What’s a Living Wage in Uganda? Post II: A Look at Current Local Salaries:

December 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

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In my first blog post on calculating a living wage, I shared the results of a 30 day survey I did on the ground with the artisans I work with at Nakate Project.

Quick context: Nakate is an accessories line I launched at 21 and have distributed out of Uganda and New York since.  Our focus has been supply chain development, financial education and long term perspective change in the community of 12 women we work with. See more from my recent TEDx talk.

This summer, my artisan partners got behind me in making the decision to expand into systemic change. I decided to move into working with a local manufacturing facility, focusing on calculating fair wages, working standards and targeted benefits for workers. Read more here.

We’ve worked as a team to begin calculating what a fair hourly or full time wage looks like for our specific work and demographic. My lead artisan has asked the questions. Our team has provided information about their expenses, and I’ve been putting it together against other research I’ve done with the ILO, BRAC, Wage Indicator and local friends helping me understand the day to day costs I might be missing.

In my last post, I wrote that the basic needs of our average worker added up to around 316000 UGX $125 a month.

That number included food, shelter, water, cooking oil and transport. It was missing these key components we’ve done a second survey on since (and will share soon):

  • Recreation and cultural activities
  • Communications
  • Personal care and services
  • Education
  • Clothing
  • Annual costs of furnishings

How does that number compare to current salaries in Kampala? 

  • Average wages for workers in semi-skilled trade in 15 urban areas is 160,600 Ugandan Shillings (UGX) per month (BRAC)
  • Teachers in Uganda recently went on strike to be paid a living wage.
  • They currently are getting $96/month (240,000 UGX) and are asking for double that (480,000 UGX / month).
  •  The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 1984, when it was set at 6,000 shillings per month, but there is a minimum wage bill up for debate.

Next up: a new wage calculation with the factors we left out during the last one.

I Can Have it All, & 8 Other Things I’ve Been Told about Girls Like Me:

December 13, 2013 § 1 Comment


“I want to put everything in this place in my great, big mouth.” That’s what my sister said in Downtown Manhattan’s Economy Candy shop last spring. That’s how my heart felt when I chose a life that fed my soul the way my sister does mid-Manhattan afternoon cackle. Like I wanted everything. And I was afraid life didn’t give everything to girls who felt like that.

“You’ve got to let it go,” that’s what my best friend said to me, when I wanted to go back to living small. She meant letting go like hanging up your hat on scratching old wounds. The kind of phone calls to talk to death the things you knew to be true back before you called up that one friend that never agreed with you anyway.

“It happens to powerful people.” That’s what my mother said, when I told her I’d been criticized. She meant power like the quiet beat of strength in your heart, when you cut the noise and get quiet with who you know yourself to be.

“You don’t have time to waste on fixing the small things.” That’s what my Dad said to me over Thai food at 7:30 PM last Saturday. He meant small like the boy who called my sister chocolate, and didn’t mean it sweet. Small like the man who said I was too much to handle, so I never called him back.

“I’m not afraid to lead like a girl.” That’s what a woman from Chicago with the kind of life I’d like to have said to a room full of girls like me, last week. When she said like a girl, she meant emotion and personal connection with strength. She meant like being a single mother and making the executive board alongside, instead of in spite of, her choices. She meant like letting go of second dates she didn’t get asked on and fears she had about all the messes that never got cleaned up because, she said, you can have it all, when you’re a girl like us. You just can’t have it all at once.

“You’re going to have to step outside your emotional attachment, and sacrifice the things that don’t go along with your vision.” That’s what my mentor said to me when I was tired. He meant sacrifice like what inhibits the soul of your work. He meant sacrifice like cutting loose the people and beliefs that slow the momentum you’re picking up. Momentum like the AirTran late on a Monday night, bringing me back to the apartment where I learned to love New York for the first time. Momentum like the work that carries you to joy.

“Don’t choose a lesser path.” That’s what my Dad said when I wavered and almost stopped. He meant choose like trajectory. Choose like a vision on a piece of paper I mapped out a year ago. He wanted me to realize that life doesn’t just float past you like a parade of chances, over and over and over again parading by for you to clap at. Its a bucking bronco, life. It’s a god damn rodeo, and which bull are we letting out of the pin now, daughter? You can only ride one, just now, and you’re going to have to choose.

He meant lesser like the people who might tell you that you’re too much to take. Like the people who would ask you to spend time on reconstructing yourself into something smaller than what your father hoped you be. Like the girl he was making you into when he layed out on the trampoline with you at night and asked you to look at the stars, and think about everything you wanted to hold with your tiny two hands.

Now, put that great big dream inside your mouth like you’ve swallowed a million stars, daughter. Spill it back out at everything around you until you know you’ve lit up your own, big expanse of the sky. Until that dream makes something of you, makes something of itself, makes something that gave you the kind of joy he always hoped you’d go looking for.

“Live to enjoy yourself, to pursue your passion, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what comes your way.” That’s what my mother said when I couldn’t stop regretting. She said it over and over and over again – every time I got hurt or left or criticized. She said it until I heard her for the first time, just last night.

“Some pieces of your life you can’t go looking for,” she said. “They come to you. Keep yourself open until they do.” She meant open like filling your time with people who love you. Open like letting the ones go who don’t. Open like not fixing all the times you didn’t get understood. What about when you were, or will be, or are understood? She meant open like drinking that in.

“You can have it all,” that strong, Chicago voice called out to me on Saturday. “Just not all at once.” She meant have it all like having what’s in front of me, and holding out hope for the things that weren’t yet. Like not trying to clean up the messes, when they didn’t work out. Having it all like understanding that those things were just spots in my sky – big, black blotches on a night of stars, reminding me what it looks like when you believe that you have to spend all that beautiful, valuable, make-your dreams-happen-kind-of time cleaning out under all the things that made you hurt.

She meant having it all like a reminder of what’s ahead when you forget that, you? You don’t have time to keep crawling on your knees to pick up and carry small things in your two, tiny hands that were made for catching it all.

…and when I say catch it all, I mean everything in that great big expanse of dreams my father taught me to hope for.

Just not all at once.

What’s a Living Wage in Uganda? My Initial 30 Day Cost Survey

December 2, 2013 § 2 Comments

Nakate Project

In August, Florence and I set out to determine how much our average worker needed per month in order to accurately provide for her family.

I can ballpark payment for a skilled worker – someone living in Kampala, with a college degree, who lives in a one or two bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and eats Irish potatoes, posho, Matoke and chicken and chips most nights. Throw in a beer or two, some nights out with friends, boda rides for when she doesn’t feel like cramming into a Matatu, and I can get it almost, exactly, just right. I’ve lived that life. I know what it looks like, and the late night squeeze between going home to cook up some rice and beans, and splurging on a cocktail and Chicken Biryani in Kabalagala.

The difference between that kind of life and that of the “unskilled workers” I was working with, is akin to comparing an upper east sider with a nanny and a driver and…let’s not get into it, to my life in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, where Taxis are reserved for the greatest of emergencies, and you pretend you’re a beer girl even when you want a cocktail because $15.00 just isn’t going to cut it for a drink this month.

All that to say, I realized I had no clue. When we sat our partners down to find out their average monthly expenses we realized, neither did they. How much did they spend on transport? On food? On housing? I got blank stares.

So, we decided to calculate it together.

This is called a living wage, and it exists as the relevant insight behind a minimum wage. It determines the ground floor for what a person needs to thrive within their cultural and geographic context – make bills, provide for education and participate in local cultural and family activities. The importance of a living wage was emphasized by Plato and Aristotle in ancient Greece, St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, Adam Smith in the 18th century, and Popes since 1890. But it’s just barely being calculated in the developing world.

Here’s the thing: calculating a living wage gets sticky in the developing world, so most companies working just don’t do it.

Here’s what hurts if you calculate too high:

1. You don’t want to price yourself out of the cheap labor market.
2. You don’t want to pay so much more than everyone around you that you create artificial wealth, and unreasonable expectation.

Here’s why it’s a detrimental mistake to pay too little:

1. You can get your worker’s full dedication because they’re forced to consistently look for side work elsewhere to meet their bills.2. You’re keep the very foundation of your company – the workers that make it up – in perpetual poverty. Unable to catch up, let alone ‘get ahead,’ you’re running your facility on stress, discouragement, depression and chronically bad health.

You’ve got to hit that sweet spot – somewhere in between paying 10x what someone needs because you’re a white girl that’s all ‘BOUT THAT POSITIVE CHANGE, and screwing people over because you didn’t think enough about what it was they needed to be getting before you parceled out hourly wages.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) explained in a 2011 report that, “Companies proffer various reasons why they do not pay a living wage in practice. A common reason, and perhaps excuse, for not paying a living wage relates to difficulties in measuring a living wage such as lack of a universally accepted definition, lack of an accepted formula and subjectivity.”

Florence didn’t want that, and neither did I. We set out do a monthly survey, with several columns with pictures at the top explaining each item for our workers who don’t read – transportation (a photo of a bus), food (a full plate), oil (you get the gist…).

Each day, Florence worked to write down reported expenses their prospective column, at the end of 30 days we added up corresponding daily and monthly averages.

From a month long survey of 11 women living in the slums outside Kampala with an average of 2-5 children:

TRANSPORT: 1800 UGX/day ($.75) – 54,000/mo ($21)

HOUSING:  6000 UGX/day ($2.37) - 180,000/mo ($71)

FOOD: 10,000 UGX/day($3.96) – 30,000/mo ($11.88)

COOKING OIL: 700 UGX/day ($.27) – 21,000/mo ($8.31)

WATER: 1,000 UGX/day ($.39) - 30,000/mo ($11.88)

Afterward, we checked our research against the ILO’s formula for living wages, and found that it includes the following cost of basic necessities:

  • Nutritious low-cost diet that is appropriate for the country in terms of the types of food items included
  • Basic housing in the location with an acceptable standard generally defined in terms of size, number of rooms, structure‘s materials, and availability of amenities such as indoor toilet and electricity.
  • Adequate clothing and footwear (sometimes with specific numbers of shirts, pants, shoes, etc., indicated)
  • Cost of other needs, such as transportation, children‘s education, health care, child care, household furnishings and equipment, recreation and cultural activities, communications, and personal care and services.
  • Sometimes a small margin above the total cost already estimated for a frugal and basic life style is added to help provide for unforeseen events, such as illnesses and accidents, so that common unforeseen events do not easily throw workers into a poverty trap that they may never be able to get out of.
  • The total estimated cost per capita of a basic living standard is then scaled up to arrive at cost for a household using an assumption on the household size that needs to be supported.
  • Finally, total cost for a household is defrayed over the number of full-time equivalent workers assumed to be working in a household.

Visual Chart:

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 6.10.49 PMWhat we had left out:

  • Recreation and cultural activities
  • Communications
  • Personal care and services
  • Education
  • Clothing
  • Annual costs of furnishings

Without these added costs, the basic needs of our average worker added up to around $125 a month.

Next in this series, I’ll provide research on average payments and their corresponding payment riots in Kampala to put this number in context. Keep in mind that it’s just the survival basics, without calculating education, clothing or communication.

I’ll be breaking down our adjusted number after giving relevant context surrounding this one I listed here.

I’m Opening up @NakateProject’s Supply Chain. Here’s Why:

November 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Nakate Project

Florence had already started, when I showed up.

I mean that in the sense of the whole of our work – that she had laid the foundation for an accessories company in Uganda, and I created a line and a website and a customer base a lot of mistakes that led me to the point where I was, in a word, ready. My role was to create quality control, management, budgeting, and an outside perspective Florence needed on herself and the work she was trying to do. Her role was the life in it – the ins and outs of the supply chain and the relationships necessary to make the thing happen.

I am often aware that I am the woman standing in the front row, watching Florence’s life performance. It’s her words, the life in them – the way she moves and works in her community, her laugh that make up the melody of everything Nakate rests on. It’s her singing the Aria de la Luna, at the front of the stage, and I’m on the cello, way in the back, making up one note in a set of dozens of strings, all coming together in her commitment to change the lives of the women around her.

Uganda, itself, is not so different than anywhere else, in the end. The transportation, the food, the dust that I kick up when I climb off the back of a boda – none of it makes up the work that we’re doing. It’s relationships that make up that part. It’s laughter. The mornings - Jesus, where’s my coffee? It’s early. 

“Mzungu, you are so hardly awake! I don’t trust you to do calculations! Somebody, bring this girl some tea!”

“Auntie, you know better than that. I only drink coffee.”

She’s laughing at me, already. “How many cups have you had yet, I am asking my daughter now.”

I smile, then – “only two.”

You might wonder, if you listened in on our banter, how the hell the two of us ever met. We are half family, half professionals, some days crying over disappointments we share – other days joking about cultural differences and – every day we are building the development of a thing that I’m aware, in the end, means much more to her than it possibly can to me. She’s living it, that Aria she’s singing out there in front of the stage. And me? I’m just playing a part in the song.

On the days that I learn how to manage my temper and my emotions, while dealing with quality control in Uganda, our roles switch. Florence is the one in the front row – cheering back, chastising, reminding me what leadership looks like – assuring me of how young I am, and that I’m a good girl, only just begun. She clicks her tongue, and raises her left eye brow – always the left – when she’s reminding me of some of the things I still have to learn.

“Mzungu,” she says quietly. “It takes very long to build. You are so easily discouraged.”

That’s her playing a tune in my song, for a change. She’s the rhythm to the way I move, the beat that holds me together while I try to find the most effective role for me to play in international development.

What I’ve come to believe, more than anything, is that the next step of development in Uganda and, more accurately, Sub Saharan Africa as a whole, is to turn the things we’ve built back on the people that we’ve created them alongside. That’s my role, at least – what I’ve committed to over and over again before finally admitting it out loud, here.

I believe that we were the first responders. We came running in when there wasn’t the opportunity yet, and we began proving to the global market that African had something to offer to it.

We came in to throw something wide open to the world – to convince them that it can be done, in Africa. Supply chains can be built. Relationships can be made. Relationships outside of us, and our insistence on hand holding.

Building a business selling baskets, accessories? Something else? Good. That’s phase #1. For me – phase #2 is this: How can you make your supply chain less dependent on you, and move them into a role of being an international player on their own?

I’m convinced that’s its a logical step in the foundation of we’re all building for, and here’s why: 

  • Africa speaks for itself
  • Artisan groups are able to compete directly in the international market, sourcing business to business and learning from their experience and mistakes, instead of getting in a rhythm  of only working with one management group or nonprofit
  • Increased competition and sustainability of having direct customers will not only put more money on the ground, it will create a sustainable way for more money to be put on the ground
  • Artisanal skills will be grown to fit market needs as others source from the same groups we do
  • Greater growth is allowed, when others enter in to work with people outside of us

The world is watching Africa, and we are the pioneers, with access to experiences and people that others haven’t made yet. We have the freedom to bring others in, with us – to build something bigger than ourselves.

The question in front of us – in front of me – is how we will do that.

“I can take orders that are not from Nakate,” Florence assures me on the phone. “You will help me. You will help me to manage the money. You will help me to manage the shipping. You have already taught me quality. We will work with these other people and soon, after you show me, I can do it on my own.”

Nakate will become one of her clients, instead of managing all of her clients. I will buy for my line. I will facilitate helping others to do the same. We will each sell our uniquely designed pieces to our respective wholesale or retail customers. Some are calling it disruptive. Others are calling it crazy. I’m just calling it my next steps.

I own the rights to certain designs. I don’t own the rights to a specific supply chain. And, so, we’re starting with two accounts – the first accounts outside of Nakate that belong just to Florence and the artisans working alongside her, instead of to ‘us’…or to me.

The first time she runs an order on her own – when the emails are no longer cc’d, and the orders run seamlessly for others like I’ve worked so hard for them to do for me, will be the moment that I will know that I have become truly successful in my work. That will be the day that I set down my instrument quietly and – all eyes on Florence – take my exit from the stage.

Someday, I hope to walk in on her teasing some other California girl, fresh off the plane, about her morning coffee. I’ll smile,  knowing that she’s only just beginning her own journey into creating change in Uganda – and has yet to learn just how much, how very much, it’s going to change her back.

On Windsor Knots, and That Bottle of Wine I Left Behind

November 25, 2013 § 3 Comments

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The end of a relationship is full of small, mundane questions you forgot to ask.

Where did you buy my favorite coffee? How many scoops was it that you used? 

Those potstickers — where do I find the big packet, if I want them after we’re not seeing one another anymore?

It’s not the fireworks that suck your breath when you remember – it’s the things you can’t remember – like the label on that one bottle of Brut you love to drink every Saturday. It’s the face wash that was clearing up your face so nicely, that you’re not sure where to buy.

Most of all – what you overlooked. There’s that bottle of South African wine in the back of the cabinet – mine, for when I broke ground on my factory in Uganda. Ours, for it was to be celebrated with me.

Would that it would be offered back, without my asking.

I’m positive I will never ask. 

It’s the appropriateness of the thing – like using the right glass for your whiskey, tying a Windsor just right. You return a woman’s bottle of wine.

And, perhaps I’ve become a New Yorker, after all.

How it happened, or why, or what isn’t what I’m wondering. I know all of that. It’s just the potstickers, and that one kind of pistachio ice cream we ate during movies that entire one month — my bottle of wine that kind Englishman bought for me at the airport when my card wasn’t working in the reader.

It’s the life in the thing.

The comfortable rhythms of the way we fit with one another during a season of time are perhaps what get us to believing that we own other people, or a chunk of their lives. We forget that they can move out of sync with us – like a pivot in belief, like a warm day in New York, like the neighborhood you thought you loved until that one loudmouth broker showed you something you hadn’t thought of, just in your price range.

We do not, in fact, own any part of other people. Other people choose to allow us to take part in their experience. They give us the time and pistachio ice cream and the conversation and interaction that leads to an experience of our own – that part? We own that. Those experiences belong to nobody but us. And their meaning, somewhere deep in our gut, we get to keep.

“It’s enough to want to leave,” Cheryl Strayed writes. That seems easy enough.

It’s not.

Want encompasses inconvenient belief – mostly, the desire to have a right experience that hasn’t solidified yet. When you stop one thing, for your belief that another will, at some point begin, and be much more congruous than what you’re living.

I’ve learned that, even though it may not have come yet, it’s faith in your own journey that allows one to own that experience too.

It’s the knowledge that, at the end of the day, you’re responsible for your time and your friendships and the work that you do. That you can dilly-dally with the wrong things, but they may keep you from the right. That you can spend time living as the woman checking her phone or worrying about her personal life in the midst of expansion – innovation – breaking ground in Africa. Or you can choose the inconvenient belief that, regardless of how you may feel, there are certain things that are appropriate for a woman in a certain line of work, trying to leave a certain mark on the world – perhaps firstly, and most importantly, that she would allow it to leave a mark on herself.

Like a Windsor Knot – like that bottle of wine that should be returned, without asking. Like wearing fleece lined tights during a certain time of year, and the way my grandmother used to fix the black straps on my bra because, you know, “not appropriate for this to show.”

It’s an inconvenient belief, at 24, that respect and love for fellow man means respect and love for oneself. It’s an inconvenient belief that breathing new dignity into a community means practicing breathing dignity into the moments that no one sees but yourself. But I’ve becoming sure that its the inconvenient beliefs that we are most responsible to answer – that define, most deeply, the want inside of us, if we allow them to.

That’s the life in the thing, after all.

Or, perhaps, its just the part that belongs to me.

6 Ways to Be a Better Solo Entrepreneur

November 6, 2013 § 1 Comment


Freeman’s is full of taxidermy and a foreign accents on a Wednesday at 8 pm, but it was quiet when I walked in two hours ago. “It’s spicy,” the bartender said when he handed me a taste of his favorite Malbec. “Hints of tobacco. It’s good.”

We’ve been here for two hours now, sipping on our drinks and sharing the artichoke appetizer. C is back in New York for just a couple weeks, and I was lucky enough to catch her on a free night. Next stop, Jordan, Israel and Amsterdam. Amsterdam for fun, the other two to consult on a fault line affecting at risk communities. She’s all badass and finesse together at the bar tonight, with a hint of pink lipstick and leather over her floor length wrap and kitten heels.

I tell her how I’ve been burnt out on the roller coaster of being a solo entrepreneur. I’m both terrified of failure and terrified of doing anything but something I believe in with my whole heart.

“I was a wreck two weeks ago – heart pounding. I was actually stopped in my tracks, frozen, freaking out enough to stop putting one foot in front of the other at all for the first time since I launched.” I laughed. Theres not much else to do. It’s the monster under the bed syndrome. Once you turn on the light it was all books and old frames down there with the dust bunnies, and you know your fear of the dark is just like anybody else’s – normal, and not worth paying extra attention to.

By that time, I realized, I had been putting one foot in front of the other during the time I felt too scared to move. I did the right thing, perhaps on accident. I stopped going solo, in every way possible – it saved my mind. It saved my work.

  • I moved

I mean your body, not your mind. I joined a soccer league, made five friends, re-learned my body, and had a place to run out my aggression when I was frustrated and feeling finished. Afterward, I ate pizza and played skeeball, threw darts and made fun of a bunch of good natured folks who made fun of me right back. If that’s not humanity at it’s best, I don’t want to know.

  • I quit

“I will not should on myself today,” has become my new favorite phrase. Yeah, so, I took stock. I stopped doing all the shit you convince yourself you have to do as entrepreneur, just because you “have to do it all.” Find someone to partner with, delegate to or shift how you’re doing it. Don’t keep pushing just because you think you should. And, maybe, just maybe, you’ll realize that the pivot you needed was the pivot you wanted. It worked for me.

  • I diversified

Ever notice that the best entrepreneurs have their hands in several projects? That’s right. I took on more work. Different kinds of work. With different kinds of people. And it felt like a break.

  • I surrounded myself

Misery loves company. You know it. I know it. We all know it. But you know what else loves company? Joy. When you’re losing your ever-loving s**t, you’ve got to have people to reach out to. And when it’s all going right and you can hardly stand how great it feels, you need people to reach out to. People, people, people. Stop doing it alone. Do it now.

  • I invested

You know what sucks? Being friends with selfish people. You know what entrepreneurs tend to naturally turn into? Selfish people. When I started taking an interest in other people’s endeavors, work and dreams, I found that they were invested in mine right back. God damn, that feels so good.

  •  I set up some boundaries

You’ve probably heard that there’s three kinds of people: givers, takers and connectors. I’ve discovered that I only want to know the latter. I strategically put boundaries up with both the givers and the takers, and starting forming bonds with the connectors. Guess what happened? I got connected to even more connectors.

Now, get up from your desk. Leave the room you’ve been working from on your own, and find some people.

You won’t move forward until you do.

“Was that Joy?” On Moving Beyond Entrepreneurial Burnout.

October 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

970280_219674531518036_118940435_nI believe that the secret is joy.

Was that joy?” Zadie Smith asked us, months ago. I’ve read and reread her essay. I’ve spent time with children. I’ve ecstacied. I’ve danced. I’ve watched the sun rise in Uganda, on a breezy morning outside of an old, half broken down bus. I’ve climbed on the back of a motorcycle buzzed and tired and wrapped between a driver I’d come to have a great fondness for and the kind of friend that makes you love yourself more just because you picked them to know and gig with. And, damn, did you do good.

If joy is being lost in the moment, then I believe anxiety must be it’s arch nemesis – curled up and poised, ready to strike and poison what’s all right with all of us.

I believe this to be true most because, even in all that living as an entrepreneur, out on the edge, being brave, anxiety stole joy from me. It was a “but!” – a “what if?” – a hold back to the unleashing of self right in the place of where I could have been lost in the moment. It made me frozen. And, I’ve avoided joy at all costs ever since.

A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience. And if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be at all sure I did, exactly because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage.

The antithesis of joy is insisting on knowing when you can’t know – counting moments until you get to leave when you have no choice except to stay. It must look like insisting on calm when, by god, you’ve got yourself one hell of a storm.

Put on a raincoat, I say, after living in anxiety. Roar back. Don’t go inside.

“You can tell you’re fearless,” someone said to me after a talk I gave last night.

I was full of knee-knocking fear. His hands were warm, over mine, smiling – I nodded, noting: fearless isn’t the absence of fear, it’s allowing fear within your experience, and living to the hilt anyway.

It was anxiety that burnt me out, and made me almost quit on entrepreneurship. I was so god damn scared, so busy looking joy in the face and fearing I’d crumble, that I couldn’t take one more step.

That’s when I learned that joy lives in a very small room, without doors. You don’t climb out, with joy. And you don’t escape. You breathe, when there’s joy. Breathe. Stop. Feel. Let go.

Then you do.

If joy were a dance, it would be the jitter bug with your spry and cheeky grandfather for a partner. If it were a thing you could swallow, it would be coffee and chocolate before the sun rises in Kampala. If you could drink it, it would be an egg cocktail, on a Sunday morning in New York with someone you’re close enough to enjoy silence with.

It’s the finger food, the bites in between conversation that you forget you’re taking because your best friend’s eyes are sparkling in a just right light, and you only just realized a second ago – or was it just this second? – how beautiful she is all over again.

God but its almost too much, isn’t it? To be on the verge of great success? To be loving who you want? To be letting go, and not controlling anything but this one task – and believing its more than enough?

Almost too much, but not quite – that’s how I’ve started living: right on the ragged edge of disaster, willing to dive into this one thing, believing that joy is something that you can lose and you can find again, depending on the way you do this next hour, and then the one that comes after that.

Joy doesn’t quantify what’s good enough. It just does. Eating. Drinking. Laughing. Showing up. The feel of a soccer ball just right on your foot when you know that one – watch it fly! – is going to be a goal.

“The only difference between the ones who make it and the ones who don’t is the doing,” a friend shared with me recently. “It’s not the talent and it’s not the luck or the skill. It’s the discipline to dig in and finish the very next thing, and the next thing after that.”

That was the whole plan, to get out of entrepreneurial burn out, and to try again. One task. Then the task after that. The journey to joy is a long hike on a winding road.

But hour by hour, step by step, before I knew it, I was out for drinks with a friend for an hour, exclaiming about how much I was committed to industry disruption and the power to change my own life.

She laughed, winked at me and raised her glass.

“You’re through,” she said. “You got so busy doing the next thing, you didn’t even know. How’s it feel?”

In that moment, it felt like two margaritas, and a sparkle in her eyes.

I was too full inside to think about anything else.


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