tweaking it will take to get you there. This releases resources for you to do something else.

How do you get better at sizing up the effort?

  1. Do your research. Taking time upstream to understand what is required will save you rework and duplicated effort downstream. It may mean starting later than you wanted, but it improves your chances of finishing well.
  2. Know yourself . Be aware of your strengths, and bring them to bear, as well as your weaknesses, which you can mitigate. Once you have done your research it is easy to see what gaps in your knowledge, skills, attitude or values you need to address in order to succeed at whatever you are pursuing
  3. Learn . It is never too late to learn. You don’t know everything. Sooner or later you come across something that you need to do for the first time. Even older, experienced people have firsts. Opening yourself up for learning expands your comfort zone and gives you confidence to tackle  new challenges.

The butcher doesn’t use stones and plates anymore. He has a digital scale, but the need to get the balance right is just as relevant today as it was back when.

Old fashioned weighing scales

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Feeling Lost?

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Even the most organised of us find ourselves wandering around without direction sometimes. It may be that we are just not making headway with a project or plan. It may be that we don’t like where we are going, but don’t know where else to go. Or it may be that we just cannot decide what we want. Sometimes we get to feel this way when we have been ‘lost’ for a while. Other times it’s just  a nagging feeling that we have lost our sense of direction.

If you are feeling that way right now here are some readings to help you find your way again.

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I have lost my direction in life, by Psychologies

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Why do I feel lost?, by By Adam Benedetto and Zoe Young at Answers in Writing

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8 Reasons Why People Feel Lost in Their Lives, By David di Salvo

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Feeling Lost and How It Can Help You Find Yourself, by Juan Arbelaez

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I got conned


I got conned.

Despite knowing that money transfer messages come from ‘Mpesa’, and not a number, and despite knowing that I could always check my balance to confirm that additional funds have come in, I fell to a conman and lost some money.

Granted, I wasn’t alert because the message came in just as I was dozing off for my very treasured Saturday afternoon nap (serves me right for looking when the phone beeped!). And granted, the number looked very similar to my own, (which should have raised the alarm!). And, on top of that, the voice at the other end sounded so credible. (duh!)

I should have known better. No, I know better.

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It happens to all of us. We make our plans and comb through for every detail, check each risk, put mitigation plans in place, provide a plan B, review, revise and reconfirm. And then we…

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I got conned

I got conned.

Despite knowing that money transfer messages come from ‘Mpesa’, and not a number, and despite knowing that I could always check my balance to confirm that additional funds have come in, I fell to a conman and lost some money.

Granted, I wasn’t alert because the message came in just as I was dozing off for my very treasured Saturday afternoon nap (serves me right for looking when the phone beeped!). And granted, the number looked very similar to my own, (which should have raised the alarm!). And, on top of that, the voice at the other end sounded so credible. (duh!)

I should have known better. No, I know better.



It happens to all of us. We make our plans and comb through for every detail, check each risk, put mitigation plans in place, provide a plan B, review, revise and reconfirm. And then we are sure we have it all under control. Until something happens and it all comes apart.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t prepare properly. Nor does it say we are cursed, or stupid, or all those ugly names we use when we don’t succeed at something. I think that it only says ‘you are not in control of everything’, or ‘you are not perfect’.

And who doesn’t know that? You don’t need your well laid plans to go awry to know that you are not flawless, do you?

Question is, what do you do when it comes crushing down?

I didn’t enjoy my nap, in fact I didn’t really nap, because I was bothered about what had happened. But it took me all of two hours to accept that I had been conned. It’s like I was thinking in slow motion! Then I called the service provider to make a report. They confirmed my fears, and told me it was too late, the money had been withdrawn. But I started feeling better immediately, because I had stopped feeling ‘bothered’ and done something. Hopefully that number has been blocked, or at least black listed, and will not be used on another hapless victim.

So the thing is to accept that you have been had, by the elements, the opposition, the detractors, that innocent-looking-person-that-you-thought-couldn’t-harm-a-fly, or whomever, and move on. Don’t beat yourself up for it, even if you could have been more careful. The fact is, whatever happened, happened. However hard it is to accept that, one thing is for sure, if it’s in the past you cannot change it.

I like this quote from Pema Chödrön’s When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. ”

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Comfortable? Maybe you shouldn’t be.

When you are comfortable you are in the perfect place for whatever you need in that moment. Be it sitting or standing or lying in your bed. You are positioned in such a way that your muscles are relaxed and you feel good. If not, you will toss and turn, shift from one leg to the other, until you find a comfortable position, or until you can move to some place else.

The irony is, we all seek comfort, but it is the lack of comfort that forces us to move. And without movement we cannot grow. So comfort is both a motivator for, and an obstacle to, growth.

That is why you need a good balance of comfort and discomfort in your life.

Picture this. A baby is wrapped up snuggly to keep her little body warm. However, she must be unwrapped to have her diaper changed. If her surroundings are cold she may cry when the cold air hits her butt, but in a short while she is clean and dry and snug again. The diaper changing process represents the activities that improve your awareness and identity, develop your talents and potential, facilitate your employability, enhance the quality of your life and contribute to the realization of your dreams and aspirations.

In the process of doing these things you will feel a blast of cold air. These come in many forms – like having to give up some pleasures in order to save money for something, or aching muscles as you work on your physical status. It may be the time spent studying or learning something new, and the exams that go with it.

Wetness or a bad odour prompts the need for a diaper change. What triggers your realisation that you need for  a change?

It could be your own realisation that you just aren’t going anywhere, or it could be the observation of someone close to you. It may be the failure to get something you wanted badly, like a promotion.

Many people who look backwards, focusing more on how far they have come rather than how much further they can go miss the triggers. While I cannot deny that seeing how far you have come is a great reward, I would like to caution that it can become an excuse for not demanding more of yourself.

And if your situation demands more of yourself than you do, you will come up short. And someone else will give what is demanded. That’s how you miss the promotion.

So ask yourself today how you can ensure that you are tuned into the triggers for change, and have a plan for movement when the time is right.

Or better still, anticipate the need for movement.


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Savour Life’s Moments: None of them will Last Forever

The past week was curious, to say the least. On Monday I was at a meeting of mums discussing the safety and protection of our children, and I heard some harrowing stories about how people we trust harm our children.

Then on Tuesday the German Wings crash happened in France, and on Thursday we heard that it was brought down ‘deliberately’ by one of the people to whom the passengers and crew had entrusted their safety.

In the same week I was at meetings to support someone whose dad has terminal cancer, and another whose brother is hospitalised. It was also the week that women parliamentarians in Kenya were up in arms after one of them accused a colleague of sexual harassment while they were visiting a foreign country. In the same period, the police began an investigation into allegations that another male Member of Parliament had raped a business partner, wife of his friend.  Obviously a lot more happened last week, but, somehow, these incidents stood out for me in a more than casual way.

Fleeting moments

They got me thinking about how life happens, with or without you, to you or to someone else. And whether we like it or not, there are things we just don’t control, and the best we can do is keep moving until we get a sign that we can stop. Or, perhaps, we need to stop until we get a sign that we should start moving again.The week  reminded me that life is made up of fleeting moments, and each moment should be savoured for itself.

When it is raining where you are, it is shining somewhere else, because it does not rain everywhere at the same time. Sometimes you get to walk through the rain until you cross to the side that’s dry, but sometimes you just cannot get out of it.  All the same, you know it will stop raining. On occasion, though, you just can’t seem to remember that.

So wherever life has got you today, know that the situation will change. Just open yourself up to read the sign when it appears.

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Every day we have opportunities to learn different lessons.

Some lessons are more difficult than others, and some days have more difficult lessons than others.  I have struggled on some days because I couldn’t reach into the part of me that is needed in order to learn the day’s lesson.

This hurts. It can feel like I am drowning, unable to breathe. I feel tense, on edge. My stomach hurts. I cannot eat. It feels very much like I am grieving. I want to crawl into a hole and not have to be seen or behave.

But I found a way to do this.

I tell myself, there is a lesson in there somewhere, and I look for that lesson.

Sometimes it takes a while, and I often have to find some quiet, to be still, in order to go to the place where I can refocus.

Once I do that however, I stop focusing on the tension, and slowly my body relaxes. It can take a few minutes, or some days, but always, I begin to relax.

And then I begin to get in touch with me.

I can reach into my values and remember who I am, and why I make the choices that I do, why I fight for what I fight for. Why I laugh, and why I love. Where I am going, and why.

And then I can find the lesson, and begin to learn it.

Nowhere to hide

Nowhere to hide

There are lessons about pride and how it comes before a fall.

There are lessons about undone homework, and laziness.

There are lessons about not believing in myself, or being too confident.

And there are lessons about not trusting enough, or too much.

There are lessons about not speaking up, or speaking too much.

There are lessons about wanting to do it all.

Lessons about taking a chance, or making a choice. Facing the fear.

There are all sorts of lessons.

I feel foolish sometimes, when it becomes obvious what the lesson is, because I ought to have known.

But I guess if I always knew what the lesson was before its time, life would be too easy, and I might begin thinking I was perfect, which I know I am not.

So on difficult days I tell myself there is no lesson I cannot learn, and then take a step back to allow it reveal itself.

And I reach out to my maker and find that I am at peace, because no load is ever too big or too heavy for the way he has created me.

Then I embark on the journey that will make me better, stronger.

Until the next lesson.

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Sometimes the Bravest Thing To Do is Ask for Help.

Sometimes the Bravest Thing To Do is Ask for Help..

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Sometimes the Bravest Thing To Do is Ask for Help.

One of the clearest signs that you need help is the fact that you keep getting into the same trouble. Be it chronic lateness, drinking too much, not getting things done, running out of money before the next pay check, shouting at your kids, giving the silent treatment….

And let’s face it. Just because there are one or two examples of not getting late, or drunk or whatever, doesn’t mean you don’t have a problem. Nor does the fact that people around you don’t point it out any more.  They have simply accepted that they cannot change you. Or maybe they don’t care anymore.

Recurrent personal problems are a result of habit, and these require a lot of effort and determination to overcome.

One way to start is to tell yourself that whatever your circumstances you have a role to play in getting yourself there. Without this acknowledgement you cannot get to the next step, which is to ask yourself what you could do to change where you are. And once you  accept this, it is easier for you to  ask yourself how you have contributed to that situation. Once you start thinking about how you could have gotten into that situation, you start seeing things that you could start or stop doing to get out of it. You stop being the victim of circumstance and become an active partner in moving your life along.

People often say, “no, there are situations that you get into without any contribution on your part.” Like, if you are always broke because your friends borrow money and don’t pay back you might say it’s because your friends don’t pay back. Perhaps you will say it’s because you are too kind to refuse a friend in need. But you can also say it’s because you don’t say no to them when they borrow. Or you can also say that it’s because you don’t enforce the lending terms.

But acknowledging that the situation has got something to do with what you do or don’t do  is only the beginning. Changing that habit can be challenging.

This is why it makes sense to ask for support.

You could ask for help because you recognise you have a problem, even if you haven’t got to the stage of acknowledging or articulating how you contribute to it.

You could ask for help when you have reflected on how you contribute, and want to counter the damaging behaviour.

You could ask for help at any stage.

And if you don’t see that you need help,  try asking for assistance to understand why others say that you do.

There are many professionals who can help with all sorts of issues, as long as you are willing to put yourself in their hands. And, beyond that, to make a sincere effort to put into practice the new behaviours that you and your helper will identify as required to break old habits. After all, if you only give a potter 1 kilogram of clay, she cannot make a 5 kg pot.

So next time you catch yourself doing it again, ask if it isn’t time you asked for help.

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