Understanding the story of my own life…(c.1983)

This was me (looking at the camera) with a lass called Kirsty from Edinburgh (I’d love to know where she is now), cooking on a make-shift fire and grill on the shores of Lake Turkana (romantically called ‘The Jade Sea’). We were miles from civilisation and a cold drink. It was 1983 and I think it might have been around my 19th birthday or thereabouts. A day marked famously because I’d  got the privilege of having the bed springs to sleep on all to myself.

I’m posting this for two reasons. The first because I’d planned to follow Tara Cain’s link theme ‘The Eighties” on her blog, Sticky Fingers….but due to technical problems, i.e. my scanner going all temperamental on me, I missed the link before it closed.

The other reason is the fact that I’ve just started studying for an MBA (Masters in Business Administration). Yup, I’ve gone back for a bit of re-education….

Although, perhaps first I should explain the ‘bed springs’ reference  because I’ve just left that one hanging there.

In a nutshell, post A’levels I spent a year in Kenya as a volunteer teacher with Project Trust . Since we were really very young, we were sent in pairs (my co-volunteer, who took the picture, was the wonderfully dry, yet master of the understatement, Lucy Roberston. She went on to study bio-chemisty who and then got a PhD in Turdology. In other words she studied parasites in poo).

During the holidays we’d meet up with all the other Project Trust volunteers at our base in Nairobi and plan trips to the most far-flung corners of the country. We’d hitch-hike everywhere and try to out-do each other as who managed to get lifts on the most bizarre  or memorable transport possible. To get to the Eastern side of Lake Turkana (where this picture was taken) right in the northern deserts of Kenya we’d rode on the tops of supply lorries full of sacks of maize flour, we returned bumping around in empty trucks. The only people were nomadic Turkana tribes people with their camels. Getting to these remote areas often had the added excitement of travelling in convoys with armed guards to protect us from bandits. During that year I got lifts in everything from the backs of pick-up trucks to air-conditioned Mercedes Benz, from 4-seater light aeroplanes and once on the deck of a cargo ship travelling North from Mombassa to Lamu for Christmas.

We hitched everywhere because we were young and hell-bent on squeezing every last ounce of experience out of our gap year, and we had no money. We were on the grand salary of 900 Kenya Shillings a month or £45! So when we rented a room overnight we selected the cheapest safest places we could find and then 6 of us would all cram into a single room . We’d take the mattress off the bed (a simple metal bed frame with a mesh strung across to give a bit of spring) and put it on the floor so the two luckiest could top and tail on it. Two would get the bed springs and the two, who drew the short straws, got the concrete floor.

That year of my life, pre university, pre jobs, pre growing up and being responsible has certainly influenced the rest of my life. I didn’t think I was brave or extraordinary or particularly mature. I was just curious. My mother naturally didn’t want her 18-year-old, and youngest, daughter to disappear to deepest, darkest Africa for an entire year. I just resented her tearful pleading that I shouldn’t go because it undermined my confidence. My dad, bless him, didn’t give in to her and supported me just when I needed to be believed in.

Over the last 3 decades, my experiences have been very ordinary. University, jobs, love affairs, jobs, marriage, children, jobs and work. I’ve not had a holiday for a very long time and me going anywhere outside Cornwall now is a pretty rare event. I had a 3-year blast on a teaching contract in Botswana in the early 1990s which probably used up quite a chunk of my life’s travel quota (if there was such a thing)…

But maybe, just maybe I’m not so ordinary?

I have to keep questioning my sanity. Why, for feck’s sake, have I just enrolled on a 2 year Executive MBA course? I’ve been working only in a freelance capacity for the past 10 years and I don’t have any real experience of business. Maybe I’m still trying to work out what my ‘proper job’ should be? Maybe I’m having a mid-life crisis – only with women we don’t have time for these we just have ‘the-men-o-pause’ or the ‘bugger off, it’s my time’ strop.

This week –  it’s “Leadership and Self-awareness.” …we have a lot of leadership and self-awareness issues at home along the lines of “why is it me who has to pick up all your crap?”

So, can I have the makings for being a good leader? Apparently it can be learned rather just be in the genes so to speak. The first task has been to ask people I’ve worked for and with to complete a 360 degree feedback report about me.

I was worried, since I work alone and at home, that they’d be no one who knew me well enough to comment. However, not so. Learning what other people have observed about  me (and I’m a bit choked to say it) has been the biggest confidence boost to date and really quite overwhelming.

The nicest things that were said about me was from someone I’ve never actually met in person. Apparently I excel as ‘an effective  communicator and I demonstrate strong values, ethical standards and personal integrity’. I’m very proud of that. “Goes the extra mile.” (If only that involved burning calories rather than just the midnight oil *sigh*) “Does not act on spontaneous suggestions, sticks to her guns, tho’ not blindly,” and “Will challenge and advise client when in best interests to hear difficult truths.”  Finally it has been important to be told that I don’t have enough confidence in my own “considerable” ability, neither do I “influence people as effectively as I should. I let others take the lead even when I know better”.

To become an authentic and trusted leader today, I read, I must first learn to understand the story of my own life.

So I’ll start with that fearlessly pragmatic girl on the beach? She was certainly the starting point for who I am today, and since discovering I’m not without leadership potential, I can feel a lot more encouraged.

As a footnote,  I’ll take the comment, that I’ve madesome decisions occasionally off-beamas a compliment even if I suspect  it may have been a criticism.

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7 thoughts on “Understanding the story of my own life…(c.1983)

  1. Good for you! I will be interested to follow your new journey.

    Coincidentally, just last night I started reading the autobiography of Dame Daphne Stennick (? – not sure of surname, book is upstairs) a Kenyan who worked with orphan elephants among other things. Cheers from Vermont on Thanksgiving Day.

  2. Love, Life & Elephants by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. As you can see I actually went upstairs and made the bed! T’Day turkey in the oven. Happy Birthday to your 12 yr old, I have a grandson that age and pizza is his #1 fave meal too.

  3. Hello Jess! I pop in your blog sometimes just to say hello…. and how flattering to get a mention. I am now even a professor of turdology as you so tastefully put it. Turkana does seem so long ago now – but great to have the memories – and do you remember the fate of Wendy’s toe, almost severed by a bouncing oil drum in the back of a lorry as we crossed the desert…..? The joy of being a teenager and game for anything. Fortunately the bedding arrangements and other not so pleasantries (the toilet arrangements at Turkana?) have been mostly wiped from my memory by the passing years. Though I do think that I slept on the sand there. My niece spent a year in Uganda with PT 2 years back, and my son was on Coll this summer, so may too be heading out to adventures un-imaginable if he manages to get his finger out with fund-raising…

    The best of luck with the MBA. I for one would never doubt your leadership qualities, and many others.

    Oriti!

    Lucy

  4. Hi Lucy, what a fantastic surprise and an odd place to be having a ‘long-time-no-see-you’ reunion.
    I’ve told my offspring that I’m expecting them to go seek their adventures in far flung corners of the globe…but will it feel odd – and a bit scary – when you suddenly have to wave the baby son (assuming he removes his finger) off for a year?

  5. Indeed a bit of a public arena for a reunion – but I couldn’t resist leaving a comment that I had dropped by. As for Kirsty – we met up for a while when I lived in Glasgow, and she was just starting off with Radio Clyde (I think) – with plans to move to BBC. I think she may be at Radio 4 now…..

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