4:47 AM. A sharp stinging pain in the stomach jolts me awake. I sit up on the couch, feel the wall till I find the light switch and flick it on. The room is spinning. I close my eyes trying to make it stop. Pointless. I feel sick. Another wave of pain goes through my lower abdomen accompanied by a strong urge to puke. I stumble to the bathroom. Drop on my knees, lift the toilet seat and hunch over with both hands on the basin. I open my mouth in anticipation but nothing comes out. I feel weak. Nauseous. That’s when it hit me, I haven’t eaten anything over the last 24 hours.
I stagger to the kitchen in search of anything edible. All I find is a stale piece of bread. It is a few more hours before any shop opens. I put three heaped spoons of sugar in a cup of water and drink to the last drop. That should help.
I walk back to my desk and hit the PC power button. A power point presentation stares back. I’m going to ace this!
For the last few months, I have been channeling most of my earnings into two side gigs. An online advertising agency and a construction firm, mostly offering consultancy services. The agency is doing okay. With county governments cash-strapped and private investors holding back their cash construction business been painfully slow.
A couple of weeks ago I saw a newspaper Ad by some NGO looking for contractors to build a number of classrooms, two washroom blocks, supply water tanks and a few other items. After consultations with my partners, we decide it’s time we venture into this other side of the construction business. I quickly bought the tender documents, went round to different suppliers for prices before filling in the Bill of Quantities.
I have spent the last three weeks working on this proposal. Hell, I have been doing less than four hours of sleep a day considering I’m overseeing other things.
6:53 AM. I’m supposed to present the tender documents at a venue in an area I have never been to before in an hour. I do the last dry run while making a few changes then jump into the shower. A hot bath always lifts up my spirits. I quickly put on my favorite blue shirt, dark-grey pants, black leather shoes and a matching belt. I comb my hair for the first time in months then scoop all the documents on the desk and throw them into my satchel bag.
7:17 AM. There is no time for breakfast. I buy two chapos from a roadside cafe and mango juice. I enter the destination on Google Maps. 32km away. I floor the accelerator, eyes on the road, right hand on the wheel, left hand holding dearly to my chapos. A quick bite followed by a gulp of juice.
7:56 AM. I arrive at my destination a rather dilapidated public primary school. I find at least a dozen people sitting on wooden desks with brown sealed envelopes in hand. There are more ladies than gents. Everyone looks oddly calm except for this 60+ years old man. He is chatty. With him are two younger men. His employees I presume.
A man whom I later learn is the head of the school welcomes us. A few minutes later representatives of the NGO arrive in a yellow double cabin. We are all ushered into a relatively new classroom.
A burly man with a long name takes charge of the tendering process. He introduces his team, school committee and reads out the rules.
“…nobody is allowed to get in or leave the room until the entire process is finished. Leaving the room for any reason would lead to automatic disqualification.”
I’m intrigued by the rules. Most of my previous clients have been private individuals hence I didn’t have to follow such protocols when pitching.
We are asked to open the brown envelops. Nine firms are represented. Each one of us will have time to make a public presentation on how we will carry out the project. I’m third in line.
Going through my tender documents I realize I didn’t attach one crucial document. Cold sweat starts trickling down my armpits. My pulse quickens. I have this huge internal debate. Should I raise this or keep quiet? After trying moments I raise my hand.
Upon explaining that I’m missing my KRA Tax Compliance certificate, in hard copy though I can get it from my email or ask someone to bring it physically, the room is whipped into a frenzy.
“He should be immediately disqualified!” Demands a lady in thick glasses.
“Nobody is special, kick him out!” A man with a bushy beard and multiple golden rings on his fingers chimes in.
The weirdly timid men and women turn into a couple of crazies. Everyone is trying to talk over the other.
The old man, who is sitting on my left, leans closer.
“Son, what happened?”
I quickly explain to him how I printed the certificate last night only to forget it in the printer.
He nods like an understanding father then raises his hand. Everyone shuts up. He clears his throat. Finally, I have someone in my corner.
“This is a very serious process whose rules must be followed to the letter. This young man should be disqualified and kicked out of the room before we proceed.” He says with an air of finality.
What the hell just happened? I thought he was on my side. With a renewed sense of disdain, all the competitors demand my immediate removal from the room.
I stand up and plead my case. I beg them to let me sit in and witness the process so I don’t make the same mistake again
A petite clean-shaved lady who is the senior most member of the NGO team tries to reason with the room that my request is valid. They should at least let me sit in. The old man sitting next to me wouldn’t hear any of it. He claims that letting me stay will give me an edge in future so I should be made to leave. The panel is left with no choice but to ask me to pack and leave the room.
8:32 AM. I collect my belongings, stand up and walk to the door. I stop at the door, turn around and scan the room one last time. They all have this gleeful grin on their faces. I want to insult them, flip the middle finger or even spit on the old man’s face, however, my mentor’s words keep playing in my head.
“Business knows no emotion, only fools make decisions out of anger, “
I put on a brave face leave the room with my dignity intact. I drive off before I lose my cool and do something I might regret. It is a miracle I didn’t crash into anything.
Fatigued, disillusioned & angry I set out to that one place where I always find peace.
3:43 PM. Present. I’m standing on the beach all alone. Head tilted upwards. Eyes closed. Arms stretched out wide. Toes dug into the sand as the constant ebb of small waves hit my submerged feet. Tiny fishes with yellow and black stripes circling around me like sharks about to go for the kill. I start to feel the sun rays warming up my face. Drops of sweat forming on my skin quickly blown away by the gentle salty breeze.
I am terribly embarrassed, ashamed and disappointed in myself. I want to blame the old man for getting kicked out but then I clearly know the blames falls squarely on my shoulders. This isn’t the first time.
The most painful part is that I never got to even make the presentation. All the sleepless nights, effort and resources spent on this only to be kicked because I forgot one piece of paper. What do I tell my business partners?
Today the sound of rustling fronds, coconut and fish extravaganza of scents fails to rekindle happy memories. I come to this very beach whenever life kicks me down because it reminds me of my life’s journey right from childhood.
Few people know this, I had serious learning problems in my formative years. I struggled with basic arithmetic, writing & reading skills. Every evening my old man would have me stand on the coffee table, read out aloud a story from Ali Baba & Forty Other Stories. Thereafter, he would ask me to memorize mathematical tables. 1×1 to 9×9. I spent many afternoons learning how to hold a pen, spell words in order to write well.
It was frustrating but my folks didn’t give up on me even after one of my class teachers openly told them that there was no hope for me in education. My learning capabilities finally improved in class 3. I have topped all my classes since then. Sadly, my handwriting has never changed.
First time I spoke in public was disastrous, I made a fool of myself. Two years later I got a standing ovation at an international conference. Getting to radio helped me further improve my oratory skills, as a result, I always stand out in every event I speak.
Hell, my first few blogs were so terrible that even my closest friends wouldn’t read. I was forced to print out the articles, walk around with them literally begging everyone I met to read. When this didn’t work I pasted them on notice boards across campus until people started to take notice.
Thanks to you we won Best Creative Writing Blog Award 2017 at BAKE Awards. What you probably don’t know is that I had tried to nominate myself for those awards unsuccessfully for 3 consecutive years. This year I made a decision not to nominate myself or ask anyone to do that to avoid the embarrassment. My nomination came as a surprise, then going ahead to win was simply unbelievable.
Most recently, I was tasked to manage about four people in a certain project. One of the supervisors gave me a public dress down on the very first day because I was the most inexperienced member. He made a point of harassing me every chance he got, in a bid to assert his authority. I made a deliberate effort to learn about all the workings of the project. Days later, pressure intensified.
Apparently, the arrogant supervisor couldn’t handle pressure. I unofficially took over his role and did exceptionally well. My influence increased so much that the top boss entrusted me with the most sensitive aspects of the project towards its culmination. Tables turned. I would regularly task the nasty supervisor to do photocopies for me just to see the look on his face.
I am a late bloomer. I have failed terribly on my first attempt at most if not all the things I am celebrated for. Nothing I do is ever average. When I fail I do it so disastrously that I could easily clinch an award for the world’s dumbest. Each time the embarrassment & shame of failing squashes my courage, albeit momentarily.
Today I failed flat. I’m fully responsible for my failure. My competitors will go home reeling at how they encountered this idiot today. They probably think I’m done. That’s okay. I’m going to feel sorry for myself for the next two days. Thereafter, I will go off the grid for awhile maybe take a job in order to learn the workings of this industry for several weeks or even months. When the time is right I will be back. This time for a bigger project. So long as I’m breathing, I will give my all, do everything under the sun legal or otherwise until I triumph. A hundred times I shall fail a hundred and one times I shall rise. No excuses.
We are all born with different capabilities. There are fast bloomers. Those who hardly fail. Lady luck seems to be on their side. They are naturally brilliant hence easily excel at everything they do.
And then there are those of us, late bloomers. The clowns. Slow learners. People who are often overlooked and ridiculed for their apparent shortcomings. Failing is part of our lives. What the society doesn’t understand is why we keep attempting to go after things that are seemingly out of our reach. No matter how many times we fail, we don’t stop. We don’t give up.
See, life is like a full marathon. When the gun goes off thousands sprint from the start line only to fall out of the race before the 10 km mark. Meanwhile, the real champions increase their pace until they cross the finish line. If you are a late bloomer like me, don’t waste your life competing with these sprinting fellas who will only fall out midway. Keep your eyes on the finish line, run your pace while continuously improving your skills and learning from your failures till you emerge a champion.
Written By Mark Maish