It is the unrelenting dull tug in your mind late at night, keeping you awake. It is the distress signal that permeates your thoughts during the day.
It is the sinking feeling drifting in and out of your core each Monday morning, and you cannot wish it away any longer: you are not only in the wrong job, but you are also in the wrong field altogether.
You took a major wrong turn somewhere in your education and professional trajectory, and it feels a little too late to start afresh. Returning to the drawing board petrifies you more than staying the course. So now what?
A career misstep is not easy to face, Nick Muthumbi says. Accepting it can be a slow and arduous process.
Denial, bargaining, fear, suppression and a variety of other factors can come into play, and it can take years to accept and process the truth.
“It feels like an extreme thing to say, but I am convinced I opened a manhole and poured five years of my life into it,” says Nick.
The 28-year-old finished high school in 2011 and joined campus soon after, finishing in 2017. “For me, it was never a matter of grades. I knew I was bright enough,” says Nick. “It was a matter of where and what course I was going to do.”
Of course, he was always going to pursue tech. It was his childhood dream. After all, he had spent endless hours tinkering with his uncle’s computer and scored all A’s in computer classes.
“It was a no-brainer. My first choice was going to be Computer Science,” he says.
But there was a catch. As a standard procedure, in the third term, all secondary school Form Four students must fill out forms choosing universities and courses they would wish to pursue in tertiary education.
The forms also allow students to choose close to three other universities and courses in case they miss their first options. For students with varied interests, these extra choices come as a blessing as they provide room to gamble on their preferences, but for Nick, they were a trap.
“I picked Psychology as a second option, but only because I could. In my young inexperienced mind, Psychology sounded like a chance to become some form of a doctor, which seemed cool to me,” Nick says.
It was this uninformed, quick, and impulsive decision that Nick feels wasted a good chunk of his career trajectory.
After his Form Four results came out, sure enough, he received a letter from Moi University, Eldoret, offering him a course in Psychology.
“When I joined campus, I learnt that you change courses within the first semester, and armed with this information, I called my folks, informing them of my intentions to change courses,” he says. His parents won by convincing him to pursue Psychology. “At that age, I was just a child with an ID. What did I know about life anyway?”
Nick persevered, but has never practised the discipline for even one day, let alone collecting his degree certificate.
And like a firefly gravitates towards the light, he eventually found his way into the heart of technology.
“My peers who pursued what they always wanted to do in life were way ahead by the time I got back to Nairobi. It will probably take me a long time to catch up,” says Nick.
But no matter how much he was self-taught in IT, he soon discovered that he needed certifications to land major breaks.
“As we speak, I am actively in school taking courses to qualify me for certain IT exploits,” he says. As a testimony to his undying passion for tech, Nick is currently the tech lead at Overmind Associates. The only silver lining he owes to his five years of learning Psychology is improved interpersonal skills and colour psychology for his designs.
“Parents and teachers should be keen to allow students to pursue their passion. That will save so much of their time and give them a chance to chart their paths early enough when there is still room to grow, learn, and adapt,” says Nick.
James Muhuthu thinks economics is a great course; if only it were his first choice. “I did everything that was expected in high school,” says James. He scored all A’s and was called to Kenyatta University to pursue economics, which he has never practised since graduating.
“The current system leaves the responsibility to choose university courses entirely on the student. Each high school should have a career office tasked with helping students identify courses that align with the careers they would like to pursue,” says James.
Akello Misori, the Secretary-General Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers – KUPPET, the Competence-based curriculum aims to solve the apparent wastage of resources, time and talent.
“When teachers notice early enough that a student is poor in STEM subjects, but excels at athletics, why waste the student’s time and talent trying to force him to master Chemistry for years?” poses Akello.
“Why not let those who excel in Chemistry shine in the science, and let those who excel in sport represent there?” “All children are gifted differently, and it is a great injustice to gauge them through one lens,” he says.
“We subject students to cutthroat competition, turning education into a profit-making venture and a place where dreams and talents come to die,” says Akello.