Why Marriage May Not Be For You!

After 20 years of marriage, I’m convinced that marriage isn’t for me! Before you jump to conclusions, please read on.

weddingBack in the day, finding a spouse was not a complex proposition. Your folks shortlisted the suitable candidates and chose the one who’s family was most complimentary to theirs. Complex terms like love and personal choice were not part of the equation! But in our very different world, many people struggle with the question of how to locate the One. “What if I end up with someone who makes me miserable?” The result? Commitment phobic people who are mortally afraid of entering marriage because of the misery they fear it might cause them. And subsequently after marriage when the going gets tough, many end up convinced that their unhappiness is because they made a mistake and married the wrong person!

Recently, I read an article by author Seth Adam Smith who made the same discovery I made when I faced the same fears, years ago. His commitment-phobia came to a head as he was planning his engagement to his high school sweetheart and best friend. Was he ready? Was this the right person to marry? Would she make him happy?

wedding 2In his confusion, he decided to confide in his dad about his fears. His dad’s response floored him. Instead of empathizing with him, he told him that he was being totally selfish because marriage was not for him. “You don’t marry to make yourself happy; you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

Seth’s blog post received 2 million views in 36 hours and when I last looked, that had jumped to 24 million. As countercultural as his message was in our culture today, it evidently struck a cord. You can read his original article here.

wedding 3One of the biggest problems in our lives today is caused by our expectation that the people around us are there to make us happy. Life is after all, the pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s our spouse, our friends, our boss, or our workmates, we only want to hang out only with people who contribute to our personal bliss. But this is a selfish extractive approach that is based on not on what I give to others but on what I can get from them. It turns us into net consumers and not net contributors.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if you married the right person, turn the question round and ask ‘how can I be the right person for the person I married?’

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Mate Selection Criteria

couple1What qualities should you look out for in an ideal potential spouse? For many ladies today, the answer includes things like self awareness, a visionary who knows where the relationship is going, commitment to the relationship, not a mama’s boy, good looking (because it has implications on future baby genetics), financial stability, taller than me, can relate well with my family, and so on.

Guys on the other hand generally tend to have a much shorter list for the ideal bachelorette. It seems to boil down to…a beautiful, humble woman who admires me, who will not expect me to read her mind or try to interpret her signals, and who will supply good and plentiful sex!

These are generalizations obviously. The point is that we all have a list of expectations about the ideal spouse. We are constantly on the lookout for Mr or Ms Right and when we encounter someone we like, we evaluate them against our inner criteria to see if they fit the bill. That’s why it’s common to hear women lamenting that they’re no good men left, or men complaining that women are too complicated!

Back in the day, things were much simpler. In a process that would make most headhunters today look like amateurs, parents shortlisted the candidates most likely to be compatible not just with their child but with the entire family. They conducted background checks, followed up the references, and delivered the candidate who best fit the bill.

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Life today is a lot more complicated! With their only guidance coming from talk shows, magazines, and the internet, young people face the daunting task of single-handedly finding a spouse who will satisfy their needs, be good parents to their children and be faithful to the relationship! The high rates of divorce and infidelity in our culture testify to the fact that there’s a big problem with our mate selection criteria today.

What could the problem be? As a generation, we’ve grown up believing in the mantra ‘if it feels good, do it!’ Life is about the pursuit of happiness. We find a new job or leave our old one because of what we feel we’re getting from it. And we think the same way about marriage. We want a spouse who will make us happy and meet our needs.

searchingThe problem with this thinking is that it’s externally focused – it’s about looking for the right person and not about being the right person. When you finally meet the person of your dreams, then your only choice is manipulation. You have to keep pushing them to get what you want. You’ll only realize too late that you have transferred the responsibility for your joy, significance and self esteem to someone else. This is a burden we should never assign to another human being because they’re bound to disappoint.

The solution? You’ve heard it before… Stop focusing outward! Become the person who the person you’re looking for is looking for!

Multi Generational Wealth

nicehouseMy wife and I once lived in a comfortable house in a nicer suburb than we could afford. We loved our neighborhood and felt very comfortable there. One day however, we both realized that many of our neighbors were actually far wealthier than we were! They owned businesses or worked in careers that allowed them to earn far more money than we did. After some sober reflection, we reached the conclusion that living in that expensive suburb was slowly ‘eating’ our future! And so we made the humbling decision to move to a much less expensive area. Needless to say, some of our friends found our decision very difficult to understand!

movinonupYou see, we are part of a culture where everyone wants to own the latest gadgets, drive the car of their dreams and live in the leafy suburbs – as quickly as possible! We want it all and we want it NOW. A friend who works in HR and regularly interviews fresh college graduates told me that many expect a starting salary of two hundred thousand shillings, as well as a car and a house! Blossoming casinos and the abundance of SMS lotteries point to the dream that many have to strike it rich quick. Politicians award themselves arbitrary pay-rises to live at the standard they desire, whether the nation can afford it or not. And preachers preach a non-biblical gospel that says you can get rich without working by simply ‘naming and claiming it’.

All these factors have resulted in a ‘get rich quick’ mentality that is undermining our ability to succeed as a nation! The result is a people who prefer to take shortcuts, give bribes, and steal our employer’s time, all in a bid to get ahead. We not only want to get rich quick but we want to live rich now! I have known of businesspeople who on winning their first big contract immediately moved to a bigger office, hired more staff and upgraded their car only to find themselves struggling a few months later after the money was spent!

brokeWhat my wife and I had realized in the nice suburb is that our rate of consumption and our desire to live the good life now was hindering our ability to create the financial margins that would allow us to invest for our future, grow in our generosity and leave an inheritance for our children. 

Reminds me of the time a wise older man asked my investment group, ‘how long are you planning to invest for?’ We confidently answered that we were investing together to provide for our retirement years. His reply shocked us. ‘I didn’t realize I was talking to such selfish, short-term thinkers!’ He went on to challenge us to invest not for ourselves but for the next generation. As the richest and wisest man in the bible once taught, ‘a righteous man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children’ (Proverbs 13:22)

planttreeAsian cultures have practiced this well, even here. The Nakumatt we see today is a result of the investment of several generations. Notice that there are precious few examples of successful, multi-generational, African-built companies! If we want to create lasting wealth and to be part of the generation that see’s Africa stop being called ‘the dark continent’ and become ‘the great continent’, then we too must stop eating our future today. We must develop a multi-generational view of wealth!

Do It Well!

credit cardA little while back, a friend and I decided to have coffee at a little café because the large sign outside said we could pay by credit card. As we ordered, the friendly waiter informed us that their card machine was broken, but asked us to go ahead and order though because he would find us another payment solution. I was pretty impressed by his enthusiasm and can-do attitude!

But the best was yet to come. When we finished our drinks, our waiter walked over and apologized because none of his anticipated solutions had worked. I braced myself knowing that none of us had any cash, which is why we were there in the first place. To my surprise, he wrote his name and phone number on a piece of paper and asked us to send him the money when we got it. I was so amazed that I immediately asked him if he was one of the owners. Turns out he wasn’t; he simply wanted to take responsibility for giving us the wrong information. As we walked away, my friend and I each decided to hold on to his number in case we needed to hire someone in customer care anytime soon!

excellence2

I suspect many you are just as surprised when you encounter excellent service! We’re much more accustomed to surly glances, gruff voices, delays, broken promises, and systems that don’t work. When we encounter excellence, we scratch our heads and look for the catch!

But it really should not be so. It’s excellence that sets people apart and helps them succeed over the long term – whether in business, career or relationships. And the good news is that excellence is not the preserve of a few; all of us have the capacity for it! That’s because excellence has even more to do with consistency and practice than with talent.

basketballAuthor Malcolm Gladwell in his famous book ‘Outliers’ studied individuals who are known for their excellence.  He discovered that it takes ten thousand hours of consistent practice to become excellent in the area that you’re talented in! The greatest athletes all trained harder than people in the same sport who were less talented.  Michael Jordan, one of the greatest sportsmen ever, was said to consistently have been the first at practice and the last to leave.

I know a lot of extremely talented people who never seem to thrive or go far. I’ve also met people who were relatively less talented and yet thrive wherever you place them. That’s because your talent opens the door but it’s excellence that keeps you inside! And excellence doesn’t happen by accident. It takes decision, determination and effort.  As Albert Einstein said ‘genius is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration’.

The good book talks about a man called Daniel who consistently got promoted regardless of who was in charge, ‘because an excellent spirit was in him’. This week, why not determine to develop a personal reputation for excellence?  Remember, if it’s not worth doing well, it’s not worth doing at all!

Here’s a great quote from Aristotle…

Excellence

Are You A Baker Or A Consumer?

cake1In Kenya, we all know about the national cake. We’re all dying to share it, divide it, and eat our slice of it! That’s why politicians have been able to divide us so that we detest each other for where we were born; something none of us has any control over. That’s why elected official’s first order of business is to ensure they have salaries befitting their new status. That’s why changing the faces in parliament seems to have little impact on corruption. And that’s why we have graduates tarmacking for years and many in the civil society complaining about a government that is not providing jobs fast enough!

The problem is that the so-called national cake has been shrinking since independence! Our increasing population means that our educational opportunities and formal job market will always struggle to keep up. We have subdivided agricultural land as inheritance for the next generation until the small plots remaining are no longer agriculturally viable. Instead of devolution bringing services closer to the people, it seems to only be increasing wastage and inefficiency. In other words we are only increasing the rate at which we are consuming the already rapidly shrinking cake.

Ibaking2t’s time to stop simply consuming the cake and start baking it! And the only way to do this is through creating solutions that bring employment and wealth for our country.

I’m reminded of period in biblical history when Israel faced terrible oppression because there were no blacksmiths in the country. In order to sharpen their farming tools or weapons of war, they had to rely on their enemies the Philistines. As a result they were powerless to either feed or defend themselves.

Just as Israel was in trouble because of no blacksmiths, our nation is in similar trouble today. Who are our blacksmiths? Blacksmiths are solution providers. They are entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Entrepreneurs are people who create solutions in businesses that they own, while intrapreneurs are people who create solutions while employed by someone else.

graduateOur lack of blacksmith training means that people leave school with advanced degrees but don’t know how to use their knowledge to invent simple technologies that address their fellow countrymen’s needs. It means that many Kenyans start businesses primarily to make money as fast as possible rather than to create solutions to real needs. It means that employees just do what they are told to do, and rarely come up with innovative solutions to problems in the companies they work for.

As a result, many problems in our nation go unaddressed. And for the ones that we solve, we use imported solutions, which don’t address our unique needs.

Where are Kenya’s bakers and blacksmiths?

Are there giants facing your workplace right now that nobody has a solution for? Don’t just plug in your hours and wait for the weekend. Don’t just do what’s always been done. Create ways to do things better for your employer and gain a name as a solution provider!

In a nation & continent filled with bystanders and complainers, its time for Kenya’s bakers and blacksmiths to arise!

Africa’s Century

independenceGrowing up, I was often envious of my father’s generation. I wondered what it was like to have been alive at independence, when great opportunities were open for those fortunate enough to have an education. Then, employers hired people straight out of school, enticing them to not even bother to complete further education but to immediately join the workforce!

Fifty years after independence however, I am no longer envious of my father’s generation. For Kenyans of my generation who are fortunate enough to have an education, there has never been a better time to be alive! Before you dismiss me as a hopeless idealist, let me share with you five factors, each of which would be a significant catalyst for growth and opportunity but when put together provide unprecedented opportunities for my generation today. What are these factors you ask?

The first is devolution. Our new constitution created 47 counties, spreading a third of the national budget around the country. Each county represents a semi-autonomous budget center which will need schools, markets, road maintenance, housing, teachers, accountants and so on. While it’s easy to complain about the very real dangers of devolved corruption, devolution also opens up many opportunities for honest business and employment!

africa eyeThe second factor is regional integration. Although still a work in progress, the government’s determination to knock down trade barriers across East Africa means that instead of just 40 million, we will soon be a market of 132 million. Add South Sudan’s 8 million and Ethiopia’s staggering 93 million and we’re talking about a regional population of almost a quarter of a billion! Apart from the increased job opportunities the larger region represents, it also means that whatever goods or services your small business produces will have that many more potential buyers in the not too distant future!

Massive investment in infrastructure (roads, railroads, energy, and technology) is a third important factor. This will ultimately drive production costs lower and make it possible even for small businesses to get their goods and services to the larger market. A fourth factor is the recent mineral discoveries in our country, including oil, natural gas, iron, titanium and coal. These if managed well could truly propel our nation forward in the next decade. The fifth factor is what I call the education dividend. Free primary education following up on years of Kenyan’s passion for education have positioned our population to take advantage of our geographic position as the gateway to one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

So why am I so excited about these factors? Because they represent a generational opportunity!

africa's turnSomeone once said that the 21st century is Africa’s century, whether Africans participate in it or not. Look around you and you’ll notice the whole world is rushing here. From the Chinese, to the Turks to the Brazilians – they see the opportunity and want to take advantage of it.

We too owe it to our fellow citizens to engage the opportunities of our time. Many around us are limited by poverty, unemployment, disease and lack of education. As Africa’s middle class, it is our responsibility to create the jobs and provide the solutions that will raise our continent out of poverty!

My prayer is that my generation will not either miss out on or misappropriate Africa’s century!

On Being Real

real church 3One reason why people don’t come to church willingly is because they don’t want to be judged. They usually already know what is not right in their lives. The last thing they want to do is to befriend and open up to people whose lives seem so ‘spiritual’ and perfect. They don’t want spiritual policemen in their lives!

real church 2And it’s not just people outside the church. We all open up to other people who are real about their struggles and can identify with us. And when we fail to find such people, we continue with our spiritual facade, looking great on the outside but a mess on the inside. A lonely existence that is true for many in the church today!

What will help people most in their quest for the truth about God and life purpose is for those who have experienced God’s forgiveness to refrain from being quick to judge and slow to offer quick advice. When we look down on others, they feel judged, condemned and unaccepted. And when we offer ready-made answers we fail to empathize with how complex their problems really are.

What we instead need to do is to offer grace and acceptance while living out the truth. People don’t care how much we know if they don’t know how much we care!
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Is it possible that church could become a hospital for sinners, and not a hotel for ‘saints’? Is it possible that church could be the place where I can be loved and accepted when I’m going through a difficult stage of my life? Is it possible that church can be the place where sinners won’t feel like worms and losers won’t feel like second class citizens? Is it possible that people can open up about their addiction to alcohol, sex, or drugs or their experiences of abuse or struggles with mental health or HIV? And still be accepted, loved and helped?

Is it possible that church can become the place where people visiting are so struck by the love and joy and by relationships that cut across the barriers of age, race, tribe and social class that they inevitable conclude, ‘surely, there must be a God!’?

I believe it is. Let’s strip away the need to look perfect and be the church to each other. Let’s be each other’s mighty warriors. Remember, true courage never walks alone!