Friday, 5 June 2015

Being Family: Working For Big Men by Maryam Aliko Mohammed

I was dismissed from my job yesterday, even though I had resigned 2 days earlier.

Yes, it was a hilarious surprise to me, one that had me hooting with genuine laughter. I knew my boss was capable of it but I had hoped he would not go that far, especially because I was used to his tantrums and the necessary clean up after.

The full story is, I had known almost from the first month as a full time employee that there was something that did not quite add up.
Everything looked tidy and picture perfect, a bit like the Stepford Wives, and like the movie, there was something sinister seething just below the surface but I couldn't put a finger on it. The people I met there would look at you a bit too long, like they wanted to suss you out, may be see if there was a reflection of themselves in your eyes.

I started to feel uneasy in month two when they told me stories about the people that had left, mostly pretty much the same way I left, except with a lot more drama in their cases - stories of policemen, court cases and physical abuse. Then it all seemed so unreal. I was confident they were exaggerating to shock me or get a laugh. I knew I had to leave when my boss would come into my office and absently tidy my table as he gave instructions but especially when I had to alter the truth to allow him have his way in any transaction. My integrity check results were dipping by the day.

By month three I had made some good friends there, and had told them I was leaving. One of them asked if I had found another job? When I said no, I just did not want to be there, he acknowledged that it could be a madhouse but it was a paying job, and oga was a "big man," and very rich too. And "big men" had their "ways". There was hope that they would spontaneously get generous sometime in the future, that eureka moment when they recognise how selflessly one has served them and reward one with a huge bonus, or perhaps free accommodation or even allow you to shadow their greatness. I was even more alarmed; I had to go.

The point of this story is really about our definitions of work, value, rewards and skills. These very important things are usually decided by everyone else, especially the "big men" that need you to make them bigger. This fear of striking out on your own, the need for a soft landing, regular income that will have you taking regular and large amounts of s**t (Pardon my French) from whoever was paying you, especially as you explain away their bad behaviour, lack of manners, appreciation and in many cases a clear mental problem, for a regular paycheque. And when you look at the "big man," he never worked a salaried day in his life, yet you dream to be richer than him one day. You cannot achieve your dream by helping another person live theirs, unless of course it is a love dream of togetherness and all that.

The only people that became really wealthy working a regular 9 to 5 job are mainly corrupt people that either steal from that employer or make policies that enable them cart the money away. A salary is designed to take care of your needs, and no matter what the figure is, your needs adjust. it's the psychology of it sadly! It is really true that "no guts, no glory," the more the risk the higher the returns. Sticking your neck out and blazing your trail is risky and downright terrifying but when it works, the payoff is sweet and loads more on every level. Is anyone on the Forbes list working a salaried job? And I don't mean C-level employees, you know that is a different ball game altogether.

I am digressing. Back to the story, one night when I was moaning to my sister about my colleagues asking me to stick it out, she said ever so calmly, "they fear to walk out because they have no sellable skills, they feel lucky that they have found a place to hide out and be paid for their most minimal effort, they stay regardless, and you that wants to leave threatens the status quo." So they encourage me to conform and stay - safety in numbers, misery loves company and all that. And if I resist, I am surprisingly ostracised by the oppressed, more than the oppressor.

And then I could see why the boss becomes what he does. Over time, you surround yourself with people that have a skill in telling you, "You are right, Sir.  Yes Sir!" People that exert minimum effort and achieve only enough to keep the boss right, especially in his assessment of them as lazy, no good, unproductive labour. But he will never dream of sacking them, even though he threatens them with it daily. Their being there keeps him "big," and he has more contempt of them, than they do him. You really can't blame him though, they shortchange him, I believe that as long as they have accepted to sign off their dreams to build his, for some money every month, he should get value, it is only fair. It is a dance they both enjoy, playing the martyred victim is ecstasy, the boss as he humiliates and strips them of dignity more often than not in public and the workers loudly on corridors and in offices but always when he is not around.

I put in my resignation and that was when the drama started. "Big boss man" could not accept that I was ready to leave before he was ready to let me go. Only he decided how and when you would leave him, if ever. So I got a dismissal as opposed to an acceptance of my resignation. With a little back and forth, subtle threats and a go between, the dismissal was withdrawn and I got my acceptance. I am out of there now, I feel the joy of a convict let out of prison years early, so light and happy. And never, ever will I work for a "big man". Ever!

It comes down to work, value, rewards and skills and my conviction that I am at the centre of defining these.

©Maryam Aliko Mohammed.
Image credit

Being Family is a weekly series featuring really interesting people telling their stories about love, family and relationships and how they keep it all together, exclusively on


alphabyt said...

This is lovely and spoke for so many of us who are nomadic enterprenuers today. Years ago I left my job at a university because it has practically became impossible for me to do an honest jobs and the potentials in R&D challenges are no more there, many thought it was irresponsible to leave after achieving so much, 8 years later I am still leaving my mark and living my life on my own terms and rules and running a sustainable model that has changed so many lives.
We hope to read more

Anonymous said...

Great writeup...but in life, never say 'never'. I work in a firm where the bosses(it is a merger) are big - no, make that 'massive' - men in the country. Their work ethic, integrity, humility and willingness to teach/mentor is amazing. So, never say 'never' :)

maryam aliko mohammed said...

You are right, one should not say never, if I meet the right the right 'big man,' I just may. But nothing beats being your own boss.

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to this one. The yes sir 24/7 is the crazy part