Happy Sunday and new month! In 2019, I gave this speech at the CAMFED Mastercard Foundation Tertiary Scholars Graduation Ceremony in Sunyani, Ghana. The content still speaks to me even today. This is the last of the stories I am sharing from my latest book, Yarns of inspiration II and I hope it blesses you. It’s entitled Advice To My Younger Self.
The National Director, Scholars Council Chairperson, Programs Manager, CAMFED staff, participating schools, honorable graduates, distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen, I was so excited about coming here this morning that I woke up 30 minutes before my alarm clock would ring. I bring you greetings from Kumasi. I feel very honored that you chose me to give the keynote address at this year’s (2019) CAMFED – Mastercard Foundation Tertiary Scholars Graduation Ceremony. Congratulations to all our graduates! I am sure you have worked really hard for this. I also especially want to commend all Mastercard Foundation beneficiaries for seeking out programs like CAMFED and applying for it. This tells me that you are curious and courageous. These two attributes will take you places. And to the Mastercard Foundation, thank you for the great work you are doing in bringing hope to many youths across the world.
Ladies, as you are graduating today, I thought I should share with you a bit about my own life and then give you five pieces of advice I would have given to myself 14 years ago when I graduated from the University of Ghana. Today, I am a Corporate Trainer, but when I was in school, I didn’t even know what that entailed. In my circles at that time, the prestigious professions were medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. I majored in Economics and Psychology, and at the time, I did not have a clear path of what I could be when I grew up. Right from my early childhood days, I was just sailing through life, going wherever and doing whatever I could because I did not have any particular aim. At different points in my life, well-meaning adults suggested I should be a lawyer because I loved to read. I also quietly fantasized about being an author someday. None of these goals was concrete, although I knew I definitely wanted to have a good job, wear high heels, nice clothes, and hold a briefcase bag.
When I graduated from university, I had two choices: to return to my temporary summer job in the US or go on a working holiday visa trip to the UK where my then-boyfriend lived. Obviously, I chose the UK! While in the UK, I did many temporary jobs, including being an office assistant, old people caregiver, receptionist, cleaner, filing clerk, call center agent, etc. I also took several classes and wrote a couple of exams, but at the time, I did not consider any of these to be geared towards any particular career path. I just wanted to survive and perhaps gain work experience. I returned to Ghana to do my national service at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and had an amazing experience assisting the Head of Public Relations. The national service allowance, of course, was very small, but I was a ‘Boga’ (returnee), so I could afford fuel and a decent living. Besides, I lived with my mother, anyway. While still doing my national service, I started a serious job search. By then, I strongly believed in the power of networking, and so I was mainly searching for jobs through my contacts, spreading the word that I was looking for employment, and setting up meetings. I remember one such meeting when the CEO of a bank asked me what I saw myself doing in the next five years. I failed that question miserably because I did not know what I wanted to be at the time.
Well, through the persistent calls I made to a Human Resources Manager of that same bank, I got a stint with that bank. The salary I earned for that stint was 100 GHs, which was peanuts compared to what I had earned in the UK. But for some reason, I was not sad. While I was performing my 100GHs-job, I kept in touch with HR and applied for other positions. Then another door opened, and I was offered another role that paid about 350GHs.
Now, in that bank, full-time staff had name badges with their own names printed on them. On the other hand, temporary staff had the names of their agencies and a number printed on their badges; mine was Montran 69. Yes, I knew what full-time employees of the said bank were earning, and I used to imagine what I would do when I earned as much as the full-time staff, but I still kept pushing anyway. I asked a lot of questions, especially to my senior colleagues, and also made inquiries about vacant positions. I applied for many jobs because I really wanted a full-time position with better benefits. I was able to ask a lot of questions because I had made acquaintances with many people within the bank. I found myself volunteering for different things, including singing in the company choir and being photographed for the company’s annual magazine. My work also sent me to other branches to engage my colleagues, and I had many opportunities to meet and train our clients, who were some of the biggest multi-national companies in the country. I did not know this then, in hindsight, I was networking and forming genuine acquaintances without expecting anything in return. And I was really enjoying myself.
As fate would have it, I got married to my boyfriend and had to move to Kumasi – a long story. Before then, I had not been to Kumasi more than five times – I knew nobody except my husband’s family and friends. While looking for a job and not having any positive results, I joked to a mentor that I would just be a housewife. I will never forget her response, ‘Ama, don’t ever become a housewife. If you do, the painful things your husband will say to you, eh!’ Oh, and by the way, this mentor of mine had been a housewife for many years. Of course, I doubt that being a housewife is in my DNA, although I have a lot of respect for women who choose to stay home and focus on raising their kids. I prayed to God for a miracle, and it came through the power of networking. My very good friend told me about some job openings at a new hotel in Kumasi. She also got this information because one of our church members had mentioned that her company was recruiting for this hotel in Kumasi. Get this, I did not get this information from the newspapers, online, etc. It was through a friend – my network.
Long story short, I went through the most intensive learning experience for eight years as a Training Coordinator, Assistant HR Manager, and then Learning and Development Manager with this hotel in Kumasi. While there, I got the opportunity to do an MBA and chose to focus on Human Resources Management. I also attended many professional and short courses, especially in leadership and customer service. The knowledge, expertise, and network I formed in this company would become extremely helpful when I later moved on to focus on my own businesses as the founder of The Fabulous Woman Network and Corporate Training Solutions. My journey to becoming a social entrepreneur is a story for another day. What I can say for now is that I love love love where I am today and what God is doing in my life excites me! Currently, the main avenues through which I make money include training different organizations, moderating conferences, speaking engagements both locally and internationally, selling, consulting, writing books, among others. To be honest, I could not have told you 14 years ago that my life would turn out this way.
Let me tell you one more thing about me; I used to worry a lot about every little thing possible, what if I don’t get a job? Ei, can I ever afford nice clothes? What if I am not able to give birth when I am ready to? What if I get a really terrible disease? Etc., etc. Confession: I still worry now, perhaps a little less because now I know a little better. If I could go back in time to 14 years ago, I would have a lot to say to me then. Unfortunately, actually, fortunately, I cannot go back. However, many of you here may have your own worries as I had then. In fact, our stories may even be similar. And so, I would like to share with you five things I would do if I were you, knowing what I know now. I will not include advice on networking because from my story and probably your own experiences, you know that networking is a powerful tool. In any case, my book Networking Made Easy is available if you are interested in understanding what networking is and how to go about it.
First, if you have not started already, spend time seeking financial wisdom, and practice what you learn. My lack of financial intelligence really cost me a lot, and I cannot talk about it now. It was the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, which finally opened my eyes, and ever since then, I have invested time and money to understand money. I still do. OK, so, Number 1: money is not a bad thing. Number 2: as a woman, you can make money too, and you totally should. Two great books I would recommend are Why You Are Not Rich as You Should by Joseph Kyei Ankrah and The Smart Money Woman by Arese Ugwu. On social media, I follow people like Paul Mante, who teaches financial literacy. One of my long-time friends, big sister and mentor is called Rita Krampah, she has a lot of financial wisdom to share, and I soak them in whenever I spend time with her. I am telling you some of the things I do, please take a cue and seek financial wisdom.
Another piece of advice I will give you is to continuously develop yourself even if at your own expense; you deserve it. The end of school should not be the end of learning. The benefits of reading are not overrated. Read about what interests you. I really enjoy creative non-fiction. Therefore, a book like Chimamanda Ngozi’s Half of The Yellow Sun, which educates us about the story of Biafra with a romantic twist, is perfect for me. Currently, I am reading Lucy Quist’s The Bold New Normal, and I feel very challenged by it. Attend conferences too on subjects that interest you, many events are happening around the world and right here in Ghana. Last week alone, I had five conferences to attend, and I even had to cancel my participation for some. At these conferences and events, not only do we learn, we network and find more opportunities to learn and grow. Listen to podcasts as well, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations is a great way to start. You may also follow inspirational and educative people on social media. Kristi Jackson of Women CEO Project is one of my favorites because she teaches women how to market very well. I love Dzigbordi Dosoo, Akorfa Glover, and many other fantastic female leaders because they inspire me a lot. All these are ways to be mentored. You may take online courses too; YALI Network offers fantastic courses for free. Our own Facebook page called The Fabulous Woman Network has mind-blowing stories about women who have defied all odds to make an impact in their own communities, you can check that out too. There is so much out there to learn and help you be of more value to others; don’t lose guard.
More so, learn how to love yourself. I used to battle with low self-esteem. It was when I realized that I am actually a child of God and that my value is in Him and not in my possessions, knowledge, friends, family, husband, etc., that I was finally liberated from feeling inferior to others. Now I proudly call myself a fabulous child of God. I even dare to say I am beautiful. Finally, I can look in the mirror and tell myself, ‘I love you’. Now, I have learned to respect myself too because I deserve it; I am a child of God, after all. I am a princess. And because I am learning to treat myself with respect, I can freely give respect to others and accept the same. Because I love myself, I can love others too and accept love from them. When I look back at my struggle to demand love from others when I did not know how to love myself, the misery I felt, and all, I cannot help but thank God that I finally get it or at least I’m on that journey to getting it. Lady, please love yourself – you deserve it.
My fourth advice is this; please enjoy your life, whether you are single or married. You may get to that stage where all your peers are getting married and pregnant, but if marriage starts early for you, fine, if it does not, that’s fine too. Live your life. Please do not wait to get that handsome knight in shining armor who has a perfectly chiseled nose before you live your life. In the same vein, don’t wait until you get your masters, Ph.D., or whichever achievement you desire before having fun. Life is a journey; let’s do the best we can to make as many moments as possible count. Do what sparks joy for you; is it traveling, is it joining a mass choir, is it becoming an inventor, what is it? Just do it, as Nike says.
Dearest graduating class, please, you have the power to achieve whatever God has laid on your heart to do. Please, go for it. Stop wishing and take action. And please, do not worry about how it will be possible. A mentor recently told me this ‘When God sends you on an errand, He gives you TNT (transportation)’. Sometimes I find myself in incredible places, and I ask, ‘How did I get here?’ Like standing in front of you today, remember, I used to have such low self-esteem. Oh no, I did not have a problem with public speaking; my problem had to do with me feeling inadequate enough to be of value to anyone and to share my story. Yet, today I have even prepared a speech for you. Today, I get invited to different countries and institutions to speak and get paid really good money. Some of the platforms I used to fantasize about, I have already been on them. Listen to me as I repeat this; you have the power to achieve whatever God has laid on your heart to do. As Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘believe, and you are halfway there’. So, my final advice to you is to have faith that you can.
I have shared with you five pieces of advice; seek financial wisdom, continuously develop yourself, learn to love yourself, enjoy your life, and have faith that you can. And because I talk too much, let me add that you need to surround yourself with people who will stand by you no matter what and help you grow: God, family, and friends. Do not allow anyone to make you believe that women are their own worst enemies. Seek women who are honest, willing to learn, ambitious, respectful, and have similar values as you. Stand by them and together, women will keep breaking the glass ceiling.
I want you to promise your colleagues that you will stand by them. Please, rise up, hug someone, and sing ‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King.
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