Once, when I was on the verge of 35, I went to see my boss to ask for a promotion. I had just read a book which suggested that if one has not made it in their chosen profession by the age of 35, then 35 was an ideal point to consider trying an entirely new one. I duly quoted this book and my boss at the time asked me: “When are you turning 35?”
“In a month’s time,” I said, my voice shaking, my palms balmy with anxiety. “And what would you like to do in a new role?” he asked, and I duly answered to the best of my knowledge and self-assessment.
“But why do you want a retirement level job? Why not something more exciting?” he asked.
I considered the job I wanted left brain. What he was offering was right brain and I told him as much.
To cut a long story short, two weeks to my birthday, I received a letter informing me that I had been promoted — to the right brain job.
Over the course of my life, I have wanted to be many things. As a boy, when I read about Ronald Reagan, my ambition was to be president of the United States. Reagan, in my view, lived a
charmed life as president and an actor in movies. In those days, the best actors rode on large brown horses, smoked Marlboro, had a damsel to die for, a gun that never missed its target and a bad
guy running from them in the rugged terrains of America’s wild west. That was the job of the future for us.
Later, when I learnt about Javier Perez de Cuellar, I thought that being US president was nothing and becoming UN Secretary-General was more powerful because you practically had a say about
any country on earth. I thought that these were jobs that boys moved into when they turned 40. Nine years ago, I was reminded of these childhood fantasies when David Cameron became UK Prime Minister at the age of 44 and I remembered the joke about the man who told his underperforming son: “When I was your age, I was the best in my class.” And the boy said to him in all earnestness, “When Bill Clinton was your age, he was president of the United States”.
Why am I telling all these stories? For two reasons. One: The jobs of the future have already started taking shape today. For years, trading in derivatives was the preserve of a few. Today, that market is slowly democratising. When we’re struggling with MS-Dos in campus in the mid-90s, we had no idea what range of jobs we could do with computers. Today, we are talking about Artificial Intelligence, cashless payments, Internet of Things; innovations that not even Jules Vernes could contemplate. Yet, some of today’s Top40 Under40 winners are doing these very things.
Second; When we talked to many of the winners, they said they followed their hearts, made commitment their second name and invested time and effort to get to where they are, becoming
outliers in their chosen fields, from hockey to inventing computer games and e-commerce businesses. And many of them had an older man prompting them, nudging them on which direction
to take and what choices to make. This basically means that their secret of success is actually not so much of a secret anymore. We have unpacked the ingredients in the hope that for every
winner, we can encourage ten more.
It is not every day that you find, say, a neurosurgeon or kidney expert who is under 40 and who has chosen to work in a backwater hospital on the slopes of Mt Kenya or the floor of the Rift Valley,
reaching out to desperate patients in remote villages and giving them back the gift of life. Your standard medical expert will be in a big hospital in Nairobi, charging an arm and a leg just for consultation.
That is why all these 40 guys are outliers. Their life stories challenge the myth that you have to be in politics to make a difference; or the only way to flood your bank account is through overquoted
tenders to a government agency.
See for yourself what these young men have done, then go ye and do likewise.
– Ng’ang’a Mbugua