Making the best of every situation that crosses our life path is a combination of instinct and knowledge and in other ways a learned art and Jean Wandimi, a wine blogger, learned that first hand. She shares the twists and turns that have helped shape the person she is and the one she is becoming
“After graduating from university in December 2013, I found myself in a dark and lonely place in my life. Most of my friends and classmates had found jobs. I kept asking myself why I was the unlucky one. My roommate at the time had left for work and I was alone in our one room apartment. Our rent was due and I had no money to pay my half.
If there is any feeling I hate in this world it is owing people money and not having it. It makes me panic. The flat was eerily quiet. As if to further make me feel worse, the power went out. I cried for hours.
After a messy and ugly cry, I remember looking at my swollen face and red eyes in the mirror. I told myself that that was the worst I would feel. I had allowed myself to pour it all out all day but now, I had to make it work. It takes a lot of strength to encourage yourself in such a moment.
Up to this point, things had always seemed to follow a definite path. My childhood was great and I have wonderful parents who gave their everything for my siblings and I. They are God’s greatest gifts to me. School whizzed by and I was a great performing student in primary and high school and I excelled in math and sciences.
During the two-year break after high school awaiting university admission through the joint admissions board (Kenya public university placement system) I stayed home dreaming of moving to the great capital - Nairobi. I held city life in such high regard. All I wanted was to strut in the streets with my heels and handbag and go to work. I had watched shows like Gilmore Girls and Felicity on TV and I had a template of what life would be.
I hate being idle for more than a day and I knew I had to be doing something in the interim. I have always been industrious. At 18, I remember telling my mother that I would start selling vegetables. She laughed. The next day, I was there with cabbages on a tattered sack at the side of the road where the matatus would pass. On my first day, I made Sh465 and I was elated.
That was my second business. My first venture was using calligraphy to write envelopes in high school for a cost. I was 16. I would go to people’s farms, buy cabbages for about Sh10, get a guy with a wheelbarrow to carry them for me for Sh50-100 and sell them for Sh35-50.
In September 2009, I came to the city so full of life and hope. I had finally been admitted to university to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance. My dream was to work in a bank.
Still my industrious self, I set up a business that involved making and selling jewelry in hostels and at school events. I would buy beads, tools and raw materials on River Road, Nairobi. I made earrings, necklaces and rings and would sell them at culture days in university. All I remember is being so driven and passionate.
Moments of despair
After graduating from university I looked for a job for a solid year to no avail. I had assumed that I would find a job immediately. I applied for hundreds of jobs. I had all types of CVs and distributed them far and wide to friends, relatives, friends of friends and anyone who would listen.
And then a friend lent me her laptop and there was no looking back. That laptop would then deliver me from that situation. I started writing, endeavouring to get into the world of freelancing as an online writer. I later started a wine blog (www.thewineandfoodreview.com) which has been the best thing I did for my career.
Anyone who knows me intimately knows I have broken my back attempting numerous things. I have sang in a band, been a magazine writer, done YouTube vlogs and spoken on panels.
The last decade has been a whirlwind of projects. Not everything you get your hands on will turn to gold. However, you have to know what things are worth holding on to. Some projects will never bring you money or satisfaction no matter how many hours you spend on them. Then there are those that you can easily monetise with little effort. There are also those ventures that bring money but you don’t exactly enjoy them. Trusting your intuition as you pick what to do is of vital importance.
I got some backlash from people who did not understand what wine blogging was. Although my parents didn’t have a problem with it, I still had to sit them down and explain what wine blogging was and how it works.
My blog was my saving grace. It got me out of the house. It took me to rooms I would never dream of entering. I had conversations with people I had never thought of seeing. I went to countries I had been dreaming of my whole life. God continued to guide me.
I can attribute 70 per cent of my opportunities, networks and career path to my blog and everything else I did. I am currently a Business Analyst, wine writer and I also create digital marketing content like videos on YouTube.
Diversify or specialise
Do not be frustrated if you can’t find the magical “one thing”. Are you a musician who acts? Are you a lawyer who has a YouTube channel? Your unique set of skills will be your chance to diversify and gain competitive advantage. Own it!
I believe that when you are in your early 20s and are not lucky to find your path, you should try as much as you can. Diversify. Your career path can be a straight line or a tangled but beautiful journey which you unravel bit by bit. My journey has been a true testament to that.
I am grateful for all the things that worked out. I’m also grateful for the ones that did not. Through trial and error, I was able to figure out my “zone of magic”. In a world that is changing at a supersonic speed, saturated with so much uncertainty, be okay with exploring numerous things if that is what your path involves.
There has never been a perfect time to be online. You can work for a company in Canada while in your room in Kenya! All you need is a computer, a stable internet connection, curiosity and willingness to learn. All the secrets you seek are on the other side of the Google search bar.
I am a champion of people learning how to work online. The new economy favours people who are online, showcasing their work, creating networks and grabbing opportunities. I believe it is a solution for people who are waiting for their dream job or looking for a side job. I create free videos on YouTube and provide resources that explain how people can make money online. It is my way of giving back and utilising what I have to empower someone else. I love to provide information that I wish I had when I was jobless. I try and shorten the learning curve for others behind me.
The job market in Kenya does not always favour graduates. You cannot rely on the system 100 per cent. Those days are gone – well for most of us anyway. Times when having a university education guaranteed job placement are long gone. If your papers do get you a place, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Otherwise, for the majority of the youth in this generation, thinking outside the box is a necessity – it is no longer a luxury.
It is okay if things are not falling into place. It is okay if you don’t find ‘your one thing’ or ‘your passion’ immediately. We are not all wired to do one thing. It happens to many people. Keep trying nonetheless. Very few people are actually pursuing what they studied for. Your life does not have to be a mess simply because you did not follow the standard trajectory. You can create your own version of success. It gets better.
I know that I do not fit the textbook version of success. I also know that I still have a lot to figure out. But this has been my journey I consider it unique and beautiful. I’m a Jean of many trades. Embrace your own story, regardless of where you are. Tomorrow comes with the promise of another sunrise, another opportunity. You’ll be okay.
For some us, finding our passion or ‘path’ does not happen at the click of a button. Some people are lucky enough to have defined career paths. No confusion, no frustration, the path is clear and well laid out. They find their dream job immediately after school either by sheer luck or through connections.
I fall under the former. My path has been a murky maze outlined with confusion, tears, desperation, hard work, a little rule-breaking and finally some semblance of hope.
I have learned to accept where life is taking me instead of bulldozing my way through situations. I am in a state of flow, finding solutions as I go instead of trying to control everything.”