0. Postscript

I struggled to not slip into an overly pessimistic, dystopian view of Nigeria with all its troubles. In the few intervening years I have been away, the Nigerian tragedy has hit close home. As with most other people, it turned out that the Dana air crash had claimed a fairly recent acquaintance of my father’s as it did a couple of friends of friends of Sister #1. It also transpired that she – whether by some quirk of fate, divine orchestration, or plain old chance – had resigned from her poorly paid job as a doctor in the police officers hospital the Friday before the Monday Boko Haram’s bloodbath hit the IG’s offices. One day late and that could have gotten really personal.

The kidnap-for-ransom scourge has also hit close home. Only a few months before I popped into town, a friend of the family had been snatched at gunpoint and whisked to an unknown destination. Thankfully, the small matter of a few millions helped salvage his life, and avert what could have been a major disaster.  Around town, I was baffled by the long queues at the ATMs in my little corner of the world, until I was told that the banks had been hit by armed robbers so many times they had scaled down to maintaining only skeletal services. Apparently, the ATMs were the only functional banking facilities left in town.

Uncle P, usually the unequivocal great Nigeria apologist, was a lot more mellow this time, conceding that we (minorities in a minority state) seemingly had little place in the ongoing evolution of  Nigeria. Apparently a few changes at work had opened up his eyes to the harsh reality of just how ethnically fractured, and political, working in Nigeria really was.

I would be remiss to think that portions of my family were not part of the problem. My last morning at Aunt G’s house she, typically the quintessential dedicated teacher, was still sipping her cup of Earl Grey’s by 9.00am. I didn’t have the heart to issue a scathing rebuke in respect of her slipping work ethic – in the harsh brightness of the morning light, the grey in her hair and the lines etched by years of unrequited hard work were very obvious. I got the impression she had simply given up working hard whilst waiting for a reward that may or may not only be in heaven. My unwillingness to take her up on that might also not have been unrelated to the hour long grilling I got on the subject of the failed dalliance with F.

Midway through Sister #2’s wedding, as the hall swelled beyond its capacity, I took the opportunity to give up my seat to one of the Professors whose sense of African time was impeccable and headed outside to get some fresh air. I ended up sitting at one end of a wooden bench with the kid brother on the other side and the niece in between. I should have known being in such an exposed location was an unwise move – an error of judgement I paid very dearly for when I was cornered by an old teacher of mine. She was quite excited that I had managed to make it home – she had studied at Newcastle very many years ago and was keen to swap observations on the city. I did my best to sound measured and intelligent, as did she, before our conversation eventually segued into the present and what we were all up to. She was keen to understand my motivations for leaving the job I used to have – I gave her my usual seeking a technical challenge answer – which didn’t exactly convince her as I could see. Her boys, all three of them had been contemporaries of mine; one was now stateside and was married with three children,  the middle one stilled worked at my old company in Lagos and the little one was now chasing a PhD in Wales. He had been a headstrong, unruly teenager the last time I saw him, keener to hang at the local game arcades that were springing up at the time than to study. She, like almost every one else who cornered me, wrapped up her little ‘homily’ by tossing in a reminder that as all the women were now gone, it was up to us lads to provide the next wedding.

My trusty old blackberry – packed almost as an afterthought – ended up proving the saviour on many a bored day, so much so that I was sorely tempted to switch to a BB plan on my return. Commonsense, and all the reasons I retired it in the first place eventually won over any nostalgic attachments to the device.

In a sense this wasn’t about chasing the abstraction of closure, rather it was about re-memory and reacquainting myself with the past in all its reiterations and reinventions. It was about time, and its passage, and how nothing seemed to have changed visibly and of how only when one looked back at the past from a sufficiently distant future reference point was it possible to see that life had evolved. I do not remember, but I suspect I once read somewhere that:

‘Time passes, and in it’s wake leaves no marks as to its passage – but in the faces of the ones that we have known for the longest of times we see etched in the wrinkles and the receded, greyed hair lines  that time in passing has lulled us in a false sense of sameness, but in the births and deaths, we find that life reinvents itself again and again.

This was something that I learned over and over again.

Nigeria Bound…

A few weeks ago when I sat down to identify the five or six things that would make 2012 the perfect year, one of the things that eventually came to the fore was carrying over zero holidays in to next year. That by itself shouldn’t have been significant, but between hoarding my holidays for what I thought would be quarterly jaunts westward and my eventual withdrawal into my time honoured silo, I ended up needing a flurry of trips late in the year to claw back what was a huge holiday backlog. Even that was not enough, I ended up losing four days having carried over the maximum seven days into the new year.

A trip to Nigeria beckons this time, something which created quite a few coffee room talking points with my team mates at work given the latest news out of Nigeria. Regardless of my lost son affectations, she still has her attractions – perhaps even more so now than before. There is the small matter of the niece with whom the extent of my communication has been her baby babble as she has tried to distract her mother during numerous telephone conversations. [I haven’t quite forgiven her for stubbornly insisting on arriving two days late, missing the opportunity to share my birthday with me, for which I fully intend to find some way to surreptitiously give her ear a little pinch in retaliation]. As well, there is the other sister’s wedding, and then fourteen days later one between two of my old friends in a different part of the country; both weddings nicely book-ending my stay. Around those key drivers are a myriad of other births, marriages, promotions and the odd death and breakup  to share – quotidian joys (and sorrows) which my decision to remain stuck in my corner of the world has kept me insulated from. Thanks to a couple of supermoms off Twitter [@aloted and @Mz_SoupaWoman], I shall be dragging a few boxes of age-appropriate gifts in my wake. That should help promote some uncle-niece bonding, as well as deflect some of the vitriol that might be lobbed in my direction when it transpires I have pinched a few ears!

Overall, I suspect it will be an intriguing trip, perhaps even something to be looked forward though in some respects. Besides the obligatory suya based dinner on the first night back, the only other culinary delight on my mind is a big steaming calabash of ekpang nkukwo. I sincerely hope that my old haunt on the corner of Grace Bill and Park that served that as its speciality still exists.  I sense there will be a few awkward moments too. In getting the baby sister married off, the final buffer the kid brother and I have had between us and el Madre’s cross hairs is being eased out of the equation. Once the dust from the dancing feet and swaying hips has settled down, and everyone has recovered from the exertions of planning and executing a wedding, I fully expect to be the recipient of a full on heart to heart chat, part of the reason why I intend to spend a lot of the time on the road, and why I accepted to attend the other wedding across the country. There is also the distinct possibility  that Mlle. F will be putting in an appearance  – if my sources have it right, she might be attending  with the arms of a certain young man draped protectively around her shoulders. That is most assuredly not a sight for my sore eyes, but closure of any sort cannot be a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.

I would like to think I have the capability to write some Noo Saro-Wiwa-esque Nigeria travelogue, or perhaps more appropriately mindlessly ape Teju Cole‘s now extinct blog of a similar genre but something tells me between the food, the activity, and the spectre of work looming in the back of my mind I will have my hands full. I suppose the least that I can do is at least try. After all, as they say, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

Certainly Uncertain….

A few days ago, mid way through a telephone conversation with one of the lads I used to work with in my UX5 days, the delectable lass who joined a few months before I was due to leave overheard our conversation and asked to speak with me.

Even back then, in those early days of 2008, I was the bloke with a 5 year rolling plan complete with milestones, leading and lagging indicators and a roadmap. Her question had an air of inevitability to it; it had to do with the current iteration of the plan. Sadly, I could not give her the reassurances she was seeking – namely that the plan was still on track, and that an invite – amongst other things – would be winging it’s way to her Nigerian post box in the not too distant future.

The one thing I could not have factored into those – admittedly bullish plans – was the uncertainty around a few of the critical outcomes on which the plan flew or sank. I couldn’t have known that what looked like a door temptingly left ajar was in fact a door on its way to slamming shut with my finger stuck between it and the door frame; or that what felt like nirvana two years later would spontaneously combust over one big thing.  The uncertainties have not somehow dissolved into thin air with time. Au contraire, they in all probability have somehow become greater. More important because the outcomes are now more critical than before, and also because the interdependencies are even more convoluted.

In an ideal world, I suppose one would be able to tell with a reasonable amount of certainty what certain outcomes would be, without having to resort to Bayesian techniques, or applying the relational equivalent of hit and hope. Or maybe,  like my mother insists, I am simply over thinking it – micromanaging my outcomes so much that I end up not doing anything or losing the sense of adventure and unpredictability that not having all those backup plans brings.

Or maybe not…..

Bitter-sweet

I have spent the last few days offsite attending the SPE’s Oilfield Corrosion Conference in Aberdeen. When the email invite first came through, I knew I had to be part of it. The one main gripe I have about my job is the lack of real technical content in it on an ongoing basis. I tend to get sucked into the fire fighting, reactive mode that prevents me from applying my specialist Corrosion & Materials engineering knowledge.

It was good to see what my peers (if I can call them that seeing they are so far ahead of me technically 🙂 ) are up to, put faces to names I’d heard of in the past and catch up/ socialise with a few old friends. There was also the awkward moment where I ran into the Corrosion Manager at the firm I turned down after what seemed like a good interview just over a year ago. If I had to summarise my learnings I would pick a number of points viz:

  • There is a lot of work going on in the Academia and consulting which doesn’t get through to the industry quickly enough
  • The day to day operations support integrity engineer role is not one I want to remain in for very long and as a corollary to both these points,
  • The PhD in Materials & Welding needs to get back on the agenda ASAP.

On a sightly less happy note, I got a message about one of the (Nigerian) lads at work getting fired. Truth is he’s had issues for quite a while now which the boss had put up with quite a bit, but it still rankles that he was cut off. I do not have all the facts, but I suppose in a sense it’s also a failure of the mentorship and people’s development system. It must be quite a burden when the boss, especially in a close knit group like mine, has to take a decision to let go of someone.

In other news, I am off to Nigeria in eight days. There’s the small matter of my baby sister’s wedding, as well as the niece  I am yet to see and a few loose financial ends to tie up. The step sister and the rest of the family have had drifted apart majorly over the years, and one of my objectives this trip is to try to seek her out and reconnect. Family is too precious to cut off permanently.

Seven Priorities for Life

I spent the weekend going through Michael Hyatt‘s cute little e-book Creating Your Personal Life Plan.  In no particular order, below are the things I feel need to be priorities going forward:

  1. God: World-view, faith, God and how these interact in defining a moral compass for me is a crucial part of my developing fully into the sort of bloke I need to become. It is time for me to start engaging my various proclivities which are preventing me from gaining the clarity of thought and direction that I need.
  2. Health: Whilst I have not had any major health scares, truth is I am overweight by some. A few years ago, I had blood pressures that were way out of the ‘safe’ and ‘normal’ zone [Thankfully, I passed my last offshore medical in flying colours]. Keeping fit, counting calories and staying health has to be one of my priorities going forward.
  3. Family: Whilst I remain single at the moment, deep in my heart is a longing to meet someone, find love and raise a family together. Two dimensions stand out here – finding the one and being the sort of bloke she’d want to be with. These both have to be priorities going forward – engaging the ‘knowledgable others’ in my circle and being open enough to solicit, accept and implement honest feedback where it is offered on areas where personal improvement is required.
  4. Personal Development: Learning continuously, and always reviewing where I am versus where I should be has to be a key component of my life. Big things are expected of me, and getting those done depends on continuously improving and finding the over arching knowledge and foresight required to grow into those big roles. This will have two facets: Career, in which I develop into a globally recognised Corrosion/Materials/Integrity Engineer, and personally where I progress and develop my public speaking, and writing skills.
  5. Friends: Given the large number of acquaintances I have, the few real friends I have (and I would count O & I as the two stand out ones at the moment) who time and time again have proven they are worth their weight in gold, and more, deserve some reciprocal attention. They are going to have to be priorities going forward – they’ve earned it!
  6. Finances: Finances are a key part of fulfilling the responsibilities that I will have as a Father, Husband, Son and social justice campaigner. Learning how to manage and grow my money is a critical part of the me I will become.
  7. Service: One more priority is taking all the gifts and blessings that I have been given and pouring them all out in service to others. The details of this are not exactly clear at the moment – especially considering the significant evolution my world view is going through at the moment – but finding the time and the place to make a difference for others ‘less blessed’ as to be a priority going forward.

Counting down…

I think it is a little too early, but out here in ruralville the airwaves are already awash with ads for Christmas get aways. At work our coffee room conversations too are taking a decidedly christmas-sy bent: turkey shopping, holiday bookings, grand children, the company christmas ball and fine wine seem to come to the fore a little easier these days. The weather man promised an Indian summer of sorts, but our sun – for all its light – seems to be the evil twin of the one which terrorised us a scant few months ago, all light and no warmth ably aided by the wind which howls through every open space like a spurned suitor.

These days I catch myself gazing wistfully at the city as I walk to and from work,  and thinking – about memory, and time, and loss, and how they all come together to shape the present and define the course of the future. A lot of it is nostalgia, an inordinate longing for how things once were, and will never again be, but I imagine one is allowed some measure of self delusion after all. Deep down in my head, I suspect that my dalliance with old Blighty is done, and I must needs turn my gaze to new vistas soon.

Change – inexorable and ineluctable – appears to be the over arching motif of the season. Outside, the greens of a few weeks ago have turned into dirty browns and the occasional golden reds – where the wind in its fury has not stripped the trees of all their foliage. Life, like an orchestra conducted to a crescendo by an unseen Kapellmeister, hurtles on.

An omen, or not?

 

forth bridge

I suspect it might be the vestigial memories of night bus journeys from Lagos to Abuja back in the day, but my favourite journeys over the last couple of years have been on trains – spotting a rainbow just outside Edinburgh on the way to a job interview in 2009, returning to the North East of England for a weekend of introspection in 2010 and being surprised by the breath taking beauty of a sun bathed Forth Road Bridge, in November no less! Something about watching the grey granite of built up areas segue into lush greenery, and blue clouds, usually leaves me a little awed.

All week I have been working at an offsite location – grateful for the chance to work at a much slower pace, and to take the train from my city to the smaller neighbour next door. On one of those days, I end up sitting next to a man dressed simply in a tee-shirt and pants, with a jacket bearing the logo of one of the behemoths of my industry on his arm. We strike up a conversation over tea. It turns out he used to work as a Reservoir Engineer at that company until two years ago when he quit to ‘follow his heart’; his heart being training emergency responders.

He says he earns a little less these days and it took a full year to complete the extra training he required. He adds though that he treasures the spare time he has –  which he spends volunteering and hanging around his children, as opposed to peering at 21′ monitors pretending to optimize reserve recoveries.

If I believed in omens, I would imagine that some fate orchestrated this meeting to remind me that nothing is too good to let go off to start anew; knowing myself I’d still probably leave it till late….

Resolving my credibility deficit

If there is one thing I have learned from returning to work after a year and a half off studying, it is that there is a very tangible credibility deficit that us early-mid-career professionals have to make up when they switch jobs. I define the early-mid-career phase as that stage of the working life between the five year mark and the ten year mark generally corresponding to the period within which the professional exceeds 10,000 working hours.

[The 10,000 hour rule is the idea first espoused by K. Anders Ericsson and brought into the popular domain by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice for an individual to attain expertise in a given field. For an average 40 hour working week, 10,000 hours translates to just over five years; hence my not so arbitrary definition.]

The early-mid career professional (an Independent Contributor in the Novations Model) is expected to have attained a sufficient level of competence, demonstrating the ability to utilise theory and practice in resolving day to day work issues with minimal recourse to other ‘advanced experts’ for direction. In my own case, in addition to the pressures to deliver, there were a couple of blokes on a ‘lower’ rung who seemed to think they were more deserving of the role I got. This made the unofficial part of my work – providing ongoing mentorship to the younger lads and generally being a technical resource – a wee bit more difficult, as I had to plug the credibility deficit I walked into.

Looking back, there were two main strikes against me. First, The bulk of my prior experience of learning the trade was earned in Nigeria. Secondly, I opted to go for a more general postgraduate degree (for the breadth of options it would provide) rather than focus on my rather narrow speciality (for which one UK University provides the bulk of graduates). Taken together, these meant that no one in the (particularly) specialised field I work in knew anything about my credentials -and I was effectively an outsider fighting to get my foot in the door. The minor mitigating factor in my favour was I’d worked with a relatively big name in the field in Nigeria, which meant my current employer was more willing to take a punt on me and I was able to pull in two very high level references from that organisation. On an ongoing basis though, task by task, I still had to demonstrate that I knew what I was talking about. There were also a few trick questions lobbed in my direction for good measure!

As newer people have come in, I have seen the same scenario repeat itself. The same questions – Where has he/she worked before, What University did they attend, Who in the industry knows them personally or professionally – have been asked. It leads me to think that the Independent Contributor in the organisation has a peculiar problem – just enough autonomy to do his work, but little influence to actually enact change.

It is only after a year of consistently coming up with the goods after being thrown in several potentially high pressure situations that I am finally getting a sense of grudging acceptance from the lads. I have to admit that the feeling is rewarding.