Because the experiences of this journey deserves to be told…
I thought 2015 was my most difficult year (because of the hard decisions I made) as I wrote in a never-published article I sent to a friend, but living through 2016 has proved me wrong. At some point, it looked like the year will never end; more like 5 years in 1. Alas, here we are. 31st freaking day of a long year. 98% of the events that shaped this year cannot be published here but, here’s an attempt.
I had a bad start. In December 2015, I bought a bicycle to commute to work (the Accelerator we were working out from). This was supposed to save me a lot of money as I wrote here. However, on the first day of work, (4th January, 2016), I withdrew about 15000 rupees, kept it in 2 pockets and began my ride home. Somewhere down a hill, 10,000 rupees fell out of my pocket. That 15,000 rupees was more or less all I had at that time. I was to pay my rent from it and spend the rest on food and other living expenses. It was a bitter experience. I lost the same amount I wanted to save on the same bicycle that was supposed to help save me money. It made me consider throwing the bicycle away and just start trekking to work, but I continued cycling. Every day, I rode 16 – 20km on the bicycle burning zero rupees on Uber.
Just when I was already loving the bicycle commute everywhere, evil struck again – my bicycle, packed in my compound, was stolen. This was in June.
2016 was a difficult year for us. Recession hit Nigeria, our primary market and it affected our students in more ways than we imagined. We generated a lot of leads that we had to hire more hands to deal with them, only to find out that the fall in the purchasing power of the naira will make foreign tuition unaffordable for many families across the countries. So, our conversion was badly affected. While we thought the revenue we will make will at least sustain us (we survived somehow), none of the clients made payment; making it more difficult for us. Just when I thought things were going to shape up, we lost a key team member. We moved from one strategy to the other looking for the saving Grace, but it just didn’t happen this year. I met more investors than I have ever met in my lifetime combined but closed none. We had many hopes from different quarters. We were close in many ways. We had a lot of ignored mails and read several “unfortunately” in the ones that were replied.
A lot of people I have interacted with think living outside Nigeria means you’re outliving the current recession and not even feeling any pain. This is far from the truth for those of us that still earn in naira. I dare say that we feel the recession in more ways than those in the country are. Let me explain. A 100 rupees biryani was less than 300 naira several months ago. Today, it is around 700 naira. I watched my monthly rent rise by over 200% (when converted to naira). So, I need more than twice the naira amount I needed 14 months ago to pay my rent today. Yet, income source and level (also in naira) remains the same. So, for the first time in my life, I’ve had to think twice before even making a purchase of 100 rupees. I stopped going to the spa (not even once this year), cinema, traveling etc. All in a bid to avoid spending. I moved from being the first to pay my rent (mostly before the end of the month or the first day of the new month) in the entire apartment to being the last begging for numerous extensions. The recession is not just a word, it is real.
All these events and many more that I can’t share here weighed me down through the year as things unfolded. Many nights I cried myself to sleep. Most times, I looked for tears but found none. Sometimes, I manage to have conversations with people on BBM/WhatsApp to lift the mood. I wake up in the morning with a lot of to-dos but most times have to exert more energy to even get myself up to get them done. You know when you wake up knowing there’s a lot to be done but just can’t find the drive to act not because you are weak, but simply because of the doubt that those efforts can ever translate into success. I began to doubt my abilities. It looked like I can never do anything great. I even started questioning my previous successes and bragging rights. More like “Is this the same Tobi that did XYZ that year and that year?”. At some point, I began to watch interviews of people who have “made it” to listen to their story and see if there is a similar pattern between where I am now and their own experiences just to console myself.
While all these were happening, I also noticed that this is the year I received the most “help requests”. Looked like everyone thought all was well with me. So, they requested for all kinds of help innocently thinking I had the means. This to me is the major highlight of this year. Sometimes, I asked God why people bombarded me with their challenges. Since He’s God and He knows that I don’t really have much (emotional strength, finance, time etc.) to help with, why can’t He just direct them to another person other than me. For every request I got, I took them as my personal task, rising to the occasion for many. Seeing my response/efforts put a smile on other people’s face certainly warmed my heart even though I was in the darkest hour myself. It reminded me of why I wanted to be rich and happy in the first place – to share with others. Realizing this, I started asking people directly what they needed help with, using my skills (or anything required) to support others.
2016 is now gone. Overall, I am stronger since I didn’t die. I have drawn strength from everywhere possible to continue to push and hustle in 2017. Having lost everything, there is nothing else to lose again. When you’re starting, you are afraid of the negative events that could happen along the line. For me, they have happened. I am no longer afraid of losing anything when there is nothing left to lose. In 2017, I will continue to give my best effort. I hear miracles happen and that luck rewards those who prepare.
Some things to be grateful for. My health has remained in perfect shape. Things didn’t get worse. I have no family problems. Some weeks ago, after narrating some of these experiences to a friend, his only question was “so, how have you been paying rent and other monthly bills?” Though, it has been difficult, I am grateful that I was able to meet the basic expenses somehow. I might write about this some other time, but for now, gratitude only. Most importantly, being alive to write this long article is priceless and worth everything – enough to convince me that there is hope (because there is life).
Thanks to everyone who stood by me in 2016 even in ways they are not aware of. For everyone I had mood lifting conversations with, I am grateful. For those who showed up just when it could have gone worse, I am grateful. I pray I live to pay back soon enough.