Parroting others' views is easy but life is more complicated than good grades. College education is not a ticket to jobs nor the guarantor of happy endings. The well-connected; great storytellers, closers, influencers, SBHs (stupid but hardworking), lucky and lazy, may all overtake you. With good reason.
Life is tough, in case you haven't seen enough heartrending Youtube predator vs. prey videos. And if you think you can just follow the crowd into college magically expecting a job and successful career when you graduate, you really haven't been paying attention, and it's not the government's fault.
Africans, and black people generally, hate that I'm blunt. But I'm Black too. And when Africans ask me “Where did we go wrong?” after seeing reports like the above, I say: Nothing to do with leaders or corruption. We're here because we never appreciate(d) the value of paying attention to what truly matters, and proactively taking steps to avert costly mistakes. Student loan debt, in my case.
Time and energy spent blaming the system and chasing drama and stories like the above online is best spent on high quality content that warns you about, and gently redirects you away from, precisely the predicament the likes of Kelvin Ochieng find/found themselves in. Content I create. Content such as the below (click or tap), and more. Ignored by the very people who need it most, — until it's too late.As an undergrad, I coached a Drexel University alum who couldn't find a good job one year or so after graduating. An African too. Within two months of sitting together, redoing her CV/resumé, giving her a ride to no more than 2 job fairs, and prepping her, she landed an interview with Accenture, and off she went to Chicago. So high quality networking and mentorships matter, even if one is, by definition, in a perfect city to launch a great career.
Further, as an undergrad the first Mainland Chinese I coached — who approached me in a university library seeking help to fill forms — later successfully transferred and got his PhD from University of Pennyslvania (UPENN), and is now a professor in the States, marriage success and all. So the feature report (above) aside, the first thing Kelvin Ochieng's case suggests is lack of commensurate mentorship calibre. As Les Brown correctly notes: Everybody needs a mentor or coach. Even accomplished winners like Tiger Woods.
Lack of decision-making effectiveness is another root cause of the anxiety, depression, and eventual paralysis many in Ochieng's predicament fall prey to. And lacking a higher perspective unawares, most Black people discussing Ochieng's misfortune online ride the satisfaction of blaming external forces and political leaders, with the "hope" that a Bill Gates or larger-than-life figure will reach deep into his or her pockets and save him. Yet precisely that mindset is what holds us, as a people, back.
What would Floyd Mayweather Jnr. or Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty, say?Like great relationship management, the mileage of strong mental toughness and social awareness, a good attitude backed up by flawless body language, responsiveness and other vital communication skills that the likes of Steve Jobs possessed, you'll find that it's not what you know.
Career success begins with cultivating the clarity to know who you really are, what you're not — healthy ego and all — taking stock of your circumstances, understanding what is within your locus of control, versus what you can't control; knowing how to be a person of value rather than just another self-centered person seeking a job and ready to quit after several rejections; figuring out the game and/or system, and pouring all your precious time resources to outfox any 'system' or set of misfortunes by adapting and evolving as a winner. All of which is a years-long process that when developed right, elevates ones' people skills. After all, it is people who, superficially speaking, open the very career doors you stand outside of. Plus, there's a reason we say: People make the world go round.
There's a price for ignoring quality content such as this one. Many lurk, reading articles such as this one, thinking: “This is Kenya/Africa! Not America!” Inept at engaging, and stuck in a filter bubble of their own making, there will sadly be more Kelvin Ochieng(s). Unlike today's Ochiengs, no one created in-depth blog series (including #iTHiNKLabs) to guide, warn or mentor me back in college and prior when I was making costly mistakes. I've been helpless, homeless and jobless. Yet formless; Fetterless. Many poor people achieve less with the connected expensive smartphones they have than I do with my dumb phones. There was Youtube, social media, or smartphones just a few years ago. I certainly had no personal computer despite attending one of America's most wired universities. Not only couldn't I afford one, I made the strategic calculation very early on that I didn't need one, because I was going to be working in corporate America, and that every computer I had access to was going to make me better, smarter, and more employable. A worldview I still hold.
It was messy. It was exhausting.
As I was often dropped for non-payment of fees, I often locked out of vital systems I needed, including electronic job boards and computers for completing assignments. Hacking those I could, like a nomad, I traversed UPENN and Temple University campus. Until my first big break.
Getting evicted from the residence halls very early for non-payment and having to move out at 2 AM to a bare apartment floor was the best dose of humiliating reality I had in college. Negotiating with landlords became another skill I acquired. For jobs, I had to invest in a car. And like rent, I was always late.From negotiating with professors on exam, class attendance and participation and graduation requirement courses to juggling full-time tech, corporate and consulting work, my 6 years of undergrad was split 40% and 60% respectively.
Whether it was crawling through rush hour traffic only to arrive on campus and drive around block by block for an hour looking for parking, sometimes getting my car towed; reporting to class super late for evening classes, or having only 50 minutes after daytime class on campus to quickly buy lunch, get into my car and speed (50 miles) back to work with one hand while eating lunch with the other, nothing was easy.
Party animals impregnated each other and dropped out. Smarter Asian colleagues from similar backgrounds like mine some of them also in tech or hustling full-time dropped out early, made more money, and today, are more fulfilled than I am. Which is the memo and perspective most Black people miss, to their detriment.
Unlike Kelvin Ochieng (above), I was swimming in jobs and job offers by graduation time, and in fact was working on an AstraZeneca/Accenture project while colleagues lost their heads over post-graduation job worries, applications, and the how-to(s) of job interviews, etc. Indeed when the Financial Aid Office told me I couldn't graduate due to an outstanding balance in the thousands, I broke precedent and successfully negotiated directly with the Office of the President. And notice how the word negotiate keeps casually popping up.
Again, it's not what you know. It's how you're evolving, and figuring out how the world works — both locally and globally — plus the people/relationship management dimension. If you're myopically caught up in the paper chase while your family, dysfunctional, poor or not, brag about your good grades and wait for you to 'economically save them' after graduation, you're doing it all wrong.
I completed high school in both Africa and the United States like most, wrongly assuming that attending college would guarantee a happy ending, career-wise. My official introduction to the façade of meritocracy in America and globally though (click or tap image above), came before college.
I did some summer work for a real estate mogul upstate New York whose son told me his dad “took care” of his application. Unlike his racist brother, he liked me, and the Mercedes Benz he used to pick me up in was shipped to Stanford University when it was time to start college. Meanwhile, I arrived at Drexel University sweating like a pig having dragged my belongings across New York City and Philadelphia subways, platforms and stations, — malfunctioning escalators an all. Yet once on campus, surrounded by nothing but shiny new cars of Caucasian colleagues, I still didn't realize I was weeks away from being homeless if I didn't hatch a long-term career plan specific to my economic circumstances.
Despite being likeable, my understanding of networking as a career success strategy at this point was highly under-developed. Nor I did fully appreciate the difference a career sponsor makes, despite new job success milestones. Which meant like most black people, I was mismanaging opportunities and leaving lots of money on the table along the way.
Knowing when college is appropriate, when it isn't, and for whom, should be mandatory Education & Career 101, taught in elementary schools. Yet most black people don't want to hear it.Between billionaire investor Robert E. Smith's recent Morehouse College splash, Ochieng's (temporary) career setback/failure, and Nicki Minaj paying off the student loan debt of some her fans via Twitter — which by the way triggered this Financial Security vs. College series are erroneous views of college that many Black people hold. And they must be corrected, as explained to a friend in email:
Many have no business being in college to begin with. Indeed, in most cases, specialized and cutting-edge community colleges or German-style vocational schools will take them farther. They are simply following an outdated script: Go to college, get a job.
Most highly successful Germans and Europeans I met in Asia only have vocational school background. Or schools with focused programming. Yet Ochieng is the latest proof and casualty of one side of the same coin. On the other side are those that lack academic rigor. The type that prefer entertainment, one-liners and memes to long-form content like this one. So while Robert Alai describing Ochieng as a wheelbarrow offended many Kenyans, this, as argued earlier, is a perfect example of a great mentor making all the difference. But who can really blame Ochieng? I was similarly naïve a few years ago!Our redemption will come when we learn to cut every coat according to the size and /calibre of the person, — separating entrepreneurs, top performers and hustlers from the book smart and financially weak who instead of university, need work. Unless like me, they can juggle both. And in Ochieng's case, an obvious lack of strong family safety net means focusing on building financial security early, as my Asian colleagues (above) did for themselves. Because being as educable as he obviously is, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, he could have afforded to drop out early or not attend college at all, ditched all that rote learning, earning big bucks overtime while learning on good jobs, and eventually, with great success and positive contribution to society, been rewarded with honorary doctorate(s) he barely needs, like celebrities and others, — who never attended college.
To put this in perspective, my student loan debt today is around $150k thanks to accrued interest. If I knew better, I would have never bothered with my extra degrees. Truth is. I had every reason to know better. I could have mimicked my Asian friends. But like most Black people, I wasn't focused on what truly mattered. Only myopically, on ticking an impractical (educational achievement) box.I helped a Chinese with very bad education close a real estate deal and save lots of money days ago, and like struggling Asians, helped many Europeans also with their academic papers over the years. THEY take advice. Yet when after helping a bunch of individual single mother African friends with college papers and simple (petition) letters they couldn't write, I told them to focus on financial security instead throwing money at academia just to prove a point, one could tell they felt they were getting bad advice. And so the saga continues...
Finally, despite what Youtube motivational videos say, unless one is born super rich with multi-million or billion dollar sponsors or family connections, any number of eventualities can easily offset one's career plans and prospects. Unless one has a reliably strong network, live in the right country or city, and in most cases, certainly isn't trapped in an oppressive regime. So don't be a slave to student loan debt or poor career planning. Be pragmatic!