The Campus Director, Faculty and staff of Webster University, distinguished invited guests, ladies and gentlemen; I bring you greetings from Kumasi also known as Oseikrom. Thank you so much for this invitation to come and speak about ‘Preparing for College and Career’ at your Open House event. First of all, you have a beautiful campus! When I grow up, I want to have a campus just like this one. Speaking of growing up, I want to start by asking you: What do you want to be when you grow up? Ladies and gentlemen, please permit me to share a bit of my life with you in a bid to answer the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’. Afterwards, I will add a few things I wish I had known at the time I was preparing for college and career. Can I go ahead?
Growing up in Komenda- a small Fanti town along the coast of Ghana, I didn’t particularly know what I wanted to be. But I am sure that because I happened to be book smart then, someone probably suggested I become a doctor. Actually being a doctor was most likely the only profession we deemed ‘prestigious’ notwithstanding the fact that my dad was a farmer and my mum a nurse. I recall having quite a wild imagination though and would pretend to be playing with imaginary friends in my room. Sometimes in my imagination, I was the daughter of Michael Jackson or the wife of a rich man such as the Prince of Wales. Basically, I knew I wanted to be rich but at that age, I had not quite realized that I could actually work hard to make my own money.
Then my family moved to Cape Coast which was a bit more urban as compared to Komenda. My love for reading was very glaring as I was constantly hooked onto a Nancy Drew or a Sweet Valley High book. It was at this point in my life that I heard a few comments that suggested I should be a lawyer because I loved to read. I didn’t really understand what lawyers did but I remember watching a South African soap opera called Egoli and totally loving the character Samantha who was a lawyer. She always wore elegant suits and carried a fabulous briefcase bag so I thought lawyers must really have a fabulous life. And so at some point around my junior secondary school days, I fantasized about becoming a lawyer.
As for my senior secondary school days I do not even recall having any career ambitions. I was too busy trying to be cool like the other girls, I was busy trying to be like them and hopefully get a boyfriend too. Thank God I was still book smart! Then came university, to be honest I do not recall having any goal whatsoever. I happened to have passed my senior high school certificate examinations with very good grades and so I got admission into the University of Ghana. There I was like a leaf, floating wherever the wind blew without any particular aim. It kind of reminds me of a quote I later discovered in Alice In Wonderland
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Replied the Cheshire Cat
“I don’t much care where –” Alice said
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” The Cheshire Cat retorted
I got blown about in university until I finished barely managing not to fail. One thing that helped me through this season of not knowing what to aspire to be was my curiosity. I was always asking questions about things I heard of or saw. For instance, one time during the University of Ghana Mass Choir rehearsal, I saw a lady in a pull over with ‘Camp Joy’ written on it. My curiosity would not let me rest until I went over to ask her what it was. She mentioned that it was a summer camp in the US blah blah blah. I kid you not, the minute I heard US, I did not bother to listen to the rest. I just knew I wanted to go to Camp Joy. The next summer, I was at Camp Joy where I had one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. Another time, I was in my room when a friend said we should go salsa dancing; without blinking I was on my feet! This is what led to my love for salsa dancing. Right about that time my curiosity also led me to an opportunity to intern for Christian Medical Missions Resources Foundation. My time with this NGO was just amazing! I got to work as a receptionist and then traveled with them to the north and other parts of Ghana for medical missions. I can go on and on about things I tried in those days out of curiousity; some led me to great discoveries, others brought me nothing but trouble and I choose not to remember them!
Getting to the end of my undergraduate years, I was very confused about what next. For the first time in my life as a student I went for a career fair on campus. I had an interesting experience listening to staff of a multi-national company in Ghana. I started fantasizing about working in plush offices after school. For the first time I also paid for a class on how to build a CV and prepare for interviews. Suddenly I was worrying about my future and what I was going to do with my life after school. I had majored in Economics and Psychology and so I was not preparing for any particular profession, I thought.
Immediately I finished school, I went to pay and register for a certain banking qualification but never took the class because I left Ghana to do what we called ‘International Any Work’ – odd jobs in UK. While there, I registered for a certain qualification in insurance but never completed the course. After 18 months, I returned to Ghana to start my national service. By then, my job search experience in the UK had really schooled me on how to find a job so I quickly got to work. While searching for work, I again paid and registered to do a certain course at the Securities and Exchange Commission but never completed them. At some point during my job search, I had an opportunity to be interviewed by the CEO of an international bank. He asked me ‘where do you see yourself in the next 5 years’ I do not even recall the answer I gave but the man was totally unimpressed and he made me know it. I felt so sad that day, because I got such an opportunity and failed at the interview; I had no career vision or plan.
Anyway, just when I was about to finish my national service, I found a stint at that same international bank in Ghana earning peanuts. One of my former lecturers advised me to hang on to my national service position at the government agency in the hope that they would employ me, but no, my stubborn head wanted to work in a fancy bank even if the pay was tiny. I wanted prestige I guess.
After about a year at the bank, I got married to my sweetheart and had to move to Kumasi. Through the power of networking, I heard about two job openings at a certain international hotel; Sales Coordintor and Training Coordinator. The minute I heard the word ‘training’ I knew I wanted to apply for that position. Because you see, I love training events. While I was in the US and UK I attended a number of staff training programs which were always wonderful experiences. I loved that I could have so much fun while learning. Back in Ghana as well, my role at the bank meant I had to train some of our clients and I always looked forward to the training days. The interview process for the Training Coordinator position was so interesting. I did two separate interviews and then a presentation on customer service to the management team. The General Manager later told me that he knew he wanted to hire me when I started speaking. So basically this is how I finally landed one of my career path – corporate training.
Distinguished guests, this was about 11 years ago and since then I have been conducting training for staff of corporate organisations on customer service and team building. For the past few years since I became a Social Entrepreneur and founded The Fabulous Woman Network, I have also been training youth and women in business on entrepreneurship and employability. I totally love every minute of training programs.
Aside from being a Corporate Trainer, I have authored 2 books; Yarns of inspiration I and Networking Made Easy. I also do a lot of speaking in and out of Ghana. In fact, I like to say that I talk for a living. I do a lot of other ‘kpakpakpa’ to keep money flowing into my bank accounts. I agree 100% with Michelle Obama when she says ‘Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” You see, I have come to believe that not everybody becomes one thing and then nothing else. We keep evolving and we keep adding on. I know of doctors who are also lawyers and business owners. I know of bankers who bake cakes, and so on. I know an Engineer who is also a caterer and has a delivery service while getting her PhD and raising 3 children. So point number one, as you are preparing for college and career please do not feel limited to one career. Definitely start from one but be open to the possibility of doing more.
Secondly for those of you like me who are not certain of your career aspirations, do not lose hope. I want to share with you a few strategies that will help.
- Be curious. I always say that if curiosity truly killed the cat, I would not be alive today. Like I have illustrated with my Camp Joy experience, being curious can open a lot of doors that others may not have. Yes, it can also lead to trouble sometimes; just count it as experience and move on.
- Stop worrying and seek mentorship. Gosh I used to worry while I was in school! Actually I still worry but now I have learned that worrying will not solve any of my problems so I know what to do when I find myself worrying. Find people in your life you admire for things they have achieved and ask them for advise in those areas. For instance, if you fancy being a hotelier; find someone who is one and start by asking them questions on what it is like to be a hotelier. Attend conferences to hear people speak on subjects that interest you and learn more about these on social media as well. There is an answer for every question you have, whatever you are going through someone has experienced it before and so stop worrying and seek mentorship.
- Read wide. Whether you like to read or not is not even the point here. Apart from making you more intelligent and all that, reading exposes you to opportunities you may not be aware of. When you read, do not limit yourself to your text books only, read on romance, history, etc. And while you are at it, please read on how to be financially independent and thank me later.
- I love that Webster University is a school that understands the value of giving back through volunteerism. I encourage you to make time to volunteer for as many causes as possible and while you are doing that it will ignite your own passion which will lead you to an amazing world of fulfillment.
- I have learned that one of the biggest value in the school you attend is the network of mates you belong to. It is really a differentiating factor for you. I am standing in front of you today, speaking to you these wonderful people, because one of my YALI(Young African Leaders Initiative) mates mentioned my name when Webster University needed a guest speaker for this event. And I am so grateful to my mate for this opportunity. Many many doors have opened for me through the relationships I have formed with people I meet along the way including my school mates. Please take the relationships you are forming with your class mates and faculty very seriously. In time, one of these people may hold the key to that door you will need opened. I have a cutie book on networking which I specifically wrote for students and startups because I believe in its power.
Ladies and Gentlemen before I end my speech, I would just like to say that I am so excited for those of you here today who have chosen to come and make inquiries about Webster University. I made my own inquiries too and the feedback was very positive. The class size won my heart; 15 – 25 per class, that is amazing! Imagine how much attention your lecturers and Teaching Assistants will be able to pay to each student. One lady really commended the versatile culture, international relations, interesting subjects and dedicated lecturers. She said to me ’it is really not just the usual educational system of chew and pour’ I would like to commend the leadership of Webster University for the way you are standing out. You see, this is exactly the kind of environment we need to raise a generation of leaders who can come up with creative solutions to our problems in Africa and for that matter, Ghana.
Back to my question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’, I will say this: do not aim to be one thing, be curious, stop worrying and seek mentorship, read wide, volunteer and network while you pursue your aspirations in life. And please, to paraphrase K’naan’s song Wavin’ Flag which is Coca Cola’s promotional anthem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, ‘when we grow older, let us be stronger, let them call us freedom, just like the waving flag’. Africa desperately needs her children freed. Before I sit down, please can we all rise hold hands and sing Wavin’ flag, to remind us of our responsibilities.