Nothing can replace hard work

Mary Muthoni Jason, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer at St Petroc Schools, Embu. (Jenipher Wachie, Standard)
I am an entrepreneur who wears many hats. I have served in various boards in the country. I have been a national board member at the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the first female elected national director since the institution was founded in 1965, and the Tobacco Control Board. Currently, I serve as the vice chair at Kirinyaga Investment and Development Authority. I am also the chair of Women in Business in Kenya. I am the 2017 Devolution Warrior Award winner.

As an entrepreneur, my work entails planning and executing ideas. My day usually starts at 10 to 5am. I do my devotion and hit the gym. An hour later I am back home to have breakfast with my children before they leave for school. I have four children, aged between eight and 18. I then leave for work and I’m at the office by 7.30am. At the office, I review previous deliberations and schedule my week. I meet my staff at the school on a weekly basis, about two times a week. On specific days I have meetings with women in business.

 I’m driven by results. I like it when I have a concrete goal and enough time to figure out a strong strategy to accomplish it. Meeting deadlines, targets or goals keep me motivated. I’m also motivated to go to work every day because of the opportunity I have to mentor and coach others, learn new things, come up with creative ideas to improve something or make something new.

Entrepreneurship comes with its challenges, foremost being dealing with the unknown. How long will your business exist? How profitable will it be? How will people receive your product? Will you be able to give yourself a steady pay cheque? There are also the issues of financing, competition, marketing, customer loyalty and finding the right staff. Letting go can also be a challenge. When you’re starting a business, especially during the early days, it’s all about doing as much as you can on your own and therefore entrepreneurs tend to think they can do everything.

I tackle these challenges by encouraging partnerships. If I can’t get somewhere but know someone who can, I find a way of forging a partnership. Joining groups also helps. There are groups and institutions advocating for policies that tackle the challenges one might be facing as an entrepreneur, like Women in Business and UN Women.

I am happy during the day when I am doing tasks that have meaning for me, when I get constructive feedback, brain-storming with open-minded people, and when I get positive reinforcement. I don’t have a specific time of the day that is a favourite. I can enjoy any part of the day depending on the day’s offerings, and my physical and emotional state at that particular time.

I am good at setting boundaries for my work and projects. To avoid spending more time on tasks than is necessary, you have to learn to implement more structure so you can work efficiently, not constantly. I therefore create enough time for myself, my family and work. I am guided by Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion. If you give yourself until the end of the day to write a report, guess what, it will most likely take you until the end of the day.

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My day ends at 4pm when I head home to be with my family by 5pm. We discuss the day’s encounters with my husband and the children. We laugh at what worked and lay strategies for what didn’t work. We do homework with the children, have dinner and put them to bed by 8pm. I then prepare for the next day. I’m usually early to bed, as early as 9pm.

The best career advice I’ve ever received is life is short: if you’re not happy at your job, find another one and if opportunities don’t come your way, create them. The best advice I’d give? Nothing replaces hard work.

I love reading The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. In management, you must always have the grip!

Outside work, I love spending time with my family, travelling and seeing new places and shopping. Give me a few coins and I’ll go shopping.

Lastly, for one to achieve the work - life balance, you should create schedules and systems, read books and connect outside the geographic confines that may make you feel isolated. Join business organisations like the Women in Business, overcome self-doubt by digging deep and identifying the source of any insecurities. Find your passion, do what you love and don’t worry about the money, it will follow.

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