Redefining Work. Rethinking Career Path. Well done, thou faithful servant!
“Daddy, please come play with me.”
“Let’s do that later, Son. I have work to do for now.”
“Is this your office, Daddy?”
“Yes, I am working from home these days.”
“Is that why you sold your car, Daddy? When are you getting it back?”
That’s what work meant to my son. Daddy wakes up early in the morning to go to work.
I used to take him with, to a kindergarten at my former employer’s campus. On hindsight, that was the best ‘work’ I have ever had.
My son had visited my office a few times. He knew that Daddy has three computers in his office. Two working ones and one broken one. Daddy has a desk with three chairs around it. One with wheels and can spin around. But the others are not so fun. They are ‘almost stuck to the floor,’ he would say.
That’s what work was to him. A place to go to. An office. And it required a car to go there.
ENTER Covid19. Global and local travel restrictions were imposed the world over. Working remotely became the new norm, and the new definition of ‘work’. Since then, work has changed from “a place that Dad goes to” to “something important that Daddy has to do.”
I also had my own view of what work is. It was different from my son’s. The kindergarten and the car I was driving to work, were its perks. He didn’t know that the house we live in is part of why I do ‘work’. While following that train of thought, I realised I had a distorted perspective of what work is. Work wasn’t just work to me. It was something I did for its benefits. Work earned me a living. “Alas! I have equated work to a job,” I thought to myself.
I know, you might be thinking that I am splitting hairs here. Let me explain. The work I currently do is writing. But, to my Dad, it wouldn’t pass as a job. More so, it being a short-term writing contract. Knowing the above, I said to him, “Dad, I found a piece-job.” He seemed pleased.
Please understand that my father belongs to a different crop of workers. He remains my all-time hero for that. He has held the family record of the longest serving worker since I can remember. Before I became a working adult, he had worked twenty years for the same boss. So, in contrast, a six months contract is indeed only a piece-job.
Unfortunately, his long-term employer had to move, which meant my Dad could no longer raise the bar beyond twenty years of service. Yet, I somewhat found delight in that. Taking the challenge in strides. My longest service as a civil servant is ten years. That was after previously working nine and half years at an academic institution. Half my Dad’s record is the best I could do.
“Those two were jobs. Real jobs!” he would say.
He never belittles anything I do. Yet, with him, a spade needs always be called that, a spade. That I earn a lot more than he made as a gardener, in my writing piece-job, doesn’t count. He too had perks, which if properly weighed, can be reckoned equivalent to mine. My Dad’s twenty years long employers paid for our school fees and uniforms. The best perk ever.
I salute the Friedman’s, who lived on 2nd Greenway Road, Greenside, in Johannesburg. That’s where Dad was a garden-boy. They gave to my father the best perk, and to my siblings and I, the best gift ever: basic education. I still believe, had they not left South Africa, they could have continued to pay for our tertiary education too.
Well and good. We can now see from my Dad’s story that I was not merely splitting hairs. Work is anything one does. It could be a chore, as we did as kids. A hobby, as my Dad has planted an orchard at my childhood village, since his retirement. Or, the creative work I have begun, only after retrenchment. A job therefore has to do with employment. “Yeah, if it is over a long period of time,” my Dad would add.
It must have perks too. A roof over your children’s heads. Basic education too, if you have scored a great job like my Dad’s. It is the monetary perks, therefore, that draw the line between a ‘work’ and a ‘job’. One can be done for the fun it, as a hobby. For fulfilment’s sake, as pure passion. But the other is for benefits, mainly financial.
Well, which side of the scale do you lean? It has always been work for me, more than a job. Being a trained educator, and working for fifteen years as a lecturer at tertiary institutions, it was all community work in my view. Teachers and lecturers are among the least paid professionals. Academics are like faithful rungs in a ladder that leads others to better paying professions. That’s a fact. No hard feelings, though. I did it wholeheartedly, with passion.
Yes, my civil service job was better in remuneration. But I would be quick to explain that I was recruited. I was not job hunting when a former student came looking for me. I took it as an opportunity to serve my country, and did not think much about perks. It turned out to be a good job.
However, after giving my all to civil service duties, and being half-way closer to matching my Dad’s twenty years of service, I yearned for something more. I was in my mid-forties. I had initiated several projects and submitted a few proposals to my boss. Although I was not in management, I had to keep our team going, keeping myself from brain-decay. I had a job where I could work less and still earn the same salary. Although grateful, I yearned for something more. Something deeper kept tugging at me, throwing me into serious introspection.
“Am I being arrogant, for being more educated than my Dad?” I began to probe for negative undercurrents.
“But I live in another era, different from my father’s. Anything more than three years in the same position, at the same workplace, does not add much value to one’s resume,” the trends-reader in me argued my case.
“Couldn’t some inflationary facts be worked into the ‘long-service’ formula? Bringing the ‘long-service’ scales to a perfect balance?” asked the economic freedom fighter self.
Nonetheless, I stayed. Though I had to be creative just to remain sane. I would now and then, turn in two-page summaries of technical articles. I followed the internet security attacks that happened at the time, such as ‘Heartbleed’ and ‘Lucky13’. I didn’t realize at the time that I was honing my writing skills, learning to make technical articles accessible to a less technical audience. My boss and higher executives were my audience, at least I imagined. Most importantly, it kept me sane. I created work in my job. See the difference?
At the halfway mark to my Dad’s record, an unexpected opportunity came up. A former colleague sent me a Tari Labs job-advert, for a senior cryptographer. The subsection for qualification requirements was a one-liner, and it read, “A PhD in Mathematics.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Yes, I didn’t apply because I don’t have a PhD, but you do,” said my former colleague. The fear that comes for being in one place for too long, fell upon me. “But I have nothing to lose,” I thought. I applied. Went through a three-stage interview. First with the manager, then with the CTO, and ultimately with the CEO. Thereafter, they were quiet.
Their silence gave me time to think. “Do I want work? Or do I want a job?” I settled for both. I sat down to calculate what was my cost-to-company, including kindergarten and medical-insurance benefits. The amount looked ludicrous, but an accurate estimate. “I always had a good job, it’s work that’s been missing,” I mused about it. By the time the HR lady called to tell me the good news, and asked how much I would be happy to earn, I was ready. To cut the long story short, I had to be brave. I quit my civil service job and went to Tari Labs.
The ‘job’ was more than I had bargained for, with extra perks that everyone enjoyed. From free beverages to state-of-the-art equipment. Yet, the work was equally up to par. At that moment I understood the Chinese proverb: Be careful what you asked for, you might just get it. I had found myself a real job and really good work.
I had always known I was in for a good challenge. The only Mathematician among Engineers. In addition, I needed to catch up with a team that had an eighteen months head start. Yet, unlike U2, I didn’t have the luxury to sing, “O, I still haven’t found what I am looking for.”
Ten months down the line, I had contributed four articles to the Tari Labs University. These are the very articles that have showcased my skills to the international community. Lending my writing skills and technical know-how to world class startups like Tari Labs, and now Aleo Systems Inc. It’s a dream come true.
Well, since Covid19 hit the globe, life has never been the same. Meetings and conferences became virtual. Planned concerts cancelled. e-Ticketing businesses lost revenue. And sadly, that’s how I got affected. I lost my job.
Had my bubble burst? I traced back my steps. Since no soothsayer could have predicted Covid19, I examined my decision to leave my secure civil service job. Here are a few incidents that preceded the Tari Labs advert. The former colleagues in Economics Studies who asked ‘What is blockchain?’ The blockchain discussion ‘project’ I subsequently initiated. The unsolicited job-advert. The exact one-liner qualification requirements. And several other incidents outside my control denying me the managerial position I deserved like a malfunctioning computer allocated for my psychometric test. It was pure fate. I couldn’t have made a better decision.
Analysing incidents weren’t going to lead me anywhere. I had to look within. Ask ‘what laurels am I resting on?’ And modify my definition of what a job is, to “doing what I am called to do.” After all, it is said, “do what you enjoy most and you never have to work a day in your life.” If it comes natural to you, why not go for it?
I have written a book and published it in 2013. I received great reviews on it. I had maintained a blog with more than thirty-two posts published. I also have four articles published on the Tari Labs University website. Clearly, I have found a path to follow. My dilemma has led me here and opportunities are plenty.
On the creative side, I have one or two inventions that I have archived for years. Without retrenchment, I wouldn’t have had a chance to test the viability of my ideas. That chance came when I had to submit any business idea I might have, as an attempt to possibly circumvent my retrenchment. I came up with an idea to add the functionality of a “peer-to-peer cash-transfer” to the existing Tari wallet. I submitted a business proposal in May 2020. After a month or so, the idea got the tick for viability, except that it was not in line with Tari’s business focus. That was the first confirmation. The second confirmation came in double, when a month later, one of the banks implemented the exact idea, and later another tech company implemented the same idea on Bitcoin SV. Someone beat me to it. But, having put out my idea for scrutiny, is a huge achievement.
Although retrenchment on its own is never really a boon. I had to conclude that neither does it have to be all-gloom. It is in fact an opportunity for one to — step back, do some serious stocktaking, trace one’s footsteps, assess whether this is a result of some wrong decisions, or just a nudge in the path to one’s destiny. If you can’t see your destiny now, or the path to your destiny a few miles ahead, focus on that one small step in the new direction the setback is pointing you.
You are not where you are by mistake. If that was the case, you should have had plenty warnings before. You would definitely recall one or two incidents in the past that indicate the missed opportunities. But if you can say, “Everything that seemed to have derailed my path was beyond my control,” then you are where you ought to be. And if you look carefully, your opportunities are surrounding you, all at arm’s length.
Tell yourself you are called for something. There is something you were born to accomplish. A purpose you alone can fulfil in this world. The big book says, the creator “has plans for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29: 11).
The work you have to perform is in you and in no one else. Look within. Find that work, your work, and turn it into a self-employed job.
Small beginnings are the best. At the end of every little step you take in the newly-found direction, you will hear that inner voice praising you: “Well done, thou faithful servant!”